Written by Gordon Laing
The Olympus E-520 is a lightweight 10 Megapixel DSLR with built-in Image Stabilisation and Live View facilities. Announced in May 2008, it’s the successor to one of the best-selling models of last year, the popular E-510.
With the earlier E-510, Olympus packed-in a comprehensive array of features which still tick the boxes of most budget DSLR buyers. It took the existing Live View and effective anti-dust features pioneered on earlier Olympus DSLRs and added built-in Image Stabilisation which works with any lens you attach. Subsequent price reductions and competitive bundles with a twin lens kit has seen it represent compelling value.
The new E-520 doesn’t mess too much with a winning formula. Indeed it follows an almost identical approach taken with the recent E-420. So externally the screen has been slightly enlarged to a 2.7in model with superior colour and tonal reproduction, and the labelling changed from green to a blue colour that’s more easily visible by those with colour blindness.
Following the E-420, the big new feature is contrast-based auto-focusing in Live View, which allows the E-520 to focus without interrupting the view – or making a noise as the mirror flips down and up again. Contrast-based AF also allows the E-520 to support face detection which like compact cameras not only helps with auto-focusing on people’s faces, but also optimises the exposure for them.
To support contrast-based AF on the Olympus E-520 and E-420 though, you’ll need a compatible lens with updated firmware. Today that means one of three models: the most recent 14-42mm and 40-150mm kit lenses, along with the compact 25mm pancake lens introduced with the E-420. Other lenses fall back on the traditional phase-change AF system, or a new hybrid mode.
The E-520 is also able to preview several effects including Shadow Adjustment Technology, SAT, another feature inherited from the E-3 and E-420 which adjusts the tonal range to preserve detail in dark areas. Indeed the image processing is now handled by the new TruePic III engine, with the E-520 following the same processing as the E-3 and E-420. Like the E-420, another major new feature of the E-520 is support for wireless flash and multiple lights.
So far, the E-520 reads like an E-510 with the E-420’s improvements, but there’s two additional surprises, with the first concerning the built-in stabilisation. It’s not unusual for stabilised cameras or lenses to offer a panning facility which disables the compensation in one axis, but it’s traditionally only supported when holding the camera in a landscape orientation. The E-520 cleverly now adds an IS3 mode which supports panning when the camera’s held on its side in the portrait orientation. A simple, but considerate enhancement.
The second surprise is Olympus offering a new underwater housing for the E-520. In the previous generation, this was a key selling point for the E-410 over the E-510, but with the new models, Olympus has done a swap, and it’s now the E-520 which can be equipped to dive underwater.
So one of the most feature-packed and affordable DSLRs of 2007 has gained even more facilities, but of course its rivals haven’t stood still either, so how does the E-520 measure-up? In our E-520 full review we’ll compare it against its predecessor and the best of today’s new DSLRs. So read on to find out if Olympus has another winner on its hands, and as always, for a demonstration of its features, check out our Olympus E-520 video tour.
Testing notes: we tested a final production Olympus E-520 with the standard 14-42mm kit lens, both of which were running firmware 1.0 when supplied; we updated the lens firmware to v1.2 in order to support the E-520’s contrast-based ‘Imager’ AF in Live View. The E-520 was set to Large Fine JPEG quality, Auto White Balance, ESP metering and the Natural Picture Mode with Normal Graduation; Noise Reduction and the Noise Filter were set to their default Auto and STD settings respectively.