Digital SLR Camera Review: Olympus Evolt E-510 2-lens kit


Olympus E-510 Digital SLR Camera

Olympus Evolt E-510 Digital SLR Camera
Sound Buys Product Review By Don Lindich

Digital SLR is an extremely  hot camera category, and an Olympus digital SLR is always  one of the more  unique digital SLR  cameras you can buy.  Olympus has long gone its own way in the world of SLR cameras, starting with their revolutionary OM-1 SLR camera of 1972.   The hallmark of the OM cameras and lenses were their compact size and originality- you saw features on them you did not see anywhere else, for example a shutter-speed ring on the lens  mount.   When the world went digital and it was time to introduce an SLR system, Olympus went their own way again.   Rather than rework old designs as their competitors did, they started fresh and designed a camera format optimized for digital photography.   Called Four-Thirds, it incorporates a sensor with a 4:3 aspect ratio different than the 3:2 found in other SLR cameras.   The 4:3 ratio is a bit easier to compose with and crops perfectly to 8×10, the most common enlargement size.

Up until now, the Olympus digital SLRs were competent performers as well as distinct and different, but I never felt the promised advantages of “designed for digital” to be fully realized .   I am pleased to report that with the 10 megapixel E-510, Olympus’ Four-Thirds system has finally fulfilled this promise and landed itself among the best of consumer-grade digital SLR cameras.

Olympus sent me an E-510 two-lens kit to review.   It includes a long-life battery and charger along with their new 14-42 and 40-150mm lenses.   The  kit price was recently lowered to  only  $749.

You get a lot for your money as the E-510’s feature set is comprehensive and functional.   Many SLR users, especially beginners, see dark spots on their pictures because dust has settled in the camera body when it is open to the air, such as when changing lenses.   Eventually this dust finds it way to the sensor and creates these dark spots.   The Olympus Supersonic Wave Filter (SSWF) activates every time the camera is turned on, removing the dust from the sensor so it doesn’t haunt you later.   Olympus originated this feature and their system is still regarded as the best- rarely if ever will you hear of an Olympus users complaining about dust problems.

A sensor-based image stabilization system works with all of your lenses and keeps pictures sharp, even at slow shutter speeds or when using the zoom at the end of its range.   A live view feature allows you to focus and compose on the sharp 2.5 inch screen like you can with a compact camera.   Two memory card slots are provided, one for Compact Flash and one for XD Picture Cards.

The E-510 is somewhat smaller than competitor’s offerings, by virtue of its smaller 4:3 sensor.   Though small, the camera has a solid, stable feel that feels great in your hands.   The zoom ring rotates very smoothly and autofocus is silent, quick, and accurate, and the shutter release is smooth and sure.   Images are sharp, colorful, and remarkably free from distortion, and this is a testament   not only to the E-510’s sensor and image processing, but also to the excellence of the kit lenses.   Since they are made to a price point, the kit lenses included in a digital SLR outfit are often average performers at best, and very poor at worst.   Olympus has broken from the pack here as the lenses included in the kit are excellent by any measure.   The images they produce are very sharp from corner to corner, displaying excellent contrast and color along with freedom from distortion that makes the pictures stand out.   I often recommend that purchasers of digital SLRs upgrade their kit lenses to get the most out of their cameras as the kit lenses compromise image quality.   I can’t see myself ever making that recommendation to anyone with these lenses, unless low-light capability was an issue.

Of course, no camera is perfect and the E-510 is no exception.   Most digital SLRs have a display on the top of the camera so the user can take his eye from the viewfinder and check settings quickly.   The smallish E-510 displays the information on the LCD screen, which I did not find as intuitive as a top-mounted display.   The kit  lens’ mounts are plastic, which is a bit disappointing given the optical quality of the lenses.   Since many other manufacturer’s kit lenses also are plastic, I can’t fault Olympus too much for it.   You also need to tweak the settings somewhat to get the best images out of the camera, notably turning off the noise filter and turning down the sharpness.

This is simply nitpicking, though and overall, this camera is a winner that is really enjoyable to use.   If I could sum it up in a word, it would be “solid”, which describes the features, build quality, performance, engineering, and design.   In your hands it feels like a serious photographic instrument, designed by people who know photography and wanted to put a great tool in your hands, something enjoyable to work with, that works with you to create great images.   The engineers and designers at Olympus have good reason to be proud of their accomplishment, and I commend them. I can see many “average consumers” buying this outfit and living with it pretty much forever- there isn’t   much to want for, and the lenses are good enough you won’t be wishing for something better when you see your pictures on the monitor.   If you are in the market for a mid-range digital SLR, the E-510 should be on your shopping list.

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