The initial impression of the camera is overwhelmingly favourable. The E-500 is a very handsome piece of kit, with a solid and businesslike appearance. It is almost exactly the same size as the market-leading Canon EOS 350D, but thanks to its plastic body it is around 60g lighter. Despite its comparatively small dimensions the control layout is sensible and uncluttered, while still leaving room for a big high resolution 2.5in LCD monitor and a large comfortable handgrip. It has to be said that the plastic body also means that it doesn’t feel as solid and well made as some of its competitors. In fact I would go as far as to say that in places the finish feels decidedly flimsy.
Although the E-500 is designed for the keen amateur rather than the professional photographer, Olympus hasn’t skimped on the features or performance. The camera starts up almost instantly, and has a very fast buffer-to-card write time. In continuous mode it can fire off five SHQ frames in around two seconds, before pausing to write, but the camera is only locked up for a couple of seconds before you can shoot again Considering that the SHQ JPEG files are around 5MB each that’s not bad at all. Shooting in RAW or TIFF takes a little longer, but even the big 23MB TIFF files only take about six seconds to write to a decent CF card.
The main picture taking options are on the mode selection dial. As well as the usual manual, program, auto and aperture or shutter priority, there are portrait, landscape, macro, sport and night scene program modes. The Scene option offers 15 more special programs for situations such as document copying, fireworks, snow scenes and more.
Of course a real photographer never uses such things so to help with proper creative photography the E-500 offers multi-pattern ESP metering, widely regarded as one of the best metering systems available, with the option to link the metering to the selected AF point, as well as centre-weighted and three different spot metering options. Combined with the unprecedented exposure compensation range of +/- 5 stops and there’s really no excuse for incorrect exposures. AF options include continuous, single shot, and manual, with the option to combine the first two with manual focus, so you can fine-tune the focusing point manually. Focusing is very quick and accurate, although I was slightly disappointed that there were only three focus points to choose from. Many D-SLRs offer a wider range.