The new Olympus E-500 camera represents an excellent choice for keen photographers who want better performance, functionality and flexibility than a high-end digicam can provide. The E-500 is the lightest interchangeable-lens DSLR available and, with the supplied 14-45mm lens attached, one of the most comfortable to hold and operate. With its 8-megapixel, Four Thirds System CCD sensor it can also capture 8-megapixel images in RAW, TIFF or JPEG format. . . [more]
Rating (out of 10):Build: 8.5Ease of use: 8.5
Image quality: 8.5Value for money: 8.5
The new Olympus E-500 camera represents an excellent choice for keen photographers who want better performance, functionality and flexibility than a high-end digicam can provide. The E-500 is the lightest interchangeable-lens DSLR available and, with the supplied 14-45mm lens attached, one of the most comfortable to hold and operate. With its 8-megapixel, Four Thirds System CCD sensor it can capture 8-megapixel images in RAW, TIFF or JPEG format.
Like most consumer DSLRs, the E-500’s body is made from fibre-reinforced polycarbonate, which is light and tough. It’s much better balanced than the E-300, with a traditional pentaprism shape and logical control layout. Unfortunately, the viewfinder is small and cramped and a fairly low eyepoint makes it difficult to use with glasses, although dioptre adjustment is provided.
The top panel carries the mode dial and command dial, along with a sliding on/off switch and exposure compensation button. Much of the rear panel is covered by the 2.5-inch LCD, which is bright and easy to view. Pressing the Info button lets you select from two data display options: basic and detailed. You can also choose from two colour options. Left of the monitor are buttons for accessing the menu, flash, and playback functions, while on the right are the AE/AF lock button, drive mode button, AF button, custom function button and four-way controller, which provides quick access to white balance, AF, ISO and metering mode settings.
The pop-up flash rises high above the lens axis. It has a GN of 13 and X-synch at 1/180 second, plus a hot-shoe for Olympus flash units. Relocation of the lens release button makes it easier to change lenses and the CF/xD card door can be locked with a tiny hook. A latch has also been placed in the battery compartment to hold the battery in position.
Like all Olympus DSLR cameras, the E-500 comes with built-in dust reduction, using a proprietary Supersonic Wave Filter (SSWF), which is positioned in front of the CCD, between the low pass filter and the shutter. Each time the camera is powered-up, this filter is vibrated ultrasonically and any dust it has captured is shaken off. It collects on a sticky pad, which is changed when the camera is serviced. The CCD and low pass filter are sealed so dust can’t reach them.
The SSWF system was introduced with the original E-1 model back in 2003 and is tried and proven. You can also activate it by pressing a button on the top body panel.
Olympus has retained some of the best features of the E-300 while adding new functions that make the E-500 a stand-out model in the under-$1500 category. As well as the standard auto, P, A, S and M settings, the mode dial also provides the basic Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Sports, and Night Portrait settings, along with a Scene mode that accesses even more. There are 14 settings in all, and when you select them, each is displayed on the monitor with a sample shot and brief description of the settings that will be used. It’s a great way for novices to learn which settings ‘work’ in different situations – and an effective way to tempt more timid users away from the standard full auto setting.
Three Picture Mode settings are now provided – Vivid, Natural and Muted. New yellow, orange, red and green filters have been added to the Black and White shooting options. You can also ‘tint’ B&W shots with green, blue or purple!
Like the E-300, the new model supports both sRGB and Adobe RGB colour modes but the latter files now carry the standard DCF 2.0 underscore prefix (e.g. _1010086) and Exif colour space tag. Users can also register camera settings in one of two ‘My Mode’ memories for quick recall via the Custom button. You can also shoot a ‘test picture’ and view it before writing it to the card, a handy feature for tricky lighting.
In-camera adjustments are abundant, with five levels of tuning for both sharpness and contrast and five levels of saturation control in each of the three Picture Modes. White balance can also be finely controlled via standard auto and pre-set modes, plus Kelvin values for greater precision. White balance bracketing covers three frames with +/- four, eight or 12 mired steps You can also fine-tune any white balance setting with up to seven steps of adjustment in 2 mired steps across either red/blue or green/magenta colour axes.
Exposure compensation spans +/- 5 EV and it’s adjustable in up to +/- 1, 2/3, 1/2, or 1/3 EV steps. Exposure bracketing is also provided for three frames, with the same adjustment options. Flash output can also be modified by +/- 2EV.
The large LCD screen allows users to take full advantage of the E-500’s many playback modes. In addition to the conventional single and multi-up (4, 9, 16, 25 frames) settings, Olympus lets you zoom in on part of an image by pressing the WB and multifunction buttons simultaneously. Up to 14x magnification is available but as this function uses a 1600×1200 pixel JPEG image that’s embedded in the selected file, beyond 8x you won’t see any more detail. Other playback options include slide show, calendar view, rotation and light box view.
You can also view shots with a full data display that includes exposure and metering modes, shutter speed, aperture value, exposure compensation level, ISO, colour space, white balance mode, white balance compensation level, focal length, focus area, file type and selected picture mode. Users can also choose between two histogram displays: a large monochrome graph overlaid on a full frame image or small individual RGB histograms beside a thumbnail of the shot with shooting data below. A blinking highlight point warning is provided and Olympus has added a new shadow point warning. Another handy new function is side-by-side compare, which lets you compare two sequential shots. Limited in-camera editing is provided for JPEG and TIFF files and in-camera RAW file ‘development’ is supported.
In use, the E-500 performed admirably, delivering images that were sharp and clean with slightly warm but close-to-accurate colours. Metering tended to favour shadow details, causing some blocking of highlights in shots taken in bright sunlight -especially in bright situations like beaches. This problem was not completely correctable by shooting raw files and converting them to 16-bit TIFF images. In such situations, reducing the exposure by 1/3 to ½ a stop is advantageous – as long as you stick with raw files.
Imatest showed the camera to be capable of recording plenty of detail but resolution was slightly below that of the Canon EOS 350D, which has a larger sensor and photosites and better in-camera sharpening. The E-500’s sharpening tended to produce slightly hard looking edges without increasing overall resolution – although sharpening artefacts were relatively minor. We noticed a slight fall-off in image sharpness in shots taken at the widest lens setting with the supplied 17-45mm zoom lens. Barrel distortion was also found at this setting.
In the Natural picture mode setting, colour saturation and contrast were pleasingly subdued, providing excellent opportunities for further editing. Switching to the Vivid mode elevated the saturation by roughly 15% and slightly boosted contrast. The Muted mode tuned down both contrast and saturation a little, while the Monotone gave B&W images and the Sepia an old-style yellowish brown.
Little image noise was discernible in low light shots at ISO settings up to ISO 400. Beyond that point, deterioration became apparent, mainly in the form of image softening. No stuck pixels were detected but colour mottling was apparent at higher ISO settings despite an otherwise effective high-ISO noise filter. Some detail was sacrificed when this filter was used but not enough to be obvious without sizeable enlargement.
Flash coverage was uneven at the wide angle setting – even with the Slow Sync mode. Coverage improved by the mid and tele ends of the supplied lens’s zoom range with best results being found at ISO 400, although ISO 200 produced acceptable illumination levels. Flash output is adjustable across +/- 2 EV and flash bracketing is provided – and effective.
The camera took just over two seconds to power up but shut down almost instantaneously. Capture lag was negligible and autofocusing was fast and accurate under most conditions. Shot-to-shot processing took just over half a second, with RAW files being marginally faster than JPEGs and TIFFs somewhat slower. The burst mode captured four RAW files in 11 seconds but it took roughly 30 seconds to clear the buffer. With a burst of four JPEGs, a fast card cleared in approximately five seconds.
The camera is supplied with two software CDs; one containing the complete used manual in PDF format and the other a recent version of Olympus Master software, which lets users transfer images from camera to PC, browse image files, convert raw files to JPEG or TIFF format and update the camera’s firmware. It also contains a basic suite of editing functions (levels, brightness/contrast, colour, red-eye removal, sharpness and distortion corrections). Edited images can be written over originals or saved as separate copies. Back-up, printing and emailing facilities are also provided. The software is functional and reasonably easy to use but fairly slow, so we feel most photographers will resort to Adobe’s Camera Raw 3.3 (which is downloadable free of charge from Adobe’s website) for raw file conversion, rather than forking out $199 more for the Olympus Studio 1.4 ‘professional’ imaging application. (A 30-day free trial download of this software is available from topdeblogs.com/ww/updata/estudio.html?OS=W&Lang=ENU&Type=1. 
Image sensor: 18.0 x 13.5mm Full Frame Transfer CCD with 8.9 million photosites (8 megapixels effective) Lens mount: 4/3 type Lens multiplier factor: 2.0x Image formats: JPEG (Exif 2.2), TIFF, RAW and RAW + JPEG Shutter speed range: 60-1/4000 sec. plus bulb (up to 8 min); X-sync at 1/180 sec or 1/4000 sec in Super FP mode. ISO range: ISO 100-400 (in 1/3-stop increments) with expansion to ISO 1600. Full auto: ISO 100-400 Dimensions (wxhxd): 129.5 x 94.5 x 66mm (body only) Weight:435g (body only) Focus system/modes: TTL phase difference detection AF; Single AF, continuous AF, manual focus, single AF + MF, and continuous AF + MF. Exposure metering/control: TTL open aperture light metering with 49-zone multi-pattern sensing; Digital ESP, centre-weighted average and spot modes (highlight- and shadow-based); Auto, P, A, S, and M settings plus 15 scene modes. White balance: 8 types (3000K – 7500K). Lamp 1 (3000K), Fluorescent 1 (4000K), Fluorescent 2 (4500K), Fluorescent 3 (6600K), Daylight (5300K), Cloudy (6000K), Shade (7500K). Sequence shooting: 2.5 fps for up to 4 RAW/TIFF frames or card capacity in JPEG format. Flash: Pop-up TTL auto/manual flash; GN 13 Storage Media: CompactFlash card (Type I and II), Microdrive, xD picture card. (Dual slot) Viewfinder: Eye-level TTL Penta mirror type optical viewfinder. LCD monitor: 2.5 inch HyperCrystal LCD Interfaces: USB 2.0 (not Hi-Speed), video out (PAL.NTSC), IR remote control (optional), DC-in.Power supply: BLM-1 rechargeable Li-Ion battery pack
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