Camera review: Olympus EVOLT E-510 DSLR

Back in August 1st, Olympus PR invited me to attend the Legg Mason Tennis Classic here in DC and shoot with their new DSLR, the EVOLT E-510. I enjoyed myself thoroughly at that event, and my thanks go out to Michael Bourne from Mullen, the agency that handles the PR for Olympus.

When I arrived there, I was given a review kit for the E-510, containing the camera, the FL-36 speedlite, and the two-lens kit (14-42mm and 40-150mm). For my review, I did what I usually do: I used the review unit as my primary camera for a month, taking note of the experience. What you’ll get now are my impressions of the camera, after taking thousands of photographs with it in various light and weather conditions, indoors and outdoors. You can choose to watch it below or here, and to download it as well. My full written review is enclosed below as well.

The E-510 is a prosumer camera made to be portable, affordable and easy to use. The E-510, a 10-megapixel DSLR, is smaller and lighter than its predecessor, the E-500, which I reviewed this past January. Even though it’s smaller, the grip was designed so well that I could hold the camera comfortably, without missing the heft of the E-500 or that of my personal camera, the Canon 5D. (I like my cameras a little chunky, they’re easier to stabilize that way.) The E-510 was even lighter than I thought with a lens mounted on it. The two-lens kit includes two premium lenses designed for travel and portability. They’re incredibly light given their focal range. I expected the 14-42mm lens to be light, but I was blown away by how small and light the 40-150mm lens was. Olympus really did an amazing job with the lenses and the camera when it came to portability. The whole kit (camera, lenses, speedlite and charger) was so light I could carry it anywhere very easily. I could run with it and barely felt its weight — as a matter of fact, I did just that on a couple of hikes through the forest.

The thing to remember when looking at focal lengths with any Olympus DSLR is that they’ve got a 2x crop factor. It’s because they use the 4:3 standard, which specifies a sensor size of approximately half the dimensions of a full frame sensor (17.3 mm vs. 36 mm and 13 mm vs. 24 mm). This means the surface area of the sensor is 1/4th that of a full frame sensor. It also means you need to multiply the focal length listed on each lens by two in order to get the effective focal length. If the math is a bit confusing, just keep remember the crop factor and you’ll do fine.

To illustrate this, let’s look at the two kit lenses. The wide angle zoom, 14-42mm, yielded an effective focal range of 28-84mm. The tele zoom, with a 40-150mm range, yielded an effective focal range of 80-300mm. Now do you understand why I was amazed by how light and small the lenses were? Try finding an 80-300mm zoom lens from another DSLR manufacturer, and I guarantee you that it won’t be this small and light. Olympus can accomplish this because of their sensor’s form factor. It’s a small sensor, 1/4th the surface area of a full frame sensor. That means they need less glass in the lenses, because there’s less sensor to cover with the glass. Because there’s less glass, the lenses are easier to make. You get the same optical quality, but the lenses are cheaper, lighter and smaller.

As long as I’m talking about the sensor, I should mention that it’s a Live MOS, which gives it the ability to do Live View (it lets you compose photos on the LCD instead of the viewfinder). There is a slight delay between the time that you press the shutter button and the photo is taken when using Live View. The advantage is that you can zoom into the photo up to 10x, on screen, and make sure your focus is tack sharp. This is particularly useful for macro photography.

If you’re graduating to the E-510 from a point and shoot, you may say “Big deal, I’ve composed photos on the LCD screen all along. What’s the difference?” Well, the difference is huge. Until Olympus introduced Live View, no other prosumer DSLRs on the market offered it. The mechanisms were much too complicated. Because CCD sensors were in use on most DSLRs until recently, separate CMOS sensors would have needed to be installed in the camera, and light diverted to them with additional mirrors. As a matter of fact, Olympus’ first Live View DSLR, the E-330, functions through that mechanism. Things there are complicated, and the potential for breakdown is increased. But with the introduction of the E-410 and E-510, Olympus switched to CMOS sensors altogether. This allowed them to use the same sensor for both photographs and Live View, dramatically simplifying the mechanism involved. Other camera manufacturers soon followed suit, and now we have both Canon and Nikon DSLRs with the same capabilities. Nikon also switched from CCD to CMOS sensors in their recent DSLRs, the D300 and D3.

To get back to Point and Shoot cameras, they use CCD sensors. That means they have little rinky-dink CMOS sensors hidden away next to the CCD sensor, and they use those to let you compose on screen and record movies. But those tiny sensors have pathetic imaging capabilities, and understandably so. By and large, Point and Shoot cameras are small and inexpensive. Manufacturers can’t afford to cram expensive components in there. Not so in the E-510 and other DSLRs that have Live View or its equivalent. They use the same large, expensive sensor for everything. While they won’t let you record movies, they will allow you to see very accurately what your camera sees, directly through the lens, and will automatically compensate for aperture, shutter speed, ISO and white balance settings so you can see how a photo will look before you press the shutter button.

The camera also features Olympus’ SSWF (Super Sonic Wave Filter) technology, which shakes dust off the sensor. Olympus was the first company to introduce this feature, and other DSLR manufacturers only recently introduced similar technology on their cameras. The SSWF light is located next to the shutter button on top of the camera, and it flashes blue when it’s active. I can tell you that it does work. I did not have to sit there with the Heal tool, removing dust spots from the photos taken with my E-510, whereas I have to do that on a regular basis when I take photos with other DSLRs.

Another important feature built right into the camera is the sensor-shift image stabilization. It stabilizes the image by shifting the sensor on both the X and Y axis (horizontally and vertically). You can hear it working on longer exposures. It works pretty well. But don’t forget to switch it off when you mount the camera on a tripod, otherwise you’ll get blurry photos. This is a pretty common bug with image stabilization technologies, and it doesn’t matter when they’re built into the camera or the lenses. When the camera is kept very stable, they go nuts trying to stabilize what doesn’t need to be stabilized. The end result is a blurry photo. So switch off the IS.

The advantage of in-camera stabilization versus in-lens stabilization is that it’s cheaper over the long term. You can use any sort of compatible lens (older or newer) with that camera, and you’ll be able to take advantage of the image stabilization with every single lens. That’s not the case with in-lens stabilization, which, as its name implies, is located in the lens. That means each of those lenses will cost more, and their cost adds up as you buy more of them. To be fair, it seems that in-lens stabilization works over a greater range of f-stops in real-life use than in-camera stabilization. But you can’t argue with the price difference, and the results are pretty good, too.

The photo you see here was taken at a shutter speed of 1/13th of a second, as I was bent over a brook, looking at a crayfish. If you take photographs yourself, then you know that you can’t keep your body very stable when you’re bent over, unless you’ve stabilized yourself somehow, which was not the case here. Yet that photo came out clear and sharp, even at 100%. The water even managed to look a little oily, which only happens with longer exposures.

Other useful features of the camera are the many scene modes, and the ability to write to CF, Microdive and xD cards. To find two-card slots on other DSLR brands, you have to look to the professional models (over $4,000). Yet Olympus includes that option on the very affordable, prosumer-oriented E-510. That’s a really nice touch.

The E-510 uses the new TruePic III image processor, which gives better colors and more accurate skin tones. I found that to be true as I used the camera. Where I found this image processor similar to the TruePic II (used in the E-500) was in the auto white-balance, which tended to err on the side of colder color temperatures. Thankfully, I shot in RAW, so I was able to adjust the WB in post-processing, but those shooting in JPG mode may want to be aware of this and adjust the White Balance accordingly before using the camera. Personally, I prefer cameras that err on the side of warmer color temperatures (but not too warm, because that can get pretty ugly). My Canon 5D does a great job with the auto white balance. But I expect that from it. It cost three times as much as the E-510.

The autofocus still uses only three focus points, and yes, that makes a difference. I found it to be slower than autofocus on cameras that use more focus points. It tended to hunt sometimes, even in broad daylight. But overall, it worked pretty well, and the focusing delay wasn’t significant.

Battery life is advertised at 650 shots per charge. In practice, I found that I got about 800 shots per charge. Maybe that’s just me. I always seem to get more shots per charge than the specs.

I use Adobe Lightroom to post-process all my photos, regardless of what camera I use. I noticed that RAW files created by Olympus cameras (both the E-500 and E-510 are subject to this), take longer to load fully in Lightroom than RAW files created by Canon cameras. I’m not sure why this is, and whether it occurs with other workflow-oriented applications, like Aperture, but I thought it worth mentioning. Just in case you’re wondering, I did upgrade to the latest version of Lightroom as of this date, which is version 1.2.

Sensitivity to low light was a point of contention in my review of the E-500, where I noted the CCD sensor was prone to lots of chroma noise at higher ISO. Presumably, the Live MOS sensor of the E-510 has better low light performance and generates less noise. In terms of ISO speeds, it goes from 100-1600, like the E-500. I did find less chroma noise when I used it. Luminance noise was about the same, perhaps a little more, but that has to do with CMOS sensors in general.

Basically, I can’t give you a definitive opinion on the camera’s low light performance. The two kit lenses that shipped with my review unit were too slow to properly judge how this camera does in low light situations. The 14-42mm lens was f/3.5-5.6 and the 40-150mm lens was f/4.5-5.6. To judge a camera’s performance in low light, you’d need faster lenses, ones that can open up to at least f/2.0. Ideally, the lenses should open up to f/1.8, f/1.4 or f/1.2. I asked Olympus to send me such a faster lens, but they weren’t able to do that within the review period. As I told them, I’d be glad to test the camera with a fast lens if they can arrange it at some point in the future, and report on my findings.

It wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t also show you some more photos taken with the camera. They’re enclosed in the photo gallery above. You can also view all of my published photos from the Legg Mason Tennis Classic, which were all taken with the E-510.

The E-510 is a great all-around DSLR. It’s light, affordable, packed with features and options, and it will help you get great photos. I would definitely recommend it to someone who’s looking to purchase a DSLR and lens kit for well under $1,000.

More information:

Advertisements

Author: Raoul Pop

Entrepreneur, consultant, filmmaker, photographer and watch collector

26 thoughts on “Camera review: Olympus EVOLT E-510 DSLR”

  1. Raoul,

    Thanks for your prompt response and useful tips.

    I will try out what you suggested (faster lens).

    mats

    Like

  2. Mathew, here’s what I think:
    1. That’s normal. It’s the sensor auto-cleaning. I demo-ed it in my video review.
    2. I believe that’s because you’re getting the live feed from the CMOS without the benefit of the noise reduction and color computing that’s applied to the photos. This is normal and expected, and can’t be corrected. You can only improve it by using a faster lens (f2.0 or better) than the kit lenses. It would let in more light and you’d be able to see better indoors.

    Like

  3. Dear Raoul,

    Thanks for the excellent review. I bought E510 recentlly. I need two clarifications which probably you can provide.

    1.Whenever I shut down the camera, after the camera is off, there is a whirring sound from inside the camera. Could you tell me whether this is a normal behaviour, possibly due to some machanism inside? The pictures are coming out fine, anyway.

    2. The live view is not at all satisfactory indoors. It is grainy indoors, and just black and white in low light. The live view does not match with the actual resulting pictures. Can this be corrected by some adjustment.

    I am not a pro. Can you help me?

    mats

    Like

  4. Raoul,

    Thanks for the answer, I must have jumped right over those posts (doh!). I really enjoy this site and have recommended it to others for advise. Keep up the good work!!

    Like

  5. Glen, see Comment #12 above. I answered a very similar question there. Asking me to say which one is better would bias you. It really all depends on your needs. For example, I’m biased because I shoot with a Canon 5D. I’ve already invested in the Canon line and wouldn’t like to switch unless it became necessary.

    If I hadn’t bought a great Canon DSLR already, and would be a fresh DSLR buyer looking to choose between the E-510 and the XTi, I’d be hard-pressed to make the choice, for multiple reasons. Each of the bodies have their strong points. It would pretty much be a toss-up.

    However, if it became a comparison between the E-510 and the new XSi (not the XTi), the XSi would win.

    Hope this helps.

    Like

  6. Chandler, there are several things to consider. The E-330 is an older model that might get replaced at some point in the future. It’s also 8 megapixels, while the E-510 is 10 megapixels. The two camera bodies are fairly different. The E-330 is rectangular with rounded corners and smaller while the E-510 is shaped more like a normal DSLR. But the E-330 has a swivel-out LCD (albeit smaller) while the E-510 has a fixed, normal LCD screen. Depending on the sort of angles you’re looking to get, the E-330 might work out better that way. There’s also a price difference — a small one, but it is there. So if your budget only allows you to get the E-330 plus a lens or two, go for that. But really, the choice should be yours. Given these things that I’ve told you, you need to figure out what your needs are and make the decision.

    Like

  7. I am wondering about which camera to buy. I have been reviewing and I am stuck between the E-330 and the E-510. Now I am preaty much just starting out doing this part time. I take almost all out door type shots, of animals and nature that type of thing. What do you suggest?

    Like

  8. Hi Raoul and Keith,

    I really liked the Olympus because of the stablizer, live view, and it does have dual storage.

    But I really appreciate the views of someone who knows their way around a camera, and Raoul you fit the bill =].

    Keith, I love side by side comparison site you linked! Thank you, so much – it does make it a lot easier for me.

    Thank you both for taking the time to answer me!

    Like

  9. @Bunnie: Raoul’s right to suggest that you begin with a simple feature comparison. There are always one or two things that people simply prefer, and by comparing like features straight-up, you might save yourself from a purchase that you’ll regret weeks or months down the road.

    I’ve played the feature lineup game more times than I care to count. And while the pen-and-paper method sounds like fun, you might check out the side-by-side comparison tool provided by dpreview.com. It’s comprehensive and vendor-neutral. Might just save you a goodly amount of time and ink 🙂

    Like

  10. Bunnie, that’s a hard choice to make. It depends on many things. My advice to you would be to take a sheet of paper, draw a line down the middle, and write down the features you like from each camera. Then tally up the number, and get the one that has more features you like.

    Personally, I think Olympus makes that choice a lot easier because they give you two great kit lenses. You can get the kit and be done with it. You’ll have an equivalent 35mm focal range of 28-300mm with both of them put together, and that’s a very versatile package.

    But don’t just take my word for this, do your own research and work on that list as I told you. Independent thought with researched facts is always best when it comes to making decisions.

    Like

  11. Which do you like better, The Canon Rebel XTI DSLR or the Olympus Evolt e510 dslr?

    I am not photographer, I am hobbyiest that wants a good camera. I really like the live view on the Olympus, and the stablizer. But I would appreciate your opinion between those two.

    Like

  12. Hi Jane. For starters, the E-3 is a professional camera while the E-510 is a prosumer camera. The E-3 is more rugged and built to resists dust and water. Plus, it fares much better in low light than the E-510. It goes to 3200 ISO while the E-510 only goes to 1600 ISO. There’s less noise at 3200 ISO with the E-3 than there is at 1600 ISO with the E-510.

    The two cameras are built for different purposes. The E-510 is light and small, while the E-3 is heavy and big. The E-510 has a three-point AF, while the E-3 uses Olympus’ top of the line, 11-point AF, currently rated as the fastest on the market. The LCD screen of the E-510 is built-in, while it swivels out on the E-3.

    These are just some of the differences, but I hope you can begin to see just how different they are. You might want to have a look at my coverage of the E-3 launch party to get a better idea.

    Like

  13. What are the benefits of buying the E-3 compared to the E-510? The pricing is quite different, but the specs seem to be the same. Could you please enlighten me? Thank you, Jane

    Like

  14. Sorry to hear about that, Nate. I did notice the delay when I shot with the E-510, but not having used the E-330 in person, I couldn’t compare. As I said in my review, the mechanics of Live View in the E-510 are actually simpler than in the E-330. I think it’s just a matter of implementation. The engineers chose to have the mirror swing back down, then back up when photos are taken in Live View. That’s what adds the delay. I’m not sure why they did that. It seems that in the Canon 40D, when Live View is used, the mirror stays up all the time, and only the shutter opens and closes.

    Like

  15. I originally bought the e-330, and then thought I’d upgrade to the e-510, and since I began photography shooting through the LCD, I continue to frame my photos using the LCD monitor. There is a tremendous difference in the delay when shooting through the LCD between the e-330 and e-510. The 330 is VERY quick once the shutter button is pressed, but the e-510 was VERY slow once the shutter button was pressed and it sounds like there are a ton of mechanical things happening in the 510 when shooting through the LCD. I had already sold my 330, but went ahead and purchased another one, and I believe the image quality is actually better on the 330, and so does my photo editor. Overall I was disappointed in the 510 relative to the 330.

    Like

Comments are closed.