Olympus E-520 Review

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Image Quality

Olympus has done a notable job of improving the image quality of the E-520, compared to the E-510. I loved the size of the E-510 but the image quality just wasn’t up to par and occasionally I regretted using it instead of one of my other cameras. The E-520, on the other hand, has rarely let me down in the image quality department. Color is excellent right out of the camera – something I’ve come to expect from Olympus digital SLRs. The smaller Four Thirds sensor does produce more noise than 10-megapixel Canon and Nikon DSLRs. But that doesn’t make it a bad camera. Depending on the subject and the exposure, I think the E-520 is very usable up to ISO 400. The photo of the west side of the Tetons was shot handheld with the Olympus Zuiko 70-300 ED at ISO 400. It’s been pushed pretty hard in post-processing and noise is visible. But I don’t think the noise spoils the photo.

Olympus E-520 - Tetons Sunset

Higher sensitivity settings are also usable in the right circumstances and with adjusted expectations. Above ISO 400, visible noise should be expected. But with a good subject and good exposure, I don’t consider the noise a problem. For landscapes and wedding photos you won’t want to be shooting at ISO 1600. But for an environmental portrait like the one below, I think ISO 1600 works just fine. Olympus digital SLRs get a bad rap because people believe the Four Thirds sensor means poor image quality. This is not the case. The smaller sensor does produce more noise than cameras with larger sensors. But contrary to what the pixel-peepers will try to tell you, more noise doesn’t make it a bad camera. Take a look at the high ISO E-520 images in the gallery and judge them on their own merits, without looking at them through a magnifying glass.

Olympus E-520 - Bar Portrait

One of the things I like the most about shooting with the E-520 and other Olympus DSLRs is the excellent quality of the Zuiko Digital lenses. Even the least expensive Zuiko Digital lenses are very good and I don’t know that Olympus makes a bad lens. Certainly, there is a difference between the high-end lenses and the 14-42mm kit lens that comes with the E-520. But I don’t have the apprehension with an Olympus kit lens that I might with other camera makers. Olympus makes a big deal about the fact that all of their lenses are designed to be 100% digital. And after shooting with a fair number of them, I think they have a right to brag.

Olympus E-520 - Mt Timpanogos MTB Olympus E-520 - Carrie - Snowbasin Olympus E-520 - September 1st
Olympus E-520 - BLTA Olympus E-520 - Clark Fork River - Montana Olympus E-520 -  ISO 400 High-Res Sample

Click on thumbnails to view sample photos.

Note: I shoot almost exclusively RAW and shoot with post-processing in mind. I like to squeeze as much as possible from my image files. RAW conversions and initial adjustments are usually done with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and then final post-processing is done using Photoshop adjustment layers.

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About the author: Photo-John

Photo-John, a.k.a. John Shafer, is the managing editor of PhotographyREVIEW.com and has been since the site launched back in 1999. He's an avid outdoor enthusiast and spends as much time as possible on his mountain bike, hiking or skiing in the mountains. He's been taking pictures for ever and ever, and never goes anywhere without a camera.

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  • Photo-John says:

    I posted a link for this review along with a request for feedback on the Flickr Olympus E-System Community group page. I got a little more than I bargained for – possibly because this wasn’t a 100% glowing review. Some people seemed to miss the fact that I really like the E-520 and encourage people to consider it seriously. But within the grumbling about details, I was offered some very good criticism, as well as some error corrections. I believe I’ve fixed all of my mistakes (thanks, Velocity of Sound). And I’ve tried to address the criticism within the review without completely rewriting it. Specifically, I’ve rewritten the Conclusion and added a note about how I shoot to the end of the Image Quality section. But like I said, I don’t want to completely rwrite the review. The intention was to clarify some things, not defend every detail. I do want the review to be as useful and accurate as possible, though. And to that effect I appreciate the feedback.

    If anyone wants more details about the criticism, you can check out the discussion about the review on the Flickr Olympus E-System Community forum. I have nothing to hide :-)

    Flickr Olympus E-520 Review Discussion
    And if you want to discuss the review with the PhotographyREVIEW.com community, here is a link to our home thread:

    PhotographyREVIEW.com Olympus E-520 Review Discussion

    If you actually own the E-520 and want to share your opinion and experience, commenting here is great. But we really need your reviews on the Olympus E-520 user review page. That way you can leave a rating and add to the overall body of knowledge about the camera. Here’s a link to that review page:

    Olympus E-520 User Reviews

    Thanks everyone – especially the Flickr Olympus E-System Community folks – for your feedback. I hope it helps make this review, and future reviews more useful and easier to read.

  • shimmer2 says:

    This is a fair review. I bought the E520 and two kit lenses after researching all aspects. I was not starry-eyed about it. The camera has been a delight to use and is very well thought-out. Most of the features are ones you actually want. The Zuiko kit lenses are excellent and the kit is unbeatable value. Size and weight are good.
    You have to learn to coax the best out of this camera, including in lower light / lower contrast situations. But it can be done. The in-body image stabilisation is excellent and there is faster glass available to offset the stop or two you lose on ISO compared with Canon or Nikon rivals. Image quality in normal range is excellent, and the colour rendition (of both lenses and sensor/processing engine) is superior.

    Since buying the kit I looked at the Nikon 300, 700, & D90 but after four months of using the E520 every day I decided to stick with, and invest in, the E-system. I’ve acquired three more Zuiko lenses and they are….quite fantastic!

  • Greg McCary says:

    Very nice review John. I don’t own the 520 but have owned the 510 and currently the E3. I must say the 520 will be a good addition to the Olympus line up. I look forward to your reviews on the E-30 and also the G1. I got my eyes on the G1.

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