Olympus Evolt E-510 digital camera

While many digital SLRs priced under $1,000 are compromised in terms of features, Olympus is bucking the trend with its Evolt E-510. This 10.2-megapixel camera, priced at $900 with a standard lens, is designed for the photo enthusiast who has a basic sense of photographic technique and wants a camera that can handle almost any situation. And while its depth of features might be a bit daunting to some, overall the E-510 is a solid, flexible camera that takes very good pictures under most conditions.

One of the first things I noticed when picking up the camera with the standard 14-42mm zoom lens was how light it was: the camera and lens together weigh less than two pounds. The E-510 doesn’t feel flimsy, however. The body is well-built, and the grip feels comfortable in your hand. Even with the new 40-150mm telephoto zoom lens (available as part of the $1,000 two-lens bundle), you won’t feel weighed down.

It’s easy to just start shooting. The shutter and exposure compensation buttons are easy to find, and the big control dial on top makes it simple to dial in the shooting mode you want. There are five dedicated scene modes on the dial (portrait, landscape, macro, sports, and night portrait), and another 13 modes accessible via menus, designed to account for shooting situations that range from fireworks to documents to panoramas.

Feature-laden extras

What differentiates the E-510 from some of the other DSLRs in its class is the volume of features built into the camera. For example, the E-510 offers exposure bracketing—the ability to take multiple versions of a picture at different settings, thereby raising your chances of capturing a properly exposed image under difficult lighting conditions—but the camera can also bracket shots for flash and white balance. The E-510 has two levels of image stabilization to help minimize camera shake, a depth of field preview button, multiple metering modes (including a spot meter), and a dust-removal feature that vibrates the sensor when you turn the camera on. There are also little extras like variable flash strength, mirror lock-up capability (to further minimize camera shake), and support for both CompactFlash and xD-Picture Card formats.

The E-510’s Live View mode, which lets you use the 2.5-inch LCD as a viewfinder, is a handy feature to have, especially for those times when you can’t position your eye on the viewfinder to get the shot, but it’s not really designed to be used all the time; overuse can heat up the camera’s sensor and introduce noise into your images.

After weeks of use, my primary complaint about the camera is that the interface to some of the advanced features is a bit clunky, but that’s tempered by the fact that access to the primary features is intuitive and easy. I also didn’t like the fact that there are no focus switches on the Olympus lenses; you need to change the autofocus setting in the camera. Aside from these small issues, however, all of the basic functionality an entry-level or serious shooter would like is readily available on the camera.

Features wouldn’t be worth much if the E-510’s pictures weren’t of high quality, and Olympus didn’t disappoint here either. Color fidelity and saturation were very good, and the E-510 was able to handle most shooting conditions easily. At lower ISO ranges, there is very little noise in E-510’s images; as you go to ISO 800 and above, color noise starts to show up, although it’s really not any worse than other cameras in this price range.

performance

Image quality Superior
Battery life Superior

How we tested: The image-quality rating of the camera is based upon a panel of judges' opinions in five categories: exposure, color, sharpness, distortion, and overall. Battery life testers follow a precise script, including shots with and without flash, until the battery dies.--Tested in conjunction with the PC World Test Center

specifications

Resolution 10.2 megapixel
Zoom/focal length (35mm equivalent) 14-42 mm
Battery type Rechargeable Lithium Ion
Media slots CompactFlash, Microdrive, xD-Picture Card
Size (width x height x depth, in inches) 5.4 x 3.6 x 2.7
Weight (in ounces) 17

Macworld’s buying advice

Many DSLR vendors are streamlining their sub-$1,000 offerings to appeal to novices; in the process, they strip out features or skimp on quality. Olympus is taking a different tack. With the Evolt E-510, you get a full-featured DSLR with more advanced features than just about any similarly priced camera. Getting access to some of those features can be a bit trying, but if you worry that you’ll outgrow the functionality of other entry-level DSLRs—and you don’t want to spend a bundle to get the features—the E-510 is a very good choice.

[ Rick LePage is Macworld ’s editor at large and an editor at completedigitalphotography.com. ]

Olympus Evolt E-510

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