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Olympus EVOLT E-500
Digital SLR - Digital Camera Review
Olympus have this to say about the camera:
"High performance D-SLR camera in a compact and lightweight design with integrated flash for ease-of-use to meet all of your photographic requirements. The eight million pixel Olympus E-500 digital SLR is a creative photographer's dream with a full complement of manual settings plus user-friendly menu and display. The E-500 incorporates a CompactFlash slot as well as one for xD-Cards. The easy-to-use controls are further enhanced by the high resolution 6.4cm/2.5" HyperCrystal LCD, which allows results to be viewed in a large format directly on the camera."
You can find more information on their website.
The Camera: a visual tour: (Photos of the camera taken with the Olympus SP-500UZ)
Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax 35mm film camera - a medium/compact sized 35mm film camera.
Specifications / Features:
Optional 14-45mm 1:3.5-5.6 lens (in packages marked 'Kit')
Average box contents - there are a large range of compatible memory cards available, and a case would also be very useful. The Olympus Evolt E-500 is also available with two kit lenses giving more zoom range. There is no memory card provided with the camera.
Battery usage: Battery life seemed good, I managed to take over 700 pictures before the battery low indicator came on.
Menu Options / Modes: The camera mode is selected using the top dial. This allows the choice of: Auto, P, A (aperture-priority), S (shutter priority), M (Manual), Portrait, Landscape, Macro/Flower, Sport, Night Portraight, and a further 15 Scene modes: Portrait, Landscape, Landscape and portrait, Night scene, Night Portrait, Children, Sport, High key (enhances bright areas), Low key (enhances dark areas), Macro, Candle, Sunset, Fireworks, Documents, Beach and Snow.
Photo mode/menu: The menu button brings up the menu screen as shown below:
Photo menu 1 options: Card setup, Picture mode (Vivid, Natural, Muted, Monotone, Sepia - each option allows you to change Contrast, Sharpness, and Saturation), Gradation (High key, Normal, Low key), Picture Quality (RAW+SHQ, RAW+HQ, RAW+SQ, RAW, TIFF, SHQ, HQ, SQ), Exposure compensation, Noise reduction, White Balance (Each of the following options allow the R and G to be adjusted further, and allow a white balance preview shot: Auto, Sun 5300k, Cloud 6000k, Shade 7500k, Bulb 3000k, Flourescant 1 4000k, Flourescant 2 4500k, Flourescant 3 6600k, Manual White Balance, Custom White Balance (2000 - 14000k)), ISO (Auto, 100 - 1600), Metering (ESP + AF, ESP, Centre-weighted, Spot metering, Spot HI, Spot SH).
2 options: Flash mode (Auto, Red-eye, Flash on, off, red-eye slow,
slow, slow 2), Flash strength (+2, -2), Drive mode (Normal, Continuous,
12 second self-timer, 2 second self-timer, 0 second remote, 2 second delay
remote), AF mode (S-AF, C-AF, Manual, S-AF + MF, C-AF + MF), Focus area
(Auto, Left, Centre, Right), White Balance bracket (R-B - 3F, 6 Step /
4 Step / 2 Step, G-M - 3F 6 Step / 4 Step / 2 Step), AE Bracket / Flash
Bracket (3F 0.3EV, 0.7EV, 1.0EV), MF Bracket, Anti-Shock (mirror lockup
set in seconds).
Screen / LCD display in photo mode: (shown above, right) The screen resolution with 212000 pixels is very good, and can display a histogram after each shot. The screen is clear and the text and menus are easy to read. In the display is - shutter speed, f setting, mode (manual/auto/shutter priority/aperture priority), date, number of shots remaining. You can also press OK, and use the 4-way controller and change the options on the screen such as: ISO (100-400 normally or up to 1600 with iso boost on), White Balance (Auto, sun cloud, house, bulb, 3 fluorescents, your pre-set, custom) Colour mode - vivid, natural, muted, monotone, sepia, Flash - auto, eye, flash, no flash, eye slow, flash slow, flash slow 2 (there's also a pop up flash button to the right of screen) Exposure compensation - -2 to +2 in steps of 1/3 Light metering - multi, centre emphasis, spot, highlights, shadows, Focus mode - single, continuous, manual, single with manual, continuous with manual. Picture quality - SHQ, HQ (adjustable compression), SQ (adjustable size and compression).
Optical Viewfinder (pictured above, left): has a diopter corrector. There is no electronic viewfinder. The optical viewfinder shows additional information to the right, such as aperture, shutter, focus, flash.
Set-up menu 1 options: ISO Step (1/3EV or 1EV), ISO Boost (Off, ON+NR, ON), ISO Limit, EV step (1/3, 1/2, 1), ALL WB (All set, All reset), HQ Compression ratio (1/4, 1/8, 1/12), SQ mode (Choice of resolution and compression ratio), Manual flash (off, on), Flash / Exposure compensation (on, off), Flash X-Sync (1/180 - 1/60), Auto pop-up (off, on), Dial, AEL/AFL, AEL/AFL Memo, AEL Metering, Quick Erase (off, on), RAW+JPEG Erase (JPEG, RAW, RAW+JPEG), Custom White Balance button (Preview, My mode, Test Picture, One touch White Balance), My mode setup, Focus ring (swap direction), AF illuminator, Reset lens, Release priority S, Release priority C.
Set-up menu 2 options: Date / Time settings, CF/XD, File name, Edit Filename (rather than images starting with P1 in the name, you can customise it to have you initials or any combination of letter and number), Screen brightness (+/- 7), Language, Video out, Sound, Record view, Sleep, 4 h timer, Button timer, Screen (On/off), Control Panal Colour (1, 2), Priority set, USB Mode, Colour space (sRGB, AdobeRGB), Shading compensation (on, off), Pixel mapping, Cleaning mode, Firmware version.
Playback (Review) mode/menu: The menu button brings up the menu screen as shown on the left, below:
Playback mode: Scrolling through the photos is very quick. The zoom is very quick and allows you to zoom upto 14x. There were numerous different playback views: Calendar view by date, Normal - with the option of additinal info, histogram, highlight, and shadow view, thumbs - showing 4, 9, 16, or 25 thumbnails. Further photo information was available by pressing the info button.
Playback menu options: Playback view (choice of thumbnails per page), Auto-rotate (on,off), Edit (allows you to convert image to black and white, sepia, fix red-eye, change saturation, and resize), print.
Picture Size / Quality: The camera takes the following size pictures:
As shown in the table above, higher quality images take a large amount of memory, so a high capacity memory card is definitely recommended, unless you're prepared to sacrifice image size or use higher compression options to fit more pictures in memory. There is a very good choice of image sizes and aspect ratios, and inclusion of RAW image mode means you can ensure no image quality is lost before any further editing occurs.
A large memory card is relatively cheap, and highly recommended, I would recommend at a bare minimum a 512mb memory card, and preferably a 1024mb memory card, or larger, especially considering the relatively low prices - the larger the memory card, the more photos you will be able to take. If you are likely to go on holiday then the largest memory card you can afford would definitely be worth investing in, as you don't always know when you will next be at a computer. You can use Compact Flash, Micro drive and xD picture cards. As the Olympus supports FAT32, it is compatible with the Hitachi 4gb micro drive. Listed below are links to memory cards that will work with the Olympus E-500:
the latest prices for SD memory cards at Amazon.co.uk: 512mb: £20,
1gb (1024mb): £36,
2gb (2048mb): £85,
4gb (4096mb): £139.
Speed: The camera is very quick to switch on and take photos, being ready in around one second. Focusing seemed fairly quick. The playback mode is also fairly quick. The camera shutter response seemed instant when pre-focused - and shot to shot time was quick, with a delay of around 1/3rd second between shots without flash. The flash recharge time was quite quick. The cameras menus seemed quick. Continuous shooting is quick, at roughly 2fps for multiple shots at the highest resolution, dependant on card technology used - with compact flash 5 shots could be taken sequentially at maximum resolution before there is a delay of 6 seconds while the files were written.
Ease of use: The camera is very easy to use, especially in the AUTO mode and the scene modes, even though the camera has a lot of options. The controls on the back of the camera are quite straightforward - the menus are responsive and easy to read and navigate. The menus are also easy to use, and the options are big enough and easy enough to see clearly. The modes are easy to access, quick and simple, mainly thanks to the large screen (most options are easily accessible by use of the ok button and the direction arrows) which makes it easier to use. It is useful to read the advanced manual to help familiarise yourself with some of the more technical features of the camera eg; knowing that sf and cf mean single focus and constant focus was useful.
Ergonomics and Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc.) The buttons are fairly easy to use, and they are in a good position. There seem to be a lot of buttons but this allows easy access to the essential functions and features while you're composing your shot. The buttons feel okay, although some may find them small. The shutter release is good. The scrolling wheel has multiple functions and in play mode is used to zoom in on your picture so you compare magnified sections of one image with the previous or next, making it simple to decide which shot is the one with least camera shake. I thought the camera felt very good ergonomically, with an excellent size rubber hand grip, although at first I did have some trouble with manually focussing through the viewfinder, with practice this becomes easier. The camera feels like a solid, robust and well built camera.
Image Quality: Here are some real world sample photos taken in various settings, such as Inside, Noise, Outside, Zoom, Macro, to demonstrate the quality of pictures taken and also show different features of the camera. Larger versions of these photos, plus more photos are available in the Olympus EVOLT E-500 Sample Photo Gallery!
Inside: The camera has very good colour - It took a good "Heather and Flower" photo - there is no red-eye in the photo. It has a decent flash, and copes well with group photos, and on AUTO ISO, the ISO setting was kept quite low in these photos. The camera did a good job at focusing even in low-light. Colour is richly saturated.
Noise: Noise is generally a bad thing - it removes detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as digital camera noise is often made out of blue, red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise. Noise is most noticeable in dark areas of photos. The camera has an Automatic mode for ISO levels, and manual ISO settings (ISO: 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600) (note that to enable access to the higher iso settings, you need to enable iso boost setting in one of the sub-menus.) - below you'll find the noise test image, plus actual pixel crops from the image taken at different ISO settings.
Noise is barely visible in photos taken at ISO100, while at ISO800 noise levels may begin to affect some photos - and higher ISO settings are best avoided if image quality is your highest priority. Noise is more noticable especially when taking photos of dark objects.
Outside, the camera has fairly neutral colour, with good saturation and little colour noise. There was good detail although some images seemed a little soft. Noise seemed low for ISO100 photos. I turned up the quality to maximum to avoid jpeg artefacts.
Zoom: The included lens provides a useful range of zooms, although you might be interested in obtaining different lenses depending on your field of work. The existing lens is a great for 'normal' everyday photography. For telephoto work the purchase of a tripod will also help you make the most of your investment.
Exposure / Metering on the photos of the clock tower seems good, with the dark areas of the photo not too dark, and the bright areas of the photo still visible.
Lens noise and zoom: The lens is very quiet, making almost no noise when switched on due to the lens already being in position. The manual zoom ring also means that zooming is silent and it gives you very good control of how you frame your subject. Like all SLR's the shutter noise is distinctive and provides some indication of the shutter speed. It doesn't appear to be any more noisy than a traditional SLR.
Other Image Quality issues: Purple fringing can be seen in some extreme test cases near the edges of the photos, however this was only seen when looking closely at the images, and was not seen in most normal (not too bright) photos.
Using the zoom, you are able to get a better macro photo - colour and detail is good, and there appears to be fairly low noise at ISO200. The lens / autofocus allows you to get about 20cm away from the subject.
Summary: This is an impressive digital SLR camera, offering excellent image quality, an excellent range of lenses with very precise manual zoom control. The screen is good, and the camera can produce excellent photos - although be aware that in low light situations, you have to sacrifice one of either shutter speed, or iso (and therefore greater noise), or reduce resolution. If you can stick with the lower ISO settings and you want high quality large images then this camera should be high on your shopping list. This camera is easy to use (in auto mode) and offers speedy performance, excellent battery life, with good controls and excellent build quality. I would recommend this camera especially to people who want greater creative control that normal compact digital cameras generally do not provide. I'd recommend trying out the camera and comparing with other brands before purchase, as you may find looking through the viewfinder and getting used to reading the information provided takes a little time, when compared to your average (electronic viewfinder) digital camera.
What I like:
What I don't like:
Additional Test Images - viewable in the Olympus EVOLT E500 Sample Photo Gallery: