Olympus E-510 Review

Camera Reviews Olympus

The Olympus EVOLT E-510 is a compact consumer DSLR based on the Four Thirds digital camera standard created by Olympus and Kodak. The E-510, as tested, is available in a kit that includes the body and two Olympus Zukio Digital lenses-the 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 and the 40-150mm f/4-5.6. The E-510 is also available as body only or in another kit with the 14-42mm lens only.

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Olympus Evolt E-510 - Rainbow


  • Reasonably priced two-lens kit (as tested)
  • Natural, film-like color balance
  • Excellent overall image quality
  • Sensor-based, mechanical image stabilization
  • Live view mode
  • Small, comfortable body and lenses
  • Two-lens kit is compact and lightweight
  • Compatibility with Four Thirds lenses from other manufacturers
  • Uses CompactFlash or xD Picture memory cards
  • High quality metal body

  • Four Thirds aspect ratio may feel too square for some photographers
  • Very small viewfinder image
  • No erase function immediately after capture
  • Memory card door may open inadvertently
  • Customization may be excessive and confusing
  • Quick Erase function requires caution
  • Default Noise Filter setting sacrifices detail
  • Optional card format is xD instead of SD (Secure Digital)
Olympus EVOLT E-510 - front and back

Olympus delivers a well-rounded Four Thirds System digital SLR to the sub-$1,000 camera space. The EVOLT E-510, like the Pentax K10D I reviewed early this year, offers a balanced combination of technical features, usability, and customization that works well in the field.

The Olympus EVOLT E-510 comes with everything we expect from a modern digital SLR. This includes mechanical image stabilization, long-exposure noise reduction, and an automatic sensor cleaning system. The E-510 also offers a Live View shooting mode that enables the rear LCD display to be used as a viewfinder (just like point-and-shoot digital cameras).

For me, the EVOLT E-510′s most important feature is the image stabilization system. Mechanical image stabilization, like the E-510′s sensor-shift system, enables you to handhold the camera at slow shutter speeds. This is especially valuable for low light photography. I found that Olympus’ image stabilization works very well at normal to wide focal lengths (i.e., with the 14-42mm zoom lens). It also works, but not as well, with the 40-150mm telephoto lens. This is to be expected from sensor-based image stabilization, as opposed to optical image stabilization systems, which are designed for and built into specific lenses. The benefit of Olympus’ mechanical system is that it’s built into the camera body and therefore works with any lens mounted on the body. I think the E-510′s image stabilization system works well overall-even better than the Pentax K10D, which I tested and own. I consistently captured sharp handheld photos at 1/8th of a second. And when I used Live View, which automatically locks up the mirror, I was able to handhold for up to half a second and get usable photos.

Olympus E-510 - Live View mode

Live View is another key E-510 feature. It allows you to use the rear LCD to compose and shoot, instead of the viewfinder. Olympus was the first to introduce live view to digital SLRs, with their EVOLT E-330. This is particularly useful for macro photographers because you don’t have to contort your body to see through the viewfinder when you’re shooting at odd angles. It appears that Olympus had macro photography in mind with the Live View mode, because mirror lock-up is only available in Live View mode. In fact, mirror lock-up is required for Live View as the mirror normally blocks the Live View sensor. Live View is a benefit for macro work and landscape photography. It would also be useful for portrait and product photographers working on a tripod in the studio.

Camera Menus

Olympus Evolt E-510 - LCD Display
Olympus Evolt E-510 playback
Olympus Evolt E-510 - LCD Display
Olympus Evolt E-510 playback with RGB histograms
Olympus Evolt E-510 - LCD Display
Olympus Evolt E-510 playback with brightness histogram
Olympus Evolt E-510 - LCD Display
Olympus Evolt E-510 Live View mode w. histogram
Olympus Evolt E-510 - LCD Display
Olympus Evolt E-510 detailed control panel screen
Olympus Evolt E-510 - LCD Display
Olympus Evolt E-510 main menu

Digital SLRs under $1,000 have matured to the point where the differences between models are less about features and performance than about the specific trade-offs a photographer is willing to make in order to satisfy their particular photographic needs and style. These distinctions can be subtle and personal to be sure. But they can mean the difference between a satisfying camera and a frustrating one. As with a tough photo competition’s final round of judging, camera usability comes down to the smallest details and can be a very personal thing. In this regard, Olympus’ engineers made some thoughtful design choices for the EVOLT E-510.

Like most DSLRs, clicking on one of the directional keys on the back of the E-510 (up-down-left-right) accesses primary camera settings like white balance or ISO. Olympus takes this one step further: clicking the center “OK” button allows you to navigate around the rear LCD’s INFO display and change any setting shown. It’s easy and intuitive to navigate this visual grid and that makes it easier to access secondary settings normally buried in the menu tree.

Olympus Evolt E-510 Back Olympus Evolt E-510 Top Controls
Olympus Evolt E-510 Back and Top Controls

Another thing I liked about the E-510 was the flexibility of the exposure controls. There’s a rear thumb-activated control dial on the top right side of the camera, with function buttons just below. I find using the rear dial preferable to an index-finger dial next to the shutter button It’s more comfortable and secure to change exposure with your thumb while maintaining a light touch on the shutter button. Thus most E- 510 exposure changes are just a quick twist of the thumb. I also feel that finger-thumb combos such as changing exposure compensation (by holding the top button down with your index finger while turning the thumb dial) are easier with the E-510 than the opposite arrangement (e.g., with Canon’s Digital Rebel XTi, you hold a button with your thumb while dialing with the index finger). The E-510′s arrangement feels more secure to me. This makes a subtle but positive difference for aperture-priority and metered manual shooters like me.

Since the four-way keypad on the back has become standard for most digital SLRs, it’s difficult to judge the usability of the E-510 controls without some hands-on shooting time. The camera doesn’t seem unusual in your hands. But after shooting a few hundred photos with it, I think that the Olympus engineers put more than cursory thought into the design of the camera interface. I’ll be looking for “thumb-priority” control dials on future digital SLRs from Olympus and camera makers.

Camera Experience
Overall, the Olympus E-510 performed reliably in many everyday situations. It easily handled landscapes and close-up photos, which don’t usually require rapid control operation. It was also fast and responsive enough for chasing erratic butterflies around with the 40-150mm zoomed out all the way to 150mm. As I reviewed (“chimped”) my shots throughout the test, I noticed that the E-510′s exposure metering performed consistently well across a variety of lighting conditions. It held highlight detail pretty well and exposures generally needed little or no post-processing. Automatic white balance was often right on, outdoors. Indoors it came close, although it wasn’t as consistently as I would like. Fluorescent lights, the bane of all automatic white balance systems, were handled reasonably well by one of the three fluorescent presets. If anything, they tended to have a slight magenta cast, although it wasn’t objectionable.

The E-510′s auto focus, while not the fastest in its class, was quick and accurate for most subjects, short of pro sports. I found it performed best with the 14-42mm zoom lens. The AF system isn’t perfect – it missed occasionally (especially with the 40-150mm telephoto zoom lens) and took a little longer to focus in low light than I’m accustomed to.

Herbie Hancock 1 Herbie Hancock 2

The Herbie Hancock snapshots (crops at 100%) were taken at 150mm (300mm equivalent) at a shutter speed of 1/640th second, easily fast enough to eliminate camera shake and freeze motion. The first frame (above left) demonstrates how sharp the E-510 and 40-150mm lens combo can be. But the other photo (above right) is soft, probably as a result of auto focus inaccuracy. It appears that the camera focused on the audience instead of the performers, in spite of my using only the center AF point and recomposing the shot – the most accurate auto focus technique

On the other hand, I felt the AF was tracking fairly well as I chased butterflies on the ground. It seemed to me that little focus errors tended to occur with distant subjects at long telephoto zoom lengths. Despite this minor issue, I generally was confident that the E-510 would acquire focus without my having to double check.

Olympus Evolt E-510 - Butterfly

A lot of customization is possible with the E-510. One custom function I found useful programs the E-510′s Function (Fn) button to activate the auto focus. I’ve used rear-activated auto focus for almost my entire career and was pleased to be able to do so with the E-510. By swapping the operation of the AEL/AFL button with the Fn button to activate auto-focus, the most important exposure controls are literally right under my thumb. I can operate the shutter independently of the AF system, as well as lock exposure if my desired exposure differs from the metered composition.

There were a few things about the E-510 that bugged me. One is the itty-bitty optical viewfinder. Like Canon’s Digital Rebel XTi /EOS 400D, the E-510′s viewfinder image is so small that it makes some photographic situations difficult. For example, I found it difficult to see people’s facial expressions when shooting environmental portraits. If you can’t see the subject’s facial expressions clearly, you have to either take more pictures as insurance, or you have to get out from behind the camera to see their face better – thus taking your eye from the viewfinder and possibly tilting your horizon.

Another minor inconvenience is the inability to erase an image file during the immediate playback after capture. With a high contrast scene like the chairs below, you may want to see if the highlights are blown and make an exposure adjustment immediately, before the light changes. You can’t rapidly review, delete, and reshoot with the E-510. The obvious workaround is to bracket your exposures and just keep shooting although that requires more memory cards. The E-510 does have an optional “Quick Erase” function. And if you do enable Quick Erase, I recommend caution, as there is no “are you sure,” confirmation step. One click and the picture is gone.

Olympus Evolt E-510 - Lawn Chairs

The memory card door popped open a few times while I was using the camera one-handed. When I reached with my thumb to push the AEL/AFL or Fn buttons, my palm sometimes pulled the memory card door open. If the camera happened to be writing to the card at the time, that data would be lost. Maybe my hands are a little big for the E-510. But this is something that should never happen, regardless of the size of the photographer’s hands. Perhaps Olympus will design a better memory card door latch in the future. The E-510 needs a lock mechanism to prevent this situation from occurring.

The Olympus E-510 body and lenses also look and feel much more like a traditional film camera than a digital SLR. The body is compact and almost as small as an XTi, and the kit lenses are proportionally sized for the body. The E-510 also has one of the most comfortable grips I’ve ever used on a small DSLR. There’s a gradual bulge in the middle of the grip, along with an indent that cradles your middle finger under the shutter button. This gives you a secure grasp on the camera and is a big reason why I was shooting one-handed so much during my testing. This grip should be suitable for a wide range of hand sizes as well. The compact size of the E-510, combined with the very comfortable grip and control layout, makes handling the camera a breeze.

About The Four Thirds System
A little discussion about the Four Thirds digital format and its underlying philosophy is important for a well-rounded Olympus digital SLR review. The Four Thirds system was conceived in 1999 with the premise that the ideal digital sensor should be large enough to produce a quality image file, yet small enough to keep the camera body and lenses small. The Four Thirds moniker comes from the sensor’s 4:3 aspect ratio, as opposed to 35mm film’s 3:2 ratio. The first Four Thirds camera, the Olympus E1 digital SLR, was introduced in 2003. Because the Four Thirds sensor is smaller than full frame or APS-sized sensors, lenses can be smaller with approximately twice the effective focal length power of 35mm camera lenses. So the Olympus Zuiko Digital 40-150mm kit lens used for this review is comparable to an 80-300mm lens in the 35mm format or a 60-225mm lens on digital SLRs with a 1.5x digital crop factor (most).

Although the Four Thirds system was intended to produce smaller cameras and lenses, the E-510 is about the same size as other digital SLRs in its class – think Canon XTi / 400D, Pentax K10D, or Nikon D80. It’s the lenses the set it apart. They are definitely smaller than comparable 35mm and dedicated digital SLR lenses – especially with the two lenses in the kit we tested. The tradeoff may be a sacrifice in image quality compared to cameras that have sensors with more surface area. But with improved sensors and better noise-reduction technology it may not be a real issue to anyone but people who have to compare everything with a magnifying glass. And it’s always important to consider how much image quality is really necessary. How much is good enough?

Personally, I find the 4:3 aspect ratio a bit cramped and narrow. I frequently cropped E-510 images to 3:2 proportions, thinking to myself, “what a waste of pixels.” The 3:2 ratio may feel more natural to me because I grew up with it. It’s also closer to the proportions of Euclid’s Golden Mean (1.618:1). The 4:3 ratio does feel well suited to portrait orientation (vertical) images, however. And, the Four Thirds sensors also deliver image files with a subtle character, which I’ll discuss in the Image Quality section of my review. So what to make of Four Thirds? In the end it’s a personal decision. The cameras and lenses are smaller, but a smaller sensor means restricted image quality compared to cameras with more sensor surface area. And the appeal of the 4:3 aspect ratio depends on the individual photographer.

Official Four Thirds Web Page >>

Image Quality
The Olympus E-510 generally has very good image quality. But as with the camera design and performance, it’s the balance of elements, rather than one characteristic, that makes it noteworthy.

The color palette is natural and pleasing while the highlights are well controlled with realistic gradients. I still recommend shooting a little dark to hold highlights, as you would with any digital camera. Shadow areas have plenty of detail, so underexposing a bit isn’t a problem, if you’re willing to do a little post-processing. Other professional reviews have indicated that Olympus E-System cameras might have a little less dynamic range than some other cameras in the same price range. My experience with the E-510 suggests that this may be true. But not enough to make photos unusable or make me overly concerned.

I primarily shot RAW files and converted them using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. I found that the colors captured by the E-510 often needed little, if any, correction. And I did substantially less post-processing than I normally would with other cameras. The E-510 produced files that almost had a film-like color palette (perhaps a bit like Fujifilm Provia slide film). This aspect of the E-510′s character may be more valuable than a wider dynamic range because it means less time sitting in front of the computer.

The E-510′s image files are a cross between DSLR and small sensor, compact digital camera image quality. The E-510 renders fine details well, but with a slight “pastel” color smearing – probably from noise reduction or contrast enhancement. This is most noticeable in fine details like distant tree limbs. It’s less of an issue with close subjects that fill the frame. This detail/pastel-smearing is not necessarily a bad thing and is common with point-and-shoot digital camera images because of their smaller sensors and the processing algorithms they use. Digital SLRs tend to produce smoother-looking images due to their physically larger image sensors. The E-510 combines the best of both worlds, in my opinion. You can see detail in the building as well as the broader “brush strokes” of distant rocks and trees.

Olympus Evolt E-510 - Malibu Building

In this image of Crater Lake in Southern Oregon, you can see some of the pastel effects in the foreground trees and distant cliffs. The image itself is a bit muddy due to my (over!) use of a polarizing filter.

Olympus Evolt E-510 - Crater Lake

The detail captured by the E-510 is quite good if you turn off the Noise Filter feature (Note: there are two noise-related features on the E-510. Noise Reduction corrects for noise in exposure of half-a-second and longer. The Noise Filter looks for and softens “random pattern” noise in low contrast areas and solid fields of color like skies). I found reducing the in-camera sharpness to -2 also helped. In the butterfly image below, I shot with the 40-150mm zoom lens at f/8 to see if I could get a vaguely impressionistic background and use the sensor’s “pastel” rendering characteristics for dramatic effect. I also bumped up the color saturation is a hair in this photograph with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

Olympus Evolt E-510 - Butterfly 2

The Olympus EVOLT E-510 eventually won me over thanks to its overall usability and image quality. Because of my bias for a 3:2 aspect ratio, I often caught myself feeling that the E-510 somehow wasn’t “serious enough” as a photographic tool. However, I found that photos I took with the E-510 compared well to photos from Canon, Nikon, and Pentax bodies I’ve recently tested or owned (even though I did crop a lot of my E-510 photos back to a 3:2 aspect ratio). The Olympus E-510 yields images with a well-balanced, film-like color palette, right out of the camera. The kit offers the camera body with two great starter lenses at a very attractive price. This combination of camera ergonomics and image quality does a lot for the E-510′s fun-factor. Compact size and light weight make the Olympus E-510 a natural “take-with-you-always” digital SLR.

Olympus Evolt E-510 - Tree

Who Should Buy It
The Olympus EVOLT E-510 is an attractive alternative for photographers who value out-of-the-camera image quality and light, compact portability. The E-510 offers a unique design philosophy with the Four Thirds system, and enables the use of other manufacturer’s Four Thirds lenses (currently, Leica and Sigma). The two lens kit is a great value for beginning photographers. Based on my experience, the E-510 may not appeal to serious sports or wildlife photographers who require their DSLR to be part of a large system of lens and lighting accessories. On the other hand, it’s the simplicity of the Olympus E-510, along with its light weight, compact size, and great ergonomics that should appeal to photographers who want DSLR quality without DSLR bulk and weight. In addition, the E-510′s pleasing, film-like image quality will satisfy photographers looking for good images right out of the camera without the time and hassle of post-processing.
- end -

Olympus Evolt E-510 - Box Contents

Contents of the Olympus Evolt E-510 Box

  • Olympus Evolt E-510 Digital SLR
  • 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 Zuiko Digital Lens
  • BLM-01 Li-Ion Rechargeable Battery
  • USB Cable
  • Video Out Cable
  • Li-Ion Battery Charger (BCM-2)
  • Strap
  • Body Cap
  • Olympus Master 2.0 CD
  • User Manual
  • QuickStart Guide
  • Registration Card

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  • Ron Tussy says:

    I found your review very, very amateur-ish, infact ill-informed. ANY noise filtering on ANY camera will cause a slight degredation of the image. This holds true from any camera manufacturer.

    “I often caught myself feeling that the E-510 somehow wasn’t “serious enough” as a photographic tool.”

    The four thirds format is MORE of a professional format than ANY APS sensor format. The 4/3 format is much closer to what is being printed and less of your image will need to be cropped for printing. It also allows more compact lens designs that are true “ALL DIGITAL” lens-designed for the sensor …….not an old outdated film format.

    Of course Olympus is going to provide THEIR memory platform as a secondary option. For those who do not want it, there is CF, still the industry standard for pro users. Mentioning this as a “con” disqualifies you as a trustworthy camera reviewer.

    I found your expertise to write about pros and cons in camera systems lacking and I am issuing a “READER BEWARE” warning that you are not qualified enough to judge camera systems.

    Digital camera marketing exec / analyst and pioneer since 1989.

    Ron Tussy
    Pres. & Principal Analyst
    The Imerge Group

  • Dear Ron:

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. Looks like I struck a nerve…

    I regret that you found my review to be “ill-informed” and thus worthy of some punitive action on your part. After visiting your website, I imagine you might have been expecting a more technical perspective on the Four Thirds system and its relative advantages and disadvantages.

    The reviews I write at Photographyreview.com aim to “cut to the chase” by giving readers a practical perspective on what it’s like to use the product. No more, no less. In this regard, I liked the E-510 despite my misgivings and said as much in the end.

    Does the end user care about aspect ratios and their suitability for “professional publication?” I think I wrote my review in such a way that readers can decide for themselves. Most people know that even compact digicams are good enough for newspaper and magazine publication. On the other hand, ask any stock agency what kind of image files they want for their clients–also “professional” publishers–and the list of cameras you can use is *very* short.

    Is Olympus’ proprietary memory format a disadvantage? Clearly not for Olympus, but what about the consumer who probably has CF and SD and maybe even Memorystick lying around? I have no axe to grind here other than saving some money. If Olympus’ memory had some clear practical advantage such as 3x faster write speeds, I’d happily pay for that benefit. Since it does not, I’d rather see CF and SD supported in the

    The point I’m trying to make is that readers should use my experience as a sounding board. I write reviews with my biases out in the open for all to see, and I stand by my opinions as a published, professional photographer who cares about the final product: photography. I qualify my opinions repeatedly for the benefit of readers like yourself who have other priorities in the imaging business. It’s my belief that if I report my views in as transparent a fashion as possible (e.g., “…feeling the [camera] wasn’t serious enough…”), the reader will be able to judge their own needs better.

    The best thing that can happen is for readers to take what I’ve reported and use it to find their own photographic truth. I regret that my opinions won’t please everyone, but that’s how it should be because you learn a lot about what is important to you by evaluating the opinions of others. If in the process people decide my views are “ill-informed” then so be it; those folks are better off for it too. As it happens, I get plenty of emails saying “thanks for telling it like it is.”

    Laurence Chen

  • Matt Teich says:

    I currently own an Olympus E-1 and have multiple lens that I have purchased for this camera. I am looking to upgrade my body and was wondering if you think the E-510 is a good choice for me considering that I have been using the E-1 for about three years. Do you think Olympus will be releasing an upgraded version of the E-1 or should I consider the E-510
    Great review by the way

  • Hi Matt,
    The news on the web today is that Olympus is unveiling the successor to the E-1 on October 17. If you’re not in a hurry, I’d wait and see what they’ve been cooking up all these years. Otherwise, as I’ve said a couple times now, I like the E-510 as a compact digital SLR. It doesn’t weigh you down and “announce” you to others in public like a big pro DSLR does (but if you need a pro body, you use a pro body).

    Thanks for the feedback, HTH,

  • David Ford says:

    Hi There,

    I do own an Olympus E-510 and I am presently still
    testing it, and I like the results I am getting. It seems
    to me that no matter what digital camera we use, the
    results depend on how we use the camera, and how
    well we understand it’s capabilities. I enjoyed your
    review of the Olympus, very practical and down-to-
    earth. The comparison to film when using digital is
    very interesting.

    I think all digital cameras have problems with dynamic
    range, it is mainly in the camera’s post processing
    rather than a problem with the sensor. As we know,
    Photoshop can be used to improve dynamic range,
    which is what I do. In the future,I’m sure that better
    technology will overcome all D.R. difficulties.

    Thanks, David

  • Hi David,
    Thanks for sharing your experience with your E-510 here.

    I’m looking forward to the day when we mostly don’t need to use Photoshop or any other post-processing unless we really want to tweak things. Digital marches on and in the process I hope it regains some of the best qualities/aesthetics of film while taking us to new pixel places.


  • Kumar Punchihewa says:

    Please let me know the current market price of E510&FL50. Thanks.

  • Warren Fletcher says:

    Mr Chen,

    I have read your very discriptive and well thought out review and taken note of the varied feedback that it has produced.
    You have covered many vital points about the E-510 and for that I sure that all readers will thank you.
    I do have one question however that I am finding difficult to find the answer for…
    I currently own an E-500 and I would like to know if it would be a worthy “upgrade” to buy an E-510. I am sure that many peolpe are wondering the same thing and are spending hours trawling the internet to find out… We would all be grateful of your opinion!
    And on a seperate note, given a choice of Olympus E-510, Nikon D80 and Canon eos30/40d which you go for and why?

    Great reviews and thanks for creating the site.



  • Sergio says:

    I switched from the 500 to the 510.

    Unfortunately reviews are not all going to cover everyones needs. I didn’t agree with several points of the review either. I haven’t had any issues with the memory door opening and I have big hands although not meaty hands. Everyone is going to have a completely different experience and as Laurence said the best thing to do is get your hands on one. No camera is going to cover all your memory needs and when you make the switch you’ll have to pick and choose. Some people have memory sticks, cf, sd and so many different versions of each. None of them is as fast as a good CF card which aren’t overly expensive anylonger unless you get the newest fasted model.

    I did switch from the 500 before a vacation to get the IS. I was waiting on the pro body but who knows when and how much it’s going to be. I found the IS to be incredible. I have the 50-200 and it worked quite well for me with it. Trying to use it fully extended in less than perfect lighting and the IS definitely made up for the fact that I didn’t bring a tripod. Sometimes it takes a few tries to get it but I even got images of the London Eye at abut 10pm that came out near perfect. It’s similar enough to the 500 to be familiar but it does feel better and faster. I always tell anyone who asks about getting a camera to experiment with their settings and make sure to customize it to your desired image results. I know many want to pull it out of the box and have a perfect picture, but if you’re going to spend plenty on a camera then you may as well go in and make sure it is setup for your personal prefs in images. Otherwise it’s just a gigantic p&s. The image quality definitely blew my 500 out of the water. The colors were better and it clearly has less noise.

    I take photos at many evening events and deal with difficult light constantly. This camera handles low light situations very well and as Laurence stated, there is lots of detail in the darker areas if you want to post process. Any noise filters will degrade the detail so that is not even a point of contention on any camera these days. The controls are there so change it if you want a different image.

    I do believe the aspect ratio is just a personal preference and with people who switched and are usually the ones who find the 4:3 discomforting. Unless I’m taking a panorama or wide view there’s really no loss. It does frame portraits and closer images better, but once again it’s just an opinion and there’s a camera out there for everyone.

    I’m personally happy that I jumped on the 510 because I’ll be using it for a long time. I don’t know when the pro body will come out and how much it’s going to cost so this one is going to keep on giving me great results until then. I’ll probably just keep my long lens on the 510 even after. I don’t need to buy lenses with IS on them and spend a fortune like so many other systems. I’ll keep my digital system from the ground up and keep on smiling because I haven’t wasted my money and in the end it’s really about the photographers eye and their ability to use their equipment to get their vision across. This camera definitely competes with some of the better and more expensive ones out there and afterall the final product you show is up to your abilities.


  • Tamara says:

    I am a small town photographer that got thrown into this business three years ago…to long to explain. At the start I had a Nikon Coolpix 5700 for family and just rolled it into the business, it just died and I purchased the Olympus E-510 because I loved my 270 LCD and the live view seemed like a nice morph into SLR cameras. I am frantically reading reviews and trying to learn a camera which I wish was like my Nikon for the no post-processing aspect. I deal with a CD business and my clients get everything, they love it, but I can’t spend all of my time editing….what can I set this on that I can just shoot, download, burn and give away that day as my client sits in my office? Natural vs Vivid, noise on or noise off, help.

  • Larrry Omaha says:

    Well, I thought the review was one of the best on the E-510 I’ve read. And I’ve pretty much read every one of them. I bought the camera after reading this review. The impressions are grounded in a user’s experience and not just a recitation of facts and data that won’t make that much of a difference.

  • Many thanks to the commenters here and to those who emailed me privately.

    Sergio, I wish you had elaborated more on the points you disagreed with but nonetheless I’m glad you brought your perspective from the 500 to share with us.

    Kumar, you can find prices online at your favorite online retailer if those are available to you.

    Warren, see Sergio’s suggestion re: the 510 v. 500. As for the other models, I have to say it depends on you and your shooting style. Each camera has slight advantages for certain styles of shooting so it’d be best for you to try each machine out for yourself and weigh the trade-offs based on your own preferences. Sorry I can’t be more helpful.

    Tamara, just play with the in-camera color and contrast settings to get what you like. That’s the easiest way since your eyes and your color calibrated system are going to be the best point of reference for future client interactions. Shoot some backlit stuff, some bright colors, some night stuff and some indoor stuff (flourescent and tungsten).

    Larry, thanks for the feedback.

    Cheers all,

  • Mr Chen,

    Don’t apologise, you’ve been more than helpfiul!
    This website and all the superb inputs from all of the people who submitted points has finally made me decide… The E500 has been a trusty companion but I’m going to sell it and move into the image stabilised world of E-510. I’m sure I wil be more than happy.
    Thanks, Warren.

  • David White says:

    Don’t worry about the negativity. Us four thirds owners can get a bit touchy, because the system is regularly bashed from all angles because of its ‘tiny’ sensor. For what it’s worth the 4/3 sensor is basically an APS-C sensor with the edges chopped off to fit the 4:3 ratio. It’s not really that much smaller at all.

    One piece of information I feel would be helpful, and which seems to be lacking from all reviews of the E510, is just how well this camera performs in RAW. I use Adobe Camera Raw to develop the files from the E510 and they really are on a different planet from the slightly consumerish JPEG images. The detail is astounding with absolutely no smearing or blurring, and the colours are rich and filmlike with smooth tones and a vivid bite that the E1 was reknowned for. If you can get out of the JPEG habit and shoot this camera using RAW and use a decent converter, you will be gobsmacked at the results. I actually sold my “benchmark” Canon 20D on the strength of this camera’s image quality. Brilliant.

  • David White says:

    I forgot to mention the second vital piece of information pertaining to RAW usage. With ACR or any of the other RAW converters with highlight recovery, you can expand the dynamic range of the camera by about two stops. I’ve shot this thing right into the sun with a dark foreground and recovered sky AND shadow detail with barely any noise. Really, the JPEG engine in this camera doesn’t do it justice.

  • Cristina says:

    I’ve found this review quite interesting.
    I have a question about the camera. I can´t use the panorama scene. I have a xd card, type H, is this the reason?. The camera always indicates I need a xd card

  • Nice to see Oly owners chiming in here.


    Thanks for your notes on RAW performance. I had similar results but I’d be curious to know what lenses you’re using as they make a difference. My opinion is that the Oly kit lenses are pretty darn good for the money, but if I were going Oly I’d probably spend more and get even better lenses.

    You correctly point out that the JPEG conversions of just about any camera are weaker than an image-specific RAW conversion, which is why having the option to shoot RAW is so desirable for many photographers (and why the removal of RAW from compact cameras is probably one of those marketing-driven decisions that… oh never mind, you know what I mean).

    As for the overexposure and recovery of highlights, the technique you mention is well-known to RAW shooters and usually appears in articles about RAW processing. For those who haven’t heard, the idea is simply that the histogram in camera is misleading because it’s based on the compressed and lossy JPEG file, not the RAW file (here I admit I don’t know if this is strictly true, but frankly it doesn’t really matter IMO). The practical result is that you can test your camera by overexposing RAWs from 1 to 1.6 stops and then pull back the exposure during the RAW conversion. In this way you get better/brighter midtones while maintaining highlight detail (if any). Generally this technique works best with textured highlights and very bright white scenes (think snow) rather than with specular highlights. I play it safe and usually only overexpose by about 1 to 1.3 stops when using this technique. You really must test your camera to know how it will respond *before* you go on that once-in-a-lifetime trip and use this trick.

    Cristina, I did not test that feature, be sure to check your manual or Oly tech support forums. The thing with digital nowadays is that you can crop however you like so with panoramas I’d suggest you just crop after the capture. Sure it’s a little bit of a hassle to take the extra step and makes it harder to always capture exactly in the proportions you’d like, but that’s kind of the price we pay for moving the lab onto our computers. Sorry I can’t be of more help here.


  • John says:


    Thanks for an informative review. I am an old 35mm nut, lost track of photography when I started having kids. It got more convenient to carry around a point and shoot digital. I’ve always been an Olympus fan, I own an OM-1, OM-2 and two OM-4′s.

    I recently purchased an E-410, got an unbelieveable deal on the two lens package on ebay. I wanted to get the 510, what, if anything am I missing with the 410 that I could have had with the 510??

    Thanks again.


  • John:

    I was on the hunt for used OMs a few years back but then decided that no matter what the quality, I wasn’t going to be spending money processing film (for myself) anymore.

    As for the 410 vs. 510, I’m afraid I can’t help you from experience. Based on the specs they’re about the same. The 510 has a couple extra rear control buttons right below the thumb dial. Image quality is very likely to be similar.

    Hope this helps a little, thanks for commenting.

  • Victor says:

    The primary difference between the 510 and 410 is the Image Stablization feature on the 510. The 510 also has a larger handgrip than the 410.

  • Bob Mason says:

    Q1 – Olympus offers two flash units – can both use the top shutter speed of the camera (for fill flash)?

    Q2 – I am confused by macro terminology for olympus 35mm and 50mm macro lenses.
    35mm says “1.0x (35mm equivalent Maximum Image Magnification 2.0x)” and 50mm says “0.52x ( 35mm equivalent Maximum Image Magnification 1.04x )” does this mean that 50mm is twice life size?

  • Bob Mason says:

    sorry should have asked in my previous Q2
    does this mean 35mm lens is twice life size.

  • Victor: thank you for the clarification.

    Bob: That is a little confusing. In macro lens terminology, “life-size” normally means 1:1 magnification. This way you’d typically be able to fill the frame. I have not used stronger macros so I suggest looking up the specs to see if in fact you can get larger than life-size with the 35mm as the spec seems to imply (2x mag.).

    Hope that helps,

  • PP says:

    I am getting to grips with my 510. It seems to perform very well compared to its peers and offers real value for money (2 lens kit). My only complaint so far is the reset function. I would like the camera settings in whatever mode the camera is in (including Auto) to remain unchanged until I want to use the ‘factory reset’. It makes it a bit annoying to use at times. The camera computer control that comes with Studio 2 as a 30 trial is interesting, but the price tag is too high for what the package offers.

  • Photo-John says:

    I am pretty sure you can program the camera so that it doesn’t reset – or so that it only resets the functions you want it to. I think that may be buried in the depths of the menus, though. Olympus has always been very good at giving the photographer lots of options regarding camera resetting or not resetting. I took note of that way back when I had the venrable Olympus 3030. Check your manual, look through the menus, and maybe post a question on the Olympus forum to see if someone there can help.

  • Jim says:

    I’ve been using my Olympus E10 for many years now and am ready to upgrade. I’ve pretty much settled on the 510 for general photography but have a question on a special application. I’m getting into astrophotography and wonder if you have any thoughts on connecting the 510 to a telescope? Will night sky images be too noisy? Can the body be connected directly to the telescope or would I have to focus on the eyepiece? Is there any reason why the 510 wouldn’t be a good choice for astrophotography?

    Thanks, Jim

  • Jim says:

    I’ve read all the reviews on this camera I could find and yours is the best I have found from a user point of view. Thanks for a most thoughtful insight; not just tech spec. This will be my next camera.

  • Jim(s):

    Sorry I don’t know about astrophotography, your best bet is to check dedicated boards or sites for the appropriateness of the camera and the camera/telescope interface.

    And Jim(2?), thanks for the feedback, hope you enjoy the E-510.


  • LARichard says:

    Nice review.
    I have read many reviews on a variety of cameras and camera products. Your practical yet knowledgable approach is appreciated. The bottom – line results oriented perspective is a refreshing change to the over – technical grunge found in many reviews. Being knowledgeable enough to convey useful information in a readable ,usable format without having to demonstrate how technically virile you are is a great attribute. Describing your biases was also a valuable tool – we all have them but few reviewers are clear about them.

    This is the first review I have read that mentions the comparison to “film” colors and effect. Very interesting…and in my opinion an important aspect for those of us who are switching from film.

    Keep up the good work – I look forward to more of your reviews.

    – LARichard

  • Sam says:

    The live view feature makes this camera especially useful for astro use. The live image can be enlarged many fold for focus checking.

  • “Virile.” LOL – thank you LARichard, that made my day.

    Sam, thanks for the tip on using Live View and astrophotography. I’m testing an accessory now that would really benefit from live view, so your tip is another use for the feature to keep in mind.

  • mark says:

    to cut to the chase..wouldent a four thirds format print on an {lets say}a4 paper allow a larger image withought cropping ,larger image,less waste,it is a profesional consideration ,but also an economical one ,less waste and a larger print on a given paper size?

  • Rob says:

    Hey. Absolutely the most helpful review on this subject i have read thus far, and i have read A LOT of reviews…So thank you, and PLEASE do NOT change the way you review things just because (yes. I’m just gonna come right out and say it, since no one else has) some egotistical JERK doesn’t like your style… Anyway. I just havent been able to definitevly decide which dSLR i want to get, and i’ve been researching 4 a looong time now…I am a newbie. Never had any other camera but an old Olympus digicam p&s. But i’m pretty sure i’m gonna purchase myself an E-510, thnx to ur gr8 review! (By the way, the pics u took using the E-510 are absolutely remarkable. Just sooo beautiful.) Anyway. Just also wanted to ask about speed. It’s been killing me. I need to know, is the E-510 as fast as the Canon Rebel xti and other dslr’s in this price-range?!?!? It’s the last thing i need to know before i can put this whole subject to rest, and just go out and buy me this camera…I’m mostly talking about burst rate. I know it’s 3fps, but does it have to stop the continuous shooting because of the buffer area or whatever??? Or can i just hold down the button and it will keep shooting 3fps until the CF runs out, w/out stopping for even 1/2 a second??????? And is the flash recharging and the autofocus really, really bad when wanting to shoot fast with both on during regular single-shot mode??? If all this doesn’t make too much sense, I won’t be surprised (remember I’m 100% new to this), but just PLEASE try to answer whatever you think I’m trying to say, if you can be so kind…

    THANKS so much in advance!!!

  • Ron Tussy says:


    Hate to tell you my friend but it seems you are out of your league in many of your responses posted here. For example, you responded that image noise has more to do with post image processing than the sensor. This is dead wrong. Post image processing adds an element to randomly scatter artifacts and in fact works to clean up the image. Noise eminates from the sensor. Every sensor has noice associated with leakage. You would do well to get a handle on the issues you presume to be expert at. – research exactly what goes on in post image processing as I have for years. While your facts about the specifics of this camera are a good cut and paste, your analysis of strengths and weaknesses reveals a real lack of deep understanding regarding consumer and pro DSC’s. Again, reader beware.

  • Ron,

    If my commentary/replies misled readers, then I apologize, but I did *not* claim that “image noise has more to do with post processing than the sensor.” Of course that is wrong. In fact, I don’t even see where my phrasing makes the implication of what you claim I stated. Would you please enlighten me, my friend?

    From a practical user point of view, of course one has no control over the sensor, but one does control the post processing options. That is clear and that is what I meant.

    Readers: “reader beware.” That’s how it *should be*–use my opinions, see for yourself, form your own opinion.

    And by the way, remember that when it comes to the final product, the photo, nobody is going to care what sensor lies behind the image or if you used noise reduction software. Content first.

    Thank you for your comments. I haven’t directly compared the two cameras- you might check John Shafer’s review of the XTi and see how well he likes it. I think you’ll get a good sense of that machine’s capabilities from his remarks. Sometimes you need to get your hands on the cameras to really know which works best for you, see if you can borrow or rent the cameras before buying, or buy from a retailer that would take a return.

    Thanks for stopping by, happy holidays y’all…

  • Mark,

    It depends on your professional application. If you make prints and the size fits paper better, then yes.

    If the 4:3 aspect ratio better fits your subject, such as vertical portraits, then yes.

    There are reasons to prefer different ratios. The great thing about digital is that now it’s easier than ever to crop however you like and display it that way. You’re not locked into the design of the camera, in that sense.


  • Rob,

    Actually, the obvious answer to your question is to move up to a better camera. If you like Oly, the new E-3 will likely meet your needs. I’ve been testing one for a couple weeks now and it’s got the shooting power you want. You may bump up against the limits of E-510 sooner rather than later.

    On the Canon side, you would do well to consider the 40D over the XTi, but do read John’s review and decide for yourself.

    Laurence Chen

  • Rob says:


    Thanks so much for responding. Actually I have just been reading about the E-3. The only problem with that is that it’s way out of my price range, unfortunetly… And on the other side, the thing about the Canon cameras is that they don’t have the built-in image stabilization, which really does worry me…
    See, I’ve been reading up and studying about dSLR’s for about 2 months now to find the best one I can find in my price range. I know the “price” for the E-510 is about $899 or something like that. But I can really get it for like $600 bucks (with the kit lens). So I can spend maybe up to $700 bucks, but that’s about it, unfortunetly. Let me just tell you a little about what I want and what i think i know… Ive read that built-in image stabilization is important, especially if you dont want to spend all that extra money to get it in the lenses themselves. Now, honestly, i really dont know how important built-in IS is. I heard its very important and that the lenses w/ IS are ALOT more expensive than those without… So a dSLR with built-in OIS has really narrowed-down my camera options, but like i said, i have absolutely no idea how important it really is. Also, the continuous shooting or the [rapid fire] shooting is very important to me too. Actually, the IS and the fast, non-stop shooting are the 2 most important things to me, besides, obviously, the image stuff and how good it takes a picture. Like, i said, first of all, i don’t even know if built-in IS is really all that important when deciding on a new camera, and also i know that with burst mode shooting there are a bunch of factors that make it speedy. Like, how fast the camera can get focus, and to use a flash (although i know that in burst mode, you generally dont use a flash) the flash has to be able to recharge itself quickly to get the next shot off. And i know the shutter has to be quick too. I was kinda hoping that the E-510 had the best of every world. But like i said, the quickfire shooting in burst mode (and also being able to take alot of quick shots WITH the flash as well ina single-shot mode) is the most important to me. And if what i’ve read is correct and the image stabilization built in to the camera is important, than that is also VERY important to me too.
    So I’m really all over the place with deciding. I know the E-510 gets off 3 frames per second in burst mode, but I tried the Nikon D40x in the store, and even though both cameras shoot 3fps, it still felt kind of like the D40x was a tad faster in burst mode…
    So anyway, I’m actually writing all this on my phone, and I can’t see what I’ve already written as I write, so if I’m making any kind of sense at all. PLEASE help!!

    THANKS again in advance for your help…….

  • Rob,
    A better camera is really the best solution if you really need what you think you need. Save your money and buy the right tool for the job. However, if you can’t do it, you can’t do it.

    So at your price point, given your stated limitations, I suggest, in my opinion (there, have I qualified that enough? ha ha), that you choose based on how well the camera body fits your hands, the image quality you want straight out of the camera or best file for post-processing, and the lens you think you’ll use most.

    Image stabilization is very useful but given your limitations, I would not worry about whether it’s lens or body based. Start saving for a new body because you’ll probably be unhappy from the start. (Just being realistic if you really want pro features in a consumer body.)

    Good luck,

  • Photo-John says:

    Generally, I think the E-510 compares favorably to other cameras in its class. The Canon XTi / 400D definitely has better image quality. But for people stepping up to their first digital SLR who don’t already have an investment in Nikon or Canon, I would recommend a camera like the E-510, that has built-in image stabilization. I think it’s a very valuable feature. And the best image quality in the wolrd doesn’t matter if your pictures are soft because your hands were shaky. I also think the E-510 is the best digital SLR value out there right now. I put it on our Holiday Gift Guide for that very reason.

    As far as speed goes, like I said, the E-510 is comparable to other cameras in its class. The exception is auto focus. It’s not as good as Nikon or Canon there. However the capture rate of 3 FPS is standard. You won’t find any camera that can shoot until the card is full. How many frames they can shoot depends on the size of the camera’s buffer. I’m not exactly sure about the buffer on the E-510. But do you really need to hold down the button and shoot like that? I shoot sports and don’t do that very often.

    I want to point you to a couple of other useful resources on the site. One is our Olympus forum. The other is our Camera Dealer Feedback forum. I refer you to the dealer feedback forum because it’s dangerous to shop online for cameras by price alone. There are too many bottom feeder dealers who will rip you off. It’s better to find a dealer with a good reputation and fair prices. That will save you money and headaches in the long run. So make sure to check the Dealer Feedback Forum before you buy.

  • Rob says:

    Hey, thanks alot guys…seriously. You’ve been a HUGE help. You all responded to me so quickly. So thanks…

    I think i am going to go with the E-510, and I’m gonna get it with the 2 kit lenses from a place called B&H. They seem to be the most reliable, and fairly priced (like you said) online photo store on the web.
    But I am super-excited to get this camera now, and I hope I’m as good as I was in high school (I took photography all 4 years.) I definitely think it’s the best camera I can get at my unfortunate, low price range.

    But anyway guys, thanks again. You’ve been a big help. I’ll let you all know how well it’s going as soon as I can, and maybe get some photos online to show you all…

    Many Thanks,


  • Vincent says:

    Thanks for the article, Laurence. I found it very interesting. I’d like you to give some advice about close-up photography. I have a nikon coolpix 4500 and a coolpix 8800. I obtain very good close-up shots, specially with the first one, but I need the best I can obtain. Do you think I could have better results by changing to a SLR camera and an specially designed macro lense. If so, which camera and which lense do you think I should by.

    Thanks in advance


  • Vincent,

    I seem to recall the Coolpixes as being especially good at focusing within an inch of the lens. That said, close focusing is not *necessarily* the most desirable trait in macro work. (You don’t always want to be right up next to the subject.)

    A dedicated macro lens on a DSLR should provide much higher image quality than the Coolpixes you’re currently using, but be sure to investigate the lens and body choices you make. As always, much depends on what you photograph and how you go about it.

    Sorry I can’t give specific model/lens advice, but I hope this helps point you in the right direction. The forums here are a good place to start getting a sense of what others are doing and what they’re using.


  • Ray says:

    Hi Laurence,
    I found your review to be excellent… I have owned an 510 now for about two months and I like it more all the time. I can see the day when I will want an E3 but only because I always play on the edge. The 510 is getting easier to operate every day and each time I use it I learn how to get yet a better image. The kit lenses are great… again not pro quality but more than good enough for high end leisure photography and some pro stuff.

    I am also starting to use some of my old OM lenses via adapter and while it’s not as convenient it’s nice to have that capability, especially with the macro.

    The image stabilization is great, the handling is great, battery life is great, speed (of focus and repeat shots) is good and well able to keep up with grand children and their pets.

    I would recommend it to anyone looking for a really good camera without the price of a pro body. Just be prepared to use it, take some chances and have fun!!

  • Richard says:

    Thanks for the review. I’ve had (for 3 days) an E510 as my first foray into digital slr. I’m very happy with the camera to date, even tho I’m still learning. The vast pre-programs have produced excellent results and i can zoom in and crop pictures, print them out and they’re excellent. Already hung and framed some pics ! I’ve started getting to grips with aperature / shutter priority etc to start getting creative; the lcd screen has all the info i need in one place to see the ‘settings’. The quick function buttons are also useful, preventing the user from having to delve into menus systems (these quick buttons can also be programmed with you own choice).

    The live view, whilst does create some lag as the mirror is flipped, has its uses for beginners, eg. viewing live histogram info, depth of field preview. There is also a ‘show IS working’ button, which allows you to see on the screen, how the camera is actually reducing the vibrations when IS is enabled.

    One thing I’ve noticed whilst looking through forums is this attempt to sometimes belittle other peoples opinions and comments, in some sort of technical point scoring and tit for tat. It doesn’t really help someone like myself when choosing, as getting into the very technical details just confuses rather than assists one in making a decision. When people like myself are looking for a camera they usually base their decision on trying them out in a shop, checking specs and reading reviews before they part with their cash.

    I don’t really want to know all the theory about how a camera works, just whether or not its going to meet my needs. e.g. xbox360 v psp3 debate.. just because the psp3 is more powerful (or is it !) doesn’t mean the games are going to be better…. i dont really want to now about the cell architecture or the graphic chips rending physics.

    So, yes, reader beware, when reading forums, but contributors; please be nice to each other as we’re only trying to help out by posting on such sites.

    Remember, generally, when choosing a camera, you know what you want and many cameras will give you what you need, so there isnt’ always a perfect answer.

    p.s. does anyone know if there are plans for an underwater housing for the E510?

  • Terry Warner says:

    Dear Laurence,

    Thank you for the very thoughtful and practical review. The range of comments and responses is also very useful. You have a nice way of encouraging questions and opinions.


  • Davonroe says:


    Regarding panorama shooting, the XD card must be an Olympus XD card. I found this out when I could not shoot panorama with my e510, and I could with my sp350. The difference was the type of XD card.

  • Paul says:

    hi Laurence great review what lens did you use for the photo of the crater lake ..

  • brad says:

    this is fantastic info, very useful for me… thanks

  • Aryan says:

    Hi,510 is a good camera but focusing is slow,white ballance not very accurate,under exposes most of the time,view finder very small,BUT..battry life is great,picture quality is fantastic,handling is superb,live view is awesome,price is affordable…If you want better camera and you can afford it go for an E-3 its only £800 more “haha” BUT hear me and dont buy e-520 or E-3 and go for a Nikon D90 or Canon eos 50d you wont be disapointed

  • Jim says:

    The review point I have not seen yet is how the Olympus E-510 compares to the Canon and Nikon models. When I used my Olympus at my daughters school show with no flash from the back of the auditorium, the pictures were very dark. What I noticed was the person in the row just in front of me using a Nikon D40, his pictures were bright and sharp. Neither one of us were using a flash. Even my small Casio point and shoot did a better job in low light conditions. I love the Olympus and originally bought it to use indoors and low-light conditions but have been frustrated on why I can’t get it adjusted to take good pics in low light. The Canon and Nikon’s seem to do this right out of the box. I tried changing the ISO to it’s highest setting, etc. What has helped the most is setting the white balance, but it still does not compare to the Canon XTi when I worked with both side by side. Any recommendations? I’d hate to sell my Olympus, loose money and pay more for a Canon or Nikon. BTW, I was using the standard 14-42mm lens it came with. Both the Canon and Nikons come with a 18-50mm that I compared it to.

  • Photo-John says:

    Sounds like you would benefit from the forums. I think you’re having an exposure problem and just need to better understand how exposure works. Comparing to what someone else is seeing on their camera’s LCD isn’t very useful, either. They could have the brightness on their LCD turned up or they might just understand how to get a better exposure in low light. It’s going to be way too complicated to explain this stuff here – especially since I don’t know what shooting mode you were using. But I encourage you to post a question on the Digital SLRs forum. I am sure we can help you get better photos :-)

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