The 10-megapixel Olympus E-520 is the bigger brother of the E-420. The primary difference between the two is that the E-520 benefits from in-camera image stabilisation technology.
Upon powering up the camera automatically activates the dust-busting Supersonic Wave Filter (SSWF), after which the shooting settings are displayed on the ‘Super Control Panel’. This is basically the LCD’s interface containing all key (and some not so key) settings. Changing these is simple and quick, with the layout allowing you to quickly jump from one setting to the next, though in some cases you need to right-click through all the available options for the selector to zig-zag its way down to the one you want. Why can’t you simply press the ‘down’ button when you want to go down? The Graphic User Interface is also looking rather dated, and something which would benefit from a revamp. Olympus hasn’t deviated too far from its previous implementations and it shows; it’s very much the MS-DOS of menu systems.
With live view, the addition of the two new
AF modes is most welcome, with the system in itself appearing refined
and capable. Focusing in Hybrid AF mode doesn’t quite match the
benchmark set by Sony’s A350, but for more sedate subjects this type of
system is still impressive and more than usable. It’s a touch noisy,
though in good light the system works swiftly to find focus and the
ability to zoom in to the image tenfold makes distant subjects and very
fine detail easy to home in on.
We didn’t find the three AF points too limiting, though it’s worth noting that the three-point system is a little behind the times. Possibly as a result of the points not being biaxial (sensing focus along both vertical and horizontal axes) and lacking a cross-sensor centre point, it also seems as though they aren’t as sensitive as they could be. This was something we noticed more in impromptu situations. With the 7-14mm f/4 lens we also encountered a couple of false focuses, where the camera claimed to be in focus despite the viewfinder telling a different story.
Disadvantages of Four Thirds
Thankfully, Olympus is slowly kitting its lens range with the faster-focusing Supersonic Wave Drive (SWD) technology, though as of yet only three fairly pricey lenses feature this. This is one of the disadvantages of investing in a relatively new system such as Four Thirds. Olympus needs to catch up with other manufacturers to provide faster AF performance for both the enthusiast and semi-pro end of its market. Other manufacturers have made the piezo-electric based technology more accessible over a variety of more affordable lenses.
We suspect the average Four Thirds consumer may need to wait a while for this technology to filter down to more affordable options. The important point is that this technology is available and with the 12-60mm SWD and 50-200mm SWD lenses, autofocusing shows not just an improvement but an impressive performance.
With the minimum processing employed
(deactivating noise reduction and so on), we managed to capture an
average of eight Raw frames and six Raw+JPEG frames onto a formatted
133x speed CompactFlash card, before the buffer slowed down. The buffer
also takes a good five seconds or so to clear after this, though JPEGs
are captured at a slower but more consistent pace.
We didn’t notice a single speck of dust on any images depsite frequently changing lenses on both bodies. Olympus has long claimed that its Dust Reduction is the most effective available, and given what we’ve seen we won’t argue otherwise. That said, we would appreciate a better viewfinder as trying to see both the entire frame as well as the exposure information along the right-hand side can be tricky.
We found the E-520 to be a better performer overall than its smaller Olympus E-420 sibling, largely due to the better handling. We were able to use a variety of lenses with greater ease than on the E-420 and vary the AF point selection a lot quicker thanks to the dedicated button, while the image stabilisation broadened the conditions in which we achieved acceptably sharp images, making it well worth its premium over the Olympus E-420.