The range of photographic controls is just as impressive. Shutter speeds from 60 seconds to 1/4000th are available, and the kit lens offers maximum apertures of f/3.5-5.6 and minimum aperture of f/22, both incremented in a choice of 1EV, 1/2EV or 1/3EV steps. The ISO settings of 100-1,600 are only incremented in 1EV steps, but with adjustable noise control this is a benefit rather than a handicap. Like the E-500, the E-510 offers a massive +/- 5EV of exposure compensation in all auto-exposure modes, and where most cameras are content with evaluative, centre-weighted or spot metering, the E-510 also offers spot metering for shadows or highlights as well, so there’s really no excuse for a badly exposed picture. Unlike some other high-end DSLRs the E-510 only has a single adjustment wheel, so in full manual mode the +/-EV button is held down to adjust aperture. This will undoubtedly cause howls of mocking laughter on various forums, mainly from Nikon D80 owners, but to be honest if you’re used to a one-dial system it’s really not a problem.
The E-510 incorporates Olympus’s CCD-shift image stabilisation system, which is extremely effective. I had no problem taking shots at the 42mm end of the kit lens zoom range (equivalent to 84mm) at 1/15th of a second hand held, which is about two-and-a-half stops below what would be safe with a non-stabilised camera. The IS system has two modes, one which damps vibration in all directions, and one which only damps up-and-down movement, for panning action shots.
Another Olympus proprietary feature is the Super-Sonic Wave Filter (SSWF) system. There is a flexible plastic filter in front of the CCD to catch dust, and when the camera it switched on this filter is vibrated at high speed to shake any dust of onto a sticky strip under the sensor, where it is trapped. I’ve not heard of any problems with this system, and I know personally that the similar anti-dust mechanism in Sony’s A100 DSLR works extremely well.
Of course the E-510’s main party trick is the live monitor view, something which Olympus pioneered on the E-330. This is more than just a novelty, and I found it very useful on occasion, especially with tripod shots, but the monitor view is quite dark compared to the viewfinder, and although there is an optional monitor gain boost for low-light use it is a bit slow and jerky. It is possible to use the monitor live view when holding the camera overhead, but why didn’t Olympus incorporate the hinged monitor from the E-330 as well? One of the things I most liked about that camera was the option to use the monitor as a waist-level finder. Unlike the E-330, the E-510 has only one mode of live view. When live view is active the AF system is disabled, so the camera doesn’t focus when you half-press the shutter button, which takes some getting used to. Instead it only focuses when you actually take the shot, flipping the reflex mirror down to use the AF, then back up to take the shot, then down when the exposure is complete, then back up again to go back to live view. This is a bit noisy, and does introduce some shutter lag, so it’s a good job it’s only an option.
Like all the Four Thirds cameras I’ve seen so far the viewfinder is a bit small and slightly darker than some, but the shooting data display on the right is nice and clear, and I had no problem with it.