Conclusion - Pros

  • Compact and lightweight design with excellent handling
  • Surprisingly effective sensor-shift image stabilization
  • Excellent control system (via info screen) and lots of external controls for important settings
  • Good image quality and resolution, if not optimum straight out of the box
  • Low noise across the ISO range by default, turning down noise filter doesn't spoil images
  • Through the lens Live View with Auto Focus (although requires mirror up/down)
  • Up to ten times magnification in Live View for manual focus
  • Supersonic Wave Filter ensures no dust on sensor
  • Responsive in use, auto focus fairly quick, shutter lag short
  • Good quality lightweight kit lens makes for lightweight 'carry around' kit
  • User control over ISO noise reduction ('Noise Filter')
  • Extensive feature set and a huge range of customization
  • Black and white mode with selectable filters
  • Kelvin white balance option, all white balance presets fine tunable
  • Selectable color space (sRGB / Adobe RGB)
  • Fully customizable RAW+JPEG (many competitors have fixed JPEG settings)
  • Spot metering with shadow and highlight based spot
  • Timed long exposures up to sixty seconds
  • Remote control option
  • Mirror lock-up with custom delay
  • Unlimited continuous shooting on fast card with HQ quality JPEG, good RAW burst mode
  • Good Compact Flash write performance with a fast card
  • Good range of playback options / views
  • In-camera RAW development feature
  • In-camera JPEG image editing
  • Easy, automatic online firmware upgrades (via Olympus Master / Studio)
  • High speed USB 2.0
  • Orientation sensor
  • Value for money

Conclusion - Cons

  • Dynamic Range less than competition (highlights by about three quarters of a stop; 0.7 EV)
  • Serious highlight clipping on bright days unless you reduce exposure
  • Small viewfinder (difficult to see fine detail, difficult to check focus, difficult to use with glasses)
  • Live View usefulness countered by LCD which doesn't tilt, not bright enough outdoors
  • Long, unstructured menus make finding some less common settings frustrating
  • Live histogram and preview brightness inaccurate if you use Live Preview Boost.
  • Best results require adjustment of Noise Filter and Sharpness settings
  • Visibly noisier results than most competitors above ISO 400
  • Slower than average startup due to the SSWF (should be at power-off / intervals)
  • No delete / cancel option during record review (immediately after shutter release)
  • Auto focus provides just three focus points, although AF performance good
  • Focus-by-wire kit lens means no focus distance indication, lack of precision and slight lag
  • Flash must be raised for AF assist

Overall conclusion

I've been using the E-510 for an unusually long time - the delay in publishing this review meant I ended up living with it for several months, which allowed me to really get to know it in the same way an owner would. And my overall impression, I have to say, is very positive indeed.

Where the E-410 impressed as much because it's so very small compared to other digital SLRs as anything else, the E-510 has far more to compete with; the 10MP mid-range market is an increasingly crowded one, and there's an awful lot of competition out there.

So how does the E-510 fare in the face of such strong competition? The answer is that it does very well in virtually all respects; the handling and control interface are superb (minor niggles aside; in manual exposure mode I was constantly wishing for a second control dial and the setup menus could really do with a bit of organization), its capable of excellent results and its actually very fast and responsive.

The image stabilization system is surprisingly effective, the tiny kit lens remarkably good and the live view, though far from perfect, is actually very useful in the studio. It's a well thought out and SLR that is small and light enough to carry with you all day long yet offers very stable handling due to an excellent grip and well balanced, mature design.

And for the tickbox brigade the E-510 compares very well with its direct competitors in a 'spec for spec' comparison too, save for the rather antiquated 3 point auto focus system, and it adds a huge amount of customization options missing from the E-410. To be honest neither of these issues will have an immense effect on most users' experiences - the 3-point AF system works perfectly well 99% of the time (if you really want to capture sports action there are better cameras) and the majority of the additional controls will be left on default most of the time.

Of course there are some important negatives; like the E-410 we were disappointed with the E-510's dynamic range, which tends to clip highlights harshly and can mean the difference between a blue sky and a washed out one. Shooting RAW allows you to pull back some of the detail lost in JPEGs, but you'll need to know your way around Photoshop to turn the result into an appealing image. And the whole 'noise filter / sharpness' issue is still here; the default settings produce results that - even at ISO 100 - look soft and lack texture, though of course this is easily remedied by turning the noise filter off - something Olympus really needs to fix in future models. I'd also like to see a battery grip as an option next time.

Finally there's the usual Four-Thirds problem of a small viewfinder, which makes seeing the entire frame and the shooting information at a glance quite a challenge. To be fair the viewfinder is very bright, but you can't get away from the impression that you're framing by peering at the outside world through a small letter box.

But overall, especially considering the excellent pricing, extensive feature set, effective image stabilization and superb design/construction/handling, the E-510 is an impressive and hugely rewarding camera in use. The results from the kit lens are some of the best we've ever seen, the SSWF dust reduction system is the most effective on the market and the whole package shows that Olympus understands the needs of the photographer as well as - if not better than - any of its major competitors. If it had a better sensor (less noise and better dynamic range) the E-510 would be a strong candidate for category winner; as it is you'll need to decide if the slight compromises the sensor demands are going to affect the type of pictures you take.

It's great to see Olympus finally introducing models that deliver on the Four-Thirds promise of compact, affordable, high quality digital SLRs, and the E-510 (along with its ultra compact sibling the E-410) show that the system has far more potential than many observers give it credit for, particularly in this 'entry-level to mid-range enthusiast' sector of the market. That said, if Olympus is to persuade us that there is no inherent disadvantage to the use of the smaller sensor of the Four-Thirds format, it needs to fix the issues of dynamic range and high ISO performance in future models.

Detail (D-SLR)
Rating (out of 10)
Build quality 8.0
Ergonomics & handling 8.5
Features 9.0
Image quality 8.5
Performance (speed) 9.0
Value 9.0

Highly Recommended

Highly Recommended

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