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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.