Olympus E-510 Review

 
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Olympus EVOLT E-510 Optics

The Olympus E-510 is equipped with an interchangeable lens mount that accommodates the full range of Olympus ZUIKO DIGITAL or third party Four-Thirds lenses. A lens release button to the right of the lens mount releases the lens, and a set of alignment marks on the mount itself helps you line up the lens appropriately. Because the camera is compatible with a range of lenses, focal lengths, and aperture ranges will vary with the lens in use.

The Olympus E-510 employs a three-point TTL Phase-Contrast Detection autofocus system, and the three AF points are outlined in black in the viewfinder display. Using the AF Frame button along with the control dial, or via the LCD menu, you can manually select which of the AF points you'd like to base focus on, or set the AF area to automatic selection (all three AF points active). The AF button on the rear panel lets you select Manual, Single AF, or Continuous AF modes. There are also options for Single AF and Continuous AF with Manual Focus.

When manual focus is enabled, you simply turn the focus ring around the outside of the lens to set focus. The focus indicator on the right of the optical viewfinder (a solid green circle) lights to indicate that you've achieved accurate focus. Note that this is not a true mechanical or analog focus, however. Turning the ring simply activates the camera's focus mechanism, actuating the focus motor built into the lens. Single AF mode means that the camera only sets the autofocus when the Shutter button is halfway pressed, while Continuous AF mode continuously adjusts the focus without you having to halfway hold down the shutter release (good for moving subjects).

Continuous AF uses what Olympus calls Predictive AF technology, in that the camera anticipates where the subject will move to next and adjusts focus just before it reaches that point. The modes combining Single and Continuous AF with Manual focus tell the camera to set focus with a half press of the Shutter button, but leaves the manual focus ring active so that you can fine tune the setting before pressing the Shutter button the rest of the way to trip the shutter.

The Olympus E-510 also lets you tell it whether to adhere to focus- or release-priority. In focus-priority mode, the shutter won't fire unless the subject is properly focused. Conversely, release-priority means that the shutter will fire whenever you tell it to, whether the subject is focused or not. In a nice touch, the E-510 lets you determine select focus- or release-priority independently for single-shot and continuous shooting modes. (I can imagine myself wanting to insist on focus priority for single shots, but preferring release priority for continuous shooting, to let the camera just take its best shot at tracking a moving subject, perhaps settling for slightly mis-focused images, rather than missing the shot entirely.)

An AF illuminator option can be turned on through the camera's Record menu, to help the camera's AF system determine focus in dark shooting conditions. The camera actually uses light from the flash as the AF illuminator, so the flash must be upright and enabled for this option to be available.

"Supersonic Wave Filter (tm)" Automatic Sensor Cleaning
The built-in Supersonic Wave Filter was first introduced on the E-1 SLR, and has been carried forward to newer models including the E-510. This is a feature that's hard to evaluate in any sort of a rigorous, quantitative way, but that appears to work quite well, based on subjective observation. However, it's important to remember that no dust removal system is completely effective, so you'll have to clean your sensor at some point, or have it cleaned professionally.

Dust has proven to be a bane for digital SLR users from the beginning. In film cameras, the imaging surface (the film) is constantly refreshed as each new frame is advanced. Any dust that might accumulate on one frame will thus not affect subsequent ones. In digital SLRs though, the sensor surface is fixed, so any dust falling on it tends to stay there, the surface becoming increasingly dirty over time. Various accessories are available to clean CCD surfaces, but their use presents an ongoing risk of accident. (That is, while the cleaning gadgets themselves may be perfectly safe, every time you open your SLR and start sticking things inside the camera body, there's a finite risk that you'll do something to damage the sensor chip.)

In the E-510, every time the camera is turned on, an ultrasonic system activates, vibrating the protective cover glass over the sensor at a frequency of 350,000 cycles/second, thereby dislodging dust particles that may have settled on the sensor's surface. (Dislodged dust is collected and trapped in an internal receptacle, so it won't float around the mirror compartment to cause more problems down the line.) A full cleaning cycle takes only 200 milliseconds (0.2 seconds).

To set appropriate expectations for Olympus' Supersonic Wave Filter system, it's important to note that it almost certainly won't be effective against grease smudges caused by fingerprints. -- So continue to be careful about putting your fingers inside the mirror compartment when the sensor is exposed.

Lens

Zoom
Very good performance from the 14-42mm lens that comes with the EVOLT E-510 kit.

14mm 42mm

The Olympus EVOLT E-510 digital SLR comes with an Olympus Zuiko Digital 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 lens in the bundled kit, equivalent to a 28-84mm lens on a 35mm camera, about the same equivalent range covered by the 18-55mm kit lenses on SLRs with 1.5x crop factor sensors. Results were quite good at 14mm, with minimal corner softness and strong detail throughout the frame. Coma distortion in the trees was quite low, although there is some chromatic aberration visible in the corners and edges. Results were even better at the 42mm setting, with no signs of visible coma distortion or chromatic aberration.

Macro
An average-sized macro area with the kit lens, though good detail and high resolution. Flash exposure was uneven up close.

Standard Macro Macro with Flash

The Olympus EVOLT E-510's macro setting performed well, though macro performance will vary with the lens in use. With the 14-42mm kit lens, the E-510 captured an average minimum area of 2.79 x 2.09 inches (71 x 53 millimeters). Detail and resolution were both good, though details are a bit soft overall, with moderate softening in the corners. The built-in flash produced an uneven exposure here, partially blocked by the lens barrel, so plan on using external lighting for macro shots with this lens.

Distortion
An average amount of barrel distortion at wide angle, but very low barrel distortion at telephoto.

Barrel distortion at 14mm is 0.8%
Barrel at 42mm is less than 0.1%

This is the tendency for the lens to bend straight lines outward (like a barrel -- usually at wide angle) or inward (like a pincushion -- usually at telephoto). The Olympus EVOLT E-510's 14-42mm kit lens produced about 0.8% barrel distortion at full wide angle, and was noticeable in some images. This is about average performance, and somewhat expected at such a wide angle. At the 42mm telephoto end, barrel distortion was less than 0.1% and imperceptible.

Chromatic aberration
Moderately low, though bright at wide angle, almost nonexistent at telephoto.

Wide: Moderately low but bright,
top left @ 200%
Wide: Moderately low but bright,
top right @ 200%
Tele: Very low,
top left @200%
Tele: A little higher, but still quite low,
top right @200%

Chromatic aberration is moderately low at wide angle, showing about 4-5 pixels of fairly bright coloration on either side of the target lines. The effect is only slightly visible in some shots. At telephoto, chromatic aberration is very low, and had little effect. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.)

Corner Sharpness
Minimal softening in the corners of the frame with the 14-42mm kit lens.

Wide: A hint softness in the
corners (upper left),
but better than most
Wide: Sharper at center.
Tele: Hardly any softness in
the corners (upper left)
Tele: Fairly sharp at center.

The EVOLT E-510's 14-42mm kit lens produced good sharpness across the frame, an unusual result. At both wide angle and full telephoto, the corners were only slightly softer than the center of the frame.

Viewfinder

Coverage
Good accuracy with both the optical viewfinder and LCD monitor's Live View mode.

14mm, Optical 42mm, Optical
14mm, LCD (Live View) 42mm, LCD (Live View)

The Olympus EVOLT E-510's optical viewfinder proved fairly accurate, at about 96% at wide angle and 95% at telephoto (with the 14-42mm kit lens). The camera's Live View LCD mode was quite accurate, with about 101% accuracy at both wide angle and telephoto.

 

The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Olympus EVOLT E-510 Photo Gallery.

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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.

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