Artificial light White Balance
The E-500's automatic white balance in incandescent light was 'variable', we would normally only provide two shots in each light source, one in auto WB and one in the preset WB but we got such a range of results it seemed to make more sense to demonstrate them. As you can see results in incandescent light went from poor to average, and this one shot to the next. Using the camera's incandescent preset produced very good results, so would be the safest bet under this kind of light.
In fluorescent light the E-500 faired much better, indeed its automatic white balance produced better results than any of the three fluorescent presets.
|Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red: 0.3%, Blue: -1.5%
|Fluorescent - Fluorescent 1 preset WB
Red: 1.3%, Blue: -3.8%
Long Exposure noise reduction / Night shots
The E-500 provides timed exposures of up to 60 seconds, this is twice as much as most digital SLR's. It also features optional dark frame long exposure noise reduction, when enabled a second equal length exposure is taken immediately after the main exposure which is used to map out any fixed pattern 'hot pixel' noise from the image. As you can see from the samples below with NR switched off you get a liberal sprinkling of 'hot pixels' all over the image, with NR on these are gone and there's no black pitting or other artifacts.
|Noise reduction Off||Noise reduction On|
|ISO 100, 30 sec, F7.1, NR Off||ISO 100, 30 sec, F7.1, NR On|
|ISO 100, 60 sec, F10, NR Off||ISO 100, 60 sec, F10, NR On|
The E-500's pop-up flash has a guide number of 13 and x-sync speed is 1/180 sec. The flash unit raises itself fairly high, enough to avoid any kind of lens hood shadow issues and also help avoid red-eye. In our test of 'normal 'subjects the flash / metering combination worked perfectly well, noticeably better than the E-300 did, however we did need to use +0.7 EV flash compensation to get a properly exposed color patch shot.
|Built-in flash (defaults)||Built-in flash (+0.7 EV flash compen.)|
Overall Image Quality / Specifics
The E-500 delivered bright, well exposed and vivid images with good color and tonality (except for hard clipped highlights). I'm glad to report that the new metering system is a 'sea change' compared to the E-300, not once was it fooled or delivered under or over-exposed images. Noise wise the E-500 does better than the E-300 but above ISO 400 it's still not going to be able to challenge the Canon CMOS sensor used in the EOS 350D.
From a detail point of view images were sharp and have a typical 'Olympus' appearance, maybe a little to consumer-like for my tastes. Highlights tended to be clipped rather harshly, edges were crisp and sharp although in some images this hard sharpening can lead to the appearance of halos. Thankfully sharpening can be turned down sufficiently to avoid this (or just use the Natural Picture Mode). There was the occasional 'hint' of moire in some images but it was never objectionable and was a good sign that (a) the lenses were delivering more than the required resolution and (b) the anti-alias filter is light enough to extract as much resolution as possible from the sensor.
Compared to the E-300 the E-500 delivers virtually identical resolution and sharpness up to ISO 400. Above this the different approach to noise reduction between the two cameras starts to become noticeable. As we discovered in our noise comparison earlier in this review at ISO 1600 the E-500's new noise reduction system (with NF or not) does reduce the visibility of speckled luminance noise (and with the NF option set on some chroma noise) but this is at the expense of image detail with images looking noticeably softer.
Hard clipped highlights / edge artifacts
One thing which stood out in some of our images was the way the E-500 dealt with the transition from an over-exposed area of the image to an edge or detail. It has a tendency to 'hard clip' the edge and leave it looking slightly jagged and consumer-digicam-like, a softer more aliased edge or better handling of those tonalities near over-exposure would have been better. This is sometimes due to edge detection or false-color removal processing.