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Color reproduction

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-520's color reproduction isn't significantly different to the competitors'. The only difference comes from slightly different tone curves and saturation parameters, all of which can be modified by the user anyway.

Olympus E-520 Compare to:  
      
      
      
      
NaturalVividMutedPortrait
MonoAdobeRGB

Artificial light White Balance

The E-520's automatic white balance in artificial light is pretty unimpressive. As you can see there's a rather strong clear red/orange color cast in incandescent light. Fluorescent light results were no better and, despite offering three different fluorescent presets to match different tube types, the best preset still only produced average results. When white balance is crucial though you should revert to custom white balance. There is a misleadingly-named "one-touch" method of registering a manual white balance setting, but it's only available if it has been assigned to the 'Fn' button. Alternatively all the white balance presets are fine-tunable, to try to improve performance.

Incandescent - Auto WB
Red: 7.0%, Blue: -10.1%, Average
Incandescent - Incandescent preset WB
Red: 3.7%, Blue: -5.2%, Average
Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red: 7.0%, Blue: -11.6%, Average
Fluorescent - Fluorescent Day
Red: 6.4%, Blue: -5.5%, Average

Flash

When using the internal flash the E-520 tends to meter quite conservatively and images could do with a little positive flash exposure adjustment. The flash portrait in particular is a little dark, lending a slight tomato complexion to the subject.

Built-in flash Built-in flash

Overall Image Quality/Specifics

There are three things that become apparent when looking in fine detail at the images from the E520 and most of them are only likely to be an issue in certain circumstances. In general, the images are very impressive and strike a pleasant balance between neutral, natural presentation and eye-catching technicolor. The three detrimental quirks are all issues that have been noticeable on previous Olympus models, though it's not clear whether they are a result of the cameras' smaller-than-average sensor or just the current sensor being used.

The first is the relatively soft output. On the E-510, the noise filter blurred some of the detail and then applied sharpening to produce a reasonably sharp final image. Turning down the noise filter and backing off the sharpening gave better results. Unfortunately, this can't be done on the E-520 - turning down the noise filter does little to improve sharpness. Despite being able to focus the camera to a very high degree of accuracy using magnified Live view and using one of the sharpest 50mm lenses on the market, our comparison shots simply cannot match the sharpness of its rivals. At sensible print sizes, this is not a difference that will be visible, but the more detail you initially capture, the more flexibility it gives you later - it's easier to blur away detail if you choose to, than to extrapolate detail that was never captured.

The second issue is the familiar complaint of limited dynamic range compared to its competitors. In JPEG, the E-520 has up to a stop less dynamic range than the Sony that currently leads this category of camera. The difference becomes even more stark when shooting RAW, since the Olympus has already squeezed just about all it can into its JPEGs. While several competing cameras will allow around another stop of usable detail to be teased out of the RAW files, the Olympus has little more left to give, potentially leaving it around 2 stops behind its peers. This will increase the likelihood of irretrievable highlight clipping (or noisy shadows in the event of under-exposing to prevent it).

Finally, there's the high-sensitivity performance that, irrespective of noise filter setting, shows more noise than any of its rivals. As soon as you use high ISO settings in low light (it's fine when used in good light to keep the shutter speeds up), it's impossible not to notice chroma noise starting to creep in, particuarly in dark areas of the image. At the highest sensitivity settings, particularly ISO 1600, we saw banding patterns appear when working in limited light. This is the image quality issue most likely to actually detract from your images, rather than only making a difference in direct comparisons.

50% crop, roll mouse over to see pattern emphasized ISO 800, F5.6, 1/100th sec

The differences we're talking about are really rather subtle and the E-520 is capable of great things in the right hands. But, having used the E-520 and its peers both in and out of the studio, it's impossible to conclude that the Olympus is competing on an equal footing with the other cameras in its class.

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