Compared to...

As with the majority of our studio image quality comparisons we selected the nearest competition by category, specification, price and feature set. In this case the Olympus E-510 goes up against Sony's Alpha 100 and the Canon EOS 400D (Rebel XTi). We've also included later in the review some comparisons to the Pentax K10D - a slightly higher level of camera, but one that shares many basic features (including a 10MP sensor and anti shake system).

Camera Kit price Kit lens
equiv. FOV
(effective pixels)
Olympus E-510 $649 28 - 84 mm equiv. 10.0 MP LiveMOS; 17.3 x 13 mm (4/3 format)
Sony Alpha 100 $669 27 - 82.5 mm equiv. 10.2 MP CCD; 23.7 x 15.6 mm (1.5x crop)
Canon EOS 400D $669 28.8 - 88 mm equiv. 10.1 MP CMOS; 22.2 x 14.8 mm (1.6x crop)
Pentax K10D $750 27 - 82.5 mm equiv. 10.2 MP CCD; 23.5 x 15.7 mm (1.5x crop)

Lenses used

For direct comparisons we always use sharp prime lenses stopped down, typically to F9 for 35 mm lenses and F6.3 for Four Thirds lenses. Here we have used the Minolta 50mm F1.4, Pentax 50 mm F1.4, Olympus 50 mm F2.0 Macro, and Canon EF 50 mm F1.4.

Studio scene comparison (Noise Filter on/off)

As mentioned elsewhere in this review, and covered extensively in the review of the E-410, the E-510's output is considerably sharper and more detailed - even at ISO 100 - if you turn the noise filter off completely, but doing so increases the in-camera sharpening to an unacceptable degree. Below is our standard studio scene comparison using the default settings and our preferred settings (Noise Filter off, Sharpening -2).

This is our standard studio scene comparison shot taken from exactly the same tripod position. Lighting: daylight simulation, >98% CRI. Crops are 100%. Ambient temperature was approximately 22°C (~72°F).

Olympus E-510 (default) vs. Olympus E-510 (NF Off, sharp -2)

Camera settings:

  • Olympus E-510: Olympus 50 mm F2.0 lens, Aperture Priority, ISO 100
    JPEG Large/SHQ, Manual WB, Anti-shock 2 sec
Olympus E-510
Olympus E-510 (NF Off, Sharp -2)
6,775 KB JPEG (3648 x 2736)
6,810 KB JPEG (3648 x 2736)

Here you can see the difference between the default 'out of the camera' result and the same shot with the Noise Filter parameter set to 'Off' (and Sharpness -2 to compensate for the reduced need to sharpen). The improvement is clear to see, with the veil of the noise reduction algorithm removed the true detail and sharpness of the captured image is revealed. Obviously the downside of turning off the Noise Filter is more visible noise, especially from ISO 800 up*. The only other obvious downside (something only 'fixable' by shooting raw) is that the additional sharpness causes an even harsher highlight cut off (on the paperclips in this scene).

Because of the improvement between the default and this, our 'optimum', we have chosen to include it (as well as the default) in the JPEG comparisons on following pages (which is fair because the ability to control noise reduction is something all manufacturers could implement).

* We would of course have preferred it if Olympus had tuned the camera to deliver the optimum sharpness / detail throughout the ISO range and as can be seen here it's too high at ISO 100 which is leading to a loss of sharpness.