Like its popular predecessor, the D-510, Olympus's D-520 Zoom is an inexpensive, 2-megpixel camera designed for the point-and-shoot photographer. It offers the basics, plus a few higher-end features such as spot metering and a burst mode. But sadly, this digicam doesn't capture the sharpest images around and will surely disappoint photographers who want a host of creative options or who care deeply about capturing high-quality pictures. Still, the D-520's low price point may convince some bargain buyers to overlook its flaws.
People with large hands will find the shutter and the zoom toggle too close together.
Sliding open the D-520's plastic lens cover powers on the camera and extends its 3X zoom lens. The silver, all-plastic body is lightweight and compact: about 1.5 inches thick and 7.9 ounces with the batteries and the media installed. But since this Olympus is thin and lacks any sort of grip, it doesn't feel particularly at home in the hand. One-handed shooting with the D-520 isn't easy or particularly comfortable. If you have large hands, the shutter release and the zoom control--both of which are located atop the camera--will feel too small and close together. Fortunately, the camera's controls for activating and navigating the menu, as well as enabling the image-preview function, are more reasonably proportioned.
A bright, 1.5-inch LCD panel on the rear of the camera affords a through-the-lens preview, image review, and access to the streamlined menus. In fact, this 114,000-pixel screen is even usable in direct sunlight. People accustomed to Olympus's camera menus of a year or two ago will appreciate the D-520's streamlined menu system, which is also characteristic of the company's other current models.
The most frequently used buttons are clumped together.
A four-way switch for menu navigation also provides quick control over macro and flash modes, as well as the self-timer. Pressing one of two other buttons on the rear of the camera summons its intelligible and easily mastered menu system, which is broken down into four sections: Drive (single-frame, burst, and movie modes); Mode, a tabbed menu that controls metering, exposure compensation, white balance, and other basic camera parameters; Function, which provides three scene modes (2-in-1, portrait, and panorama); and access to the camera's different image sizes and compressions. Spot metering is fairly uncommon in inexpensive point-and-shoot models, but the D-520 breaks the mold, offering both spot and multipattern metering in addition to exposure compensation of plus or minus 2 EV in 1/2-stop increments. Otherwise, the camera automatically adjusts both the aperture and the shutter speed within the range from 1/1,000 second through 1/2 second. Its all-glass lens--the 35mm equivalent of a 38-to-114mm zoom--has a reasonable aperture range of f2.8 to f7.5.
Vendors are slowly phasing out support for SmartMedia cards--something to consider before you buy this camera.
Typical of 2-megapixel cameras, the D-520 offers a maximum resolution of 1,600x1,200 pixels. The camera has four JPEG-compression modes, although you won't get uncompressed TIFF output from this model. Using the 520's highest quality settings--SHQ at 1,600x1,200--the supplied 16MB SmartMedia card is rated to hold 11 images. In its continuous-shooting mode, the card holds 33 images at the HQ compression setting at the same resolution. In this mode, hold down the shutter release, and the camera will take a burst of eight shots at about 1.2 frames per second (fps). Finally, the D-520 also captures short video clips at 15fps (320x240) without sound. The 16MB card holds about 60 seconds of video.
Like many cameras in its class, the D-520 can't accept accessory lenses or an outboard flash. However, the latter isn't particularly critical since the D-520's small, pop-out flash is effective to about 13 feet in wide-angle mode--ample for taking casual portraits, snapshots, and vacation photos.
Olympus also ships Camedia software with the D-520. This image-viewing and -editing apps offer basic functions as well as a stitch feature that creates panoramic images. After a long day of shooting, you can easily resize and rotate pictures, as well as convert color shots to black-and-white or sepia. The camera seems a bit slow despite its low resolution. Sliding open the lens cover brings the D-520 to attention within a few seconds, and when shooting in bright light, we encountered negligible shutter lag. But in the camera's best mode, we observed a poor shot-to-shot time of between about 6 and 10 seconds, depending on the shooting conditions. With newer batteries, the flash recycled in around 6 seconds.
For better performance, we suggest using a CR-V3 lithium battery rather than two AAs.
The camera's contrast-detection autofocus--Olympus calls it iESP Multi-Pattern AF--works as billed under decent lighting. When shooting in lower light or photographing low-contrast subjects, though, the D-520 has some problems focusing, which could result in the occasional fuzzy photo.
One difference between the D-510 and the D-520 is that this newer model requires only two AA batteries, compared to the D-510's four. Olympus claims to have improved power management in the 520, but you'll need to use rechargeable batteries to tell the difference. After taking only around 30 photos and one movie clip, the supplied alkaline batteries died. When we switched to nickel-metal-hydride cells, performance improved considerably. Olympus sells an optional AC adapter, though it is practical for only static shooting near an outlet.
Transferring images from the camera to a computer--both PC and Mac--via the D-520's USB connection is both speedy and convenient. Like other Olympus cameras, this model shows up in Windows Explorer as a removable drive, letting you cut and paste photos from camera to computer with ease. One significant gripe: The camera resets the filename each time that you empty it of images, so you have to either rename all your photos or create a new folder for each batch of pictures that you transfer to the computer so that you don't overwrite the old ones. We aren't terribly impressed by the D-520's images. While some shots come out sharp, most appear a bit soft. Exposures under flat lighting conditions, such as cloudy daylight, tend to look washed out. Under bright lighting, however, the D-520 captures color accurately without oversaturating them the way that many consumer cameras do.
Images taken in flat light tend to look washed out.
Overall, the D-520's pictures come out soft.