Toybox: Olympus Evolt E-510 digicam solid

What differentiates the E-510 from some of the other DSLRs in its class is the volume of features built into the camera

While many digital SLRs are compromised in terms of features, Olympus is bucking the trend with its Evolt E-510. This 10.2-megapixel camera, priced around $1600 +GST with a 14-42mm zoom lens, is designed for the photo enthusiast who has a basic sense of photographic technique and wants a camera that can handle almost any situation. And while its depth of features might be a bit daunting to some, overall the E-510 is a solid, flexible camera that takes very good pictures under most conditions.

One of the first things I noticed when picking up the camera with the 14-42mm zoom lens was how light it was: the camera and lens together weigh less than 0.9kg. The E-510 doesn’t feel flimsy, however. The body is well-built, and the grip feels comfortable in your hand. Even with the new 40-150mm telephoto zoom lens (available as part of some two-lens bundle deals), you won’t feel weighed down.

It’s easy to just start shooting. The shutter and exposure compensation buttons are easy to find, and the big control dial on top makes it simple to dial in the shooting mode you want. There are five dedicated scene modes on the dial (portrait, landscape, macro, sports, and night portrait), and another 13 modes accessible via menus, designed to account for shooting situations that range from fireworks to documents to panoramas.

What differentiates the E-510 from some of the other DSLRs in its class is the volume of features built into the camera. For example, the E-510 offers exposure bracketing — the ability to take multiple versions of a picture at different settings, thereby raising your chances of capturing a properly exposed image under difficult lighting conditions — but the camera can also bracket shots for flash and white balance.

The E-510 has two levels of image stabilisation to help minimise camera shake, a depth of field preview button, multiple metering modes (including a spot meter), and a dust-removal feature that vibrates the sensor when you turn the camera on. There are also little extras like variable flash strength, mirror lock-up capability (to further minimise camera shake), and support for both CompactFlash and xD-Picture Card formats.

After weeks of use, my primary complaint about the camera is that the interface to some of the advanced features is a bit clunky, but that’s tempered by the fact that access to the primary features is intuitive and easy. I also didn’t like the fact that there are no focus switches on the Olympus lenses; you need to change the autofocus setting in the camera. Aside from these small issues, however, all of the basic functionality an entry-level or serious shooter would like is readily available on the camera.

Features wouldn’t be worth much if the E-510’s pictures weren’t of high quality, and Olympus didn’t disappoint here either. Colour fidelity and saturation were very good, and the E-510 was able to handle most shooting conditions easily.

If you worry that you’ll outgrow the functionality of other entry-level DSLRs — and you don’t want to spend a bundle to get the features — the E-510 is a very good choice.

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