The camera’s performance is exceptionally good, and an easy match for any of its rivals. Even with the SSWF system doing its thing, like most top-end DSLRs it starts up almost instantly. The AF system only has three focus points, and they are all quite close to the centre of the frame, but the system is very quick, and I had no problem at all snapping fast moving subjects. In continuous mode it can rattle off three frames a second, which combined with the fast AF makes the E-510 great for action and sports photography. In the lowest compression SHQ JPEG mode it can maintain that 3FPS shooting rate apparently until the memory card is full, and even in RAW+SHQ mode it can shoot six frames at this speed before slowing down to approximately 1FPS. That SHQ JPEG mode is especially low compression, producing file sizes averaging around 6MB, which is huge for a 10MP camera. The RAW files are also huge, averaging around 9.6MB, so if you like to shoot in RAW+SHQ mode a 1GB card is only going to be enough for 40 shots! Fortunately the E-510 has dual card slots for both CF and xD-Picture cards, so it’s theoretically possible to stuff 18GB of storage in there with currently available cards. Battery life also seems to be very good, despite the live view. The camera is powered by a large 1500mAh Li-ion battery which was still showing a full charge meter after two full days of shooting, and several hundred shots.
As for picture quality, see the sample shots after this review. Despite the lousy weather the E-510 turned in some fantastic shots, thanks in no small part to the outstanding kit lens, which produced pin-sharp detail from corner to corner at all focal lengths. As usual the Olympus metering system was flawless, coping with every lighting condition I tried. Noise control was also superb, with virtually no difference between shots taken at 100, 200 or 400 ISO, and minimal noise at 800. There was some noise visible at 1600 ISO, but even at the default low noise filtering it wasn’t too bad, and did not affect colour balance at all.
The Four Thirds Live MOS sensor is smaller than the APS-C sensors found in most other digital SLRs, measuring 17.3 x 13.0mm against 23.6 x 15.8mm (Nikon DX) and some people have noted that the dynamic range appears to be slightly smaller as a result of the physically smaller and more crowded photocells. I have to say that I did notice a few burned-out highlights on some pictures, but no more than I would have expected from any other camera. In terms of the level of fine detail, comparing the results directly with shots I took with the Nikon D80, the Sony Alpha A100, the Samsung GX10 (Pentax K10D) and the Canon EOS 400D, I would say that the E-510 comes in a close second to the much more expensive Nikon, although the Olympus’s test shots were taken in much worse weather conditions, with a heavy overcast and a hint of drizzle. If it manages to stop raining for half an hour sometime before I have to send the camera back I’ll re-shoot them for the sake of completeness.
The Olympus E-series continues to get better and better. The E-510 is a superb photographer’s camera, offering superb handling, outstanding performance, a huge degree of control and first rate picture quality, in a compact and robust package and at a price which comfortably beats most of the competition. It is without question one of the best semi-pro DSLRs currently available, and a genuine pleasure to use.