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Sun still rises in the East
The same title would be suitable in 1936. Then the sun rose just as it did today. 69 years ago Olympus introduced their first photo camera, Semi Olympus 1. In 2003, they launched their first digital single-lens reflex camera, the E-1. I can't say which features were genuinely new in 1936 though.
However, the E-1 stood out of the crowd in the DSLR class. With it came the 4/3 system and the aspect ratio 4:3. This brought a completely new design to the body and lenses, which was supposed to be an advantage of Olympus.
Another look at the history, in 1972 Olympus introduced their first SLR system, the OM-1. The camera was 30% lighter and smaller than its competitors. They pretty much succeeded again with the same philosophy – they didn't need to support a legacy of old 35mm format lenses and they could design the whole new system from scratch.
History repeats itself
The same thing that goes with the rising of the sun goes with the strategy of Olympus. Smaller, lighter, with bells and whistles.
I'm very familiar with models 25 years ago. The Pen, OM-1, OM-2 and ZUIKO optics. These cameras were popular with professional photographers and everybody, who wanted compact, light and quality cameras. The quality was not a question. Anybody who tested ZUIKO optics knows what I'm talking about.
Let's continue with our history lesson. Before 2003, the name Olympus did not rise when talking about the SLR class cameras. The OM-3 and OM-4 cameras were in the production lines until only a few years back, but used mainly by the fans of the company. The last serious SLR camera from Olympus was the OM 707 from 1986, when autofocusing began. However, despite some great features in OM 707, Olympus decided to end its SLR cameras development. The OM 707 was sold only until 1991.
For 17 years they stood away from the SLR world. Finally, in 2002 at the Photokina, they revealed their plans to reenter the scene. We were excited to hear Olympus was back in the game. In 2003, the bubble burst and the E-1 was launched, a single-lens reflex camera with some major new features.
Without the need to support old 35mm class products, they had the freedom to create a completely new system with no compromises with regard to the past. They have carefully examined the shortcomings of existing cameras and lenses and then created a completely new system.
Well, some of us have doubted that a company, who took 17 years off, was able to get a very significant market share with their first new product. No matter how much Olympus wanted it. I've talked to them when the E-1 was launched that we will see first relevant results of the system in three years and no sooner. In my first review of that camera (in 2003), I've expressed my doubts. It all seems like I was right. Every beginning is hard and there are no shortcuts in the development of
The Olympus E-1, being a decent camera, didn't get a very large market share. We knew it won't happen when we first saw the camera. Its price in 2003 was just too high to convince the masses that the new system is the right decision. Olympus, seeing that, dropped the price approximately by half and only in Slovenia they sold 200 cameras in the following few months. They could finally get a capable camera with a robust body, protected from moisture, dust etc., with nice ZUIKO Digital 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 lens, all for a good price. After the price drop, Olympus became attractive to a larger circle of photographers
At Photokina 2004 came a lower priced model, the E-300, with a little unconventional design. Olympus made some interesting moves with new features, quality image processes and low price, but despite all this, the camera wasn't a very big success. In my interview with Olympus' R&D representatives in 2004 I found that they are still searching the right way with new cameras, they were honestly asking us what we think about the new E-300.
Not to worry, Olympus is a strong company, not afraid of challenges. It seems like they're already catching up with customers' demands. They used the experiences they got with their first two DSLR's, compared their offer with that of their competitors and build on this.
Lack of success with the design and image capturing system in the E-300 forced Olympus to return to the classic body and prism. The new E-500 is a sign that they are doing what they must in order to compete in the DSLR class and especially aimed at more demanding hobby photographers. As mentioned before, three years are needed to prove their capabilities. Next year it is supposed to happen with a higher class model. The E-500 is only the first milestone.
I'm afraid that the first press releases for the E-500 are again too far fetched. They've raised the E-500 to the semi-pro level (in my opinion, only the EOS 5D fits in it at this moment) and they've praised its features and functions so much, I had to be very strict when testing the camera for myself. At least 10 features were out blown. Nonetheless, one important thing held true – an attractive price for the whole kit. I can confirm, Olympus DSLR camera E-500 is worth its price!
Let me start by saying that this camera has so many functions, available by buttons and menus, that it's not possible to review them all in a practical test like this is. You probably won't buy the E-500 to use only its automatic settings, which would control the exposure and limit the photographer. There are so many bells and whistles, you can do nothing else but to study them carefully. Here are my two advices. Please, take them seriously!
First advice. Whenever possible, take the user manual with you or at least read it carefully and get familiar with the camera.
Second advice. Never give your camera away or at least make sure your friends won't mess with the settings in the menus. If I'd be an amateur photographer and would buy the E-500 as a tool to satisfy my hobby, I would never lend it to anyone. Imagine someone makes some slight changes to some of the many settings – if you don't really
Fortunately, there are two My Mode settings and two Custom Reset Settings, which can return our values back. However, you will never be sure if something wasn't out of these settings. What's worse, they can both be easily deleted with the Reset function. Both settings, My Mode and Custom Reset Settings are very important and I will get back to them.
Almost every button on the camera has an extra function, some even four or more. Some are also interconnected with no additional labels on them and can be used differently for various situations. On one hand, we have some advanced technological features which can be preset on the camera. On the other hand, the camera is aimed toward hobby photographers, which will skip many of the more complicated functions. So many functions can be a labyrinth for those who will not read the manual carefully. I strongly suggest you take enough time to read the manual and especially understand how My Mode and Custom Reset Settings work. Avoid lending your camera. Menus are an attractive thing and functions are very tempting to try. Only then you will be left to the mercy of countless menus to try to set the camera back to your liking. You will get the feeling about the number of functions in this article and you will soon notice that there are just too many functions to know them all in few minutes time. Most users won't know the meaning of half of them
Let this be a warning, not a disadvantage of the camera. More settings gives us more freedom to control the camera and the pictures, but only if we know how to use them. That's why I suggest that you take your user manual with you when you go shooting. It seems that Olympus' engineers were competing about how many features they can put in the camera. They set a new world record. They also made the camera less simple to use, which is quite crucial in this class. So, learn everything about your camera as good as you can.
The body of the E-1 was exceptional and was very well accepted among photographers. The body of the E-300 was a step back, but the E-500 again has a great body for an even better price. When reading this article, have these words in mind: price, usability and quality.
With the E-500, Olympus returned to the classic design and made an eye-catching camera. The body measures 129.5 x 94.5 x 66m, is made of black matt plastic and has a nice, rubber hand grip which helps us hold the camera tightly. The shutter release button is where it's supposed to be, there's also enough space at the back of the camera, where our thumb will rest. This makes holding the E-500 a nice experience. The balance will be even better, if they will make an additional battery grip, which would support the lower part of our palm, thus helping to steady the camera. The battery compartment door can be removed, so we can expect to get the battery grip in the future and add some extra functionality to the camera.
On the front side of the camera, there's only the lens release button. On the right side there are USB/video connections, protected with rubber cover. Behind the plastic doors on the right side there are two slots for memory cards. The E-500 offers two possibilities. We can use CF and xD memory cards. If both are inserted, the camera will use the one we chose in the menus or the first one that was inserted when camera was on. When we fill one card, all following images will NOT be automatically saved to the second one. In order to do this, we have to remove the full card or select another card in the menu
On the bottom there's the metal tripod socket and the cover for Li-Ion battery. The battery and the battery charger are the same as in the cameras C-5060, C-7070, C-8080, E-1 and E-300.
On the upper side is an external flash mount and underneath it is a built-in flash with a guide number 13. To the right is the exposure dial. The E-500 offers automatic programs AUTO, P, A, S and one manual M. There's also 21 various scene modes. There's also a blue light, which blinks when anti-dust systems is operating. Next to the dial is the on/off button. It is placed where it is supposed to be. Next to it is the button for exposure compensation (which serves for rotating pictures in the playback mode, while in M mode it is used for setting the aperture or shutter, depending on the priority set in the menu). Under it is a shutter release button, also well placed and operates very gently. If you are used to slower cameras, you will be surprised when you press it. However when you get used to it, fast operating is a great advantage. On the back side there's a dial for setting the aperture, shutter and some menu functions (in the review mode it is used for thumbnail view (up to 25 pictures) or for zooming in (up to 14 times)).
Even though the camera is small, the back side of the camera is not too crowded. There are five buttons on the left side. The upper one is for raising and setting the built-in flash. Which brings us to our first interesting discovery. New users will be thrilled over so many information we can see on the display. The flash itself offers not just TTL metering, but also three slow-synch settings and manual mode with full 1/1 power and three lower settings: 1/14, 1/16 and 1/64. These come handy for fill-in or when we also want to capture some ambient light.
Playback, the second button, is for reviewing our pictures. In the playback mode, we can select a chronological view with the dial on the upper side of the camera. This is useful for reviewing photos made on a certain date. If you press the white balance button (on the back side), we get a green square with 10x zoom. We can move the zoomed selection with the four-way button and confirm it with another press. With this fast zooming function we can easily check the sharpness and details of the image
There's more in the playback mode. Pressing the INFO button we get various data about the picture. The first view shows only date of the picture, compression setting and resolution. Pressing it again, we get more settings: aperture, shutter, white balance, light metering mode, RGB histogram etc. Pressing it yet again, we get a full-screen histogram, where we can trigger the "Hi Light" function which indicates the overblown parts of the picture. Pressing the INFO button again, we trigger the "Shadow" indication.
Then there's the third button, which is used for deleting. Next to it is a MENU button and at the end, there's the INFO button, which offers, beside all of the already mentioned functions, also the setting of enabling/disabling various data when shooting. If you select to display all information, you get to many information even for many professional photographers. When capture data is displayed, you can select the function with the OK button (positioned in the middle of the four-way buttons) so that it is colored in orange and pressing the OK button again, you can change various settings with the four-way buttons
To the right of those buttons, there's the viewfinder, protected with a thin rubber and next to it is a diopter adjustment dial, which is somewhat simplified, not to mention that the viewfinders in the 4/3 systems are smaller in the first place. If you have switched to Olympus E-system from analogue cameras, you will soon notice a much dimmer viewfinder. Due to the smaller sensors of the 4/3 systems in regard to other DSLR cameras, the 4/3 system also has a smaller mirror which reflects the light to the viewfinder. Thus we get a darker viewfinder. In dark environment it is more difficult to use manual focus or to be sure that autofocus really focused correctly. I suggest you enable the sound beep just to be sure that the camera has focused. However Olympus has a potential solution for this. You can buy an extra eyecup magnifier, which magnifies the field of view by 1.2. Also, majority of their cheaper lenses have higher apertures than lenses of other companies.
Under the viewfinder is a 2.5" LCD display with an excellent resolution 215,250 pixels. It is very useful for checking various information before actually making a shot and for moving through menus. Photographers with glasses and those with problems reading small number will appreciate its size. All data is presented in a big and clear font. Using the menu, we can even set different background and foreground colors (check the Control Panel Color).
To the right of the viewfinder is the AEL/AFL button. In its basic setting (default values), the camera enables AF and exposure lock as soon as you press the shutter release button. Most of other cameras only allow AF lock after a half-press, while exposure lock is performed moments before the actual shot. So with the E-500 you might get wrong exposures if you lock the AF and exposure and then move the camera (recomposition) to the area with different light conditions. You can change this setting in the AEL/AFL menu, where other interesting settings can be performed. Number 1 stands for AF and exposure lock. Number 2 only locks AF, while the exposure is measured just before the shot. Number 3 locks the exposure, while focusing is performed via the AEL/AFL button. All settings are available in three focusing modes: Single, Continuous and manual). Focusing using a second button is usually a preferred method for sport photographers, because settings can be changed faster. Similar functions are today available in many low-class cameras. There's a small problem with the E-500 regarding this second button. The AEL/AFL button is too close to the viewfinder and can cause you problems if you are looking through the viewfinder with your left eye. On the other hand, it is very hard to reach it with your thumb.
However this is not everything we can do with the AEL/AFL button. There are more functions hidden in the menu. We can use it for different metering mode (AEL metering) as with the shutter release button (number 1 mentioned before). E.g. we can use ESP metering (whole area) on the shutter release button and spot metering on the AEL/AFL button. There are five different metering modes, digital ESP (whole area), center weighted, spot and two new options, spot Highlight and spot Shadow.
In the AEL Memo field in the menu we can set exposure lock when pressing the AEL/AFL lock. It stays locked until we press the button again. So it stays locked even after taking the shot. This might prove useful if you want to make more shots under the same aperture/shutter settings
While in playback mode, the AEL/AFL button is used for locking the picture as to prevent it from deleting. Note that formatting the memory card deletes all pictures regardless if they are locked or no.
Even now you can see how many functions are available, but we're just starting. I have to warn you once more, if you own this camera, reading the user manual is a must. Experimenting with the camera will give you further knowledge about what your camera can or cannot do.
To the right under the AEL/AFL button is a shooting mode button (nothing special here, 2.5 frames per second, max 4 in a row) and timer/remote button. The timer can be set at 2 or 12 seconds. In the playback mode, the button can be used for direct transfer of images to the printer.
In the lower right area are four buttons for setting the white balance, focusing mode, ISO values and light metering mode. In the middle is the OK button, which is used for confirming the settings or in the INFO window to enter various settings.
The WB button is used for automatic white balance, seven preset values (daylight, cloudy, shade, incandescent and three fluorescent settings). There's also a custom setting and exact K setting (2000-14000K).
The E-500 has many focusing modes. Besides the classic ones, single focusing (S-AF), continuous focusing (C-AF) and manual focusing (MF), we have an extra fine focusing mode, available in both the single-focusing and in continuous focusing modes. Note that focus correction is available only in S-AF-MF and C-AF-MF modes. You press the shutter release button halfway, than manually readjust the focus while still holding the button half-pressed. This technique is useful when we want to fine focus to a specific part or when we just want to change what autofocus focused on. However while doing all this, be careful not to accidentally press the shutter release button all the way. The button is very gentle. It acts similar to the buttons on the cameras of photojournalists. Not to worry though as you can quickly get used to it.
With the ISO button we change the sensitivity of the sensor. As with some other buttons, we might have some troubles if we didn't read the user manual. With the default settings, we can change ISO from 100 to 400ISO (1/3 EV) and AUTO mode using these same limits. Higher sensitivities can be enabled in the menu ISO BOOST, where we can enable up to 1600ISO. There's also a ON+NR mode, which add the noise reduction process. Another option is ISO STEP, with which we can set the steps to be performed in 1/3 or 1EV. I.e. with 1EV we have ISO 100, 200, 400 and so on, while in 1/3EV we have 100, 125, 160, 200, 250 and so on.
Light metering is available in five modes. Digital ESP measures the whole area in 49 points. Central weighted measures all 49 points, but central parts are more important. Spot mode takes only 2% of the area. There are also two additional modes, spot Highlight and spot Shadow (soft and hard contrast techniques). Most users will use only the digital ESP metering. With some practice a photographer might help himself with reviewing the picture on the display and checking overblown or underexposed parts (Hi Light and Shadow) and then use exposure compensation (the +/- button near the shutter release button).
The OK button has many functions, too. Turning the camera on, the display shows the settings that will be used for shooting. If you press the OK button, the first setting will highlight, which is the ISO setting. We can move through various fields with the four-ways buttons. Pressing the OK button again, the selected setting window opens, in our case (selecting the first field), we see all possibilities for setting the ISO mode and also light metering and focusing modes. Pressing the OK button yet again will confirm the setting.
Being this a feature rich camera, we have functions and sub-functions also. So, pressing the OK button for the first time we select the field, then move through the functions with four-way buttons to choose the setting you want to change and change it the dial button on the top side of the camera. Doing so, the aperture and shutter values change accordingly.
While in the playback mode, the OK button serves to select the picture (red border appears). Selecting multiple pictures makes it easier to delete more than one picture at the time.
Two buttons left before we start digging into the menus. On the top right area there's the button for selecting the custom white balance setting (One-touch White Balance). To set custom white balance, just aim your camera to a white paper or some other neutral grey color, press the button and the camera automatically switches to custom WB setting. Confirmations "One Touch WB" and "OK" are displayed. The procedure can be repeated until you are satisfied with the colors. All photos made afterwards will have their colors adjusted accordingly.
Of course, the custom white balance button has other uses, too. Step into the menu and find the field "Function". The button's function can be change into: "Test Picture" (to test whether we are using the right parameters – the picture is not stored), "My Mode" (to enable your custom settings) and "Preview" (to check the dept-of-field, the shutter closes to the selected aperture). Using the "Preview" mode it is easy to check whether we have set the correct aperture, so that the whole area we want sharp is really in focus. The depth-of-field control is one of the most important advantages of DSLR cameras. However, this function is to some degree less useful with the 4/3 system, because less light comes through the viewfinder to our eye.
This was a short description of all of the buttons and some of the settings. I'm sure you got the idea about how many settings the E-500 really offers. Let's go even further now. I won't be describing all of the features, because there's just too many of them. I will try to focus on the most important ones, which will be used most frequently by the users of this camera.
The first screen is “Record Menu 1”, with the majority of these settings visible when pressing the INFO button. Also, it is possible to change these settings using the camera buttons. Using this menu screen, the memory cards can be formatted (Card Setup), Custom reset settings can be set, recalled or deleted, and using the Picture Mode, contrast, sharpening and saturation can be set for neutral, saturated, monochrome and toned (sepia) images. There is also the Gradation function, enabling the user to set either Hi or Low key gradation, causing the pictures to be biased towards highlights or shadows.
Next, the type of images recorded can be set, either in RAW format, RAW and JPEG, TIFF or JPEG only, with several compression levels available for JPEG. Also, exposure compensation of +/- 5 EV is available, and White Balance correction, ISO sensitivity setting and metering mode can be set. Again, these functions are more easily accessible using the Info button to bring them up on the screen and then choosing the appropriate settings using the OK button and the directional buttons in combination with the dial.
Going to the next menu screen, Record Menu 2, again, we encounter settings that can be changed on the screen using the Info button and other buttons on the camera. These include Flash mode, FEC (flash exposure compensation) of +/- 2EV, self timer settings, wireless shutter release settings, drive mode (single shot or continuous with 2,5 frames per second), AF mode and the choice of one of three focusing points. Next come continuous shot settings with various bracketing choices. In this mode, the camera offers more choice than the competition. The possibilities are as follows: WB bracketing, AE (exposure) bracketing, Flash exposure bracketing and MF bracketing (manual focus).
Finally, there is the Anti-Shock function. It can be set for 1-30 seconds. This function is just a fancy name for mirror lock-up, causing the mirror to raise in advance (as set by the timer), after which the shutter opens. This mode is especially useful to ensure that any camera shake is eliminated with times of 1/60 to approximately 5 seconds when using the camera mounted on a tripod.
The third screen, Play Menu, is used to display the pictures on the screen, or, in case the camera is connected to a TV set or a computer, a slideshow of all pictures. Another menu setting is enabling or disabling the auto-rotate feature, meaning pictures will be shown in the correct orientation. Then there is the Edit menu, where JPEG and TIFF images can be manipulated, with the choice of colour changes (B&W, Sepia, additional saturation), Red Eye Fix to get ride of the red eyes, or the images can be downsampled (reduced in resolution) to conserve memory. Then there is the direct printing function using the DPOF protocol, and finally, there is the Copy All function, enabling copying of all images from one memory card to another.
Then, there is the Setup 1 menu screen, offering a total of 24 settings, all of which have several sub-settings, enabling the user to customise the camera’s functions and the functions various buttons perform. Some of these were already described above.
First, there is the ISO step option. These can be set to either 1/3 or 1 EV, while basic settings can be expanded up to ISO 1600 using ISO Boost, or limited to the ISO 100-800 range using ISO Limit. Exposure compensation can be set to 1/3, ˝ or 1 EV steps using the EV Step function. There is also the possibility of setting the WB compensation for all presets using the All WB +/- function. Compression levels can be changed for the HQ and SQ modes. Flash can be set to either auto or manual mode. Then there is the +/- flash exposure compensation. X-Sync time when using flash ranges from 1/180 second to 1/60 second. Also, flash Auto Pop Up can be set for scene modes. Then there is the Dial mode setting, used to control the behaviour of the main dial in P and M modes. Also, the AEL/AFL button function can be set, as described above. It can also be set to store the exposure value using the AEL/AFL Memo function. It can also be set to AEL metering and AE (exposure) Lock. Quick Erase – erasing images without having to confirm it. RAW + JPEG Erase – deleting one or both images. Function button setup, as described above. Setting up both personal modes via My Mode Setup. Focus Ring direction, an Olympus exclusive. AF Illuminator, used to illuminate focusing point. Reset lens, used to set the lens to infinity when the camera is turned off. There are also two other possibilities, allowing for shutter priority operation in both Single and Continuous AF modes. In this case, even if the focusing is not finished by the time the shutter release button is pressed, the shutter will fire.
The last screen, Setup 2, offers 21 further settings. These start by date and time setting. Next comes choosing the preferred memory card (either xD or CF) in case both are inserted in the camera at start-up. File name numbering can be either set to continue or reset, with a further option for editing the file name format. Screen brightness can be set to +/- 7. Also, it is possible to choose the interface language and video output standard, which can be PAL or NTSC. Audible confirmations can be set, as can picture review (Rec View) time, which can be set to either unlimited or 1-20 seconds. Putting the camera to sleep is not nearly as cruel as doing the same to a dog, and the camera can be set to go to sleep either never or after 1-10 minutes. There is also the possibility of shutting down the camera completely, with a four hour timer. The Button Timer setting is used to determine the time the selected function will be displayed on the screen. Dust removal animation can be turned either on or off using the Screen setting, and the menu colours can be set using the Control Panel Colour function. There is also the Yes/No priority setting for file delete confirmation. Of course, USB Mode can be set as well, as can the Colour Space (either AdobeRGB or sRGB). Cleaning Mode opens the shutter after the shutter release is activated and keeps it open until the camera is shut down. Finally, there’s the Firmware version check.
Admittedly, the preceding paragraph is not the most exciting bit of literature, but it does serve a function for all those who already have the camera or intend to buy one. To put it shortly, you will have to get well acquainted with the camera and read the instructions through, well in keeping with the often sadly disregarded tradition of RTFM (Read the Fine Manual).
Usability of the E-500
I really should have phrased this as usability of the kit. Along with the E-500, you get two kit lenses, 14-45 f/3.5-5.6 and 40-150 f/3.5-4.5. And all this at a price that the competition cannot even touch. As mentioned earlier, the camera not only has an attractive price, but also good design and overall ergonomics, a quick shutter release, with the majority of important settings accessible using the buttons on the camera and a veritable myriad of settings in the menu. All of this makes it a very usable camera, of course, taking into account that this is a consumer camera, intended for the widest of masses. This target audience does not mind the average AF speed, the somewhat loud focusing motors and the small, not all too bright viewfinder (which does, however, have a well visible display on the right side), to list some shortcomings compared to the competition, such as the Canon EOS 350D, Konica Minolta 5D, Nikon D50 and the Pentax *ist DL.
The E-500’s primary advantage is its own, proprietary Olympus sensor cleaning and dust protection system, Supersonic Wave Filter, which removes all small dust particles from the sensor, along with other advantages, such as using both xD and CF memory cards, the various metering modes which can, if the camera is properly set, be changed using the AEL-AFL button, the possibility of using the AEL-AFL button for focus lock (again, with a properly setup camera.), My Mode settings for quick recall of a personal setting, a plethora of displayed information during capture and image review, 14 times image review zoom, quick delete of all selected images etc. Certainly, the abovementioned myriad of menu functions is a big advantage of this camera in case you want to use it to its best abilities. Of course, if you switched from a digicam to a DSLR, you will most likely sooner or later find yourself in a situation where you will want the photograph to be as good as possible. If you do not wish to bother with this, you will probably be better served by an all-in-one camera.
Olympus’ engineers have done a great job of making it possible to operate the camera without too much menu dwelling. On the other hand, this is a downside for all those who will not go into these settings. The vast majority of buyers will be amateur photographers who will enter the DSLR world due to this camera’s attractive price and high quality. However, if they have no computer experience, they are not very likely to enter the menu and its settings. Either way, Olympus set some new milestones with this camera. First is the internal milestone, as they finally managed to produce a very competitive camera, both in quality and in price. The fact that only two low cost lenses are available at the moment is hardly a drawback, as most users will not wish for more than that. Both are included in the kit and the vast majority of E-500 users will never need anything more. This is a kit that offers them everything they need to enter the DSLR world.
For anyone familiar with Olympus cameras and their settings, the camera feels familiar very quickly. Of course, there are a few exceptions.
When purchasing – at the moment, it is impossible to buy the body only – you also get two lenses. This is an almost perfect kit for the amateur, with the possible exception of an additional flash for low light conditions. The kit includes the instruction manual as well as a DVD with an English narration, which functions as an instructional video with an excellent presentation of the functions, some technical explanation and tips on composition and taking images.
The Li-Ion battery was charged in under two hours using the supplied charger. It is easy to insert into the camera and when inserted, it is further protected against falling out of the camera with the battery cover open by a small plastic wedge. A memory card is not included, but then again, using a puny 32 MB card that is usually included makes little sense. You will need to purchase at least a 512 MB card for this camera, unless you have been using Olympus digicams, in which case you can use your xD cards.
The lens mount is metal, both on the camera and the lens. The lens is easy to attach and remove.
After switching it on, the camera is ready for taking pictures in about two seconds. The shutter release has a very short lag, meaning the time between half-pressing the shutter release to set exposure and focusing and pressing it fully to release the shutter. I think it might even be the most sensitive in its class – again, a feature that should prove useful once you get used to it.
Focusing speed is not top of the class, but more than sufficient for amateur photographers who do not usually photograph fast moving subjects. As focusing can be performed using the AEL/AFL button, it enables even faster operation.
Light metering is good, with the camera making it possible to meter using either the shutter release button or the AEL/AFL button or both, with the possibility of using different metering modes for each button. Various light metering modes are available (including SPOT) as is a wide range of exposure compensation (+/- 5 EV). White balance compensation is very easy to do using the separate button. However, in Auto WB mode, it did often miss the correct setting or even used different WB temperature for the same subject. One really does need to get familiar with the buttons, as these enable access to a huge amount of functions. The majority of these buttons are well placed; however, personally, I was bothered by the AEL/AFL button placement.
The display is of very high quality with clearly visible information. Also, using the information window on the screen, all commonly used settings can be set. However, it has a downside – the display does not shut down when looking through the viewfinder and its bright light tends to disturb the eye, which is all the more annoying since the viewfinder is small and not very bright.
The built-in flash can be used for most of the basic uses, meaning you can avoid having to purchase an external flash. Since the camera has an internal red eye removal system, the built in flash can be used for fill-in lights for portraits.
For the beginners, the numerous scene modes are undoubtedly a good thing, just try to avoid relying on them too much. After getting some experience, start using the program settings which offer a larger degree of creativity, such as the aperture or shutter priority.
The camera has 8 MP and shutter times of up to 60 seconds in A, S and M modes and up to 1 second in other modes, where it can vary depending on the scene mode. Bulb exposure is limited to 8 minutes.
Taking another look at the camera from a practical point of view, it can be said that it offers a lot compared to its entry-level competition especially when it comes to price, sensor cleaning and the numerous settings. However, it hardly surpasses the competition in other areas, and even lags behind in some. Of course, this is the consumer class, intended for the less demanding photographers who should not expect too much of a camera. With this in mind, I can state with a clear conscience that the E-500 is an excellent entry level camera.
Again, I will start by stating the obvious – it is an inexpensive, entry level camera. These two shots are revealing enough – do not expect too much in terms of speed and accuracy and above average picture quality.
Anyone requiring more in terms of speed and accuracy will have to choose a higher class of equipment. And if they should require better image quality, it will cost them a lot more.
In the following three elements – speed, accuracy and quality – the E-500 compares well with the competition. In some cases it is worse, in others better. It is more a matter of personal tastes in cameras and photography. And anyway, image quality is a personal preference. More on this as comments on actual pictures. All of you who want higher image quality, well, take another look t the price. A comparison of all entry level DSLR cameras is in the making, with emphasis on both usability and image quality.
I am very happy that Olympus finally found the right way, at least from my point of view. The E-500 is a well designed entry level camera that offers a high degree of usability. It is also very competitive, since it can be had for a very low price with two kit lenses, offering far more than the competition. However, I really cannot emphasise this strongly enough, this is a camera for amateur, hobby photographers, who have no need for any extra equipment, with the possible exception of an additional flash. Since the 4/3 system is not widespread yet, there are few possibilities of buying second hand equipment, meaning no low price second hand shopping opportunities. You should therefore be aware that the E-500’s greatest advantage is its price and the bundled lenses. If you are sure or almost sure that you do not need anything more, the E-500 could well end up being your final choice.
Do not forget studying the manual, though, especially its menu functions, where plenty of additional options are available. In the case you do not grow accustomed to these and get someone else to set up your camera (be it retailer, friend or someone else), be very aware of the all too easily accessible Reset function, forcing you to photograph in scene modes. You may find those perfectly satisfactory for a while, but you are unlikely to be happy with them for a while, especially if you want to make high quality images. In other case, your DSLR experience will be somewhat lacking. Get to know the camera and for as long as you know what to expect of it, you will be perfectly happy. It would seem Olympus are starting to progress faster and by the time you outgrow the E-500, a suitable replacement camera will likely be available. This is very important for all of you who will eventually grow addicted to taking photographs, and with an ever expanding line of Olympus lenses, you will have a relatively large choice of lenses.
To conclude: While I was a bit sceptical when reviewing the E-300, the E-500 is far more to my liking. As a whole, it presents adequate competition to other cameras in this class, while its relatively low price puts it a step ahead of the others. However, the E-500 will serve you well if for amateur photography if you know how to use it well. As always, the person behind the camera is far more important than the camera itself. The E-500 can be used as a point and shoot and with the very good scene modes, it can be used to capture perfectly acceptable family and holidays images. To learn more, however, you should either practice or take a course and get to know the camera well. The E-500 and the included kit lenses offer very good quality and usability for the entry level photographer. It is up to you to learn its abilities. And make sure your expectations are realistic – it is an entry level camera, not a pro model.
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