When I first tried this new Olympus E-510 DSLR last week, I was initially puzzled by some of the noises it was making, which is unusual for me. I’ve been reviewing digital cameras for about ten years, and in that time I’ve handled and used hundreds of different cameras, from the earliest sub-megapixel snapshot models to the latest professional digital SLRs. I’m not bragging here (OK, maybe just a little), I’m just trying to explain that I’m pretty familiar with digital cameras, and that it takes a lot to surprise me.
Normally when you switch on a DSLR, nothing much happens. The monitor may activate displaying shooting data, or maybe the self-cleaning CCD mechanism will buzz briefly, but that’s usually about all. However from the E-510 I heard the distinctive sound of the reflex mirror flipping up immediately after I switched it on, normally something you only hear when taking a photo. I fiddled with it, switched it on and off a few times, and tried taking a picture. There didn’t seem to be any problems with that, but again there was the sound of the mirror flipping up, then down, then up again. I kept looking at the camera data and the scene through the lens on the monitor screen, and wondering if I had a faulty review sample. Then it dawned on me – the scene on the monitor… I’m so used to using compact digital cameras with live monitor views that it just didn’t strike me as unusual to be seeing the same thing on the E-510. But of course the E-510 is an SLR, and SLRs don’t have live view. Except this one does.
It was March of last year when I reviewed the 8-megapixel E-500, Olympus’s third E-system DSLR. I was impressed by its simple and compact design, beginner-friendly interface and superb handling, and especially by its very high picture quality and wide range of creative options. Like most people I had been expecting the E-510, as its model number suggests, to be little more than a 10-megapixel upgrade of the entry-level E-500, but in fact it is far more. The E-510 is a completely new camera, and aimed at a different sector of the market. In terms of design, specification and price (£599 with the 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 ED kit lens), the E-510 is aimed instead at the semi-pro or advanced hobbyist, competing with the likes of the Canon EOS 30D (£649 with EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6), the Nikon D80 (£672 with AF-S DX 18-70mm) and the Pentax K10D (£499 with SMC DA 18-55mm).