Price (RRP): $999
Reviewer: Byer Gair
Olympus does not have a wide range of DSLR models, but, once you acquire a body you get access to an enormous range of lenses that run from 18 mm to 600 mm. For many that is the attraction of a digital SLR – your camera becomes part of a system.
The company’s E-520 sits midway between the E-420 and the pro level E-3 and offers top features at an approachable price. So far, so good.
Olympus’ approach to DSLR design is to build an image stabiliser into the camera body that shifts the image sensor to compensate for camera shake at slow shutter speeds. This has the advantage that you can then fit any Four Thirds format lens to the camera and enjoy being able to use shutter speeds at least four times slower than normal and help you shoot in low light or allow you to use a faster shutter speed when shooting fast action.
Four Thirds lenses and accessories are made by Olympus, Panasonic and Sigma in an extensive range of types and focal lengths, at prices that vary from budget to pro. They equal in quality the offerings from the long established len systems from Nikon, Canon and Pentax.
The E-520 uses contrast detection to deliver fast, accurate focusing, which works in closely with viewing via the optical pentaprism viewfinder or the Live View LCD screen. Live View works well, with minimal lag and rapid, onscreen confirmation of sharp focus. Many other makers have followed Olympus with this feature.
A compact DSLR, the E-520 weighs less than 800 grams with battery and a 14-22 mm lens fitted. It has comfortable balance and is easy to use in most shooting positions.
More often seen in compact digicams, the E-520 has advanced a Face Detect and Shadow Adjust feature able to detect up to eight separate faces and then optimise the exposure of faces and background. Group shots are now much easier to capture.
The sensor is a Live MOS device, another aspect of the Four Thirds system. It is claimed that it can achieve the same quality as a CCD while keeping energy consumption down to levels comparable to CMOS sensors. Live MOS reduces the draw on battery power and reduces image noise.
The sensor is kept clean and any dust particles are trapped on adhesive material inside the camera. This cleaning function happens each time the camera is turned on.
A small lever surrounding the mode dial kicks on the power, while close by are the shutter button and control dial; the latter cycles through options like ISO speed, AF and metering modes, white balance options etc. These controls are grouped to the right of the camera while other, less-used functions are to the left side.
Power on, you initially see a screen full of settings; the pentaprism viewfinder is now operable. Tap the display button and the Live View appears. Shoot away!
Unlike the earlier E-420 model, which accepted SD cards, the new E-520 now takes CompactFlash Types I/II, xD-Picture Card and the less-used Microdrive. You now get a choice of differing card formats and are not now tied to one only – xD-Picture Card.
To best suit varying subjects you can choose exposure settings that range from auto, Program AE, aperture and shutter priority as well as manual.
A group of scene modes is accessible through the mode dial and fine tunes the camera settings to shoot portraits, landscapes, macro, sports and night portraits. By turning the mode dial to Scene you gain entry to another 20 modes, like panoramas, fireworks, sunsets, beach/snow.
Metering choices cover digital ESP (49 zones), centre-weighted and spot options; useful adjuncts to these are Hi-Spot or SH settings which can correctly expose scenes with bright highlights or deep shadows.
Flash options include auto, flash forced off or on as well as synching the flash to fire on the first or second shutter pass to achieve those streaming light effects. Flash output can be controlled to 1/4, 1/16 or 1/64 normal strength. Still not sure? Use flash bracketing to fire off three shots with varying flash intensity. External flash units can also be used with the camera.
This is a fairly advanced camera for the price. Raw shooters could easily suss out the controls while more advanced photographers will be in second heaven with the quality of the images captured by the E-520.
If you don’t need the robustness of the E-3 this one will do just fine. And you can’t beat the price!
Additional pricing information
The price accompanying this review, $999.00, refers to the camera body only. The body and f3.5-5.6/14-42 mm kit lens is $1,099, the body with f3.5-5.6/14-42 mm plus f4-5.6/40-150 mm kit lenses is $1,299. All prices are RRP.