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Olympus E-520 review: Olympus E-520

The E-520 adds an appealing range of features to the existing Olympus line-up of dSLRs, but mostly for the first-time buyer. Apart from image stabilisation built into the body and the ability to use older lenses on the Four Thirds system, there is not much that really sets the E-520 apart from other cameras in its class.

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Lexy Savvides
3 min read

Succeeding the E-510, the E-520 is not a radical redesign so much as a considered update, which now places it as the mid-range model in Olympus' current dSLR line-up that includes the lighter E-420 and the professional E-3. A couple of features are borrowed here and there from the E-3 to add some pro-cred. Face detection and Shadow Adjust Technology are designed to make the jump from compact digital models to a less intimidating dSLR, plus there's the inclusion of High-Speed Imager AF which allows for accurate focusing in Live View shooting mode.

7.5

Olympus E-520

The Good

Incredibly lightweight for a dSLR. Image stabilisation built into camera body. Wide range of lenses supported.

The Bad

Some menu functions take getting used to. Small viewfinder. Slow, slow, slow autofocus.

The Bottom Line

The E-520 adds an appealing range of features to the existing Olympus line-up of dSLRs, but mostly for the first-time buyer. Apart from image stabilisation built into the body and the ability to use older lenses on the Four Thirds system, there is not much that really sets the E-520 apart from other cameras in its class.
Design

The E-520's design harks back to the good old days of film SLRs. It's slightly retro, with switches and knobs being more on the chunky rather than streamlined side. The design is lifted straight from the E-510, with very little difference in layout or configuration. That said, everything on the camera feels sturdy, from the on switch located under the function mode dial, to the buttons on the back of the camera. Overall the case feels sturdy despite being lightweight.

The 2.7-inch LCD screen is smaller than several other cameras in its class, but fortunately doesn't seem small because of the slim form factor of the unit. The viewfinder, on the other hand, is tiny, making it difficult to compose shots properly because of its limited range.

Features

Olympus was the first manufacturer to include Live View in its digital SLR range, way back in 2006 with the E-330 — and it shows how easy it is to use in the E-520. Simply press the dedicated button and the image is projected on the screen, bypassing the viewfinder.

Image stabilisation is built into the E-520, which means that any compatible four thirds lens attached to the camera is automatically stabilised. As a result, lenses are generally smaller and lighter because the technology is built into the camera. There's support for xD-Picture Cards as well as the more standard Compact Flash. Wireless Flash units are also now supported.

Shadow adjust technology on the unit is designed to highlight areas that would normally be cast under shadow, giving a more accurate reproduction of the scene. This feature was a bit hit and miss — sometimes it made a noticeable difference, other times the same picture looked almost identical when we compared two photos with the shadow reduction turned on and off.

Performance and Image Quality

Interestingly, the E-520 does its dust reduction routine on start-up — as opposed to other dSLRs which usually do it just as you turn the camera off. This does mean that time from power on to first shot is longer, around a second. Fortunately it's not that noticeable unless you absolutely have to take a shot instantly.

Battery life is very good, and given that it uses exactly the same unit as the E3, this is no surprise. The charge times for the battery though are pretty steep — set aside a good couple of hours to recharge if it's completely flat.

Image quality is generally excellent, thanks to the robust 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 standard wide zoom provided with the camera. Fringing did creep in on several shots but it was only noticeable at full magnifications. Unfortunately, ISO 1600 is the highest level of sensitivity available, a limitation that is normally only applied to compact point and shoots and lower class dSLRs. That said, the level of noise at ISO 1600 was considerable so it's understandable why this was set as the maximum limit.

The auto focus in Live View is an improvement on previous incarnations, though best results are still achieved by overriding it and manually selecting focus for the most precise shots. Another reason to override the auto focus is that it's incredibly slow — prepare to wait at least five seconds for it to focus and to take the shot, especially in low light situations.

Conclusion

As an update to the E-510, the E-520 adds several features that may tempt new buyers, but are probably not enough to encourage existing users to upgrade. It also lags behind other cameras in its class with its small LCD screen. However, the E-520 really beats the competition on weight and portability — an interesting trade-off that will no doubt confuse some users when choosing a dSLR, but enamour others.