Conclusion - Pros

  • Good resolution, very little difference to the EOS 350D (although not as 'crisp')
  • Good color, contrasty images with out-of-the-camera appeal (selectable Picture Modes)
  • Low noise levels up to ISO 400, usable ISO 800 (image much softer at ISO 1600)
  • New high ISO noise filter deals with chroma noise, although softer images
  • New metering sensor a vast improvement over the E-300
  • Wide range of image parameter adjustment (color, tone, sharpness)
  • Kelvin white balance option, all white balance presets fine tunable
  • Selectable color space (sRGB / Adobe RGB)
  • Effective long exposure noise reduction & timed exposures up to 60 seconds
  • Very good build quality, comfortable in use (good ergonomics), light weight
  • Unlimited continuous shooting on fast card at HQ quality (faster than specified too)
  • RAW mode provides the 'digital negative'
  • Supersonic Wave Filter ensures no dust on sensor
  • Excellent Compact Flash write performance, 5 MB/sec normal card to 9 MB/sec fast card
  • Wide ranging and flexible level of customization
  • Mirror lock-up with custom delay
  • Range of flash options including manual output power control
  • In-camera RAW development feature
  • In-camera lens shading compensation
  • Black and white mode with selectable filters
  • Indication of setting adjustments on viewfinder display (ISO etc.)
  • Large, bright and detailed 2.5" LCD monitor, wide viewing angles
  • Excellent play display modes including highlight and shadow indication
  • Unique 'test picture' mode, shoot without writing
  • Unique jump zoom and side-by-side compare features in play mode
  • Olympus Studio very good with nice range of features but should be included
  • Powerful, lightweight Lithium-Ion battery
  • Orientation sensor
  • Value for money

Conclusion - Cons

  • Very small viewfinder view (difficult to see fine detail, difficult to check focus)
  • Recommended sensitivity ISO 100 - 400, images at ISO 800 usable, ISO 1600 not really
  • Not instant startup (1.7 sec) even longer in its out-of-the-box configuration
  • Occasional hard clipped highlights, edge jagged diagonals
  • No record review delete / cancel
  • Lack of status LCD can mean shorter battery life (LCD monitor takes more power)
  • Inconsistent automatic white balance in incandescent light
  • Playback magnification up to 14x but no more detail beyond 8x
  • Noise tends have the appearance of color mottle not 'film like' grain
  • Auto focus provides just three focus points, although AF performance good
  • No focus distance indicator on kit lens
  • Flash must be raised for AF assist
  • Color space selection buried in the setup menu (although can accessed from control panel)
  • Potential to lose images if CF door is opened during write
  • Only USB 1.1 (still no USB 2.0 Hi-Speed?)

Overall conclusion

When the E-500 was announced in September this year the reception was noticeably more positive than for the E-300. The E-300's primary problems were its unusual design/layout and (as soon as reviews arrived) pretty average high ISO performance. It had five months as the highest pixel count 'affordable' digital SLR, until Canon announced the EOS 350D (Digital Rebel XT). So here we are about eight months later with the camera we'd always wanted Olympus to produce, a quality compact affordable digital SLR with an Four Thirds system lens mount. I'll re-iterate the point from my E-300 review, this is the kind of camera Olympus should have used to launch the Four Thirds system.

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Pick up the E-500 and it feels immediately familiar, good ergonomics, a comfortable hand grip and a 'normal' pentaprism viewfinder mean that although its a whole new mount/sensor system it feels like a traditional SLR (and that's really important). The more traditional body feels stiffer and better put together than that of the E-300. The E-500 is the lightest (body only) digital SLR available at the moment, but not the smallest, and honestly that's not a bad thing. The EOS 350D (Digital Rebel XT) is just a little too small, mostly lost to the hand grip which can feel thin and cramped. The E-500 has clearly been designed by people who really go out and use the cameras.

Image quality is on the whole very good, resolution essentially as good as the EOS 350D (Digital Rebel XT), although perhaps not as per-pixel crisp, and an Olympus-like contrasty tone / vivid color look to images. My only disappointments are with the way the cameras image pipeline deals with highlights which can look 'hard clipped', the over-processed looking sharpening and noise at ISO 1600. The E-500 still has (essentially) the same sensor as the E-300 and despite improved noise reduction it's still no match for Canon's excellent CMOS sensor at higher sensitivities (above ISO 400). Hence if you find yourself shooting a lot of ISO 800 and 1600 images you may wish to think harder about the Canon offerings. Other negatives include the small viewfinder which can make it difficult to visualize focus distance, and the not-so-instant-startup (1.7 sec power on).

Dive into the E-500s menus and you soon realize this camera offers far more from a features point of view than the competition, you just don't find features like this on a $699 camera; manual flash power, flash bracketing, manual focus bracketing, test picture, customizable buttons and dial, custom mirror-lockup, in-camera RAW development, lens shading correction. So despite some shortcomings, and assuming you can forgive the small viewfinder view you'll be hard pushed to argue with the 'value proposition' the E-500 represents. As a bonus you can always put some of the savings towards one of the excellent Olympus E system lenses (of which there are now considerably more to choose from).

Highly Recommended

Highly Recommended

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