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Olympus Evolt E-520 review



We review the Olympus Evolt E-520, the update to the maker’s mid-range E-510, and ask how well does it stack up against all new models from rivals?


The Olympus Evolt E-520 is an upgrade of the maker’s popular mid-range E-510. And, like the revamp to the earlier entry-level E-420, the E-520 adds a more color accurate 2.7-inch LCD, additional Live View modes and some subtle but hugely important tweaks to the image-processing pipeline. The original E-510 was the first DSLR from the maker to add a body-integral anti-shake system, providing image stabilization to every lens in the range. Not only does this save potentially hundreds of pounds on specialized lenses but provides backwards compatibility with the maker’s earlier optics and helps keep lenses smaller and lighter to boot.

Unlike the E-420 there’s no noticeable change to the body shape, or size of the handgrip. Considering the diminutive dimensions, the grip suits large hands well, far more so than comparable Canons. And while the finish of the plastic outer shell, criticized previously, now seems a step up, slight ergonomic improvements to the aft-selector dial and shooting mode dial are also welcome. The big change is around the back. The 0.2-inch diagonal increase over the earlier 2.5-include LCD doesn’t sound much until you compare the two models side-by-side. There isn’t room for a 3-inch panel, but it’s not the size that impresses rather it’s the picture quality and color accuracy. There’s a new coating too, but while it helps reduce glare it smudges easily.

On View

We can understand the improvements to the screen’s performance too, as the maker has added a raft of new features to Live View option. The original E-510 was one of the first to boast live previewing but it lacked the contrast detection AF modes using data directly from the imager seen on later offerings from rivals. That’s now corrected with the E-520 and the maker has added a face detection option, like that used on their digital compacts. In fairness this works reasonably well though it’s not likely to be used in preference to the optical viewfinder with its own, much faster 3-point auto-focus sensor. The somewhat cramped viewfinder image isn’t a particularly strong point though, so we can see why the maker has been keen to upgrade the Live View feature. Face detection in Live View can be swapped with a quicker reacting 11-point auto-focus option but it still lacks the swift operation required for most moving subjects.

A dedicated button for Live View makes it easy to switch between viewing modes and is in stark contrast to the default menu-centric operation of the Canon offerings. Surprisingly that’s a good call even though many of the E-520’s features can be selected from the camera’s data panel. Simply pushing the OK button at the centre of the d-pad initiates selection of the highlighted data, while a second push reveals a contextual sub-menu with the options. The d-pad or aft-command dial are then used to make selections, and it’s both quick and intuitive. For these features the system works very well indeed especially as the last choice is held in the memory, so you can either quickly amend it or use it as the basis to navigate to the next one.

In use the E-520 feels fast and responsive and the supplied kit lens the 35mm equivalent to a 28-84mm zoom seems every bit as quick to focus as the Nikon and Canon offerings. Optical quality is on a par too, if not slightly ahead to the edges of the frame. And the maker bundles a lens hood, a £20 option for the Canon equivalent. From our tests, using a fast-writing CompactFlash card, the E-520 will fire off an unlimited burst of JPEG’s at 3.5fps, a slightly higher rate than the E-510. It will also buffer 8 RAW frames, or around 80MB of data, before stalling. That’s the same as before but two RAW frames more than the 12-megapixel Canon EOS XSi (EOS 450D) with its slightly larger files.

Light and Dark

Perhaps the most important improvement though is the inclusion of an adaptive dynamic range option, similar to Canon’s Auto Lighting Optimizer, Sony’s Dynamic Range Optimizer (DRO) and Nikon’s Active D-Lighting modes. Coined SAT, or Shadow Adjustment Technology by the maker this holds onto highlights while bringing up shadow detail. It’s subtle at times like rivals’ offerings but it’s a major advance on models that lack the technology.

For the user to benefit, the aptly named Auto Gradation option must be selected first. But, it’s oddly confusing as to why it’s not labeled SAT in the first place. Once enabled we found the expected improvement in shadow detail but we couldn’t leave the camera set to this option indefinitely without the occasional overexposed area. This is a pity as it works well in the E-420 except for that model’s tendency to show banding nose in the shadows at ISO800 and above. This was less troublesome with the E-520 and noise levels were generally kept to acceptable levels even at the ISO1600 maximum. Colors looked great in daylight and weren’t too shabby even under mixed lighting, so we would have to say it’s quite an improvement over the E-510.

Ultimately the Evolt E-520 has lots to commend it. Over the EOS XSi (EOS 450D) the Olympus scores with its built-in anti-shake system and better Live View system, yet the Canon has the better AF system and the slight edge on shadow noise and detail at High ISO’s. We prefer the E-520 to the Sony A-350 though that model has the most effective Live View operation, at least it does if you want to use it like a digital compact. Compared with the Nikon D60 or D80, the lack of affordable image stabilized lenses could be an issue, as too could be the AF incompatibility with earlier optics, but the lower price of the D60 could be tempting. Either way the E-520 makes a solid choice, but it’s not quite as clear-cut as it was when the original E-510 hit the shelves.


Price

Olympus E-520 c/w Zuiko Digital EF-S 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 $549.95 (£429).

Web

www.olympusamerica.com, www.olympus.co.uk, www.olympus.co.jp



Pros & Cons

Pros

Handy SAT function
Excellent color rendition
Effective image stabilization and anti-dust features
Versatile live view system.


Cons

Small viewfinder image
3-point AF system
Occasional overexposure.

Rating

4/5


Verdict

Not the clear-cut winner that the earlier E-510 was but there’s no doubt the E-520 is a very attractive alternative to the usual Canon, Nikon and, now, Sony options.

Sample Photos












Comments

  1. good review. I have used one of these cameras for a while now and it is a great little performer.

    ReplyDelete

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