Olympus E-510 — Quick Notes
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This article is not a review of the Olympus E-510 SLR — rather some quick notes, based on (as of this update) two months of using and testing this camera, also showing the changes (for better or worse) from the previous model, the E-500.
Judging from the email I'm receiving, and from a casual visit or two to Internet discussion forums, few cameras experienced as much pre-release hype it as the most recent model by Olympus, the
Now, a disclosure. Generally, I like the way in which Olympus engineers make their design compromises, mostly result-driven, and not aiming at those of potential buyers (or reviewers) who specialize in counting features. "Camera A has twelve custom settings, while B only seven" — no, I'm not inventing this!
I'm also a a supporter of the Four Thirds standard, for a number of reasons I will not elaborate upon now. Having invested into a moderate number of Four Thirds lenses and other accessories for the Olympus SLR system, I'm not likely to jump to another one on a whim, although my investment is not really large, and I may still do it if some other manufacturer impresses me enough with what they offer. So far nobody did, and I'm trying to stay on top of the developments, both by reading and hands-on experience.
Still, I do not think that whatever Olympus brings to the market must be the greatest thing since sliced bread. For example, I found their latest ventures into the mid/up-scale non-SLRs quite disappointing (after the great, late C-5050/5060/7070WZ), and their recent compacts — not worth much attention; certainly no more than anyone else's offerings.
To put it shortly: I do not believe in the so-called brand loyalty. If I choose one brand over another, it is not because of the manufacturer ("If it ain't Nikon, it's crap!"), but because of what the manufacturer has to offer.
Still, as my voice comes from within the Olympus user camp, it may be not quite impartial, as much as I may try to the contrary. Keep that in mind when reading this article.
Back to the camera in question. Its predecessor, the E-500, released in October of 2005, is giving me results better than anything else I've tried before; it is also well-built and a pleasure to use. Discounted to less than $600 for a two-lens kit (and the lenses are way better than those bundled by other makers), it became, without doubt, the best buy on the digital SLR market, competing against models costing more than twice that much (no names, please). It was also, from what I know, selling better than any previous Olympus SLR.
Now, does Olympus really need a new model, aimed at the same market, this year? (Really, two models, with the very similar E-410 missing only the image stabilization feature.) I did not think so, but, obviously, Olympus thought otherwise — maybe trying to drastically expand their market share by offering more features than competition, or maybe their designing team went on a work rampage, and this was the only way to keep them from hurting each other.
The bottom line is that, regardless of what I might have thought, the new E-510 is here. Because I was looking for a spare E-500 body anyway, I decided to give the new model a shot. Besides, a friend of mine already decided to get an E-510, and offered to buy mine if I do not like it. I wasn't risking a penny here.
Another friend got hooked on the E-410 as soon as she put her hands on that camera, and now wouldn't be persuaded to think about anything else. We'll be getting her E-410 soon, so I will have one more review to write.
The new body
Let us start from the body shape, size, and controls, comparing the E-510 to its predecessor, the E-500. (For the complete size and weight data see my Class of 2007 comparison of the E-510 and E-410.
While there is some family resemblance, the E-510 body is not just an update of the older one; it is an entirely new construction.
|(All pictures in this article are from promotional materials © Olympus Corporation)|
Being 6 mm wider and 3 mm less tall, the E-510 looks more like a film SLR, at the expense of some of the "cuteness factor" (a subjective matter). Right-eyed users will not be pleased, pushing our noses into the LCD; the E-500 was better here. Left-eyed ones do not gain much, which at least leaves everybody equally unhappy.
The extra room at the left shoulder is now used for flash and drive controls. The place of the latter (top left of the cursor cluster) is now taken by two new buttons, activating image stabilization and live preview. The other external controls seem to be unchanged, which is a good thing. (The old Reference WB button is now marked as Function [Fn], but it was already re-assignable in the E-500.)
The intelligence-offending HyperCrystal LCD below the monitor has been replaced with the Olympus logo. Thank you.
A good news: the new body finish is the crinkled surface I liked so much in the E-300 (although not at the same quality level); the thumb rest is now padded, and the function button area is more raised, which should protect us from pressing this button by accident.
Unfortunately, the hot-shoe placement still prevents the use of the built-in flash as a fill for a bounced external one; one of my major complaints about the E-500.
These were ite external changes, visible at a glance. What the camera attracts most of the interest with, however, are the two significant new features:
A significant change, often overlooked, is the switch from the excellent KAF series of Kodak CCD sensors used in all preceding Olympus dSLRs (except for the E-330) to NMOS ones, developed, I believe, by Panasonic. Being a believer in colors and tonality of Kodak sensors, I consider this the riskiest decision made by Olympus with the new models (see also here).
Impressions and remarks
All this said, here are my impressions based on the current experience with the camera, in no particular order.
Not all is good news, though. I found one feature I liked so much on the E-500, strangely dropped from the "new, improved" model; some others are of a rather secondary nature.
If I find something else, I will update this list. Now, to the features I was missing in the E-500, and are still missing in the E-510.
So, what do I think so far?
After two months, I like the E-510 a lot, although it took me some time to accept that this is not the
While I still think that the importance of its main two additions (image stabilization, live preview) is often exaggerated, I cannot deny that they make the E-510 more tempting. I might say that even without these two the camera would be, in my book at least, the most attractive offer now on the market, within, and far beyond, its price range. (This is why the E-410, lacking only the IS, may also be worth your attention.)
Well-designed and built (way above the best-selling dSLR on the market, let it remain nameless), offering brisk performance, lots of features, exemplary ergonomics, and (most probably; so far, so good!) an excellent image quality — come on, what else do you need?
Plus, did I mention I believe in the Four Thirds system?
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