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DCRP Review: Olympus E-520
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: May 12, 2008
Last Updated: January 25, 2009
Our review of the Olympus E-520 has been completed using a production-level camera. Thank you for your patience!
The E-520 ($599, body only) is the follow-up to Olympus' popular EVOLT E-510 digital SLR, which was introduced in March of 2007. The E-510 featured a 10 Megapixel CCD, sensor-shift image stabilization, dust reduction, full manual controls, and live view on its 2.5" LCD.
What's new on the E-520? Pretty much the same stuff that you'll find on its sibling, the E-420. Those items include:
While not revolutionary, those are some nice new features. Olympus has also dropped the "EVOLT" moniker from their digital SLRs, and that's fine by me.
The E-520 finds itself in the very competitive entry-level D-SLR market. How does it perform? Find out now in our review!
What's in the Box?
The E-520 is available in two kits: body only ($599), and with a 14 - 42 mm lens ($699). Here's what you'll find in the box for both of those:
If you purchase the E-520 lens kit, then you'll get Olympus' fairly new 14 - 42 mm lens. On the E-520 (and all other FourThirds cameras), that's equivalent to 28 - 84 mm. This is a pretty nice lens, as kit lenses go, with good sharpness and decent build quality. There are plenty of other FourThirds lenses available, ranging from macro to super telephoto.
Digital SLRs never come with memory cards, so if you don't have an xD or CompactFlash card already, you'll have to buy one. The E-520 has two slots: one for xD and the other for CompactFlash. The CF slot supports Type I and II cards, though I don't believe that it takes advantage of super fast UDMA-enabled cards. I'd suggest starting with a 2GB, high speed CompactFlash card.
The E-520 uses the same BLM-1 rechargeable battery as its predecessor. This is one of the most powerful lithium-ion batteries on the market, with a whopping 10.8 Wh of energy. Here's how that translates into battery life:
The E-520's battery life is the same as its predecessor, and that's fine -- it was great before. In the group as a whole, the E-520 scores well above average. Olympus does not offer a battery grip for the E-520.
I want to mention two other things about the proprietary battery used by the E-520. First, they're expensive, with an extra one costing at least $43. The camera cannot use AA batteries, which can bail you out when the BLM-1 dies, but it can use three CR123 lithium batteries via the optional PS-LBH1 battery holder. CR123 batteries are more expensive than AAs, but it's still something to keep in mind.
When it's time to charge the BLM-1, just pop it into the included charger. And then prepare to wait for five hours for it to be charged. If you want a faster charger, Olympus would be happy to sell you one -- for $70! Whichever charger you use, you'll have to use a power cable with them, since they don't plug directly into the wall.
Being a digital SLR, you shouldn't be surprised to hear that the E-520 supports a ton of accessories (with two notable exceptions). Here's a quick summary of what's available:
Two things not on the list include the aforementioned battery grip, and an AC adapter. If you want to power the camera by plugging it into the wall (instead of using the battery), you're out of luck on the E-520.
Olympus Master 2 in Mac OS X
Olympus includes version 2 of their Olympus Master software with the E-520. Olympus Master is pretty snappy (except when loading a RAW image -- that took eight seconds), 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 news feeds, 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.
Editing JPEGs in Olympus Master 2
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.
Editing RAW images in Olympus Master 2
Olympus Master also features a pretty complete RAW editor. It lets you adjust exposure, white balance, picture mode (color, b&w, sepia), contrast, sharpness, saturation, gradation, noise filter, and more. 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.
Olympus Studio 2 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 compensation, distortion correction, and batch processing.
Olympus Studio 2 - 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. Unlike with some other D-SLRs, you don't get live view on your computer here. You can get a quick still-image preview, but that's about it.
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 first (or on the camera -- more on this later), but this allows you to adjust things like white balance, exposure, and noise reduction 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 good (but not great) manual with the E-520. It's pretty light on details, and it's not what I'd call an easy read, either. While the manual touches on the software bundle, you'll find the main documentation for that installed on your computer.
Look and Feel
The E-520 looks almost exactly like the E-510 that came before it, with the only major cosmetic change being its larger LCD. Despite its low price (and plastic body), the E-520 doesn't feel cheap when its in your hands, though it's easy for the battery compartment door to come off (it's easy enough to snap back on, though). The rubberized grip is just the right size, allowing the E-520 to fit comfortably in your hands.
The E-520 is a bit of a poster child for what I call "button clutter". There are buttons, dials, and switches all over the place. I found that I had to do some hunting to find the button I was looking for, though clearly this will go away with time.
Now, let's see how the E-520 compares to other D-SLRs in terms of size and weight: