So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
- Sensor-based stabilisation, live view, dust reduction, nice build
- Slightly soft images, only three auto focus points
If features like live view, image stabilisation and dust reduction appeal to you, then the Olympus E-510 might be just what you're looking for. While its pictures are a little on the soft side compared to competing models, they are perfectly adequate for most uses and the feature set is certainly enticing.
Price$ 1,299.00 (AUD)
Olympus is a relatively new company to the SLR space, but it is fast gaining a reputation for differentiating themselves by packing unique technologies into its models. Its latest unit and flagship model in the consumer range, the E-510, is no exception. It offers live view and dust reduction along with a 10-megapixel sensor and sensor-based image stabilisation. While it may not quite offer the same image quality as some competing models, the feature set should attract some buyers.
Pictures captured by this model were fairly good, but not quite up to the standards of competing units from Canon and Nikon. They tended towards the soft side and while this isn't noticeable, in most prints if you're making big enlargements it may be problematic. Our Imatest testing software confirmed this, giving the E-510 a score of 1547 for sharpness, which is a little low, but understandable considering it also found 23.5 per cent under-sharpening.
Chromatic aberration wasn't an issue, with very little in the way of haloing; however, there was a fair amount of barrel distortion noticeable in our outdoor shots. Imatest gave a score of 0.68 per cent for chromatic aberration, which is a good result.
Image noise was kept under control, with an Imatest score of 0.54 per cent at ISO 100. As we increased the sensitivity the noise ramped up a little, but shots were still usable up to ISO 800 if you don't mind a little chroma noise. Colour response was impressive, with our shots containing rich, vivid hues. Although the E-510 did exhibit a tendency to blow-out highlights and lose detail in dark areas. A little tweaking of the exposure helped to some degree here, but it was still evident.
Speed wise it operated relatively well, with no obvious shutter or start-up lag. The burst mode captured a quick four frames per second. Auto focus times were fairly good under regular lights, but slowed down in dim scenarios.
Live view makes a return here, and will probably attract new photographers who are used to framing shots with the camera's LCD rather than viewfinder. Normal digital SLR technology doesn't allow for this, but Olympus' special LiveMOS sensor combined with their mirror system does. While it is nifty for those difficult up high or down low shots, the view isn't nearly as crisp as on a good compact camera, and we don't see it being used for most photography. Also note, it adds over a second of shutter lag while the camera auto focuses.
Meanwhile the dust reduction system also returns and it operates extremely well shaking the sensor free of dust every time you power the unit up. Similarly, the image stabilisation is adept at eliminating handshake and as it is sensor-based, it will work with any lens you attach to the E-510 body.
Features wise, most things you'd expect are there, including manual shooting modes as well as automatic and a few scene modes for newer users. We were a little disappointed by the three-point auto focus system and ISO sensitivity is capped at 1600, however, there is custom white balance along with full manual mode.
At times the controls are a little fiddly, as Olympus has apparently followed the 'more buttons is better' route. Nonetheless, after a little practice everything works well enough, and the intuitive on-screen display makes changing settings a breeze.
The design is impressive; despite being built mostly from plastic the E-510 feels sturdy. It follows the SLR standard of a chunky body with a jutting right grip and it sits comfortably in your hands.
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