The 10-megapixel Olympus E-510 replaces the E-500 with improvements to the Live View and dust removal systems.
The original E-500 could never be described as a ‘fast’ camera. Its processing engine and modest buffer restricted both the continuous shooting speed and the number of frames that could be recorded in succession, while images weren’t transferred to the memory card instantly. As a result, the E-510’s predecessor – while acceptable at the time – feels decidedly slow in modern company.
With its new Truepic III processor the E-510 has taken a massive step forward – just as the E-410 stands head-and-shoulders above the E-400. The E-510 still only achieves a modest eight-frame ‘burst’ in its Raw continuous shooting mode, but it’s unlikely that sports enthusiasts would want to shoot in Raw mode, and if you switch to SHQ JPEGs (the highest-quality JPEG) you can happily fire off a dozen frames before the camera needs to clear its memory. Alternatively, if you don’t mind a little extra compression you can shoot unlimited HQ JPEGs.
As mentioned previously, another technology to make its way into the E-510 – and a first for Olympus DSLRs – is Image Stabilisation. Accessed via the ‘IS’ button on the rear, there are two operation modes for the IS (three if you include ‘Off’), which basically allow you to set the E-510 to try to counter all camera shake, or ‘lock’ the system so that it ignores the panning action you might employ when tracking a moving subject at a sports event. The effectiveness of the Olympus stabilisation is noticeable, and will consistently give you a two-stop advantage when it’s activated. This means you can use shutter speeds two stops slower than are normally recommended when handholding a camera: for example, you can enjoy shake-free images at 1/100sec with a 400mm equivalent lens, rather than having to use 1/400sec or faster. It also means you can use a slower ISO setting if you choose, so you can get away with shooting at ISO 200, when ISO 800 would normally be required to achieve your ‘safe’ shutter speed.
A further Olympus-developed technology is the live view LCD, which was covered in detail in last month’s test of the E-410. Essentially the E-510 uses the same system, so you press the display button once to flip up the mirror in the camera and activate the rear LCD. You can then press the ‘OK’ button to zoom in to 7x magnification and focus manually, using the LCD screen as a guide. However, just as it has the benefits of the E-410 for landscape, macro and still-life photography, so it has the shortfalls too, and you have to remember to set the camera to manual focus before activating live view – the camera doesn’t automatically switch it itself.
Sharing the same three-point AF system of the E-410, the E-510 delivers a comparable performance, proving perfectly capable in most situations where the light’s good, but hesitating a touch in low contrast and/or low light situations.