Olympus E-500 is a mixed bag with plenty of things going for it, but equally a
number of aspects which could be considered deal-breakers by some photographers.
Highlights of course include the SSWF anti-dust system, an impressively high level
of information and control for a budget body, along with an increasing number
of high quality lenses - check back in the future for full reviews of four Zuiko
Digital models including the impressive 7-14mm ultra wide angle zoom.
On the downside though, the anti-dust process imposes a serious delay every
time the camera powers up, the motorised manual focusing (and lack of anti-shake
options) could seriously infuriate some photographers, the lack of detail when
zooming during playback is disappointing, while the view through the viewfinder
has to be one of the smallest from any digital SLR; it's also a missed opportunity
not to automatically switch off the monitor when you go to compose a shot.
Viewed in isolation, many of the bad points could easily outweigh the good
ones for some people, but to truly measure the E-500 you have to compare it
against the competition. As our Results show, the 8 Mpixel E-500 out-resolves
rival 6 Mpixel digital SLRs and compares well with the popular Canon 350D /
Digital Rebel XT. Canon's sensor and image processing may continue to enjoy
an edge on noise levels, but the E-500 still performs well.
Interestingly, while the E-500's roughly the same size as the Canon, improved
ergonomics make it more comfortable to hold, and of course it also sports a
considerably larger screen. Throw in the anti-dust system and you've got a camera
which looks strong against the competition.
Probably the most compelling aspect though are the lens bundles. In the UK,
the E-500 body alone carries an RRP of £580. The cheapest lens bundle
with the 17.5-45mm comes in at £600, while another £20 gets you
the slightly wider 14-45mm lens instead. So far so good, but for just £675
you'll get both the 14-45mm and 40-150mm giving you an effective range equivalent
to 28-300mm for less than £100 more than the body price alone.
To be fair, most budget digital SLR bundles come across as cheap compared to
the body-only price, but the Olympus twin lens package remains undoubtedly good
value. The best part is you can happily switch between the two lenses without
ever worrying about getting dust on the sensor. Make sure you check exactly
which lenses are being offered by your supplier though, as some substitute the
Zuiko Digital models for others.
So is it a better camera than the 350D? In terms of handling and ultimate image
quality we'd have to say not. The delayed startup, motorised focusing, current
lack of anti-shake options, restricted playback zoom and tiny viewfinder will
also rule out the E-500 for some.
But it must be said the overall image quality is very good, the affordable
twin lens bundle will cover most eventualities, while that short delay at startup
ensures you'll rarely if ever worry about dust - and that's something the 350D
/ Rebel XT and its rivals can only dream of. That said, anyone seriously considering
the E-500 should also compare it with Panasonic's long-awaited Digital SLR,
due to be announced at the PMA show at the end of February 2006. This camera
also employs the FourThirds standard and we look forward to seeing if Panasonic's
managed to address the E-500's shortcomings while retaining its best aspects.
In the meantime, while certain aspects of its operation have prevented us from
awarding our highest rating, the E-500 comfortably remains a Recommended camera
with plenty going for it.
Please visit our Budget DSLR Buyer's Guide for an update of the best buys around right now.
UPDATE: Also see our Olympus E-400, Olympus E-410 and Olympus E-510 reviews.
Unique and effective anti-dust system
Great value twin lens bundle
Good resolution and overall image quality
Detailed shooting information for a budget DSLR
Motorised manual focusing not very tactile
View through viewfinder looks very narrow
Screen doesn't turn off when you compose
Lens selection not as broad as major rivals
(relative to budget DSLRs)
15 / 20
16 / 20
12 / 20
16 / 20
17 / 20