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Olympus Evolt E510 10MP Digital SLR Camera with CCD Shift Image Stabilization and 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6
Review by Daniel P. Dern
Olympus Electronics  ISBN/ITEM#: B000NVXF30
Date: 01 October 2007 List Price $949.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: http://www.olympusamerica.com/cpg_section/product. / Flickr E-510 Photo Collection / Show Official Info /

If you're looking for a good under-$1,000 DSLR (Digital Single-Lens Reflex Camera), Olympus' new 10-megapixel eVolt E-510 is a good choice. We liked the weight and feel of the E-510, the pictures it took, and in fact, just about everything about it.

The body of the 510 feels solid but not heavy -- like a good contemporary SLR. Your fingers will quickly feel comfortable with button placement. The E-510 starts up quickly, takes the picture when you "go click" and can do up to three shots per second. The optical and display views are good (you can only have one at a time, of course), manual zooming goes smoothly, and auto-focus is better than I could do. If you've tried non-SLR digital cameras (and are willing to zoom manually), you're in for a treat. If you're used to using film SLRs (and have gotten used to the past decade's worth of power/electronic enhancements), you'll be on familiar ground. Once you've read the right parts of the manual to know what the main buttons do (Image Stabilization toggle and optical/LCD viewfinder toggle in particular), you'll be looking and clicking with effortless ease.

On the camera display and my 22" LCD, the pictures all look fabulous -- I may have managed to take a few bad shots, but it wasn't easy. (I haven't tried printing any yet.) And (except when I forgot to reset a control), I got "the picture I was looking at and wanted to take" every time, as far as I can tell... something I can't reliably do with a digital non-SLR.

I'm still acclimating to the various "new" paradigms of "everything's automatic," and the reality that today's "digital camera" is really a "programmable digital image capture and manipulation device in a usually-camera-like form factor." I've been using cameras for over 45 years, SLRs since 1969 (Topcon, now Pentax), and digital cameras for about six years -- an Olympus D-490 "clamshell for about six years, a new Canon PowerShot A570IS (~$220 viewfinder/LCD) since mid-August, but the Olympus Evolt E-510 is the first DSLR I've had the chance to try for an extended period of time (several weeks). I like this camera a lot, but at a trade show last week where I brought both, every so often found myself whipping out the Canon to make sure I got the shot I wanted.

DSLRs -- like all cameras these days -- are both easier, thanks to auto-everything -- and harder, because of all the features, buttons, options, and so forth. I read the manual before using the camera, and then reread it about every week afterwards -- and carried the manual with me when possible... and I'm still fuzzy on some things. (I had the same learning curve experience with my new Canon PowerShot, of course.)

I do have a few criticisms -- some of which may be the nature of the beast (digital cameras), some legitimately specific.

The image through the optical viewfinder is good... but the "heads-up" data is off to the side, and so tiny, that it's hard to use, in my opinion. I've seen it done better in other DSLRs, but that may be a consequence of the expectation that you're going to use the "Live View" display on the back of the camera more than the display in the viewfinder. "Live View," by the way refers to the ability of a camera to show you what you're shooting before you press the shutter. If you're just stepping up from a non DSLR digital camera you may not be aware that this is a major advance for DSLRs...but it's only been available for the last year or so, and Olympus pioneered it.

Annoying, but easy to fix, the manual doesn't include a basic "what's what" overview picture of the camera with the traditional numbered arrows to each key button/feature/part of the camera. Go figure.

Most of the time, the E-510 worked perfectly... but every so often, I'd press the shutter but nothing would happen, for no clear reason. (Granted, my six-year-old Pentax film SLR does this every so often, equally for no clear reason, but that's no excuse.) Also, the flash seems to reset to "blink-a-lot" mode after each shot. Maybe I'm doing something wrong, maybe not, but it made it harder than I'd prefer to take lots of shots at a trade show recently.

If you get this, you'll probably quickly want an outboard flash with more serious output (Olympus offers two -- the FL-36, $239.99, and the FL-50, $499.99, both powerable with AA's. And may find yourself itching for a single longer-zoom lens, like (from the budget-minded options on the Olympus site) the ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 18-180mm F3.5-6.3 (equivalent to 36-350mm for 35mm), for about $400. Add in two spare batteries, another charger, a skylight (and fingerprint) filter or two, camera case, and a flash bracket and extension cable brings the shopping total to two thousand dollars or so... but you'll be ready for serious family, fun and semi-pro photography.

Again, Olympus' new eVolt E-510 DSLR is a good, solid, feature-packed camera that gives good value for the money. I haven't surveyed the field enough to know if there's something in the sub-$1,000 range I would like better. If you're ready to buy, you need to go see an E-510 in a store (and if you like it, get it from there, of course). I'd be happy to have a DSLR on hand, but my budget says "not now, buddy" ... and of course, the longer I wait, the more I'll get for my money. (I also feel the industry is still getting the bugs out of the products and the paradyme -- but improvements at that level may be two or three years out.)

Editor's Note: While Daniel's notions of pricing come from comparing this to "point and shoot" digital cameras, if you bought a DSLR as recently as a year ago you'll realize that $949 (or about a hundred dollars less for the street price) complete with both lenses is a terrific deal. It's worth doing an evaluation on the lenses to see how they stack up to much costlier high end lenses, but I'm willing to be that you'd never have to apologize for the quality these offer, and having a 14mm wide angle available is worth more than most folks know. Check the Flickr link (above) to see what people are doing with this lens/camera combination. - Ern

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