Olympus, D-500L/D-600L Digital Cameras
True "SLR" viewing, and 1.4 million pixels! (D-600L)
|True "SLR" through-the-lens viewing|
|GREAT resolution & sharpness
- 1024x768 (D-500L)
- 1280x1024 (D-600L)
|LCD and optical viewfinder|
|3x, f2.8 zoom lens
- 50-150mm (D-500L)
- 36-110mm (D-600L)
Olympus has been one of the more successful traditional, film-based camera manufacturers making the transition to digital. Their first efforts (the D-200 and D-300) enjoyed much critical acclaim and commercial success, and the updated versions of those models (the D-220 and D-320) continue to be popular. With the introduction of the D-500L and D-600L though, Olympus has substantially raised the bar for the entire category of digital point and shoot cameras. Both offer high image resolution, excellent optics, convenient usage, and single-lens reflex (SLR) viewing, at prices near a thousand dollars. (At the time of this writing, suggested retail prices were $899 for the D-500L, and $1299 for the D-600L.)
Because these two cameras share so many features and capabilities in common, we have taken the unusual step of merging their reviews here, so readers can better understand some of the subtle differences between the two.
Aside from excellent resolution and image quality at a reasonable price, the biggest innovation of the D-500/600 cameras is the fact that both are true single-lens reflex (SLR) devices, offering through-the-lens (TTL) viewing. This means that when you look through the optical viewfinder, you are actually looking through the main lens of the camera, and can see exactly what the sensor will see when the shot is taken. By guaranteeing that "what you see is what you get," TTL viewing contributes greatly to the ease-of-use of the cameras, especially for macro work or other applications involving filters or other optics added in front of the lens.
The D-500L/600L are both "high resolution" point and shoot digital cameras, the 500 producing 1024x768 pixel images, and the 600 producing 1280x1024 images. To accommodate situations in which you might not need all that resolution, both cameras provide "low-res" capture modes, with image sizes of 640x480 and 640x512 respectively.
The cameras also offer a very unique styling, borrowing heavily from Olympus' pioneering "ZLR" (Zoom Lens Reflex) design popularized by their IS-series film cameras. This has been a popular, if unconventional, design in the film world, and it's easy to see why: The elongated body and molded grip for the right hand give you lots to hold on to, a definite help in stabilizing the cameras for long exposures.
We expect the D-500L and D-600L to be very popular cameras, thanks to their excellent image quality, high resolution, and wealth of features. Some reviewers have consigned the D-600L to "professional" usage because its resolution goes well beyond that required for high-quality prints at the popular 4x6 inch size. On the face of it, this may seem like a valid argument, but we beg to differ: One of the biggest limitations to date of non-professional digital cameras has been the lack of any ability to crop-down the pictures, to isolate interesting subject areas and improve composition. With the D-600L, you finally have enough pixels to do this with, yet still retain reasonable image quality. This is truly a first for an inexpensive digital camera, and is a feature that should be of interest to anyone, not just "professionals."
At first glance, either the D-500L or D-600L could be mistaken for a film camera, sharing the unmistakeable elongated, integrated-lens design of Olympus "ZLR" design. There's good reason why the ZLR design has been popular: Besides their excellent optics, the Olympus design fits the hand well, and is easy to hold, even for telephoto or low-light exposures. We expect this form factor will enjoy similar popularity in Olympus' digital cameras.
At first contact, we were somewhat surprised by how compact and light the cameras were. Both devices measure 4.5 x 3.3 x 5.1 inches (115 x 83 x 130 mm), and weigh in at 16.6 ounces (470 gm) without batteries. Size is all relative of course though, and the dimensions and weight place the D-500L/600L at the upper end of the scale for digital point and shoot cameras. Their size will probably preclude carrying them in a coat pocket, so the optional (and very nicely made) leather case makes a lot of sense.
Although the D-500L/600L includes a 1.8 inch (46 mm) LCD panel on the back of the camera, it is not intended for use as a viewfinder, but for image review only. This really isn't a limitation, since the TTL viewfinder lets you actually look through the main lens itself, providing an accurate representation of what the sensor will ultimately capture. The LCD panel does work well for reviewing images once they've been captured, and selectively deleting those you don't want to keep. To help you rapidly review a number of images, you can display as many as nine images in "thumbnail" form simultaneously on the LCD screen. Also, after taking a picture, a copy of the new image appears on the LCD panel for a few seconds. This automatic, "instant review" is very helpful for making certain you actually got the shot you were trying for, and it's nice not to have to press multiple buttons or change camera "modes" to be able to see it. In our testing, we found the TTL viewfinder worked very well, and didn't regret the lack of a real-time LCD display at all. (In another "real camera" feature, eyeglass wearers will also be glad to find a diopter adjustment built into the viewfinder, to compensate for either near- or far-sighted eyeballs!)
The D-500L and D-600L have identical optics, a multicoated, aspheric 3x autofocus zoom lens, but the two cameras have different effective focal lengths due to differences in sensor size. The zoom on the D-500L covers a range of focal lengths equivalent to 50-150mm on a 35mm film camera, while the D-600L covers a range equivalent to 36-110mm. This difference in focal length coverage may offer some guidance in choosing between the two units, the D-500L being oriented more toward telephoto applications. The lens on both cameras has an f-stop range from 2.8 to 11, the lower end of the range offering welcome light-grabbing ability. Minimum "normal" autofocus distance is 23.6 inches (0.6m) for both cameras, and both have a macro focus setting for close-up views from 11.8 inches to 2 feet (0.3-0.6m).
Much of Olympus' reputation in the film world is built upon their excellent optics, and that tradition carries over to the D-500L and D-600L: Both cameras produced sharp images corner-to-corner, with good contrast and no chromatic aberration. We did notice a slight barrel distortion at the wide-angle end of the lenses' range, but the effect was only evident at the shortest focal lengths (we'd guess from ~36-45mm on the D-600L), and was never too pronounced. Undoubtedly due to its larger sensor size, the distortion was more evident with the D-600L than with the D-500L. This slight distortion is unlikely to be an issue for typical shooting, and would only be noticeable when taking pictures of objects with straight lines parallel to the frame edges, near the frame boundaries. To see the effect at its most extreme, look at the viewfinder accuracy test images, taken at the wide-angle lens settings.
Olympus has had a full range of add-on auxiliary lenses for their "ZLR" film cameras for some time now. These include wide-angle, telephoto, and macro adapters. We haven't had the opportunity to formally evaluate the wide-angle and telephoto adapters (other than playing with them at a trade show pretty cool, at first look), but did obtain a sample of the macro adapter, and have included image samples taken with it here on the site.
There's a longer discussion to have about macro photography, and macro adapters (that we'll eventually write up as a FAQ and post in our Hints & Tips section). For now, we'll just make the passing observation that there are enormous differences between macro adapters: The inexpensive ones you buy at the local camera outlet for $50 or so for a set of 3 filters have a lot of optical problems. While they may be OK for casual usage, if you're serious about capturing high-quality images, you'll need something better. Many camera manufacturers make high-quality, multi-element macro adapters that avoid most of the problems of the cheap, single-element "close up filters". Unfortunately, there's no free lunch, and the high-quality adapters are quite expensive, often well over $100 apiece.
The macro adapter provided by Olympus for the D-500L and D-600L is of the latter, high-quality type, "borrowed" from their film camera line, and equipped with a 43mm-55mm adapter to mate it to the digital devices' filter threads. We don't yet have a part number or price for the adapter, but understand it will retail for on the order of $150. This isn't cheap, but if you look at the macro shots we took with the cameras using this lens, we think you'll agree the results are worth it!
The availability of a full range of accessory lenses for the D-500L and D-600L further extend their usefulness. In effect, they become complete camera systems, covering a wide range of focal lengths and subject distances. The only negative comment we have about the telephoto and wide-angle adapters are that they're pretty massive for such a small host camera: We'd worry a little about the tripod socket on the camera, with all that weight mounted forward. That concern aside though, Olympus appears to have created the most versatile digital point & shoot camera system going.
As mentioned earlier, the two cameras contain different sensors, which accounts for differences not only in resolution, but in the lens focal length and exposure as well. The 1024x768 pixel sensor in the D-500L is physically smaller overall than the 1280x1024 one in the D-600L, which translates into an effective increase of the lens focal length. At the same time though, the individual elements of the D-500L's sensor are slightly larger, making that camera more sensitive to light. Hence, the D-500L is rated at an effective ISO of 180, while the D-600L carries an effective rating of ISO 100. Coupled with the relatively fast f2.8 lens, the D-500L shows excellent low-light capability relative to competing cameras, whereas the D-600L is about average in this respect.
Exposure control within the camera occurs by changing both the shutter speed and lens aperture. The aperture opening is selected from among three fixed apertures of 2.8, 5.6, or 11: Exact exposure is then set by varying the shutter speed over a (very wide!) continuous range from 1/4 to 1/10,000 of a second. Based on their ISO ratings, these exposure parameters correspond to usable illumination levels ranging from EV9 to EV24 for the D-500L and from EV10 to EV23 for the D-600L. A self-timer allows the photographer 12 seconds to get into the picture with the subjects.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The 1/4 second lower limit on shutter speed can be a great help in getting shots that would otherwise be too dark. This is a long exposure though, well beyond most people's ability to hold the camera steady enough to render a sharp image. Use a tripod when it's that dark! In our view, Olympus has unfairly taken some knocks for "poor autofocus" in dim lighting, when the fault in many cases may lie with the photographer for not stabilizing the camera sufficiently. A few pros may be able to hand-hold a 1/4 second exposure, but it's just about guaranteed that most amateurs will have a hard time below 1/30 or even 1/60. (Also see our notes on the "Quick Focus" setting in the Operation and User Interface section below.) 'Nuff said...
Any autoexposure system is subject to being "fooled" by the subject matter, regardless of how sophisticated the exposure algorithms. Recognizing this, Olympus has provided two different forms of manual exposure override. First, you can dial-in an exposure compensation of as much as +/- 3 f-stops. (This is a generous amount of compensation: If they offer it at all, most digital point and shoots provide a range of at most +/-2 f-stops.) Manual exposure compensation of this sort is very useful for coping with unusual lighting situations, such as a backlit subject (increase the exposure), a bright subject against a dark background (decrease the exposure), or bright snow or sand scenes (to the contrary of what you'd naturally expect, increase the exposure a stop or two). We do have a minor complaint about how Olympus implemented the manual exposure compensation though: In order to change the default exposure, you have to access a menu on the back-panel LCD screen, a procedure requiring a minimum of 6 button-presses. This function is used frequently enough that we'd like to see it made more accessible. Fortunately, the spot-metering mode and exposure "lock" functions (see the next paragraph) eliminate the need for manual compensation in most circumstances.
On a more positive note, the D-500L and D-600L also provide both a "spot" metering mode, and an exposure lock function to improve your chances of getting the shots you want. Both of these functions are instantly available via the top-panel controls. Both cameras normally use a center-weighted TTL (through the lens) autoexposure system, but you can also select a "spot" metering mode by pressing the rightmost top-panel button. In spot mode, the exposure meter computes the exposure based only on the portion of the picture covered by the small circle in the center of the viewfinder. In our testing, the spot metering worked very well in a variety of tough situations, including strong backlighting, and light subjects surrounded by dark backgrounds. The D500L and D-600L are the first digital point & shoot cameras incorporating spot-metering capability, and we found it to be very useful indeed. If you haven't had spot-metering available on a camera before, it may take a while to recognize opportunities to use it. Once you get used to it though, you'll wonder how you ever got along without it!
Going hand-in-hand with their spot metering mode, the D-500L and D-600L also incorporate an exposure "lock," that allows you to set the exposure for a specific portion of the picture, and then recompose your shot without losing the exposure setting. The cameras perform both their autofocus and exposure determination when the shutter button is about half-pressed, before releasing the shutter itself. Once the exposure and focus are determined, they remain locked in until the picture is taken, as long as you keep the shutter button held down half way. With the camera in spot metering mode, you can point it directly at the part of your subject you want to expose for, partially press the shutter button, then move the camera to recompose the scene, and finally press the shutter button the rest of the way to actually take the shot. The end result is perfect exposures, even for off-center or oddly lit subjects.
Both cameras provide an automatic white-balance capability, but the D-500L is a little more aggressive in removing color casts than is the D-600L. (In our incandescent-lit indoor portrait shot, you'll see that the D-600L leaves more of the warm cast from the lighting in the picture.) Overall, we found both cameras performed very well under a wide variety of lighting conditions.
The D-500L and D-600L share the same flash system, and this is another area in which sensor differences between the two cameras are noticeable. Thanks to the more-sensitive sensor array in the D-500L, the flash on that model appears more powerful, with a maximum operating range of 15.7 feet (4.8 meters). This is a very respectable working distance, better than that of most competing digital point & shoots. With its less-sensitive sensor, the D-600L's flash is only good out to 11.8 feet (3.7 meters). Even this is not to be sniffed at though: The flash range of many digital point and shoot cameras stops at 10 feet or less. At the telephoto end of their lenses' range, the smaller maximum lens aperture reduces the maximum flash distance to 11.2 and 8.2 feet respectively.
The D-500L/D600L flash provides several exposure modes, including off (no surprise there), auto low-light and backlight, red-eye reduction, and fill flash for reducing shadows in brighter lighting conditions. In our testing, we found that the "auto" setting of the flash produced much more subtle lighting than those of most point & shoots: Rather than washing out the scene and totally overpowering the available light, the flashes on the D-500L/D-600L operated more as a subtle "fill" illumination, preserving more of the natural lighting.
Operation and User Interface
No doubt about it, these cameras are complex devices, with many operating modes, flash and exposure settings, etc. In fact, they really are much closer to full-function SLR cameras than they are to simple point & shoots. Nonetheless, we found the controls and user interface very approachable, and easy to use in actual shooting.
The cameras are controlled by two top-mounted combination pushbutton/rotary switches, and a total of eight pushbuttons (four arranged along the top/rear of the camera, four in a column next to the back-panel LCD). Most of the pushbuttons have two functions, depending on whether you're in "record" (take pictures) or "play" (view pictures on the LCD screen) mode. Record or play mode is selected by a top-mounted rotary switch, that surrounds the power on/off pushbutton. In similar fashion, the wide/tele zoom control lever rotates around the shutter button.
During picture taking, most camera functions are controlled by the four top/back pushbuttons and the top-panel controls, and camera status is reported by a small LCD readout on the top of the camera. Information reported here includes battery condition, flash mode, resolution mode, macro/normal focusing mode, and pictures remaining. We liked the fact that, for the most part, each picture-taking control is assigned to a separate button, meaning that you only have to press one button to change flash modes, switch to macro mode, set the self-timer, or select spot-metering mode.
In common with most higher-end film cameras, the D-500L and D-600L use "active" autofocus systems, in which the camera adjusts focus by analyzing the subject contrast: Sharper focus means fine details in the image show greater contrast. (The alternate approach, "passive" autofocus is used by many low-end point & shoots. This method projects an infrared beam onto the subject to determine distance.) Like anything in life, the "active" autofocus approach has both advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side (especially with a digital camera), you can get much more accurate focusing, especially when using auxilliary lenses. The downside is that you need enough light for the autofocus circuitry to be able to measure contrast differences. This can make for problems when shooting in near-total darkness, using a flash.
Olympus has cleverly gotten around this problem, by providing two "Quick Focus" buttons on the rear panel of the camera. Holding one of these down while pressing the shutter button will force the camera to pre-focus at one of two specific distances (1.3 or 8 feet - 0.4 and 2.4 meters), regardless of what's in front of the lens, or how bright or dark it is. Depending on the lens focal length setting, a variable range of distances will be in focus. (With the lens set to wide-angle, the 8 foot setting produces sharp images from around 5 feet out to infinity or the limit of flash coverage, whichever comes first.) While we'd possibly like to see a third button, to cover the range in between 1.3 and 8 feet, the Quick Focus buttons are quite useful. (In fact, if we'd had one on our Nikon 6006 film SLR, we would have had a really awesome picture of a raccoon raiding our trash that we missed because the camera couldn't auto-focus!) See our test results notes below for more on autofocus...
When taking pictures, the camera informs you of the exposure and focus status with two LEDs next to the viewfinder eyepiece. The yellow LED blinks if the camera thinks you need to use the flash. In practice, we found this a little conservative, but probably a good indication of when to take precautions to avoid blurred pictures due to camera shake. Our tests indicated that the D-600L's "use flash" LED blinked beginning at exposure levels of around EV14. Based on a light sensitivity equivalent to ISO 100, this would correspond to an exposure speed of about 1/60 of a second at the lens' maximum aperture of f2.8. When the flash is in use, the yellow LED illuminates if the flash is charged and ready to go, whenever the shutter button is pressed half way.
A green LED in the viewfinder serves as a focus indicator: If the autofocus system hasn't "locked" (or if you haven't pressed one of the quick focus buttons), the green LED will blink. A constant illumination indicates the camera is focused and ready to take a picture.
In "Play" mode, the same pushbuttons used in "Record" mode change functions. The Quick Focus buttons (also labelled "+" and "-" serve to advance forward or back through the pictures stored in the camera, while the top/back row of buttons let you delete the currently-displayed picture, print directly to the P-300 printer, trigger a "slide show" mode, or select a 9-up thumbnail index display of your images. (This last can be very handy for locating images, especially when you've taken a lot of "SQ"-mode images on a large memory card.)
A number of secondary camera functions are accessed via menus on the back-panel LCD screen. Pressing a "menu" button on the back panel brings up this display, and you can use the "+" and "-" buttons to scroll through the choices. In this fashion, you can set the camera's resolution mode, automatic exposure override setting, internal calendar date & time, and also erase all pictures and/or format a memory card.
Print functions on the P-300 printer (see below) are also controlled via menus on the LCD screen, a worthwhile improvement over the somewhat cryptic indications on the LCD readout of the 220/320.
Image Storage and Interface
Both the D-500L and D-600L store images on SSFDC "SmartMedia" cards. (Solid State Floppy Disc Cards - see the article on storage media for more information.) These cards are exceptionally compact, not much bigger than a largish postage stamp. The D-500L ships with a 2MB card, while the D-600L ships with a 4MB card, although either camera can accept any SmartMedia card, up to the current 8MB maximum available size. (If you are considering using third-party SSFDC cards in your D-500/600, be sure to get 3.3-volt ones, as the 5-volt models won't work.)
The maximum number of images that can be stored on each card varies considerably, depending on the image quality level selected. The D-500L stores anywhere from 3 to 25 images on a 2MB card, while the D-600L stores between 3 and 50 images on a 4MB card. (The lower image capacity numbers correspond to each camera's "SHQ" or "Super High Quality" mode, while the higher capacities are for images captured in "Standard" mode.)
Images are stored on the SSFDC cards in standard JPEG format, and can be read directly into image-editing applications if you have one of the optional interface adapters for the SSFDC media. (See below.) In this respect, the D-500L and D-600L are "finished file" cameras. Scientific and others using the cameras for documentation purposes may be interested in the timestamp and exposure information stored in the headers of the unmodified JPEG data files. Note though, that this information is only present in the original, unmodified file: Any modification of the file (even just opening it and re-saving) will remove the header information.
Data can be downloaded from the camera via a standard serial interface, at a maximum speed of 115 Kbaud. Even at that high speed, downloads of pictures taken in "SHQ" mode can take a while, due to the quantity of information that must be transferred. Olympus provides several pieces of software for downloading images from the camera: For Mac users, there's a Photoshop plug-in "acquire module," a format supported by a number of Mac-based image-editing programs. Windows users will find a TWAIN-compliant acquire filter, a format supported by virtually all Windows-based imaging software. Finally, the D-500L and D-600L are supported by Olympus' dedicated Camedia program, for direct control of various camera features, as well as up/download of images. (The Camedia program supports all current models of Olympus digital cameras, so not all functions are available with every camera. In the case of the D-500L and D-600L, LCD preview (the LCD "viewfinder" function) isn't available, and will be greyed-out.)
A side-note on using the Camedia software: Options within the program allow you to specify File Type, Color Depth, and Size for the downloaded files. If any of these are checked, the software will force the images into the specified format. More significantly, it appears to do this by first uncompressing the files, and then re-compressing them (if required), with the new settings. NOTE that the Camedia software can't put any detail into the files that isn't already there! Consequently, if you select the "JPEG High Quality" option in Camedia, you may end up with larger files than were in the camera to begin with, but no additional detail. For best results, we recommend leaving all the options un-checked, which will produce exact copies of the original camera files on your hard disk. This is the most efficient import method, and the one used for all the test images appearing elsewhere on this site.
We mentioned adapters for the SSFDC cards above: Some vendors have available PC-card adapters for the SSFDC cards, allowing them to be plugged into standard PC card slots on most laptops. Unfortunately, most desktop computers don't have PC card slots, making that solution unavailable for many users. For these users, Olympus offers the "FlashPath" floppy-disk adapter. That's right: A floppy-disk adapter. This amazing unit accepts a SSFDC card, and then just plugs right into a standard PC floppy-disk drive. As far as the computer is concerned, you've just inserted a floppy disk having a capacity determined by the size of the SSFDC card involved (2, 4, or 8 MB)! As of this writing, this accessory wasn't yet available, but we expect it will be very popular, with a projected price of well under $100.
A unique feature of the Olympus digital camera line is their ability to attach directly to the Olympus P-300 photo printer. This printer outputs continuous-tone images on glossy photo paper, providing a convincing simulation of a "real" photograph. Operation is straightforward, with the printer plugging into the camera's serial port connection. Once connected, the printer is controlled from the camera, and you can select one or multiple images for output. Prints from the P-300 are on standard 4x6 inch stock, although the actual image area is only 3.1 x 4.1 inches (79x105 mm), leaving a fairly wide white border. With the high resolution of the D-500L/600L, prints from the P-300 would be easy to mistake for snapshots from a film-based point & shoot!
We found the direct printer connection a very appealing feature, especially for events involving kids: There's nothing like seeing the picture moments after you took it! The ease-of-use also beats fiddling around for minutes to hours on your PC just to get a set of snapshots output. There's been some debate in the industry lately as to whether digital cameras should be full-function units with their own "smarts" on board, or rely on the host computer for all their intelligence. A D-500L or D-600L coupled to the P-300 printer makes a convincing argument in favor of "smart" cameras.
Both the D-500L and D-600L run from 4 standard 1.5v alkaline, NiCd, or NiMH batteries, or from an optional AC adapter. In our testing, we found that the large CCD sensor, LCD panel, zoom lens, and powerful flash of both models combine to make the cameras real battery-eaters! (There really is no free lunch.) Using the D-600L as an example, we found that a set of standard alkaline AA cells only lasted for a dozen shots or so, including normal zoom use, flash exposure on about half of them, and uploading the resulting images via the serial port. (The Energizer bunny's ears droop in shame...) This is by no means a point against the camera though: You just need to choose power sources appropriate to the camera's needs. In this case, "appropriate to the camera's needs" means NiMH rechargeable batteries, and an AC adapter for use when you're uploading images via the serial port.
Olympus sells a set of 4 NiMH batteries with a charger as their part number 200517, for a suggested retail of $49.95, and an AC adapter as part number 200513, also at a suggested price of $49.95. (Once exotic, NiMH AA batteries are now becoming common, with units available on the open market from Sanyo and Radio Shack, among others, although those from Olympus have a higher capacity than usual, rated at 1300 maH.) Although more expensive than some of the third-party batteries, they have a power capacity of 1300 maH, as compared to the 1100 maH of most others on the market. (See our separate discussion on batteries for more information on the various types available.) Also (and probably more importantly), the Olympus charger is "smart," in that it can properly handle batteries with a range of charge levels, charging them only until they reach full charge: Some inexpensive charger simply charge the batteries for a fixed length of time, regardless of how much charging they actually need. This can damage batteries, or reduce their lifetime considerably.
An important note on batteries: DON'T use Lithium AA cells in either the D-500L or D-600L! They are not rated for use in either camera, and can seriously overheat, damaging the camera.
The D-500L and D-600L both come with the same complement of software. Direct camera control and image downloading are provided by Olympus' own Camedia software package. As mentioned earlier, the Camedia program is designed to support all cameras in the Olympus digital lineup, so not all features will be available with all cameras. In the case of the D-500L/600L, the software control for enabling the LCD "viewfinder" function is greyed-out, since the LCDs on these units do not work as real-time displays. The panorama function of the D-220L and D-320L is also not supported on the higher-end devices. Since we discussed many of the functions of the Camedia package earlier, we won't go into additional detail here.
In addition to the Camedia package, acquire plug-ins are provided for both Mac and Windows platforms. As described above, the Mac acquire module is a Photoshop plugin, supported by many Mac image-editing applications. On the Windows side, a TWAIN driver will provide near-universal access, given the wide range of applications that support the TWAIN standard.
Besides the acquisition software, two commercial imaging packages are included: Adobe's PhotoDeluxe, for image editing, and InMedia's excellent Slides and Sound, for assembling your own multimedia slide shows.
As with all Imaging Resource camera tests, we encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the devices performed: Explore the links at the bottom of this page, to see how well the D-500L and D-600L performed, and how their images compare to other cameras you may be considering buying.
Both cameras consistently take pictures of exceptionally high quality, and the D-600L's has the best resolution of any camera we've tested to date (2/98) costing less than $10,000. Compared to virtually all other digital point and shoot cameras, the through-the-lens viewfinder provides excellent accuracy at all focal lengths, as well as when using the "macro" focusing capability. Typical to most 35mm SLRs, the viewfinder doesn't cover the entire image area though: The 600's sensor captures approximately 10% more image vertically than is shown in the viewfinder, and about 5% more horizontally. The 500's finder is a bit more accurate, only cropping about 5% vertically.
In common with several other cameras tested, the LCDs of the D-500L and D-600L crop the image slightly, with the D-500L cropping a little less than that of the D-600L. We estimate the amount of cropping on the LCD panel as being roughly equal to that seen through the optical viewfinder.
Using the "WG-18" ISO test standard, the D-500L's limiting resolution measured a very respectable 575-600 line pairs/picture height horizontally, and only slightly less (550-575 line pairs/picture height) vertically. The corresponding numbers for the D-600L were nearly 750 line pairs/picture height both vertically and horizontally. - This is really impressive! (See the separate discussion on image resolution for an explanation of this new international standard for resolution measurement.) Both cameras performed very well for their price point, and the D-600L showed the highest resolution we'd measured on a digital point & shoot to date (2/98).
In actual shooting conditions, both cameras performed very well. Both take sharp pictures, although as you would expect, those from the D-600L are noticeably sharper, thanks to its significantly larger CCD array. Both cameras have an excellent dynamic range, although the '600 shows a little more contrast than does the '500, and so is more likely to lose both highlight and shadow detail sooner. (This is pretty subtle though: Unless you're staring at identical shots taken with both cameras, you'd be hard pressed to notice a difference in tonal range.)
Both cameras have a color balance very slightly on the cool side of neutral, and both show excellent color fidelity, with good saturation in strong primary colors, yet delicate handling of pastels. In the incandescent-lit indoor shot, we found the white balance of the '500 a bit more effective than that of the '600, producing a more neutral tone in the background. Both cameras performed well in the flash portrait test also, providing good fill illumination, without totally washing out the ambient lighting.
The built-in macro function on both cameras is quite good, with the '500 having a slight edge, due to its longer effective focal length. At closest approach, the '600 in macro mode captures an area of 3.2 x 4.0 inches (8.1 x 10.2 cm), while the '500 captures 2.4 x 3.2 inches (6.0 x 8.0 cm). With the optional macro adapter mentioned earlier, these numbers drop to 1.9 x 2.4 inches (4.8 x 6.0 cm) for the '600, and an incredible 1.3 x 1.8 inches (3.4 x 4.5 cm) for the D-500L! Not only is the magnification with the macro adapter impressive, but the image quality is extraordinary as well, with great sharpness, and no trace of the chromatic aberration or "coma" common with inexpensive macro lenses.
See for Yourself!
Take a look at the test images from the D-500L, or test images from the D-600L,or jump to the Comparometer(tm) page to compare its reference images to those from other digital cameras.
The Olympus D-500L and it's "big brother" the D-600L are exceptional general-purpose digital cameras, with high resolution, excellent color rendition, great flexibility and ease of use. If you don't need to print full-page images on a regular basis, the D-500L would be an excellent choice, with its some smaller but more light-sensitive CCD. On the other hand, if you need the maximum in resolution and image quality, the D-600L is hard to beat. The D-500L may also be your best choice if you need a "longer" focal length range on the lens, or if you do extensive close-up work. Both cameras are capable enough that they will remain useful for a long time - a real benefit in the fast-moving digital camera marketplace.
Reader Sample Images!
Do you have a D-500L or D-600L camera? If you'll post an album of your samples on one of the photo-sharing services and email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, we'll list the album here for others to see!
Questions, comments or controversy on this article? Click this link to see what other Imaging Resource readers have had to say about D600, or add comments of your own!