Olympus E-520

A brilliant, feature-filled SLR

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Olympus E-520
  • Olympus E-520
  • Olympus E-520
  • Olympus E-520

Pros

  • Impressive pictures, great exposure handling, dust reduction works well, sensor-based stabilisation

Cons

  • Live View autofocus still slow, menus can be confusing

Bottom Line

Olympus' E-520 is a great D-SLR that is more than capable of competing with the big guns from Canon and Nikon. Its images are impressive and the feature set is robust enough to satisfy all but the most demanding photographer.

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Competing against units from the likes of Nikon and Canon is a tough ask for any camera, but Olympus’ latest mid-range SLR, the E-520, is up to the task. Olympus has been working hard to position itself to compete against the big guns of the camera world.

Like past Olympus SLRs, the E-520 sports a 10-megapixel LiveMOS sensor. Lenses are mounted using the four thirds system, which means they won’t be compatible with a lot of other manufacturers, although Panasonic and Leica units will be fine. Our test bundle was a dual lens kit with both 14-42mm and 40-150mm lenses; despite being a low cost option the lenses performed well.

Shots were crisp and sharp, with good resolution and detail. Testing with Imatest revealed the camera is competitive with other 10-megapixel units; your snaps should be suitable for sizeable enlargements. Chromatic aberration wasn’t an issue, with no fringing noticeable on high-contrast edges.

One feature of the E-520 that Olympus is touting is Shadow Adjustment, which essentially improves the dynamic range. The improvement wasn’t enormous, but we were extremely impressed with the overall exposure of our shots. Everything was well balanced, with highlights not appearing blown-out and detail was well rendered in dark areas.

Colours were also impressive. Everything looked accurate while using the natural colour mode, with the possible exception of some slightly oversaturated reds. For a more vibrant look you can switch to the vivid mode, which ramps up the saturation noticeably while still producing nice pictures.

Noise was generally well controlled. It began to creep in a little at ISO 800 and there was a small amount of detail lost at ISO 1600, but those shots will still be fine for small and medium prints.

Users may not need to use high sensitivities too often, however, as the unit comes with image stabilisation. Built into the body, like on previous Olympus cameras, this system is compatible with any lens you attach to the camera. Olympus claims it offers four EV steps of protection; it certainly did an excellent job of keeping the picture crisp.

The other feature of note is Live View, which is a technology that Olympus pioneered several years back. Allowing users to use the LCD screen to frame their shots is a nice bonus for novices but it does have its flaws. This time around contrast detect autofocus is included, meaning you can autofocus without losing sight of the image (unlike on some competing models). It also offers 100% field of view, ensuring no cropping is required during post-processing. However, the autofocus is still sluggish and won’t be suitable for many shooting situations.

One thing that does assist the Live View is the new improved 2.7in Hypercrystal II LCD. We tested it in bright sunlight and were impressed by its ability to retain clarity even under glary circumstances. Having a large screen is important to many users more familiar with compact cameras; its presence here should help draw in SLR novices.

Another technology that makes a welcome return is dust reduction, and it is as impressive as always. SLR users constantly struggle with dust accumulating on the sensor when they change lenses; while many companies have devised ways to deal with this, Olympus’ system is still the most effective.

There is the usual array of shooting modes (aperture, shutter, program and manual) along with auto and a variety of scene modes (which are included in the function dial). Wireless flash support has been thrown in, and it is pretty simple to use — a boon for portrait lovers.

The burst mode snapped at exactly four frames a second in our tests and the overall performance was speedy. Autofocus speeds were particularly impressive, with everything functioning quickly and quietly. Start-up did take a little longer than some competitors at 1.2 seconds, but this is because of the sensor cleaning mechanism.

Like the E-420 the E-520 is a pretty small unit. While not as diminutive as its cheaper sibling, it is nonetheless quite portable. The flipside to this is that it isn’t as sturdy as some SLRs, but the plastic build is solid and we love the feel of the hand grip.

There are a host of buttons, which may be confronting for some beginners. Olympus likes to give you several ways to achieve the same thing, which results in a lot of bits and pieces. However, once you have everything down pat it is quite intuitive. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the menu. It is quite convoluted at times and we needed to refer to the manual more than once during the test period.

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