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Olympus EVOLT E-500 Digital SLR - Digital Camera Review
Review Date: 26/02/06
Rating: Highly Recommended!
Author: Matthew Waller
Buy Now: Get the Best Price


Introduction: Announced on the 26th of September 05, the Olympus E-500 is a new 8 megapixel digital camera with a Zuiko 14-45mm F3.5-5.6 lens. The cameras 3.2x optical zoom lens has a 28-90mm 35mm film equivalent. The Olympus E-500 is available from around £499, this makes it good value for money for a 8 megapixel SLR digital camera. The camera is enclosed in a sturdy black plastic body with rubberised hand grip. The E500 does not record movies but can take pictures at 2.5 frames per second. The camera is fairly large, roughly the same size as a traditional SLR - the body measures: 129.5 x 94.5 x 66mm (without protruding parts), and weighs approx. 435g (or 550g including batteries and media, excluding lens). For comparison, my Olympus OM10 (a mostly manual 35mm SLR) weighs about 550g without lens (including film) and is marginally more compact. The camera takes a BLM-1 rechargeable lithium-Ion battery which lasts a very long time when fully charged.

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)


Front - Camera off. Infra-red sensor for remote.


Lens on, side on


Back - 2.5" screen, Optical viewfinder with diopter correction, Flash up, Playback mode, delete, menu, info, AEL/AFL, Custom White balance (can be customised, but in custom white balance mode, holding it and taking a photo will set the custom white balance for you), Focus area, Drive mode, 4-way controller, OK button in middle.


Top: Flash hotshoe, Mode dial, On/Off, esposure compensation button, shutter, control dial (corner).


Bottom - battery compartment (open/close latch), metal tripod mount.


Left Side. Lens at telephoto setting, manual focus ring, zoom ring, USB / Video out, Lens release button.


Pop-up flash.


Lens strap loop. Dual Compact flash / XD Memory card compart
ment.

Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax 35mm film camera - a medium/compact sized 35mm film camera.


Size comparison.


Size comparison - compared to Panasonic Lumix FZ30.


Size comparison, compared to the Olympus SP-500UZ. (taken with the FZ3)

Specifications / Features:

  • 8 Megapixel CCD sensor
  • Zuiko 3.2x optical zoom kit lens
  • 2.5" swivel screen, 215,250 pixels
  • ISO AUTO, 100, 125, 160, 200, 250, 320, 400, 500, 640, 800, 1000, 1250, 1600
  • Shutter speeds AUTO, 8min., 60sec up to 1/4000th sec
  • Specification state focusing down to 38cm away from front of lens is possible (with standard lens)
  • RAW mode, Manual controls

Box Contents:

  • E-500 Camera Body
  • Battery pack
  • Battery charger
  • USB Cable
  • Video Cable
  • CD-ROM 1 (Olympus Master Software)
  • CD-ROM 2 (Advanced Manual)
  • Basic Manual (Printed, multilingual)
  • Strap

Optional 14-45mm 1:3.5-5.6 lens (in packages marked 'Kit')

  • Lens Cap
  • Lens hood

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 Photo Menu 2

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).

Photo menu 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).

Optical viewfinder Photo mode info display

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.

Setup Menu 1 Setup Menu 2

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 (some of the screens) Playback menu

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:

Mode name Compression Ratios Image Dimensions Image Size (mb)
SHQ
1/2.7 (not adjustable)
3264 x 2488 (not adjustable)
5.7-4.4mb
HQ
1/4
3264 x 2488
4.5
HQ
1/8
3264 x 2488
2.5
HQ
1/12
3264 x 2488
1.8
SQ
1/2.7-1/12
3200 x 2400
6.2, 4.4, 2.4, 1.8
SQ
1/2.7-1/12
2560 x 1920
3.7, 2.5, 1.3, 0.8
SQ
1/2.7-1/12
1600 x 1200
1.5, 1.0, 0.5, 0.4
SQ
1/2.7-1/12
1280 x 960
0.9, 0.6, 0.3, 0.2
SQ
1/2.7-1/12
1024 x 768
0.6, 0.4, 0.2, 0.2
SQ
1/2.7-1/12
640 x 480
0.3, 0.2, 0.1, 0.1
RAW
none
3264 x 2488
13.6
(SHQ/HQ/SQ) + RAW
none
3264 x 2448
13.6
TIFF
none
3264 x 2488
24.5

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:

Find the latest prices for SD memory cards at Amazon.co.uk: 512mb: £20, 1gb (1024mb): £36, 2gb (2048mb): £85, 4gb (4096mb): £139.
Need more help deciding what size memory card to buy? Click here to read my article called "What Size Memory Card Should I Buy?"

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:

Heather and Flower (ISO100) Group photo (ISO160)

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.


ISO Noise Test Photo - Flash and noise reduction off unless otherwise stated

ISO100 - Actual Pixels ISO200 - Actual Pixels
ISO400 - Actual Pixels ISO800 - Actual Pixels
ISO1600 with noise reduction off - Actual Pixels ISO1600 with noise reduction on. - Actual Pixels
ISO100 - Actual Pixels ISO1600 - Actual Pixels ISO1600 with noise reduction - Actual Pixels

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:

Fruit stall London-Eye, full zoom

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.

24mm (35mm equivalent: 48mm) 45mm (35mm equivalent: 90mm) = maximum optical zoom Actual pixels

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.

Macro:

keyboard

letter 'G'

Macro keyboard Actual Pixels (ISO200)

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.

Conclusion

Image Quality: Image quality is very good, the images have very good colour, with good contrast and excellent detail, with low noise except for high iso images. Images were slightly soft straight from the camera and could benefit from sharpening. Purple fringing was quite low, as was red-eye. The camera did a good job focusing even in low light thanks to the flash assist. I did not notice vignetting in photos, nor did I notice barrel or pincushion distortion. There is a very good range of image sizes, and a good choice of compression options (including RAW and TIFF). Auto white balance and metering seemed to be good. The camera gives very good control over image quality - selecting different picture modes allows allows you to change the saturation, contrast and sharpness. (9/10)

Everything else (the camera as a whole): The camera is quite large, and definitely not pocketable. The camera is stylish with a black body with black rubber hand grips. The camera has a very good 2.5" screen and the optical viewfinder can be used in bright sunlight. The camera feels very well built, and is comfortable to hold. The camera is easy to use, the menu system is easy to use and there is a good layout of buttons and controls, with the majority on the outside of the camera giving quick access to the most commonly used options and features (rather than hidden in menus). The camera speed is good, with a good switch on time, quick focusing time, excellent shutter response, good flash recharge time, fairly quick playback mode, quick menus, and respectable continuous shooting. The camera has a large range of features, some not found on other cameras, such as anti-dust / supersonic wave filter, mirror lock-up with delay, one-touch custom white balance, plus many more. (9/10)

Value for Money: The Olympus E-500 is good value for money in a competitive market, offering a lot of features considering the "Budget DSLR" price - value for money is increased further with the option of two kit lenses. There are a few other cameras to compare in this price range with similar capabilities. Digital SLR cameras worth consideration include the highly recommended Konica Minolta Dynax Maxxum 5D, Nikon D70s, Pentax *ist DS, Pentax *ist DL, Canon EOS 350D, and the Nikon D50, however the majority of these cameras are only 6 megapixel, with the exception of the Canon EOS 350D. (9/10)

See more digital camera reviews sorted by megapixels here.

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.

Olympus E-500 Rating: Highly Recommended! (9/10)
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What I like:

  • Very good image quality
  • Excellent battery life
  • Very pleasing natural colours
  • Simple to use, thanks AUTO and Scene modes (although practice is recommended)
  • Good kit lens
  • Wide-angle / telephoto lenses available, note also with an adapter can use other Olympus OM kit
  • Quick performance, quick switch on time
  • Well built, strong black SLR body
  • Useful image review mode, including histograms and overexposed + underexposed highlighting
  • Good range of image sizes, and image compression which includes RAW (12 bit) and TIFF modes
  • Anti-dust feature
  • One-Touch Custom White Balance

What I don't like:

  • Manual focus is difficult (small optical viewfinder)
  • Advanced manual is on CD
  • Included Olympus Master software is slow

Additional Test Images - viewable in the Olympus EVOLT E500 Sample Photo Gallery:

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