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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, 2008
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:
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:
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:
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:
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: