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DCRP Review: Olympus EVOLT E-500  

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: September 26, 2005
Last Updated: February 13, 2012

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This review has been completed using a production-level EVOLT E-500. Product photos have been reshot where necessary and all sample photos are from the production camera.

The Olympus EVOLT E-500 is a new entry-level digital SLR that's priced at just $799 (one lens kit) and $899 (two lens kit). Like the E-1 and E-300, the E-500 uses the FourThirds system, and it supports all of the Zuiko digital specific lenses that Olympus offers.

The E-500 has a much more traditional design than the E-300, which is a good thing in my opinion, as I was not a fan of the body design of the E-300. (Olympus did tell me that the E-300 design isn't dead yet.) In addition to the new look, there are these other new features on the E-500 when compared to the E-300:

  • Larger LCD display (2.5" versus 1.8")
  • New noise reduction system which promises less noise than the E-300
  • Dual memory card slots (adds xD slot in addition to CompactFlash)
  • Auto pop-up flash (the flash on the E-300 was released manually)
  • More shooting and metering options
  • New digital filters (color and black and white)
  • New advanced histogram display in playback mode

Other features on the E-500 include an 8 Megapixel CCD, dust reduction system, full manual controls, hot shoe, and the kind of performance you'd expect from a digital SLR.

Ready to find out more about the latest D-SLR from Olympus? Then read on, our review starts right now!

What's in the Box?

There will be two E-500 kits available: a single lens kit and a dual lens kit. Here's what you'll get in each kit:

  • The 8.0 effective Megapixel Olympus E-500 camera body
  • 14 - 45 mm, F3.5-5.6 Zuiko Digital lens
  • 40 - 150 mm, F3.5-4.5 Zuiko Digital lens [dual lens kit only]
  • BLM-1 lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack
  • Battery charger
  • Shoulder strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Olympus Master software
  • 215 page camera manual (printed)

As is the case with all D-SLRs, Olympus does not include a memory card with the E-500, so you'll have to factor that into the total purchase price. The camera supports both xD and CompactFlash memory cards, though you'll get the most capacity out of CF cards (and they're cheaper too). I'd recommend a 512MB or even a 1GB card as good place to start. The camera takes advantage of high speed memory cards, so for best performance you might want to pick one up.

Regardless of what kit you buy you'll find the F3.5-5.6, 14 - 45 mm lens in the box. This is a good everyday lens, with a 35mm-equivalent focal range of 28 - 90 mm. If you get the dual lens kit then you'll also receive the F3.5-4.5, 40 - 150 mm lens, which is equivalent to 80 - 300 mm. With the dual lens kit you're ready for just about any situation that may come up.

If you want to buy additional lenses, Olympus has several for you to choose from, ranging from fisheye to macro to super telephoto. There's a focal length conversion ratio of 2X on the camera, which is higher than on other D-SLRs.

The E-500 uses the same BLM-1 battery as the E-1 and E-300. This battery has a hefty 10.8 Wh of energy, which is about as powerful as you'll find. Olympus says that the E-500 can take 400 shots per charge (measured using the CIPA standard) which is good but not mind-blowing.

When it's time to recharge, pop the battery into the included BCM-2 charger. It takes a sluggish five hours to fully charge the battery. This isn't one of those handy "plug it right into the wall" style chargers -- you must use a power cable.

Unlike with the E-300, Olympus will not be offering a battery grip for the E-500.

Being a digital SLR, there are endless numbers of accessories available for the E-500. They included lenses (of course), external flashes of all types, remote controls, and camera cases. Way too much to list here!

Olympus includes version 1.31 of their excellent Master software with the E-500. When you first start it up you'll be presented with the above screen. Options here include transferring images from a camera or memory card or browsing, sharing, and printing photos that have already been transferred. A backup option will save your photos to your hard drive or CD/DVD disk.

Here's the main image browsing screen. In the left pane you can choose how images are viewed: by date or category. Powerful searching features let you find images in a number of ways. The thumbnails in the center of the screen load quickly and you can adjust their size in real time. On the right side you'll find shooting data as well as links to Olympus and their partners.

Items in the toolbar include rotation, editing, printing, e-mailing, and RAW development.

Here is the editing screen, where you'll find rotation and cropping, "instant fix", redeye reduction, and color balance options.

Here's the nicely design photo printing feature. Lots of options, as you can see. There's a similar window for e-mailing your photos to friends and family.

The last thing to see here is the RAW development feature. Here you can adjust the exposure, white balance, contrast, sharpness, and saturation in your RAW image. There's a bit of a delay after you make changes while the software processes the image, so changes are not quite real-time. Once you're happy your RAW images can be saved in a number of formats, including TIFF and JPEG.

What are RAW images? Simply put, they contain the "raw", unprocessed image data straight from the camera's sensor. The beauty of RAW format is that a) they're smaller than TIFFs and b) they allow you to manipulate photos without losing any quality. Botch the white balance? Just change it later and it's just like taking the shot again. The disadvantage? You must process the images on your Mac or PC in order to export them to other formats. As you saw, the Olympus Master software can do this just fine. Adobe Photoshop CS2 does not yet support the E-500's RAW files.

Just like with their old Camedia Master software, Olympus has a "Plus" version available for $20 more. The Master Plus software adds movie editing capabilities, more printing options, and the ability to make Video CDs.

Unlike with their consumer cameras, the E-500 comes with a thick, detailed, and printed manual. While it won't win any awards for ease of use, the manual is complete, leaving no question unanswered.

Look and Feel

The E-500 is, thankfully, a much more normal-looking camera than the E-300. I'll be frank here: the E-300 was one ugly camera. In addition to its superior looks, the E-500 is also smaller and lighter than the E-300. The plastic body has a strong metal frame underneath, and it doesn't feel "cheap" at all. The camera is easy to hold, with a good-sized right hand grip.

The E-300 and the E-500, side by side; Image courtesy of Olympus

Now let's see how the camera compares with other entry-level D-SLRs in terms of size and weight (body only, of course).

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass
Canon Digital Rebel XT 5.0 x 3.7 x 2.5 in. 46.3 cu in. 485 g
Konica Minolta Maxxum 5D 5.1 x 3.6 x 2.6 in. 47.8 cu in. 590 g
Nikon D50 5.2 x 4.0 x 3.0 in. 62.4 cu in. 540 g
Olympus EVOLT E-300 5.7 x 3.4 x 2.5 in. 48.5 cu in. 580 g
Olympus EVOLT E-500 5.1 x 3.7 x 2.6 in. 49.1 cu in. 437 g
Pentax *ist DL 4.9 x 3.6 x 2.6 in. 45.9 cu in. 470 g
Pentax *ist DS2 4.9 x 3.6 x 2.6 in. 45.9 cu in. 505 g

The E-500 is actually one of the larger cameras in the entry-level D-SLR space, with only the monstrous Nikon D50 being larger. I think the E-500 is just about the right side -- I find some of the smaller cameras (e.g. Rebel XT) to be too small for my hands.

Let's begin our tour of the E-500 now!

In this front view of the E-500 you can see the FourThirds lens mount, where you can attach any Zuiko Digital lens. Olympus has built up a pretty good collection of lenses in the last few years, which will fit just about anyone's needs. As I said before, there's a 2X crop factor on whatever lens you put on the camera, so a 15 mm lens has the field-of-view of a 30 mm lens.

Just in front of the lens is Olympus' exclusive Supersonic Wave Filter (SSWF), which uses ultrasonic waves to literally "shake" dust off the sensor. Anyone who has used a D-SLR for a while knows how annoying dust on the sensor can be, and Olympus is still the only one to do anything about it. The only downside to this feature is that it slows up startup times a bit.

Directly above the lens is the E-500's pop-up flash. Unlike on the E-300, this flash is released automatically when needed. Unfortunately Olympus does not publish the working range for this flash, but it seemed pretty strong based on my usage. For more flash power the camera features a hot shoe that you'll see in a moment.

To the right of the lens mount is the release for the lens mount. That red thing just below the E-500 logo is for two things: it's the self-timer lamp as well as the receiver for the (optional) remote control.

While there's no dedicated AF-assist lamp on the camera, if you pop up the built-in flash, the camera will use it as a focusing aid. Best of all you can set up the camera to not take a flash picture in that situation, unlike some other D-SLRs. If you're using an Olympus external flash, the camera will use the AF-assist lamp on that.

One of the big upgrades on the E-500 is its large 2.5" LCD display. This screen has an impressive resolution, too -- there are over 215,000 pixels on this screen, so images are nice and sharp. Do note that as with all digital SLRs, the LCD is only used for reviewing photos after they are taken -- you will always use the optical viewfinder for taking pictures.

And speaking of which, you'll find the E-500's viewfinder directly above the LCD. This large viewfinder shows 95% of the frame, and you can bring things into focus by using the diopter correction knob to its left. The shooting info display is located to the right of the field of view in the viewfinder, and it shows current settings and shots remaining.

To the left of the LCD are five buttons:

  • Flash release + setting (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, flash on, flash off, slow sync + redeye reduction, slow sync, 2nd-curtain slow sync)
  • Playback
  • Delete photo
  • Menu
  • Info - toggles what is shown on the LCD

To the right of the viewfinder is the AE/AF lock button, which is also used to protect photos in playback mode. To the lower-right of that is the drive button, which has the following options:

  • Single-shot
  • Continuous
  • Self-timer (2 or 12 sec)
  • Remote control (0 or 2 sec)

The E-500 has a fairly average continuous shooting mode. It can take photos at 2.4 frames/second until the buffer is filled up. That happens after just four RAW or TIFF photos or five SHQ JPEGs. You can keep shooting until the memory card fills up at the HQ quality setting, assuming that you're using a high speed memory card. The camera was able to flush the buffer quickly, except when using TIFF format.

The drive button is also used for DPOF printing marking and for copying images between memory cards in playback mode.

White balance selection screen

Continuing downward we find the four-way controller. This is used for menu navigation and also changing the items listed below. When you press one of these "direct buttons" a little menu appears on the screen, and you then choose the desired setting. Here's what else the four-way controller does:

  • Up - White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, shade, tungsten, white fluorescent, neutral white fluorescent, daylight fluorescent, color temperature, one-touch) - see below
  • Down - ISO (Auto, 100, 125, 160, 200, 250, 320, 400, 500, 640, 800, 1000, 1250, 1600) - you must turn on "ISO boost" in the setup menu to go above ISO 400
  • Left - Metering mode (ESP, center-weighted, spot, spot w/highlight control, spot w/shadow control) - these last two items are new to the E-500
  • Right - AF mode (Single AF, continuous AF, manual focus, single AF + manual focus, continuous AF + manual focus) - see below

The E-500 has a complete set of white balance controls, as you'd expect. You can choose from several presets, and a custom feature lets you use a white or gray card for perfect color in any lighting. You can also fine-tune each WB setting in the red/blue and green/magenta direction. If that's still not enough, you can even set the color temperature yourself (range of 2000K - 14000K).

There are several focus modes on the E-500. Single AF is the usual "press the shutter release halfway to lock focus" mode. Continuous AF works the same way, but it keeps focusing while the shutter release is halfway-pressed. Manual focus is just as it sounds -- you use the focus ring on the lens to do the work yourself. The single or continuous + MF modes let the camera focus automatically first, and then you can tweak things manually using the focus ring.

The last set of buttons on the camera are located at the top-right of the photo. They include a custom button (with one-touch white balance as the default option) and another for choosing a focus point (left, center, right). All of the competition have more focus points than the E-500.

The first thing to see on the top of the E-500 is its hot shoe. This can take an Olympus (FL-20, FL-36, or FL-50) or third-party flash. Do note that if you use a third-party flash you'll have to manually choose its settings. The Olympus flashes integrated with the camera, and their AF-assist lamps can be used as well. If you use the FL-36 or FL-50 you can turn on a "Super FP flash" option which allows you to use faster shutter speeds than you normally could. The E-500 can sync at shutter speeds of 1/180 sec and slower.

The next thing to see is the mode dial, which has the power switch under it. Just to the upper-left of that is a light which illuminates when the Supersonic Wave Filter is being used. The items on the mode dial include:

Option Function
Scene mode You choose the situation and the camera uses the appropriate settings. Choose from portrait, landscape+portrait, night+portrait, child, beach & snow, sport, landscape, night scene, fireworks, sunset, macro, high key (optimized for bright scenes), low key (optimized for dark scenes), candle, museum, documents
Night scene Same ones as in the scene mode menu, but easier to access
Auto record mode Totally point-and-shoot; flash will pop-up as needed
Program mode Still automatic, but flash must be popped up manually; a program shift feature lets you choose from several aperture/shutter speed combinations
Aperture Priority mode You pick the aperture, the camera picks the appropriate shutter speed; this will vary depending on the lens you are using; on the 14-45 that comes with the camera it was F3.5 - F22
Shutter Priority mode You choose the shutter speed and the camera picks the correct aperture. You can choose from a range of 60 - 1/4000 sec
Full Manual mode You pick the aperture and shutter speed, same values as above; a bulb mode lets you take exposures as long as 8 minutes

As you can see, there are full manual controls plus many scene modes on the E-500, so it's good for both beginners and enthusiasts. To adjust things like shutter speed and aperture you'll use the command dial, which is located next to the mode dial. In manual mode you'll hold down the exposure compensation button (to the upper-right of the mode dial) while turning the command dial to adjust the shutter speed, while the command dial alone adjusts aperture.

Speaking of exposure compensation, this button lets you adjust it from -5.0EV to +5.0EV in 1/3EV increments. Just above that button is the shutter release.

On this side of the camera you'll find two of the E-500's I/O ports: USB and video out, which are protected by a plastic cover. Like its predecessor, the camera only supports the USB 2.0 Full Speed protocol, which is the "slow USB 2.0". The one we want (and which most of the competition offers) is USB 2.0 High Speed.

I should also point out that the focus ring on all Zuiko lenses is electronic -- you're not manually moving lens elements, you're telling the camera's brain to do it. The kit lens doesn't show you the current focus distance on it, which can be a bit frustrating.

On the other side of the camera you'll find its dual memory card slots (new to the E-500), which include xD and CompactFlash. As I said at the start of the review, you'll probably what to stick with CompactFlash cards: they're cheaper, faster, and higher capacity than xD cards. The door covering these two slots is of average quality.

On the bottom of the camera you'll find a metal tripod mount as well as the battery compartment. This compartment is protected by a somewhat flimsy door with a locking mechanism.

The tripod mount is inline with the lens, as you'd expect on an SLR.

The included BLM-1 battery is shown at right.

Using the Olympus E-500

Record Mode

It takes over 2 seconds for the E-500 to "warm up" before you can start taking pictures, which is on the slow side compared to other D-SLRs these days. Most of that delay comes from the dust removal process that is performed each time the camera is turned on.

When you're shooting there are two information screens available that are shown on the LCD. One's simple while the other is more complex. By pressing the OK button in the four-way controller you can navigate to anything on these screens to quickly change their setting. Nice!

Autofocus speeds on the E-500 are excellent, with typical focus times of 0.1 - 0.3 seconds in good conditions. If the flash is popped up the camera will use that for low light focusing assistance, and it works quickly and accurately.

I did not notice any shutter lag on the camera, nor would I expect any.

And, as you'd expect from a D-SLR, you can shoot as fast as you can compose the next shot -- at least until the buffer fills up. When shooting at the SHQ, RAW, or TIFF setting, that happens after about five photos.

There is no way to delete a photo after it is taken -- you must first enter playback mode.

There are tons of image quality options available on the E-500. For several of the choices you can choose how much compression is applied to the image: the more compression, the smaller the file size and the worst the image quality. Here's the full list of options:

File Type Resolution Compression Approx. file size # images on
512MB card
RAW 3264 x 2448 N/A 13.6 MB 37
TIFF 3264 x 2448 N/A 24.5 MB 20
SHQ (JPEG) 3264 x 2448 1/2.7 6.4 MB 80
HQ (JPEG) 3264 x 2448 1/4 4.5 MB 113
1/8 2.5 MB 204
1/12 1.8 MB 284
SQ (JPEG) 3200 x 2400 1/2.7 6.2 MB 82
1/4 4.4 MB 116
1/8 2.4 MB 213
1/12 1.8 MB 284
2560 x 1920 1/2.7 3.7 MB 138
1/4 2.5 MB 204
1/8 1.3 MB 393
1/12 800 KB 640
1600 x 1200 1/2.7 1.5 MB 341
1/4 1.0 MB 512
1/8 500 KB 1024
1/12 400 KB 1280
1280 x 960 1/2.7 900 KB 568
1/4 600 KB 853
1/8 300 KB 1706
1/12 200 KB 2560
1024 x 768 1/2.7 600 KB 853
1/4 400 KB 1280
1/8 200 KB 2560
1/12 200 KB 2560
640 x 480 1/2.7 300 KB 1706
1/4 200 KB 2560
1/8 100 KB 5120
1/12 100 KB 5120

Please note that the number of images on a 512MB data are my only calculations based on Olympus' file size data. I'm a little suspicious of the 100KB number for the last two rows, but that's what's in the manual.

Anyhow, the E-500 supports the JPEG, TIFF, and RAW formats. I already explained RAW earlier in the review, but I should add that you can take RAW and JPEG images at the same time on the camera. This allows you to skip the post-processing step if the JPEG quality is what you were expecting. TIFF format is uncompressed image data that takes up a lot of space on your memory card, without any of the benefits of RAW. The only thing going for it is that nearly all image editors can open it.

Olympus uses one of the better file numbering systems that I've seen. Files are named Pmdd####.jpg, where m is the month (1-9, A-C), d is the day, and #### is 0001-9999. This way your file numbers are always unique (well, for one year at least). File numbering is maintained as you erase and switch memory cards.

Let's discuss the menu system now!

The E-500 has the same menu system as the E-300. It's not pretty but it gets the job done. The menu is divided into five "tabs": shooting 1 & 2, playback, and custom 1 & 2. Here are the menu options:

  • Shooting menu 1
    • Card setup (format, all erase)
    • Custom reset setting (Reset, my reset 1/2) - you can choose your own default settings if you want
    • Picture effects (Vivid, natural, muted, monotone, sepia) - these are new to the E-500
    • Gradation (High key, normal, low key) - new to the E-500; kind of a dynamic range control
    • Image quality (RAW+SHQ, RAW+HQ, RAW+SQ, RAW, TIFF, SHQ, HQ, SQ) - see above chart for more on this
    • Exposure compensation (-5EV to +5EV, 1/3EV increments)
    • Noise reduction (on/off) - reduces noise in long exposures; doubles shooting time
    • White balance
      • WB setting (Auto, 5300K, 6000K, 7500K, 3000K, 4000K, 4500K, 6600K, One-touch custom)
      • WB compensation (Red/Blue, Green/Magenta) - adjust either one from -7 to +7 in 1-step increments
    • ISO (Auto, 100, 125, 160, 200, 250, 320, 400, 500, 640, 800, 1000, 1250, 1600) - those last few options require ISO boost to be turned on
    • Metering (ESP, center-weighted, spot, spot shadow, spot highlight)

  • Shooting menu 2
    • Flash mode
      • Setting (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, slow sync w/redeye reduction, 2nd curtain slow sync with redeye reduction, flash on, flash off,
      • Flash power (Full, 1/4, 1/16, 1/64) - only displayed in S or M mode
    • Flash exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments)
    • Drive (Single shot, continuous, self-timer, remote control)
    • AF mode (Single AF, continuous AF, manual focus, single AF + manual focus) - I described all of these earlier
    • AF (S-AF, C-AF, MF, S-AF+MF, C-AF+MF) - I explained these earlier
    • Focus point (Auto, left, center, right)
    • 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 setting
    • White balance bracketing
      • Color (Red/blue, green/magenta)
      • Shots (Off, 3 frames/2 steps, 3 frames/4 steps, 3 frames/6 steps)
    • Flash bracketing (Off, 3 frames/1 step, 3 frames/2 steps, 3 frames/7 steps) - same idea as above but with flash exposure
    • Manual focus bracketing (Off, 5 frames/1step, 5 frames/2 steps, 7 frames/1 step, 7 frames/2 steps) - same as above but with focus
    • Anti-shock (Off, 1-30 sec) - keeps the mirror open so its movement doesn't blur your photos

  • Playback menu
    • Slide show (1, 4, 9, 16, 25) - start the slide show and choose number of pictures per screen
    • Image rotation
    • Edit - see playback section
      • RAW data
      • JPEG/TIFF (Black and white, sepia, redeye fix, saturation, resize)
    • DPOF print marking
    • Copy all - copy images from one memory card to another

  • Custom 1
    • ISO step (1/3EV, 1EV)
    • ISO boost (Off, on, on with noise filter) - lets you use the higher ISO sensitivities; see below for more on this
    • ISO limiter (Off, 100, 200, 400, 800) - set the upper limit in Auto ISO mode
    • EV step (1/3EV, 1/2EV, 1EV)
    • All WB modes compensation (Clear, set) - lets you fine-tune all white balance settings at the same time
    • HQ (1/4, 1/8/ 1/12) - set the compression level for HQ setting
    • SQ
      • 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, 1/7, 1/12)
    • Manual flash (on/off) - lets you manually select the flash power
    • Flash/exposure compensation (on/off) - links exposure compensation to flash power
    • Sync speed (1/60 - 1/180 sec) - for an external flash
    • Auto flash pop-up (on/off)
    • Command dial - define what this button does
      • Program mode (Program shift, exposure compensation)
      • Manual mode (Shutter speed, aperture)
    • AE/AF lock - define how exposure and focus are locked for each focus mode
      • S-AF (Mode 1-3)
      • C-AF (Mode 1-4)
      • Manual focus (Mode 1-3)
    • AE/AF lock memory (on/off) - makes this button an on/off switch (rather than having to hold it down), I think
    • AE lock metering (ESP, center-weighted, spot, spot shadow, spot highlight) - what metering mode is used with AE lock
    • Quick erase (on/off) - removes the confirmation for delete a photo; be careful!
    • RAW+JPEG erase (JPEG, RAW, RAW+JPEG) - remove part or all of a RAW+JPEG image
    • Custom button (One-touch white balance, test shot, My Mode, depth-of-field preview) - define what this button on the back of the camera does
    • My Mode Setup (Off, My Mode 1/2) - save your custom settings here for easy retrieval
    • Focus ring (Counter-clockwise, clockwise) - choose how the focus ring works
    • AF illuminator (on/off)
    • Lens reset (on/off)
    • Release priority S (on/off) - whether the camera will take a picture without having focus lock [single AF version]
    • Release priority C (on/off) - whether the camera will take a picture without having focus lock [continuous AF version]

  • Custom 2
    • Date/time
    • Media select (CF, xD) - choose which memory card slot is used
    • File naming (Auto, reset)
    • Edit file name - you can customize this if you like; you can have different file names for sRGB and AdobeRGB images, as well
    • LCD brightness (-7 to +7, 1-step increments)
    • Language (English, French, German, Spanish)
    • Video out (NTSC, PAL)
    • Beep (on/off)
    • Rec view (Off, 1-20 sec) - for post-shot review
    • Sleep (Off, 1, 2, 5, 10 min)
    • Auto power off (Off, 4 hours)
    • Button hold times (3, 5 sec, hold) - for those direct buttons; longer is better
    • Startup screen (on/off)
    • Control panel color (1, 2)
    • Priority set (yes/no) - choose whether "yes" is highlighted on those "are you sure?" menu options like deleting photos
    • USB mode (Auto, storage, control, easy print, custom print)
    • Color space (sRGB, AdobeRGB)
    • Shading compensation (on/off) - helps reduce vignetting
    • Pixel mapping - get rid of hot pixels
    • Cleaning mode - flips up the mirror so you can remove dust using a blower
    • Firmware - see below

That's a pretty enormous list of options -- I hope I explained things well enough.

One nice thing about the E-series cameras is that the firmware on all components is upgradeable -- whether it's the lens, flash, or lens.

Enough about menus, let's talk about photo quality now. I used the 14 - 45 mm kit lens for all of these test shots.

While it took quite a few tries to get the white balance right, I did end up getting a nice macro shot out of the E-500. Colors are vibrant and the subject is nice and smooth. In retrospect I probably should've used a smaller aperture to increase the depth-of-field.

The E-500's minimum focus distance will depend on what lens you're using. For the 14 - 45 mm lens it's about 38 cm.

The night shot turned out quite well. The camera took in plenty of light (as you'd expect from a camera with full manual control of shutter speed), noise levels are very low, and purple fringing isn't much of a problem. The E-500 did blow out a few highlights (in and around the ferry building), though you could probably reduce that a bit by fooling around with some exposure settings.

I have two ISO comparisons in this review. First is the usual night shot ISO test, which uses the same scene as you see above:

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 200 is just a tad bit noisier than ISO 100, and it's sharper too. ISO 400 is still absolutely usable, and so is ISO 800, unless you're making huge prints. At ISO 1600 things are pretty noisy, but if you compare this to most fixed-lens cameras it's a dream come true. At that setting you'll probably be restricted to smaller-sized prints, even with noise reduction software.

I should point out that many other "in-between" ISO sensitivities are available -- I just showed a few choices here.

Barrel distortion levels at the wide end of the 14 - 45 mm kit lens are fairly high, as you'd expect from an ultra wide-angle lens like this. While there's some vignetting in this shot, I didn't see any of that in my real world photos.

Redeye was not a problem at all with the E-500, nor would I expect it to be. All you can see here is a little flash reflection.

Here's that second ISO test I promised. This, as you may know, is my test scene, now without chocolate (poor choice on my part):

Since I had all three of them around, I took this shot with the Canon EOS-20D (filling in here for the Rebel XT, which I do not have -- photo quality should be the same), the E-500, and the fixed-lens Sony Cyber-shot DSC-R1. The Canon used the 17 - 85 mm EF-S lens, while the E-500 used the 14 - 45 mm kit lens. The aperture was locked to F9 on the 20D and F6.3 on the other two cameras. Below are crops from this test shot at three high ISO sensitivities. You can click on the link below each crop to see the full size image.

ISO 400


Canon EOS-20D
View Full Size Image

Olympus E-500
View Full Size Image

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-R1
View Full Size Image

ISO 800

Canon EOS-20D
View Full Size Image

Olympus E-500
View Full Size Image

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-R1
View Full Size Image

ISO 1600

Canon EOS-20D
View Full Size Image

Olympus E-500
View Full Size Image

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-R1
View Full Size Image

Well there's certainly a lot to digest there, so I'll try to bottom-line it for you. One thing that sticks out immediately are the different sizes of the crops you see above. That's because the E-500 is 8.0 Megapixel, the 20D is 8.2MP, and the DSC-R1 is 10.3MP. Also, the three cameras handled the white balance differently, with the 20D and E-500 having a yellowish cast, and the R1 having a (more accurate) bluish cast. I used custom white balance for all three cameras.

As far as noise goes, all three cameras perform very similarly at ISO 400. At ISO 800, the 20D and DSC-R1 both have a slight advantage over the E-500. Things get a little more difficult at ISO 1600. Without question the EOS-20D (and by extension the Rebel XT) have the lowest noise levels here. The E-500 appears to have less noise than the DSC-R1, but the R1 keeps details more intact than the E-500 (check out the "Dragon Sauce" label to see what I mean).

Overall I was very pleased with the E-500's image quality. Looking back at the photos I took with the E-300, I find the E-500's photo quality to be noticeable better, in terms of both noise and sharpness. The E-500 compares well with other D-SLRs too, with low noise levels, accurate exposure, and saturated color. I did not find purple fringing to be a problem. The only thing I noticed is the occasional appearance "jaggies" on straight edges.

In the end you need to decide if the E-500's photo quality meets your expectations. Have a look at our photo gallery (I apologize for the gloomy weather, not my fault!) and print the photos as if they were your own. Hopefully I've helped make your decision a bit easier!

Movie Mode

No digital SLR has a movie mode.

Playback Mode

The E-500 has a playback mode typical of those on D-SLRs. The usual features are here, including slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail view, and zoom and scroll. The camera is PictBridge-enabled for direct printing to a compatible photo printer.

The zoom and scroll feature lets you blow up the image by a factor of up to 14 and then scroll around. There's even a feature that lets you compare two photos side by side (zoomed in, of course).

You can rotate and resize photos, change them to black & white or sepia, or adjust the saturation by using the JPEG/TIFF edit function. There's also a redeye removal feature, but since I didn't actually have any redeye to deal with I couldn't test it!

The RAW edit feature lets you apply the current camera settings to a RAW image. Did you botch the white balance? Choose the settings you wanted to use, then use RAW data edit to fix your image (the original RAW image is saved). I described the more traditional way to edit RAW properties early in the review: by using the Olympus Master software.

By default the E-500 doesn't tell you much about the photos you have taken. But by pressing the Info button, you can cycle through various screens full of exposure data, including a snazzy new histogram.

The camera moves through photos instantly in playback mode.

How Does it Compare?

The Olympus EVOLT E-500 offers many improvements over its predecessor (the E-300) with photo quality and design being the most notable. One thing hasn't changed though, and that's the fact that the E-500 is an excellent value. Priced at just $699 (body only), $799 (one lens kit), and $899 (two lens kit), you get a lot of camera for very little money, which is why the E-500 gets my recommendation.

The EVOLT E-500 is a "regular size" digital SLR that uses Olympus' FourThirds system. Olympus has built up a nice collection of Zuiko Digital Specific Lenses, though the 2X focal length conversion ratio is higher than what you'll find on other D-SLRs. The E-500 thankfully sheds the rather grotesque design of the E-300, and the body is well built and easy to hold. On the back of the camera you'll find a large 2.5" LCD display which I found to be very easy to see outdoors. When shooting the LCD displays all kinds of camera settings, which can be changed at the push of a button. A hot shoe can be found on the top of the camera for addition flash options. The E-500 has dual memory cards slots, supporting both xD and CompactFlash Type II media.

The E-500 is packed full of handy features. The most useful is actually its Supersonic Wave Filter, which removes dust from the sensor -- a big problem with D-SLRs. The only real downside of the SSWF is that the E-500 takes longer to start up than the competition. As you'd expect from a digital SLR there are full manual controls on the E-500, white balance fine-tuning, multiple bracketing options, and support for the RAW image format. RAW images can be editing right in the camera or in the included Olympus Master software. If none of that makes any sense or you just want to put the camera on autopilot, there are numerous scene modes to choose from on the E-500.

Camera performance was excellent in nearly all areas. The camera focuses quickly, there's minimal shutter lag, and shot-to-shot and playback delays are minimal. In low light situations you'll want to pop up the flash, as it greatly aids in focusing. The only areas in which the E-500 falls short are startup time and continuous shooting. As I mentioned, the slightly long startup time is the trade-off for having a dust-free CCD -- which I think most people won't have a problem with. The continuous shooting mode limits you to four or five shots in row before the buffer is full -- the Canon Rebel XT and Nikon D50 both perform better in this area.

Photo quality was excellent for the most part. The E-500 took well-exposed photos with accurate color, good sharpness, and low purple fringing levels. Noise levels are competitive with other D-SLRs (and the interesting Sony DSC-R1) up until about ISO 800, at which point the other cameras (that I have on hand, at least) start to pull away.

There are a few other negatives worth mentioning about the EVOLT E-500. The viewfinder is on the small side, and I don't like having the shooting information on the right side of it. There's no LCD info display on the top of the camera -- instead the main LCD is used which, while nice, uses up battery power. The camera doesn't support the USB 2.0 High Speed standard, which should be "standard" on this D-SLR. And finally, the E-500 only has three selectable focus points, which is the lowest of any digital SLR.

Overall there's much to like about the E-500. While it's not the best digital SLR in its class, it may be the best value. It offers a lot of features, good performance and photo quality, and a nicely designed body that costs less than you'd expect. If you're moving up to a digital SLR and don't currently own any lenses, the E-500 should be on your shopping list. Even if you already have a couple of lenses from Canon/Minolta/Nikon/Pentax it's still worth a look.

What I liked:

  • Excellent photo quality (though see issue below)
  • Great value
  • Well designed, attractive body (unlike the E-300); doesn't feel cheap
  • Dust reduction system
  • All the expandability you'd expect from a D-SLR; hot shoe for external flash
  • Large LCD easy to see outdoors; shows shooting info; allows for easy setting changes
  • Full manual controls and then some
  • Very good performance in nearly all areas
  • RAW, RAW+JPEG supported; RAW images can be edited right on the camera
  • AF-assist lamp (though only when flash is popped up)
  • Dual memory card slots
  • Redeye not a problem
  • Capable Olympus Master software included

What I didn't care for:

  • Images a bit noisier than competition at high ISOs; some jaggies
  • Startup time is slower than other D-SLRs due to dust reduction system
  • Burst mode could be better
  • Only three focus points
  • No battery grip available
  • No LCD info display on top of camera
  • No USB 2.0 High Speed support

Some other digital SLRs worth looking at include the Canon Digital Rebel XT, Konica Minolta Maxxum 5D, Nikon D50, and the Pentax *ist DL and DS2.

As always, I strongly recommend trying the E-500 and its competitors before you drop big bucks on a camera!

Photo Gallery

See how the photos turned out in our gallery!

Want another opinion?

You'll find another review at Digital Photography Review.

Feedback & Discussion

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.

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