Olympus E-510

Olympus E-510 anti shake

Olympus E-510 features

Lenses and viewfinder / Screen and menus / Sensor and processing / Anti dust / Anti shake


The Olympus E-510 is the very first Four Thirds body to feature built-in Image Stabilisation facilities. Like the Sony A100 and Pentax K10D, this physically shifts the sensor to compensate for any wobbles it detects.

The major benefit of built-in sensor-shift stabilisation is that it works with any lens you attach. The big downside is not seeing the reassuring effect of stabilisation through the optical viewfinder, but the E-510 has one major trump card over its rivals: its Live View feature allows you to preview the effect of stabilisation on the main colour screen.

The E-510’s Image Stabilisation employs a Supersonic Wave Drive (SWD) motor to adjust the sensor’s position in the x and y axes, and pressing the dedicated IS button on the rear offers three modes: Off for use on tripods or to save power, IS 1 which applies compensation in both axes, and IS 2 which only applies compensation in the vertical axis for when you’re panning horizontally. Olympus claims 2 to 4 stops of compensation are possible. We’ve pictured the IS menu in Live View mode here.

Olympus E-510 - IS menu

Stabilisation isn’t actually applied until you take the photo, but for a preview of its effect during Live View, simply press and hold the IS button. You’ll hear the IS system whir quietly and see the image stabilise – this is particularly apparent when using the manual focus-assist. You can take a photo during while previewing the stabilisation, but note the camera switches off the IS preview after a few seconds. If you have IS enabled when you power the camera down you’ll also feel (and hear) the camera shudder for a moment as the system resets itself. We have a full demonstration of the IS system working in practice in our Olympus E-510 video tour.

To put the E-510’s IS system to the test here we photographed a bottle at close range using the 14-42mm kit lens zoomed-into 42mm. Working at an effective focal length of 84mm, conventional photographic advice would recommend a shutter speed of around 1/90 to avoid camera shake. Of course different people, not to mention different conditions result in different amounts of shake, but we found with the IS switched off, we couldn’t consistently handhold this particular shot below 1/60 without shake creeping into most of the shots.

Activating IS 1 allowed us to take the same shot and consistently keep it perfectly sharp at 1/15, which corresponds to two stops of compensation. We also found the results taken at shutter speeds of 1/8, 1 /4 and even half a second, while not perfectly sharp when viewed at 100%, were actually quite acceptable reproduced at smaller print sizes.

Olympus E-510
Image Stabilisation OFF
Olympus E-510
Image Stabilisation ON
Olympus E-510 - Image Stabilisation OFF   Olympus E-510 - Image Stabilisation ON
100% crop, 42mm (84mm equiv), 1/2, f22, 200 ISO
100% crop, 42mm (84mm equiv), 1/2, f22, 200 ISO

To illustrate this we’ve reproduced the samples with and without IS taken at a shutter speed of just half a second above. The crops are shown here at 100%, and again while the version with IS isn’t perfectly sharp, it’s clearly a big improvement over the one without.

The E-510’s built-in stabilisation facilities represent a big deal to the Four Thirds system as until now there’s only been one other anti-shake option: the excellent, but pricey Leica D 14-50mm lens. Now for pretty much the same price as this premium lens you can buy the E-510 camera complete with built-in anti-shake facilities and a pair of kit lenses. It’s certainly a compelling option.

One of the downsides to built-in anti-shake systems though is how well they scale to longer focal lengths. We’ll be putting this to the test with the E-510 in the near future but in the meantime to see what happens when you try and combine its built-in sensor-shift stabilisation with an optically-stabilised lens, check out our Olympus E-510 with Leica 14-50mm article.

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