The camera market is as crowded as ever and with many digital SLR models drifting below the coveted $1000 price point, advanced point and shoots are struggling to remain competitive. Cameras like the Olympus E-500 only make this more difficult. Falling into the budget D-SLR category, this model packs a serious punch, and has strong all around performance that puts it in the same high class as the Nikon D50.
- Great design, brilliant pictures, dust reduction
- None to speak of
Another brilliant entry into the SLR range, Olympus' E-500 provides everything one could want in an advanced camera, with a competitive RRP and patented dust reduction to boot.
Price$ 1,199.00 (AUD)
Olympus' earlier model, the E-300, received substantial criticism for its design, and rightly so. It was, in simple terms, an ugly camera. Thankfully the E-500 returns to a more traditional design and we love it. Some people may miss little things, like a second LCD along the top of the body, or a manual/auto focus switch, but we hardly noticed any of that, because the camera felt so good to use. We can't think of another advanced camera that sat so well in our hands. The body's weight is perfectly balanced to create an extremely steady grip, which is both comfortable and effective.
The build quality is also quite high, with a sturdy, rugged design that is only let down by flimsy battery and expansion card coverings. We particularly loved the function wheel which was constructed of tough metal rather than cheap plastic. The controls were minimalist by many SLR's standards, but we picked them up quickly. Apart from the function wheel, the top of the camera houses the exposure button, and a knob that alters your currently selected setting. The back on the other hand has the directional pad, menu and info buttons, as well as the flash popup and delete controls. These are all framed around the large, 2.5" LCD, which is the E-500's other main improvement over its predecessor.
The screen, whilst not used as a viewfinder (SLR's don't do this), displays the current settings, in either a complicated or simple setup. The screen is divided into boxes, and your settings such as ISO level, white balance, flash options etc, are displayed in each one. However, it also goes a long way to remedying the lack of buttons on the face of the camera, but offering instant alteration of any of these settings. We found this to be an incredibly useful function. Just hold down the OK button, and you can navigate around this chart and alter anything you need to. No hunting through clunky menu trees to find the setting you want, the E-500 does this simply and effectively.
Most of the available settings are what we expected from an SLR in this range. It doesn't offer the extreme levels you will find on more expensive models, but for most photographers the E-500's options will be more than enough. Shutter speed extends from 60 seconds to 1/4000th of a second, with a bulb shooting mode also present. Aperture is available from f/3.5 to f/22, and ISO level can be set as high as 1600. Originally, the camera had greyed out ISO options above 400, but after a minute or two of searching the menu, we discovered that to enable options above that level, you have to tick "ISO Boost"; a minor annoyance.
All of these settings can be taken full advantage of with the aperture, shutter and program priority modes, as well as the full manual mode. Beginners are not left out however, with a 15 scene modes, five of which are accessible via the function wheel. There are also some basic colour options, including sepia and vivid.
The continuous shot function was a bit of a let down, taking roughly 2.4 shots a second till the 5 shot buffer filled up. The speed was impressive, but we were really looking for a larger buffer for longer shoot times. Bracketing options were also available in abundance, allowing you to have multiple copies of the same shot taken with different settings, so you can pick and choose the best one.
Not that this was strictly necessary, as the majority of photos we took turned out incredibly well. We were really looking forward to this model, after having caught a glimpse of it early this year, and it definitely managed to deliver. The 8 megapixel sensor captured the superbly crisp edges we've come to expect from Olympus, with no noticeable blurring. There was an extremely faint hint of purple fringing around some edges in our outdoors shots, but it was minute enough to be almost non-existent unless the prints were being blown up to an enormous size.
Colours were deep, rich and well balanced in their representation, with the possible exception of slightly oversaturated blues in some circumstances. Image noise was the one area where the camera perhaps suffered a little in comparison to other D-SLRs. Nothing was noticeable at low ISO levels, but once we hit 800 and 1600, it began to become more prominent. ISO 800 was still definitely useable, but for those wanting to push the envelope a little here, you may find ISO 1600 a little too noisy for your tastes.
Our shots were quick and responsive for the most part, with slightly less than .1 of a second of shutter lag. Image write time was lightning quick in general, but when shooting in RAW mode this shot up significantly. Unfortunately the E-500 is a little sluggish in its start up time, compared to the competition, making us wait between 2.5 and 3 seconds to take our opening snaps.
Normally this would be considered a negative, but in this case Olympus justifies it extremely well; their new dust reduction technology is activated on start up, and takes a few seconds to operate. This wonderful innovation cleans and protects the sensor from dust every time the camera is started. We at the offices actually tested it by sprinkling a little dust on the exposed sensor, screwing the lens back into place and firing it up. The resulting shots were crystal clear. For many professional photographers who deal with multiple lenses, dust build up can be a big and costly problem that leads to hours of touch up work in Photoshop and regular visits to have the sensor cleaned. Olympus' technology eliminates the need for both of those, creating sharp, dust free pictures regardless of how often the sensor is exposed to open air.
Battery life is quoted by CIPA standards at about 400 shots, and we found this to be spot on, capturing about 420 pictures before the charge ran out. This included plenty of other usage, menu navigation and card formatting for example, to simulate a real world situation. This is not an outstanding result, when you consider some SLRs have lasted over 1000 shots, but it is a respectable performance.
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