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Review: The Olympus EVOLT E-500 DSLR

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For the past month, I've been testing out the E-500 DSLR from Olympus. It's an entry-level DSLR with impressive specs for its class. These past 30 days or so, it has been my primary camera. It's been everywhere with me, every day. I've used it in all sorts of conditions (indoors, outdoors, daylight, nights, cold, warm, wet and dry), and I've taken over 3,000 photos with it. So what I'm about to write carries a bit of weight — at least the sort conferred by such use.

E-500

The E-500 feels good in the hand. It's light (about 435 grams for the body, plus another 75-100 grams or so for the lens). It has a great grip. It just feels right when I hold it in my hand. One of my complaints with the Canon Rebel XT, another DSLR in the same class as the E-500, is that it's too small. It feels like it was made for a woman's hand. I can't quite grip it right. Not so with the E-500.

EVOLT E-500 DSLR (top view)

My test model came with a 14-45mm, 1:3.5-5.6 kit lens. Given the sensor size and optics, this is equivalent to a 28-90mm lens on the 35mm system. While the aperture specs of the lens aren't impressive, its optics and construction are. I've held other kit lenses in my hand, and they felt pretty flimsy. This one doesn't. It has weight to it, and it's solid. The mount is made of metal, and it feels like a quality product over all. Yes, in order to make the lens affordable, Olympus needed to pare down the specs, but they didn't skimp on materials and optics, and I'm very glad for that.

Camera body and lens
Zuiko Digital Lens

The controls of the camera are easy to use and well-organized. It's interesting to see how each camera manufacturer designs the interface they think is best for their cameras. Olympus chose to group most of the controls within easy reach of the right hand fingers. There is a main mode dial which can be rotated with the thumb and index finger, and a control dial right next to it that can be rotated with the thumb. Once I got used to the controls, and it took very little time, everything I needed to use frequently could be adjusted easily, and I liked that. My only gripe here is with the White Balance button, which I think is a bit close to the thumb rest and can be accidentally pressed as the camera is held. But as I used the E-500 more, my thumb learned to rest away from this button and things were fine. Incidentally, it would have been nice if the thumb rest were rubberized.

Mode and control dials
WB, AF, ISO and Metering controls

The user manual is great. I always read manuals, because that's how I learn how to use various products. I like the way the E-500 manual is laid out. It's organized by sections and indexed well, so I can refer to specific topics right away. Things are also clearly explained, and I know all too well that's not always the case with other user manuals.

The E-500 has some surprising features for an entry-level DSLR. I was impressed most of all with the supersonic wave filter (SSWF) sensor cleaning. Olympus was the first company to introduce this feature on its DSLRs a couple of years ago, and other companies such as Sony, Pentax and Canon have only more recently followed suit. The SSWF uses ultrasonic vibrations to shake dust off the sensor every time the camera is turned on. This reduces (and may even eliminate) the need to clean the sensor, though your mileage may vary. It all depends on how much you'll switch lenses, and how careful you are when you do it. In case you're worried, the camera has a sensor-cleaning mode that lets you gain access to the sensor for manual cleanings.

Camera back and lens mount

I was pleased to see the camera had four bracketing modes: AE (exposure), WB (white balance), MF (manual focus) and flash. These modes let you vary (or bracket, hence their names) those characteristics when used. For example, AE bracketing will let you take three shots with varying exposures (dark, medium, light). You then choose the best one and delete or keep the others, as you wish. The other modes work the same, and they vary the other characteristics. This is useful for those situations when you're not quite sure what will give you the best shot possible. Realize though that flash bracketing can get to be pretty annoying for your subjects if they're people. No one likes being flashed repeatedly. So, find the flash intensity that works, do it quickly, then stick with it.

About Raoul

  • http://www.extrametrical.com/weblog jim

    I’ve been shooting the E-500 since last June both professionally and personally, and I have to say I adore this camera. And then when I started buying Olympus’s ED lenses to bolt on, I fell in love all over again, the image quality went from superb to stellar, in my opinion comprable to the Canons and Nikons that cost many hundreds more. I’m with you on the low light performance, though I just consider it not awesome, not bad. It becomes less of an issue when you start ditching the kit lenses for Oly’s faster ones, there’s a world of difference in low light between f2.0 and the f3.5 of the kit lenses.

    Another small note, Sigma is also making lenses for the four-thirds system.

  • http://www.visualrealia.com Andy Smith

    I concur with your review. Having used it since late summer, I’ve found very few problems, and none that have kept me from getting the shot I want.

    The price is a particular strong point; with the camera out for some time now, one can get the camera and several lenses for the price of the newer models alone.

    BTW, I like and recommend the eyeup maginifier.

    Most of the photos (since August) at tis url are from the EVOLT:

    Andy

  • Misfit

    I have an E-500 and I must be the only one who doesn’t have a problem with the eyepiece. I find it very direct, clear and easy to use myself. I agree with two points. One, the cameras low light issue and two, when in that low light, the strobe effect the built in flash gives off. BUT…I purchased the FL-36 flash for the camera and … let me clear my throat. WOW, BABY! instead of stroking off flashes of light for an assist, the FL-36 throws an infa-red light out and is not annoying, quick, and quite efficient. In fact, i hardly ever use the built in flash now. i use rechargeable batteries and get about 200 shots per charge. There is not tether to a power pack for the FL-36, you have to get its big brother, the FL-50, for that. (and pay twice as much). The camera itself is fun to use. The kit lenses are solid and I chose it over the Canon XTi, the Nikon D80 (too expensive for me), and the Sony Alpha A100. Although if I had the loot, I would have gone with the Pentax K10D. If you have low light issues, buy the flash, you can stop down the light by -7 or up to +7. Makes a world of difference. The 40-150mm lense is awesome too. I was surprised at first by the telescoping zoom, but it is a budget camera and it really does take nice shots.

  • http://www.gadgetmiser.com Gadgetmiser

    I love my E500! Apart from the strictly technical specs, I maintain that its ability to use cheap manual lenses opens the door to a world of benefit. Fancy a 400mm (35mm equiv) for $30?:) I reviewed my collection of lenses here Gadget Miser; please pop by if of interest!

  • http://www.jarls.dk Jarl Østergaard

    Having used the olympus e-500 for about a year now I must conclude that I am very satisfied. I own the 14-54 zuiko lens and it makes the camera a completely different experience compared to the 14-45. Shots at higher ISOs need some noiseremoval but there are several software tools to do this. I also uses the Canon E400 at work – but prefer my e-500.