Olympus E-510 Review

 
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Olympus EVOLT E-510 Exposure


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Some oversaturation of strong red and blue tones, and undersaturation of some greens, but pleasing overall color.

In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured. More saturated colors are located towards the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center.

Saturation. The Olympus EVOLT E-510 oversaturates reds and blues a little, and some yellows. It also undersaturates greens, but results are still pleasing. We did find that shots with a lot of foliage in them had a bit of a blue cast, and saturation was subdued, though. Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life.

Skin tones. In this case, the E-510 did render skin tones a bit on the pale, pink side in most cases. Still, results are reasonable. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc.

Hue. Overall results here are pretty accurate, though some reds are pushed toward orange, and cyan towards blue. Still, overall color is quite good, closer to accurate than many. The other important part of color rendition is hue accuracy. Hue is "what color" the color is.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Auto white balance is a quite warm, but Manual and 2,800K white balance settings produce good color, though a bit more than average positive exposure compensation required.

Auto White Balance +1.3 EV Incandescent WB +1.3 EV
Manual White Balance +1.3 EV 2,800K White Balance +1.3 EV

Color balance indoors under incandescent lighting was very warm with the Auto white balance setting, though the Manual and 2,8000K options both produced more accurate results. The Incandescent setting was actually pretty good, producing nearly accurate color, though just a hint warm overall. I felt the Manual setting had the most pleasing overall results, as the 2,800K option was just a hint pink. The Olympus EVOLT E-510 required a bit more than the average amount of positive exposure compensation here, at +1.3 EV. Overall color is good, if a tad bit on the pink side, though the blue flowers are very dark. (A common outcome with this shot.) Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S. Oddly, the E-510 performed better at this test than the E-410, which is supposed to have the same sensor.

 

Outdoors, daylight
Bright colors overall, though a tendency toward a warm cast and high contrast under harsh lighting. About average exposure accuracy outdoors.

Auto White Balance,
+0.7 EV
Auto White Balance,
Auto Exposure

Outdoors, the Olympus EVOLT E-510 tended to lose highlight detail under harsh lighting while requiring a slightly below average amount of positive exposure compensation of +0.7 EV. Contrast was quite high, resulting in clipped highlights in Marti's shirt and some of the flowers, and lost shadow detail in the darker areas. This reinforces our dynamic range measurements, which showed that the E-510 has less dynamic range than most SLRs currently on the market. It does seem to be a little better than the E-410, however. The outdoor house shot has good exposure and natural looking color.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Resolution
Very high resolution, 1,700 lines of strong detail.

Strong detail to
1,700 lines horizontal
Strong detail to
1,700 lines vertical

Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,700 lines per picture height, with extinction past 2,000.

Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail. Our interpretation of this standard is somewhat conservative. We watch for artifacts and color fringing then move back to the nearest pure part of the scale. In our opinion, detail with artifacts shouldn't be considered detail. You may see other numbers quoted elsewhere, but across the site, our reviews judge this parameter by the same conservative standard.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sharpness & Detail
Reasonably sharp images overall, though slightly soft details in some cases. Some noise suppression visible in the deep shadows.

Despite evidence of edge enhancement, images from the E-510 have a hint of softness overall. Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur detail in areas of subtle contrast, as in the darker parts of Marti's hair here.

Sharpness. The Olympus EVOLT E-510 captured fairly sharp images, though details are a hint soft overall. Even in the high contrast shot above, there's only slight edge enhancement visible along the edges of the white house trim. (Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.)

Detail & Noise suppression. The crop above right shows some visible noise suppression in the shadows, though quite a bit of fine detail in the strands of hair remains visible. Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears.

ISO & Noise Performance
Low to moderate noise at the normal sensitivity settings, higher noise with strong blurring at the highest settings.

ISO 100 ISO 200 ISO 400
 
ISO 800 ISO 1,600  

Noise levels are low to moderate at the Olympus EVOLT E-510's lower sensitivity settings. At ISOs 800 and 1,600, noise is much higher (as you might expect), with stronger blurring, increased chroma noise and a slight shift in color balance. Here we also see a slight difference from the E-410, but in the E-410's favor. The E-510 shows more noise and more noise suppression in this shot.

Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
High resolution with strong overall detail, though details are slightly soft. High contrast and limited shadow detail, however. Good low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images under average city street lighting and much darker conditions.

+0.3 EV +0.7 EV +1.0 EV

Sunlight. The Olympus EVOLT E-510 had a hard time with the deliberately harsh lighting of the above test, producing rather high contrast with washed-out highlights and deep shadows. Though Marti's face still looks a little dark at +0.7 EV, I preferred it to the image at +1.0 EV, which had too many blown highlights for my preference. (In "real life" though, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above; it's better to shoot in the shade when possible.)

We puzzled over the E-510's tone curve a little, much as we did with the E-410. It seemed to have higher contrast (resulting in less preserved detail) in both highlights and shadows than it has in the midtones. This made images harder to tweak without losing highlight or shadow detail (or both). The camera's low-contrast setting seemed to help a fair bit with this though, as it held the highlights and shadows in check, letting the midtones hold a more natural level of contrast.

Note: Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here.)


  1 fc
11 lux
1/2 fc
5.5 lux
1/4 fc
2.7 lux
1/8 fc
1.3 lux
1/16 fc
0.67 lux
1/16fc
No NR
ISO
100
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10 sec
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20 sec
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40 sec
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ISO
200
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ISO
400
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10 sec
f3.5
ISO
800
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1.3 sec
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2.5 sec
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5 sec
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ISO
1600
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f3.5

Low light. The Olympus EVOLT E-510 performed well here, able to capture usable images down to the 1/16 foot-candle light level (about 1/16 as bright as average city street lighting at night), at all ISO settings. Color balance is just a bit warm from the Auto white balance setting. You'll probably want to keep NR on, as quite a few hot pixels are visible with it off, and there are also some when it's on, depending on the exposure time. The camera's autofocus system was able to focus on the subject down to just below the 1/4 foot-candle light level with its AF assist light turned off, so you'll want to keep it enabled in darker conditions. Keep in mind that the longer shutter speeds here demand the use of a tripod to prevent any blurring from camera movement. (A useful trick is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. This avoids any jiggling from your finger pressing the shutter button, and can work quite well when you don't have a tripod handy.)

How bright is this? The one foot-candle light level that this test begins at roughly corresponds to the brightness of typical city street-lighting at night. Cameras performing well at that level should be able to snap good-looking photos of street-lit scenes.

NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) Digital SLRs like the Olympus E-510 do much better than point & shoots, but you still shouldn't expect a quick autofocus lock with moving subjects.

Output Quality

Print Quality
Good print quality, great color, great 11x14 inch prints. ISO 1,600 images are surprisingly good at 8x10, even better at 5x7.

Output from the Olympus E-510 was good enough to produce sharp 11x14 inch prints. At 13x19, its prints were softer looking, but perfectly fine for wall or table display. High ISO images were also a nice surprise, with ISO 400 images holding together for very good 11x14 inch prints, and ISO 800 still producing a good 8x10, and ISO 1,600s making 8x10s good enough for wall display, and fine-looking 5x7s.

The E-510's color saturation was a little bright in the reds, but good overall, with relatively little detail lost to noise suppression. Greens were a little dull, summer foliage was a little flat and blue looking, but within an acceptable range. Color also doesn't fade as ISO increases, an admirable and rare trait among image sensors. A very good performance overall.

Note: Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon i9900 studio printer, and on the Canon iP5200 here in the office. (See the Canon i9900 review for details on that model.)

 

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.

Recommended Software: Rescue your Photos!

Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. We get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A lot of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digital camera reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Olympus EVOLT E-510 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

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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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