The range of colour options is perhaps the most impressive feature. Settings include the usual natural, vivid, muted, monotone and sepia, but each one can be customised with individual settings for contrast, sharpness and saturation. The monochrome and sepia settings also have four optional colour filters and five output colour options, providing some interesting creative combinations. By using these options with the ISO setting it is possible to mimic traditional darkroom effects such as duotones, push-processing and sepia toning. This huge versatility makes the E-500 one of the best digital SLRs on the market for black & white photography. Of course the supplied RAW converter software can duplicate all of these effects, but it’s still a lot of fun playing about with them while you’re out shooting.
In terms of picture quality, the E-500 is exceptionally good, providing crisp clear photos in virtually all conditions. Colour rendition from the TruePic TURBO image processor is as close to perfect as it’s possible to get for under £600, and contrast, detail and sharpness are as good as anything else in its class. The supplied 14 - 44mm lens does an excellent job, providing superb corner-to-corner sharpness and a minimum of barrel distortion. The camera has a bewildering array of ISO settings, from 100 to 1600, and these are virtually noise-free below 400, and quite usable up to 800. 1600 is a bit rough, but not appallingly so.
As usual with my SLR reviews I’ve run out of space before I’ve had a chance to talk about all of the camera’s features, such as the built-in ultrasound CCD cleaner, but I must quickly mention one or two minor problems. I’ve already mentioned the questionable build quality, and this is nowhere more noticeable than on the card and battery hatches. They are both very flimsy and could be a source of problems if roughly handled. The viewfinder is very small compared to other SLRs, and the information displayed beside it is poorly labelled and hard to read. Although there is an info button that displays shooting data on the main monitor, the lack of a separate data display is an annoyance. Just a display of the number of shots remaining would have been helpful.
Other than those points though, the E-500 is a great little camera, and the perfect choice for a first digital SLR for anyone thinking of taking the plunge.
The E-500 should secure Olympus a place on the lucrative consumer D-SLR shelf alongside the Nikon D50, Canon EOS 350D and Pentax *ist DL. It is a very well designed camera, combining excellent picture quality, outstanding performance and lots of creative versatility, while still maintaining beginner-friendly simplicity and easy handling. It is a genuine pleasure to use, and produces superb results. If you’re looking for a good SLR for under £600 with a lens, then it should definitely be on your shortlist.