Pros: Price, performance, easy to use, features, picture quality, low noise, resolution
Cons: Manual focus not mechanically-linked, slight corner softness of the 14-45mm lens
After using the Canon Digital Rebel XT with an 18-55 mm lens, I decided to try the latest affordable digital SLR from Olympus - Olympus EVOLT E-500 with 14-45 mm f/3.5-5.6 Olympus Zuiko lens. I bought the camera with the lens for $688.
The pictures of the Olympus EVOLT E-500 and the sample photos taken with it are available at the address below:
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What is Olympus EVOLT E-500 with 14-45mm Lens Kit?
The Olympus EVOLT E-500 is a digital SLR (Single-Lens Reflex) camera with 8-Megapixel resolution. The camera has a unique feature called SSWF (supersonic wave filter) that cleans the imaging sensor by removing the dust that could have accumulated there during the lens changes. The SSWF is engaged every time you turn the camera on. The camera supports interchangeable lenses of Zuiko series with 2x magnification factor. The kit I got includes the 14-45 mm f/3.5-5.6 Olympus Zuiko lens, which is 28-90 mm equivalent.
The camera has a 3:4 aspect ratio CCD sensor and a large 2.5-inch LCD screen. The E-500 stores images on either inexpensive Compact Flash memory cards or xD-Picture cards. It is powered by a rechargeable proprietary battery pack. The camera can record images in JPEG or RAW format.
The camera has a built-in flash as well as the hot shoe for external flashes. The camera has automatic modes as well as manual ones. Just as all other SLR cameras, the E-500 uses an optical through-the-lens viewfinder.
The lens features manual and automatic focusing and a solid construction. The camera and lens also support combined automatic and manual focusing - you can focus automatically then use the ring around the lens to focus manually. The camera supports ISO 100-1,600 with fine adjustments and features USB 2.0 connectivity. The camera has no dedicated mode LCD, but uses the 2.5-inch screen to show all parameters, which works really well.
The camera and the lens arrived in one box. I have to say that I did not even open the manual, but was able to attach the lens to the camera, charge and insert the battery and the CF memory card that I have and was ready to shoot. You should also attach the supplied shoulder strap to the camera. The lens is pretty easy to attach - it has a prominent red mark, which corresponds to the red mark on the camera body. After you align them and start rotating the lens, make sure to release the lens locking button. When I attached the lens for the first time, I kept pushing the button while rotating the lens, which resulted in lens being attached incorrectly. I overshot the correct lens position by maybe a degree of rotation. No harm done, but the display showed that I cannot adjust the aperture on the lens. I had to remove and re-install the lens.
The lens is also not very easy to install because most part of it is taken by the zoom and the focusing rings and the fixed part of the lens is scarce. You have to grip it pretty well to rotate the lens in relation to the camera body.
I suggest that you read the manual and especially the part that pertains to attaching the lens. It describes how to align marks on the lens and the body. Also, make sure there is no excessive dust present where you are attaching the lens, because the dust is a big problem and a headache if it gets on the sensor, even though the camera has the SSWF (supersonic eave filter) that should help you get rid of dust should it enter the camera body and get deposited on the sensor.
The camera is well-built and solid. The memory compartment lid is solid as is the door of the battery compartment lid. The controls have good tactile feel and are well-located. The zooming is smooth and precise. It does not require too much effort, unlike the kit lens of the Canon Digital Rebel XT.
The camera came pre-set to its automatic mode and I was able to take pretty good pictures in that mode by switching the lens into automatic focus mode (default, adjustable through the menu) and just pointing and shooting. This is pretty unusual - the other digital SLR cameras I have used (Canon Digital Rebel XT and Nikon D50) use mechanical switches to switch between automatic and manual focusing. This is due to a fact that Canon and Nikon cameras accept older, non-digital lenses, whereas Olympus EVOLT digital SLR cameras were designed as a digital system from the ground up and accept specially-designed lenses.
So, Nikon digital SLR cameras use a mechanical switch on the camera body, Canon - on the lens itself. Both have mechanically-linked manual focus rings. The Zuiko lens on the E-500 switches between automatic and manual focusing through the camera menus and lets you focus manually using the ring around the lens, which is not mechanically linked to the focusing mechanism. I have to say that I like the mechanically-linked lenses better. There is better feedback in case of Canon or Nikon.
If you have used a compact digital camera before, you might be surprised that you cannot use the LCD when composing the shot. The screen either shows the parameters (shutter speed, aperture, ISO, etc.) or stays blank until you take the picture. Aside from review after the picture is taken, the screen is also used for menus and control functions. You use the viewfinder to compose the shot, confirm the focus in manual focus mode or the focus points in the automatic focus mode. The camera has three points for automatic focusing (arranged horizontally) and you can see them in the viewfinder. The selected focusing point blinks in red once the focus there is obtained.
The shooting parameters are also shown in the viewfinder, just right of the frame (unlike the other two digital SLR cameras, where they are shown under the frame). The camera also lets you confirm focus in manual mode by showing you that it thinks you have obtained focus.
The camera lets you adjust the shooting parameters (aperture on aperture priority mode or shutter speed in the shutter priority mode) by rotating the wheel on the upper part of the handgrip.
The pop-up flash has a button that lets you release it. It pops up pretty high and charges rather fast.
The cameras cleans the imaging sensor every time you power it on, during which time you see the blue light flash on the top deck and the LCD show you a quick animation that says Dust Reduction. The power-up takes less than 2 seconds.
Ergonomics and Ease of Use
Although the camera is convenient to hold, I find that the Digital Rebel XT is a little more convenient. The handgrip of the E-500 has good surface texture and configuration (but, again, I like the shape of the Digital Rebel XT better) and the lens lends itself to being held by your left hand SLR-style. The viewfinder is slightly dim with the supplied lens (the lens has a maximum aperture of f/3.5 at wide angle or f/5.6 at telephoto) but adequate for most situations. The LCD is large and bright and I do not miss the dedicated LCD screen for shooting parameters.
The camera has its major controls within easy reach. As with any SLR camera, you have to remember that you zoom using the ring around the lens and manually focus by rotating the other ring.
The camera shows you where it focused in the automatic mode by briefly illuminating the selected focus points within the viewfinder, which is convenient. There are only three of them, which is behind the competition (Digital Rebel XT). The metal tripod mount is located well and the camera is stable when mounted on the tripod.
The menu system is easy to use and some functions are called directly by a push of a designated button (e.g. ISO, AF or WB). You can immediately see that the camera is targeted to the consumer market, because in the main menu, you can see that the picture mode is set to Vivid by default. There is also Natural mode, but the default is Vivid.
The lens has an outer barrel that does not rotate when focusing, which is a good thing (eases using a polarizer). The zooming ring has clearly marked focal lengths, but the focusing ring has no distance markings and is not mechanically-linked, reducing feedback. The lens accepts 58-mm filters.
The camera lets you adjust a wide range of parameters. It lets you select if you want to be able to adjust ISO in steps of 1/3 EV or 1 EV. The former lets you use such ISO settings as 125, 160, 250 etc. You can set limitations on the highest ISO available as well as if you want to be able to use ISO higher than 400. By default, you have access to ISO up to 400, but you can remove the limitation and use ISO up to 1600.
You can adjust the resolution or compression of the JPEG files, select uncompressed TIFF and even shoot RAW by itself or in combination with JPEG. You can also adjust the ISO (100-1,600), white balance, sharpness, contrast and other shooting parameters using the menus. The manus are pretty easy to use, but not extremely well organized.
The camera has scene modes as well as the Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual modes. The parameters (e.g. Aperture in Aperture Priority) are adjusted by rotating the wheel on the top deck. Easy and works well.
The camera powers on within 2 seconds (SSWF takes some time) and off almost instantaneously. The focusing is very fast at under a second, even in the dim environments (the camera has an autofocus-assist light). Most of the time. I had a couple of situations, where the camera took about a second to focus in dim light. The shutter lag is virtually absent when pre-focused.
The camera can take pictures at about 2.5 frames per second. In single frame mode, it can take about 1 photo per second. Which flash, you can take pictures at 2-5 second intervals, depending on the required flash output.
The camera has an excellent LCD. It is large, has high resolution and wide viewing angle. Much better than the 1.8-inch LCD of the Rebel XT. The viewfinder is a little small and a bit dim, but works rather well.
I mostly used the camera in its JPEG mode (since its RAW files could not be opened in my version of Photoshop CS2). The photos were pleasing in color, had good white balance and color saturation in Vivid mode. All images had very low noise levels, excellent detail level and dynamic range. On the sample photos (http://www.review-shop.com/Olympus_EVOLT_E500/Olympus_E500_Samples_1.html), you can see individual blades of grass and the ISO 400 shot will show only small amounts of noise.
The 14-45mm Zuiko kit lens produces generally sharp results. I did not see much purple fringing (chromatic aberrations). But there was a very small amount of softness in corners of the frame.
The noise levels are very low. There is no noise visible at ISO 100-200. At ISO 400, there is some noise, but it has fairly fine pattern. And there is more noise at ISO 800-1600 (and detail level is lower), but not as much as what consumer-level compact digital cameras produce at ISO 400.
The camera produces 8-Megapixel images that can be printed as large as 13x19 at pretty much any ISO up to 400 and ISO 800-1600 photos will look great at smaller sizes.
Despite the use of the large 2.5-inch LCD screen and the constant use of thereof for displaying shooting parameters, the battery that comes with the camera should produce more than 400 shots. I took about 110 photos with no signs of battery depletion.
How Does It Compare To Canon Digital Rebel XT?
The Canon Digital Rebel XT has a smaller screen, uses 3:2 aspect-ratio SMOS sensor vs. 4:3 CCD of the E-500. Both produce comparable photo quality (depending on the lens you use, of course). I like the fact that the E-500 has a larger screen. Maybe it is very subjective, but I like the CMOS color better (Canon) and I like the ergonomics of the Canon camera and lens better as well. It is more expensive, however and has no dust reduction system.
How Does It Compare To Nikon D50?
The Nikon D50 uses smaller SD cards and has a 6-Megapixel CCD sensor vs. 8-Megapixel CCD of the E-500. Both produce comparable photo quality (depending on the lens you use, of course). I like the fact that the Nikon has a small LCD with shooting parameters is on the top deck. But the E-500 has a slightly higher resolution and the unique dust reduction system. Its LCD screen is also larger.
I am very impressed with the Olympus EVOLT E-500 and its kit lens. Not only the camera and the lens are solidly built and feature-rich, they are easy to use and produce good results. If you plan on changing lenses a lot, the unique dust reduction system will be of great importance. The camera features excellent image quality, low noise levels and good battery life. It is also relatively inexpensive. A good choice in inexpensive digital SLR category.
My Reviews of Other Digital Cameras
Canon Digital Rebel XT with Lens Kit
Canon Powershot S2 IS Digital Camera Review
Canon PowerShot A620 7.1-Megapixel Digital Camera Review
Canon PowerShot A610 5-Megapixel Digital Camera Review
Canon PowerShot A520 4-Megapixel Digital Camera Review
Canon PowerShot A510 3.2-Megapixel Digital Camera Review
Canon PowerShot A410 3.2-Megapixel Digital Camera Review
Canon PowerShot A95 5-Megapixel Digital Camera Review
Canon PowerShot S70 7.1-Megapixel Digital Camera Review
Canon PowerShot SD200 3.2-Megapixel Digital Camera Review
Canon PowerShot SD300 4-Megapixel Digital Camera Review
Canon PowerShot SD30 5-Megapixel Digital Camera Review
Canon PowerShot SD400 5-Megapixel Digital Camera Review
Canon PowerShot SD450 5-Megapixel Digital Camera Review
Canon PowerShot SD500 7.1-Megapixel Digital Camera Review
Canon PowerShot SD550 7.1-Megapixel Digital Camera Review
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ5 5-Megapixel Digital Camera with 12x Optical Stabilized Zoom Review
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ20 5-Megapixel Digital Camera with 12x Optical Stabilized Zoom Review
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ1 4-Megapixel Digital Camera with 6x Optical Stabilized Zoom Review
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ2 5-Megapixel Digital Camera with 6x Optical Stabilized Zoom Review
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ4 4-Megapixel Digital Camera with 12x Optical Stabilized Zoom Review
Olympus Camedia C-765 4.0-Megapixel Digital Camera with USB and ED Lens Review
Olympus D-595 Zoom Digital Camera Review
Olympus SP-350 8-Megapixel Digital Camera Review
Olympus Stylus 500 Digital Camera Review
Olympus Stylus 600 Digital Camera Review
Olympus Stylus 800 Digital Camera Review
Olympus EVOLT E-500 Digital SLR Camera Review
Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-H1 Digital Camera Review
Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-M1 Digital Camera Review
Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-P200 Digital Camera Review
Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-S40 Digital Camera Review
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Nikon D50 Digital SLR Camera Review