Color reproduction is a new addition to our in-depth reviews and provides a quick overview of the general look of images from the camera as well as an ability to compare this to other cameras. Here you can see a generated GretagMacbeth ColorChecker chart, place your mouse over any of the labels below it to see the color reproduction in that mode. Select a camera/setting combination from the 'Compared to' drop-down to comparative boxes inside each patch.
As you can see the E-510's color reproduction delivers almost the same hues as the competition, in the last two years or so there has been a clear 'normalization' of color among various manufacturers. The only difference comes from slightly different tone curves and saturation selection.
Artificial light White Balance
The E-510's automatic white balance performed better than some but still not as well as we would like in artificial light, as you can see there's a clear red/orange color cast in incandescent light, though we got excellent results with the Incandescent preset. Auto WB performed quite well in Fluorescent light, though we were unable to get any of the three fluo presets to match our test tubes.
Incandescent - Auto WB
Red: 7.7%, Blue: -9.3%, Average
No complaints here; with good metering and good flash power output, they're pretty much as good as you could expect from a built-in flash.
Overall Image Quality / Specifics
Our overall impressions of the E-510's image quality are, unsurprisingly, pretty much exactly the same as they were when we tested the E-410; rather mixed. This is mainly due to the default settings, which produce very smooth (noise free) images, but images that lack critical detail. For many users the rather contrasty tone curve and bright, cheerful colors might produce images that are a little too 'punchy', but they always have the option to shoot RAW (the in-camera JPEG image parameters don't offer enough range to really customize the output sufficiently).
Turning the noise filter off (and turning the sharpening down) produces superb results at lower ISO settings, but noise starts to rear its ugly head at ISO 400, something that - along with the limited dynamic range (and resultant highlight clipping) is almost certainly a direct consequence of the smaller sensor surface area.
As already discussed turning off the camera's Noise Filter option can deliver more detail, although obviously at the expense of more visible noise, especially from ISO 400 up. We also noted that the default sharpening level appears to be designed to recover some of the sharpness lost by the Noise Filter but that baseline of sharpness doesn't decrease in line with the Noise Filter setting, hence you need to reduce sharpness if you turn down the Noise Filter.
We've covered the E-510's rather unimpressive dynamic range elsewhere, and this is by far my biggest issue with the camera, and it isn't helped by the steep tone curve and rather erratic metering. The consequences are clipped highlights, particularly on bright, contrasty days when the only way to ensure you don't lose highlight detail is through very careful exposure / metering (the metering tends to over exposure when faced with too much dynamic range).
Shooting RAW with a -0.7 EV compensation significantly increases your chances of capturing the full range of tones in the scene, but you'll eventually hit the dynamic range wall - and you can't put back what was never captured. The examples below show the typical result of shooting at the metered exposure in bright sunlight.