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DCRP Review: Olympus EVOLT E-510  
   

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally Posted: July 23, 2007
Last Updated: February 13, 2012

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The Olympus E-510 is an entry-level digital SLR that is the "big brother" to the E-410 which I recently reviewed. For an additional $100, the E-510 offers all of the things that made the E-410 impressive (and, in some cases, not impressive) and throws in image stabilization, a larger grip, better battery life, and more.

Here's a list of the standout features on the E-410 and E-510:

  • A 10 Megapixel LiveMOS sensor
  • CCD-shift image stabilization [E-510 only]
  • "Live view" on a high resolution 2.5" LCD display
  • A brighter optical viewfinder than the E-330, Olympus' last live view D-SLR
  • Dust reduction system as found on all Olympus E-series cameras
  • New TruePic III image processor promises better photo quality and faster performance
  • Dual xD and CompactFlash memory card slots

Though it had more than its share of flaws, the E-410 still earned my recommendation. Is the E-510 bigger and better? Find out now in our review!

As you might expect, this review is based on the one from the E-410, so expect a lot of repetition. And I mean it.

What's in the Box?

The E-510 comes in three kits: body only ($799), with a 14 - 42 mm lens ($899), or with that lens plus an additional 40 - 150 mm lens ($999). Here's what you'll find in the box for each:

  • The 10.0 effective Megapixel Olympus E-510 camera body
  • F3.5 - 5.6, 14 - 42 mm Zuiko Digital Zoom Lens [lens kit only]
  • F4.0 - 5.6, 40 - 150 mm Zuiko Digital Zoom Lens [dual lens kit only]
  • BLM-1 lithium-ion rechargeable battery
  • Battery charger
  • Body cap
  • Shoulder strap
  • USB cable
  • Video cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Olympus Master
  • Quick start guide + 138 page full camera manual (printed)

Those two kit lenses were introduced alongside the E-410 and E-510. They're not as fancy as some of Olympus' other lenses (they're not weather sealed) but they're more than adequate for most people. You can, of course, use any of the other FourThirds lenses on the market, most of which are made by Olympus. The camera has a 2X crop factor, so whatever lens you attach will have the field-of-view twice that of the focal range of the lens (e.g. 35mm lens = 70mm FOV).

Digital SLRs never come with memory cards, so if you don't have an xD or CompactFlash card laying around, you'll have to buy one. That's right, the E-510 supports two totally different memory card formats. I'd recommend a 1GB or 2GB card as a good starter size, and it's definitely worth paying more for a "high speed" card (called "Type H" on xD media).

The E-510 uses the same BLM-1 battery as some of Olympus' older D-SLRs. This is one of the most powerful rechargeable batteries on the market, with a whopping 10.8 Wh of energy. As you'd expect, the E-510 gets some pretty stellar battery numbers, as long as you don't use the live view very often. Here's a comparison:

Camera Battery life, 50% flash use
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Canon Digital Rebel XTi 360 shots NB-2LH
Nikon D40x 520 shots EN-EL9
Nikon D80 600 shots * EN-EL3e
Olympus EVOLT E-330 400 shots ** BLM-1
Olympus EVOLT E-410 500 shots ** BLS-1
Olympus EVOLT E-510 650 shots ** BLM-1
Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1 450 shots ** CGR-S603A
Pentax K10D 480 shots D-LI50
Pentax K100D Super 300 shots 4 x 2500 mAh NiMH
Sony Alpha DSLR-A100 750 shots NP-FM55H

* Not officially calculated using the CIPA standard, but same methodology used
** With live view disabled

Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer

That, my friends, is battery life that is well above the group average. Olympus doesn't publish battery life numbers for when live view is being used, but I've been told that it roughly halves the number above.

As always, I have to mention my complaints about the proprietary batteries used by cameras like the E-510. They're expensive (priced from $26), and you can't use an off-the-shelf battery to get you through a shoot. Only one of the cameras in the table above supports AA batteries straight out of the box, though some of the others can use them with their optional battery grips.

Speaking of which, the E-510 does not support a battery grip. It doesn't even support an AC adapter, which is pretty ridiculous if you ask me.

When it's time to charge the BLM-1, just pop it into the included charger. And then prepare to wait for a whopping five hours for it to be charged. If you want a faster charger, Olympus would be happy to sell you one -- for nearly $70! Whichever charger you use, you'll have to use a power cable with them, as they don't plug directly into the wall.

Being a digital SLR, you shouldn't be surprised to hear that the E-510 supports a ton of accessories. Here's a quick summary of what's available:

Accessory Model # Price * Description
Lenses Varies Varies The E-510 supports all FourThirds lenses, with a 2X crop factor
External flash

FL-36
FL-50

From $164
From $339
You'll get more flash power and less chance of redeye with an external flash. These two models fully integrate with the camera.
Right Angle Finder VA-1 From $175 Lets you look into the viewfinder from above
OM adapter MF-1 From $90 Use classic OM lenses with the E-510 (with lots of restrictions, though)
Wired remote control RM-UC1 $50 Take a picture without touching the camera
Wireless remote control RM-1 From $26 A wireless remote is also available
Fast battery charger BCM-1 From $70 Charges your battery in two hours instead of five
E-System Travel Bag 260225 From $36 Holds the camera and two lenses
* Prices were accurate at time of publication

Unlike the E-410, there's no underwater case available for the larger E-510. That accessory kit that I mentioned in the E-410 review won't do you much good here, either, as it includes a battery that the E-510 cannot use.


Olympus Master 2 in Mac OS X

Olympus includes version 2 of their Olympus Master software with the E-510. The software is, for the most part, a nice upgrade over the previous version. It's pretty snappy (except when loading a RAW image), the interface is simple, and it can do just about everything you could ever want.

After you've transferred photos over from the camera (either into albums or folders on your hard drive) you'll arrive at the usual thumbnail screen that is standard in all photo viewing software these days. The thumbnail sizes are adjustable, and you can see shooting data and a histogram on the right side of the thumbnails. There's even a built-in RSS reader for subscribing to Olympus-related newsfeeds, though it wasn't yet working when I tried it.

Here you can organize photos, e-mail or print them, or display them in a slideshow. If you have a bunch of photos that you want to stitch into a panorama, you can do that with a few clicks of your mouse.

Olympus Master also lets you update the firmware on your camera and lenses from within the software.


Like a lot of photo viewers, Olympus Master lets you view you images in a calendar format. There's even a "diary" for each day for you to record notes in.

Above you can see the edit window, which you access by either double-clicking on a thumbnail or by clicking the Edit button in the toolbar. Functions here include resizing, cropping, brightness/contrast/sharpness adjustments, redeye reduction, distortion correction, and much more. When you're performing one of these edits, the software does a side-by-side before and after comparison, so you can see exactly what changes you've made.

Olympus Master also features a basic RAW editor. It lets you adjust exposure, white balance, picture mode (color, b&w, sepia), contrast, sharpness, saturation, noise filter, and color space. When you adjust any of the settings, Olympus Master shows you the results after a few seconds of grinding away. Do note that you don't get the before and after view like you do when you're editing JPEGs.

The RAW conversion engine used by both Olympus Master and Olympus Studio (which I'll describe below) is pretty lousy. It turns RAW images into JPEGs that are quite soft, and not really representative of what the camera is capable of. It all has to do with the "Noise Filter" setting, which is found both in the software and on the camera itself. Later on I'm going to tell you why to adjust the noise filter setting on the camera, but first here's why you don't want to use it in the software either.


Camera noise filter on, software noise filter on

Camera noise filter on, software noise filter off

Camera noise filter off, software noise filter "as shot"

Camera and software noise filters off

This is kind of confusing, so bear with me. If you're shooting with the camera's noise filter turned on, images will be pretty soft. If you've already taken the shot, you can go into Olympus Master, flip over to the "Basic 2" tab, and turn the noise filter off. As you can see by comparing the first two crops, there is a slight improvement in sharpness.

Now, let's suppose, you took a picture with the camera's noise filter turned off (which is a good idea) and bring it into Olympus Master. The image is just as soft as it was with the camera's noise filter on, as you can see in photo 3. To truly turn off the noise filter, you'll need to flip the noise filter switch in OM to off as well. Then you finally get a photo with the most detail, although it's pretty noisy (see photo 4).

This isn't the place to talk about noise -- I'll save that for later. Rather, I wanted to point out this apparent bug in the software so you are aware of it.


Olympus Studio for Mac OS X

If you want more advanced RAW editing tools then you might want to consider Olympus Studio 2 ($100). This adds tone curve adjustment, false color suppression, aberration and shading compensation, distortion correction, and batch processing. Unfortunately, it seems to use the same conversion engine as Olympus Master, so you'll have the same problem that I just described.


Olympus Studio - Camera Control Feature

Olympus Studio also lets you control the camera over a USB connection. You can adjust all the settings on the camera, and the images are saved right to your Mac or PC. You don't get a live preview on the computer, though -- you'll still have to compose with the viewfinder, or use the preview function in the software.

If you don't want to use Olympus' software for RAW conversion, then you'll be pleased to hear that the latest Camera Raw plug-in for Adobe Photoshop CS3 supports the E-510 (despite the fact that it's not listed on Adobe's website).

Oh, and if you have no idea what the heck RAW is, I'll tell you. Basically, it's a file containing unprocessed image data direct from the camera's sensor. You'll need to process it on your computer (or on the camera -- more on this later), but this allows you to adjust things like white balance, exposure, and noise reduction (well, in theory at least) without reducing the quality of the original image. It's almost like taking the photo again. Be warned that RAW images are considerably larger than JPEGs, which means that they take up more space on your memory card, and decrease camera performance.

Olympus includes a fold-out quick start guide plus a complete printed manual in the box with the E-510. The manual isn't very user-friendly, with lots of fine print and "notes" on each page, but you'll more than likely find what you're looking for inside its pages. While the printed manual briefly talks about the bundled software, the "help" function in Olympus Master provides most of the information that you may need.

Look and Feel

The EVOLT E-510 is noticeably bulkier than the E-410. And that's a good thing in my opinion, as that camera was just not comfortable in my large hands. The E-510 adds a right hand grip, which isn't huge, but better than nothing. The E-510 suffers from big-time button clutter, with a whopping 18 buttons on the top and back of the camera. I do appreciate the "direct buttons" on the four-way controller, which weren't there on the E-410 for some reason.

The camera is made of high grade plastic, but it doesn't have the "cheap" feeling of some other entry-level cameras.

Here are a few shots of the E-410 and E-510 side-by-side:

As you can see, the E-510 is slightly larger than the E-410, with the main difference being that much beefier grip. It has several additional buttons, as well. You can also see that neither camera has an LCD info display -- they use the main LCD for that (more on this later).

Now let's see how the E-510 compares to other D-SLRs in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon Digital Rebel XTi 5.0 x 3.7 x 2.6 in. 48.1 cu in. 510 g
Nikon D40x 5.0 x 3.7 x 2.5 in. 46.3 cu in. 482 g
Nikon D80 5.2 x 4.1 x 3.0 in. 64 cu in. 585 g
Olympus EVOLT E-330 5.5 x 3.4 x 2.8 in. 52.4 cu in. 550 g
Olympus EVOLT E-410 5.1 x 3.6 x 2.1 in. 38.6 cu in. 375 g
Olympus EVOLT E-500 5.0 x 3.7 x 2.6 in. 48.1 cu in. 435 g
Olympus EVOLT E-510 5.4 x 3.6 x 2.7 in. 52.5 cu in. 470 g
Pentax K100D Super 5.1 x 3.6 x 2.8 in. 51.4 cu in. 570 g
Pentax K10D 5.6 x 4.0 x 2.8 in. 62.7 cu in. 710 g
Sony Alpha DSLR-A100 5.3 x 3.8 x 2.9 in. 58.4 cu in. 545 g

While the E-410 was the smallest digital SLR on the market, the E-510 more in the middle. It's certainly not huge, though

Okay, enough about all that, let's start our tour of the camera now, beginning with the front.

Here's the front of the E-510 with the lens removed. The camera has the same FourThirds lens mount as the other E-System cameras, and there are plenty of lenses to choose from. As I mentioned earlier, there is a 2X focal length conversion ratio on the E-510, so a 35 mm lens has the field-of-view of a 70 mm lens. If you remember the E-330 (the first Olympus live view camera) you may recall that it had a side-swinging mirror and a porro viewfinder. As you can probably tell from the photo above, the E-510 has a more traditional upward-swinging mirror and viewfinder.

Behind the mirror is the E-510's unique LiveMOS image sensor. Its unique design allows for full-time live view on the camera's LCD display, so those of you used to previewing your shots on your compact camera's LCD will feel right at home. The old E-330 actually had two sensors: the main LiveMOS sensor and a second, smaller sensor in the viewfinder chamber. The camera offered two live view modes (A and B), with one allowing for autofocus and the other for manual focus. The problem with that concept was that the small sensor really darkened the optical viewfinder, and it's been done away with on the E-510. So, you get a brighter viewfinder and get to keep your live view, since the LiveMOS now does all the work. There are some performance issues that come with having live view, and I'll discuss those a bit later.

But wait, there's more. Like all of Olympus' E-Series cameras, the E-510 has the SuperSonic Wave Filter dust removal system. This system literally "shakes off" dust with ultrasonic waves when you turn the camera on, greatly reducing the amount of dust that can litter your photos. As someone who deals with a lot of dust on my own digital SLR, this is a very nice feature to have.

I'm still not done talking about the sensor, though! The E-510's biggest step-up feature is its CCD-shift image stabilization system. Tiny movements of your hands while holding the camera can cause something called "camera shake". As most of you know, this can blur your photos, especially in low light or with a big telephoto lens attached. The E-510 detects this motion, and shifts the sensor (which is mounted on a movable platform) to compensate for this. Image stabilization won't freeze a moving subject, nor will it allow for handheld 1 second exposures, but it will give you several stops of "safe" shutter speeds that you wouldn't have otherwise. And, since the camera uses a CCD-shift system, every lens you attach to the E-510 is stabilized!

Enough chit-chat, how about an example of how the IS system works?


Image stabilization off


Image stabilization on

Both of the above photos were taken at 1/6 sec, which is a recipe for a blurry photo. As you can see, the E-510's OIS system did the job, producing a nice, sharp photo. In an even less scientific test, I took photos with declining shutter speeds until the shot became blurry. With the 14-42 kit lens at full telephoto, the last sharp photo was at 1/10 sec without stabilization, and 1/5 sec with it -- a full stop. Of course, your mileage may vary -- there are so many factors involved in whether a photo is sharp or blurry.

Getting back to the tour now, we find the the E-510's pop-up flash (which is released electronically) above the lens mount. The guide number of the flash is 12 meters at ISO 100. The E-510's main competitors, the Canon Rebel XTi, Nikon D40x, Pentax K100D Super, and Sony Alpha DSLR-A100 have guide numbers of 13, 12, 11, and 12, respectively. If you want more flash power than you might want to consider adding an external flash to the hot shoe that you'll see in a bit.

If the flash is popped up, the camera may use it as an AF-assist lamp. These flash-based systems work a lot better than the more traditional AF-assist lamps, with much faster focus speeds. You aren't forced to take a flash photo -- just disable the flash in the menu.

To the right of the lens mount is the lens release button. Over on the left side of the photo (on the grip) is the self-timer lamp and receiver for the optional remote control.

The first thing to see on the back of the camera is the E-510's large 2.5" HyperCrystal LCD display. This screen has very common resolution of 230,000 pixels, so everything on it is nice and sharp. The screen isn't very easy to see in bright outdoor light, though.

As I mentioned, the E-510 lets you compose photos in real time on the LCD -- just like on a fixed-lens camera. You see 100% of the frame, unlike on the optical viewfinder, which shows 95%. Two things to note, though. For one, autofocus doesn't work in the traditional way: you can't halfway press the shutter release to lock focus. Instead, you can press the AE/AF lock button, or just fully press the shutter release and the camera will focus and then take the picture. Second, taking a picture with live view adds about a second of shutter lag, as the mirror has to flip down (for metering and focus) and then back out of the way.

  Olympus EVOLT E-410/E-510 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9
Normal Lighting
Low light

Low light w/live view boost

N/A

So how do things look? Well, pretty good, though not as good as on a fixed-lens camera (see above). The frame rate isn't as smooth, nor is the image as sharp. Still, it's quite usable, and much better than on the E-330. Low light visibility isn't so hot. You can turn on a live view boost option, which brightens things up, but everything is in black & white (and much less grainy than on the first generation live view SLRs).

When you're using manual focus in live view mode you can enlarge a part of the frame to verify proper focus. Just press the Info button, move the green square to the area you want enlarged, and press the OK button. The image can be enlarged by seven or ten times. Try that on a regular D-SLR!

Info display on LCD when using viewfinder Changing settings on the LCD

All of the data normally located on an LCD info display (which the E-510 lacks) can be found on the main LCD instead (when you're not using it for live view, of course). There are two versions of the info display -- the one you see above, plus another with even more info (not pictured). When you're on this screen you can press the OK button and then use the four-way controller to navigate to and adjust any of the settings shown.

Above the LCD is the optical viewfinder. One of the big complaints on the E-330 was its dark viewfinder, which was a result of having that extra live view sensor in the viewfinder chamber. That's gone here, so the viewfinder is considerably brighter. As I mentioned, the viewfinder shows 95% of the frame, and it has a magnification of 0.92X. On the right side of the field-of-view the camera displays shooting information like aperture, shutter speed, shots remaining, and focus lock. You can use the diopter correction knob on the right side of the viewfinder to focus what you're looking at. Do note that the viewfinder closes automatically when you activate the live view feature.

On the left side of the LCD you'll find these four buttons:

  • Playback mode
  • Delete photo
  • Menu
  • Info - toggles what's on the LCD

Jumping over to the right side of the viewfinder, you can see the AE/AF lock button, which locks the focus and exposure. This button also activates the image protection feature in playback mode. When you're in live view mode you can press this button to activate the autofocus system (otherwise it's manual focus only).


Image stabilization mode selection

To the lower-right of that is the IS button, which moves between the various image stabilization modes on the camera. The mode you'll use want to use in most situations is mode 1, which is basically "on". Mode 2 is for panning -- the camera only stabilizes up and down movement. You can also turn the whole system off, which you'll want to do if the camera's on a tripod.

Below the IS button is the display button, which switches the live view feature on and off. Just to the lower-right of that is the four-way controller, used for menu navigation, as well as:

  • Up - White balance
  • Down - ISO
  • Left - Metering
  • Right - AF

I'll tell you what options are available for each of those later in the review. Do note that only the E-510 has these "direct buttons" on the four-way controller -- the E-410, sadly, does not.

Under the four-way controller is the USB + A/V port, which has a rubber cover on top of it. The E-510 supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard, and it's about time too -- previous Olympus D-SLRs did not.

The last thing to see on the back of the camera is all the way at the top-right of the photo... and guess what, it's more buttons. These two are for:

  • Function - a custom button, which can be used for custom white balance, taking a test picture, switching to My Mode, or getting a DOF preview
  • Focus point selection (Auto, left, center, right)

And that's it for the back of the E-510.

There's a lot more to see on top of the E-510, including a bunch of buttons that aren't exactly where I'd ideally like them. I'll work my way from left to right.

  • Flash setting (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, flash on, flash off, slow sync w/redeye reduction, slow sync, 2nd-curtain slow sync, manual flash [full, 1/4, 1/16, 1/64 power])
  • Drive (Single-shot, sequential shooting, 12 or 2 sec self-timer, 0 or 2 sec remote control) + Copy (between memory cards) + DPOF print marking

There's just one sequential shooting mode on the E-510 -- no low or high speed stuff here. In this mode the camera took over twenty-five JPEG shots in a row at 3.2 frames/second before it slowed down to let the buffer memory clear out. When shooting in the RAW format, the buffer fills up after ten shots and the burst rate drops. The live view is not available during continuous shooting, so you'll need to use the optical viewfinder in order to track a moving subject. A high speed card is recommended for best performance in this shooting mode.

The item in the center of the frame is none other than the E-510's hot shoe. Here you can attach an Olympus (FL-36 or FL-50 models only) or third party external flash to get better exposures and a smaller chance of redeye. If you use the Olympus flashes then you can take advantage of automatic TTL operation -- for everyone else you'll have to set the exposure settings on both the camera and flash manually. The camera can sync as fast as 1/180 sec with an external flash.

Moving to the right, we find the E-510's mode dial, which has quite a few options. They include:

Option Function
Scene mode You choose the situation and the camera picks the proper settings; select from portrait, landscape, landscape+portrait, night scene, night+portrait, children, sport, high key, low key, digital image stabilization, macro, nature macro, candle, sunset, fireworks, documents, panorama, beach & snow
Night+portrait More scene modes
Sport
Macro
Landscape
Portrait
Auto mode Point and shoot with some menu options locked up.
Program mode Still automatic, but with access to all menu options. A Program Shift lets you scroll through several shutter speed / aperture combinations by using the command dial.
Aperture priority mode You choose aperture, camera picks appropriate shutter speed. Range depends on lens used. For the 14 - 42 mm kit lens, it's F3.5 - F22.
Shutter priority mode You choose shutter speed, camera picks aperture. Shutter speed range is 60 - 1/4000 sec.
Full manual mode Choose both the shutter speed and aperture yourself (same ranges as above). A bulb mode is also available for super-long exposures: the shutter will remain open for as long as the shutter release is pressed.

As you'd expect on a D-SLR, there's a full set of manual controls on the E-510. Being an entry-level D-SLR, it also has plenty of scene modes as well. There's an ISO-boosting digital image stabilization mode, though you should probably avoid that and rely on the optical IS system instead. If your photos are still blurry, then increase the ISO manually. Other scene modes of note include high key and low key, which are for enhancing bright and dark areas of a photo, respectively. The panorama mode helps you line up photos side-by-side for later stitching, though this required an Olympus-branded xD card (they really need to drop this requirement).

Under the mode dial is the power switch, with the command dial to its lower-right. The command dial is used for adjusting manual settings. Moving up, we find the exposure compensation (-5EV to +5EV in 1/3EV increments) and shutter release buttons. There's also a blue light that comes on when the dust reduction system is active.

Nothing to see here.

On the other side of the camera you'll find its dual memory card slots, which are protected by a plastic door of decent quality. The slot on the left is for xD Picture Cards, while the slot on the right is for CompactFlash cards. The CF slot supports the "thicker" Type II cards, which includes things like the Microdrive.

On the bottom of the E-510 you'll find a metal tripod mount (in line with the lens, of course) and the battery compartment. The door covering the battery compartment is a bit flimsy in my opinion (and it snaps off easily, but that's easy to fix), though at least it has a locking mechanism on it.

Using the Olympus EVOLT E-510

Record Mode

Despite having the dust cleaning system run at startup, the E-510 is still able to fire off its first shot in just over one second. Yes, some of the competition is faster, but most of them don't have dust removal.


A histogram is available in live view mode

Autofocus speeds will vary depending on what lens you have attached to the camera. With the 14 - 42 mm kit lens, the camera typically focused in 0.1 - 0.3 seconds, which is quite snappy. Switching to the 40 - 150 mm kit lens resulted in longer focus times, but they weren't too bad. On some occasions, when the camera was having difficulty focusing, I noticed that it would become unresponsive for several seconds, until it started trying to focus again. Low light focusing is on the slow side without the flash raised, but you'll see better results when the flash is used for AF-assist.

Shutter lag isn't an issue if you're shooting with the viewfinder. However, if you're using live view mode you can expect to wait about a second between the time you fully press the shutter release and when the photo is actually taken.

Shot-to-shot delays were minimal, even in RAW mode. That is, at least until the buffer memory fills up (which takes some work). Flash recharge times were minimal.

There's no way to delete a photo immediately after taking it. You must enter playback mode first.

Now, let's take a look at the numerous image size and quality choices on the E-510:

Record mode Resolution Compression Approx. file size # images on 1GB memory card (optional)
RAW
3648 × 2736 N/A 11 MB 93
SHQ 1/2.7 6.8 MB 151
HQ 1/4 4.7 MB 218
1/8 2.2 MB 465
1/12 1.5 MB 683
SQ 3200 x 2400 1/2.7 5.3 MB 193
1/4 3.7 MB 277
1/8 1.7 MB 602
1/12 1.1 MB 931
2560 x 1920 1/2.7 3.6 MB 284
1/4 2.2 MB 465
1/8 1.1 MB 931
1/12 700 KB 1463
1600 x 1200 1/2.7 1.3 MB 788
1/4 800 KB 1280
1/8 500 KB 2048
1/12 300 KB 3413
1280 x 960 1/2.7 800 KB 1280
1/4 500 KB 2048
1/8 300 KB 3413
1/12 200 KB 5120
1024 x 768 1/2.7 500 KB 2048
1/4 400 KB 2560
1/8 200 KB 5120
1/12 100 KB 10240
640 x 480 1/2.7 200 KB 5120
1/4 200 KB 5120
1/8 100 KB 10240
1/12 100 KB 10240

The E-510 has even more image quality options than the E-410 -- Olympus seems to believe that you can never have too many choices, I guess. As you can see, the camera supports the RAW image format (and I explained why that's a good thing earlier), and you can take a RAW image alone, or along with a JPEG of any size.

Olympus uses a rather unusual file naming convention on their cameras. Files are named PMDD####.JPG where M = month, D = day, and #### = 0001 - 9999. As you'd expect, the numbering is maintained until you choose to reset it.

While the E-510's menu looks just like the one on the E-410, it has several additional options (and I'll mention those below). The menu has five "tabs", covering record, playback, and custom options. Here is the full list:

Shooting Menu 1
  • Card setup (All erase, format)
  • Custom reset setting (Reset, reset 1, reset 2) - reset to defaults or to settings of your choice
  • Picture mode (Vivid, natural, muted, monotone) - more below
  • Gradation (High key, normal, low key) - high key is for when your subject is brightly lit; low key is for the opposite
  • Image quality (RAW, SHQ, HQ, SQ, RAW+SHQ, RAW+HQ, RAW+SQ)
  • White balance (Auto, sunlight, shade, cloudy, tungsten, white fluorescent, neutral white fluorescent, daylight fluorescent, one-touch, color temperature) - see below
  • ISO (Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600)
  • Noise filter (Off, low, standard, high) - amount of noise reduction applied to images
  • Noise reduction (on/off) - for long exposures only; increases shot-to-shot speeds
Shooting menu 2
  • Metering (ESP+AF, ESP, center-weighted, spot, highlight control spot, shadow control spot) - see below
  • Flash exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments)
  • AF mode (Single AF, continuous AF, manual focus, single AF + MF, continuous AF + MF) - see below
  • Focus point selection (Auto, left, center, right) - yes, only three
  • AE bracketing (Off, 3 frames/0.3EV, 3 frames/0.7EV, 3 frames/1.0EV) - camera takes three shots in a row, each with a different exposure
  • WB bracketing (Off, 3 frames/2 steps, 3 frames/4 steps, 3 frames/6 steps) - camera takes three shots in a row, each with a different white balance setting; you can bracket in the red/blue and green/magenta directions [E-510 exclusive]
  • Flash bracketing (Off, 3 frames/0.3EV, 3 frames/0.7EV, 3 frames/1.0EV) - same as exposure bracketing but for flash exposure [E-510 exclusive]
  • Anti-shock (Off, 1 - 30 secs) - flip the mirror out of the way for a set interval before the shot is taken
Playback Menu
  • Slideshow (1, 4, 9, 16, 25 frames)
  • Auto rotate (on/off) - rotates images taken in the portrait orientation
  • Edit - I'll discuss these later
    • RAW Data Edit
    • JPEG edit (Black and white, sepia, shadow adjustment, redeye fix, saturation, resize)
  • DPOF print marking (One, all)
  • Copy all - from one memory card to another
  • Reset protect (on/off)
Custom Menu
  • ISO limit (100, 200, 400) - maximum for Auto ISO [E-510 exclusive]
  • EV step (1/3EV, 1/2EV, 1EV) [E-510 exclusive]
  • All white balance fine-tuning (All set, all reset) - fine-tune all the WB settings at the same time
  • HQ setting (1/4, 1/8, 1/12) [E-510 exclusive]
  • SQ setting
    • Pixel count (3200 x 2400, 2560 x 1920, 1600 x 1200, 1280 x 960, 1024 x 768, 640 x 480)
    • Compression (1/2.7, 1/4, 1/8, 1/12)
  • Flash exp comp + exp comp (on/off) - I think this merges flash and exposure compensation, but don't quote me on it [E-510 exclusive]
  • X-sync (1/60 - 1/180 sec) - set the flash sync speed [E-510 exclusive]
  • Auto flash pop-up (on/off)
  • Dial [E-510 exclusive]
    • P mode (Program shift, exposure compensation)
    • M mode (Shutter speed, aperture)
  • AE/AF lock - in a nutshell, defines when focus and exposure is locked, and what the AEL button does
    • S-AF (Mode 1, mode 2, mode 3)
    • C-AF (Mode 1, mode 2, mode 3, mode 4)
    • MF (Mode 1, mode 2, mode 3)
  • AE/AF lock memory (on/off) - whether you need to hold the button down or just press it once to lock exposure and focus
  • AE/AF lock metering (Auto, ESP, spot, highlight control spot, shadow control spot) - what metering system is used when you press this button
  • Quick erase (on/off) - deletes a photo without prompting you [E-510 exclusive]
  • RAW+JPEG erase (on/off) - whether the camera deletes both images or just one [E-510 exclusive]
  • Function button (Off, one-touch WB, test picture, My Mode, preview, live preview) - what this button does
  • My Mode setup (My Mode 1/2) - store your favorite camera settings for easy retrieval [E-510 exclusive]
  • Focus ring (Counterclockwise, clockwise) - choose which way the focus ring works [E-510 exclusive]
  • AF illuminator (on/off) - whether the flash will be used for AF-assist
  • Reset lens (on/off) [E-510 exclusive]
  • Live view boost (on/off) - brightens the live view in low light
  • Release priority S (on/off) - lets you take a photo w/o focus lock in single AF mode [E-510 exclusive]
  • Release priority C (on/off) - same as above, but for continuous AF mode [E-510 exclusive]
  • Beep (on/off)
  • Frame assist (Off, golden section, grid, scale)
  • Four-way controller lock (on/off) - so you don't accidentally screw anything up [E-510 exclusive]
Setup Menu
  • Date/time (set)
  • CF/xD - choose which card slot to use
  • Edit filename - modify the file naming system a bit [E-510 exclusive]
    • Adobe RGB (Off, A-Z, 0-9)
    • sRGB (Off, A-Z, 0-9)
  • LCD brightness (-7 to +7, 1-step increments)
  • Language
  • Video out (NTSC, PAL)
  • Rec View (Off, 1 - 20 secs) - post-shot review
  • Sleep (Off, 1, 3, 5, 10 mins)
  • Backlit LCD (8 sec, 30 sec, 1 min, hold) - how long the LCD backlight stays on when the camera is idle
  • 4 hr timer (on/off) - whether camera shuts off after 4 hours [E-510 exclusive]
  • Button timer (3, 5, 8 sec, hold) - how long you get to change options with the direct buttons [E-510 exclusive]
  • Priority set (Yes, no) - choose whether yes or no is selected on the card erase and format screens [E-510 exclusive]
  • USB Mode (Auto, storage, MTP, control, easy PictBridge, custom PictBridge)
  • Color Space (sRGB, Adobe RGB)
  • Shading compensation (on/off) - see below [E-510 exclusive]
  • Pixel mapping - maps out bad pixels on the sensor
  • Cleaning mode - get rid of dust manually
  • Firmware - displays the firmware version of the body and attached lens

As you can see, there's more than a dozen options on the E-510 that are not available on the E-410. All of the features I'm about to describe are on both cameras, save for shading compensation.

First, let's talk about Picture Modes. The first three (vivid, natural, and muted) are fairly self-explanatory. For each of those you can manually adjust the contrast, sharpness, and saturation. For the monotone (black & white) option you can adjust those items plus use virtual filters (neutral, yellow, orange, red, and green) and tones (neutral, sepia, blue, purple, green).

There are numerous white balance options available on the E-510. You've got your usual presets, a one-touch option for using a white or gray card as a reference, plus the ability to set the color temperature (2000K - 14000K). In order to use the one-touch WB feature you must assign the left button on the four-way controller to one-touch, a silly oversight on Olympus' part. The camera also lets you fine-tune all of those settings in the red or green direction, each with a range of ±7. By pressing the AE/AF lock button, you can get a preview of the current white balance.

I normally don't talk about metering modes, but they deserve a mention since they're somewhat unique. For multi-pattern ESP metering, you can have the camera meter on the center of the frame, or it can use the focus point as the center (I hope that makes sense). There are three spot metering options, with highlight control allowing for overexposure and shadow control doing just the opposite.

Finally, we have the focus modes. Single AF locks focus when you halfway press the shutter release button. Continuous AF continues to focus while the button is pressed, which is needed when your subject is moving. There's also manual focus, where you'll use the electronic zoom ring around the lens to set the focus distance. If you want to override autofocus, you can do so using the Single AF + MF and Continuous AF + MF modes -- they autofocus but then let you tweak the setting manually.

The shading compensation feature, not found on the E-410, is supposed to help reduce vignetting (dark corners) in your photos. I fooled around with it and never saw much of a difference, but then again, I rarely saw any vignetting to begin with.

Okay, it's time for test photos. Before we start, a few notes. First, I have the noise filter set to "low" for all of these shots (as well as most of those in the gallery). If you want to learn why I'm doing this (and see lots of comparisons), check out the E-410 review. Second, despite the fact that the E-410 and E-510 have the same sensor and image processor, I chose to reshoot all these photos "just in case". Finally, I used the 14 - 42 mm kit lens for all of these test shots except for the night shot, for which I used the F2.8-3.5, 50 - 200 mm lens.

The E-510 did a beautiful job with our standard macro test subject. The figurine has very saturated colors, and this is on the "natural" setting, too! The subject is nice and sharp, with no visible noise. The camera picked up plenty of detail -- you can practically count the specs of dust.

The minimum focus distance will depend on what lens you have attached to the E-510. The 14 - 42 mm kit lens has a minimum distance of 25 cm. If close-up photography is something you're interested in, you may want to consider one of the dedicated macro lenses that Olympus offers.

The night scene turned out very well, though I obviously forgot to turn the noise reduction filter on, as there are gray-colored pixels scatted around the photo. If I get a chance, I'll reshoot these with long exposure NR turned on. Do note that this is different than the noise filter which I described earlier.

Anyhow, besides that, we have a nice, sharp photo. Exposure was good (except for the US Bank sign that every camera blows out), with the camera taking in plenty of light. The buildings are nice and sharp for the most part, though the Transamerica Pyramid seems a little softer than the rest. Aside from the hot pixels I just mentioned, noise is not an issue at this setting. Purple fringing is nonexistent.

I have two ISO tests in this review, and the first one uses the night scene above. Here's how the camera performs at each ISO sensitivity in low light:


ISO 100

ISO 200


ISO 400


ISO 800

ISO 1600

Let me remind you to ignore those hot pixels -- they wouldn't be there had I remembered to turn noise reduction on. There's a bit more noise at the ISO 200 and 400 setting than at ISO 100, but it's still not degrading the overall quality of the image. ISO 800 has some detail loss, but a midsize print is not out of the question. Only at ISO 1600 do we truly have a noisy photo, but you can still squeeze out a 4 x 6 print at that setting, assuming that you run it through noise reduction software. If you want to see such a photo, have a look at this shot that I ran through NeatImage (the original is in the gallery) -- it printed nicely at 4 x 6.

I'll have another ISO test for you in a moment.

There's mild to moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the 14 - 42 mm kit lens. As I mentioned before, vignetting was not a problem with this lens. Corner blurriness was not an issue -- this is one of the better kit lenses on the market, for sure.

There's no redeye to be found in our flash test. In the event that some does pop up, you can use a tool in playback mode to remove it.

And now it's time for our second and final ISO test. This one is taken in our studio, and is comparable between cameras that I've reviewed. Remember, the noise filter is set to "low" here, which is not the camera's default setting. Be sure to view the full size images as well as the cropped images, as the latter doesn't always tell the full story.


ISO 100

ISO 200


ISO 400


ISO 800

ISO 1600

The first three crops are as smooth as butter. The ISO 800 shot is really nice as well, with just a slight hint of noise reduction in shadow areas. All of these settings will produce high quality large prints. At ISO 1600 we have both noise and noise reduction artifacting, but it's still very usable. All-in-all, a great performance -- the E-510 certainly holds up well against the competition.

Tweak a few settings, and you'll get excellent photo quality out of the E-510. The first one you already know: turn the noise filter to low (or off, if you're really feeling adventurous). Some folks think the images are too sharp at that point (I don't), so you can turn down the in-camera sharpening if you'd like. The E-510 does have the tendency to underexpose -- most of my test shots required about 2/3EV more than the typical camera that I reviewed. Thus, keep an eye on your histograms, and maybe consider using exposure bracketing. Colors were generally very good, though a bit "flat" at times. As I illustrated above, noise isn't really a problem until you get to the highest ISO setting (with the noise filter at low). Purple fringing will vary depending on your choice of lens, and I didn't see much of it during my time spent with the E-510.

I've put together quite a photo gallery for the E-510. There you'll find the usual suspects, some fireworks photos, plus two shots that I took without a tripod on a moving boat -- and they're sharp! So, have a look at the gallery, maybe print a few of the photos if you can, and then decide if the E-510's photo quality meets your needs.

Movie Mode

Digital SLR cameras do not have movie modes.

Playback Mode

The E-510 has a fairly nice playback mode by D-SLR standards. Basic features such as slideshows, DPOF print marking, image rotation, image protection, and zoom & scroll are all here. This last feature lets you enlarge your photo by as much as 14X, and then scroll around to make sure that everyone's smiling.

The camera offers two edit modes -- one for JPEGs, another for RAW images. The JPEG editing feature lets you change an image to black and white or sepia, remove redeye, adjust saturation, or reduce its resolution. The RAW data edit feature is handy, but not as easy to use as it could be. Instead of just adjusting the RAW properties right there in playback mode, you first need to set the desired settings in the record menu, and then return to playback mode to use the RAW edit function. The resulting image is saved as a JPEG.


Side-by-side image viewer

Another nice feature -- not available on the E-410 -- is a side-by-side image viewer. Press the focus point selection button to split the screen, select the image you want for the right half, and then you can compare them easily. When you scroll one image, the other one scrolls with it. Very handy!

Since the E-510 has two memory card slots, it's not surprising that it lets you copy photos back and forth between an xD and CompactFlash card.

By default, the camera doesn't show you much information about your photos, but press the info button a few times and you'll get a lot more.

The E-510 moves from photo to photo instantly in playback mode.

How Does it Compare?

While I liked the Olympus EVOLT E-410, I couldn't get over its too-small size. Thankfully, Olympus put out the E-510 at the same time, adding a larger grip, image stabilization, better battery life, and a bunch of extra features, all for $100 more. And don't forget the 10 Megapixel CCD, 2.5" live view LCD, full manual controls, and dust reduction system that the E-510 shares with its smaller sibling. Like that camera, the EVOLT E-510 does its best with a little setting tweaking. Once you've done that, you'll get excellent quality photos from an SLR that arguably offers more bang for the buck than any other.

While not as small as the E-410, the EVOLT E-510 is still a fairly compact digital SLR. It has a nice right hand grip, so it's much easier to hold than the E-410. The body has a metal sub-frame with a plastic shell, and it feels very solid, with the only weak spot being the somewhat flimsy battery compartment cover. The camera does suffer from "button clutter" though, with eighteen buttons scattered around its body. The E-510 can use all FourThirds lenses with a 2X focal length conversion ratio, and you can get two good quality lenses as part of the kit. The camera has CCD-shift image stabilization built-in, and every lens you attach to the camera can take advantage of it. The camera's optical viewfinder is a bit small, but is much brighter than the one on the E-330. The E-510 is somewhat unusual in that it has two memory card slots: one for CompactFlash, and the other for xD. Like all D-SLRs, the E-510 is expandable, with support for external flashes, remote controls, and more. Two accessories that aren't available include a battery grip (not surprising) and an AC adapter (very surprising).

Probably the biggest selling point for the E-510 is its live view feature. While an improvement over the E-330, the technology still has a long way to go. Those of you moving up from a point-and-shoot camera should not expect the same live view quality as you have on your old camera. It's not as crisp, bright, or fluid, and it can be difficult to see what's on the screen both outdoors and in low light. Live view isn't really for action shots either, as the autofocus is disabled when the feature is active. You can manually focus the lens (the AF can be activated for a little help), or you can just fully press the shutter release button and wait an additional second for the autofocusing process to take place. Therefore, I rarely found myself using live view when out and about. However, I did find live view useful when I was taking photos on a tripod. I could compose my photos the way I wanted, preview the white balance, and even digitally zoom in to make sure everything's in focus (when in manual focus mode).

The E-510 offers both automatic and manual controls. On the auto side, you've got 18 scene modes to choose from. The menus are fairly easy to follow, though a help feature (like what Nikon offers on their D-SLRs) would've been nice. The camera offers all the manual controls that were found on the E-410, plus many more. You've got shutter speed, aperture, white balance, and focus, of course. You can bracket for exposure, flash exposure, and white balance. Speaking of white balance, the camera lets you adjust the WB in nearly every way imaginable, including by color temperature. I did find setting the custom (one-touch) WB to be more of a pain in the neck than it should've been, though. As you'd expect on a D-SLR, the E-510 supports the RAW image format. Olympus bundles some decent RAW editing software, but be sure to turn off the noise filter to reduce image softness. In playback mode there are RAW and JPEG editing features, plus a handy side-by-side image viewer that isn't available on the E-410.

Camera performance was generally very good. The E-510 doesn't start up as fast as, say, the D40x, but that's because it's removing dust from the sensor -- and I'm more than happy to wait for that. Focus times were good in adequate lighting, though a bit slow when light levels dropped. Using the flash-based AF-assist lamp helps speed things up in those situations. The E-510's three point autofocus system is a bit outdated, especially compared to the nine and eleven point systems offered by Canon and Pentax, respectively. Shutter lag isn't a problem if you're using the viewfinder, but if you're using live view there's roughly a one second delay before the photo is actually taken. Shot-to-shot delays are minimal, regardless of what image quality setting you've chosen. The E-510's continuous shooting mode is nice, taking 10 RAW or 25+ JPEGs at 3.2 frames/second before slowing down. Battery life is well above average when using the viewfinder, and below average if you're using live view all the time (which most people probably will not).

Right out of the box, the E-510's photo quality is somewhat disappointing (with softness being the main issue). But tweak a few settings and you'll get excellent results. I recommend turning the noise filter to "low", possibly lowering the in-camera sharpening, and keeping an eye on the exposure (since the camera underexposes occasionally) to get the most out of the E-510. With those settings, you'll get sharp photos with accurate exposure. While occasionally a little neutral, colors were generally accurate. Noise isn't a problem either (with the noise filter setting I just mentioned) until ISO 1600. You'll see a bit of grain at ISO 800, and some minor noise reduction artifacting at ISO 400, but overall the images were very clean. Purple fringing popped up now and then, but it was never really a problem. Redeye was not an issue.

I like the Olympus EVOLT E-510 -- much more so than the E-410. That's not just because I like the larger grip, either. I like the optical image stabilization (on every lens), improved battery life, and the extra features (mostly custom settings) that were not found on the E-410. I do think Olympus should've shipped the camera with different image quality defaults and offered an AC adapter, but you can't have everything. The E-510 is a great entry-level D-SLR, and one I can recommend highly -- just be sure to fool around with the settings a bit. Unless you must have the small size of the E-410, I'd spend the extra $100 and get the E-510 -- the image stabilization and more powerful battery are well worth the price.

What I liked:

  • Excellent photo quality if you tweak the settings; minimal noise until ISO 1600 (with noise filter set to low)
  • Optical image stabilization for every lens you attach
  • Great value for the money
  • Well built, easy-to-hold body
  • Live view on LCD allows you to see 100% of the frame, preview white balance and exposure, and check focus (but see issues below)
  • Dust reduction system
  • Full manual controls (even more than on the E-410)
  • Tons of scene modes (great for people migrating from point-and-shoots)
  • RAW image format supported
  • Snappy performance in most areas; nice continuous shooting mode
  • Redeye not a problem
  • Nice playback features: RAW editing, redeye removal, side-by-side image comparisons
  • Above average battery life (when using viewfinder)
  • Dual memory card slots
  • USB 2.0 High Speed protocol supported

What I didn't care for:

  • Soft photos at default settings (adjust the noise filter to fix that); occasional underexposure and dull colors
  • Live view feature not as robust as on a fixed-lens camera: view is grainy and sluggish, difficult to see outdoors and in low light; adds 1 second of shutter lag if autofocus is on; not available in continuous shooting mode
  • Low light focusing a little slow when flash is closed; camera seems to "give up" some times
  • Setting custom white balance is more difficult than it should be
  • RAW conversion software softens images, even when noise filter is turned off on the camera
  • Flimsy plastic door over battery compartment comes off easily
  • No AC adapter or battery grip available
  • Slow battery charger included

Some other entry-level D-SLRs to consider include the Canon Digital Rebel XTi, Nikon D40x and D80, Olympus E-410, Pentax K10D and K100D Super, and the Sony Alpha DSLR-A100.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the EVOLT E-510 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Have a look at our extensive photo gallery and judge the E-510's image quality with your own eyes!

Feedback & Discussion

To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.

If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation or technical support.