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Speaking of which, the dual lens kit.
Here are two lenses that most likely cover a focal length range – from 14mm to 150mm – that those who purchase the E-510 will find very useful. In film terms, that is 28mm wide-angle to 300mm telephoto, which is quite a range but if you start to think about these in terms of how small and light they are, you’d probably do a double-take. They’re very compact and like the E-510, so light that you’d wonder what you’re holding on to.
It is a remarkable achievement not just because the lenses are light as a feather but given that, both are astonishing performers that put them right at the top of any lens comparison of their ilk and calibre. That is where they’re impressive.
Manufacturer: Olympus Imaging Corporation, Japan; Model name: Olympus E-510; Camera type: Digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) with interchangeable lens; Construction quality: Glass-reinforced polycarbonate-fibre with alloy inner sub-frame; Surface quality: Rubberised grip surface leatherette with rear thumb rest; Weather resistance: Not specified and not likely; Dimensions: 136 x 91.5 x 68mm or 5.4” x 3.6” x 2.7” (camera body only); Weight: 460g or 1lb (camera body only but without battery), 535g or 1.16lbs (with battery) or 725g or 1.58lbs (with 14-42mm lens and battery); Colour finish: Matte lustre black; Country of Manufacture: People’s Republic of China (PRC)
4. Imaging Architecture and System
The E-510 comes from a maturing line of DSLR cameras that conform to a standard called Four-Thirds, which was pioneered by Olympus Imaging Corporation and Eastman Kodak Company in 2001. Four-Thirds is the first and only digital still imaging format that is as close to ‘open architecture’ as it comes.
Although ‘open architecture’, in legal terms, doesn’t quite define Four-Thirds, participation in the standard is on an invitation and acceptance basis. To date, the Four-Thirds Group (http://www.fourthirds.org) consists of not just Olympus and Kodak but also Fujifilm, Sigma, Panasonic, Leica and Sanyo. Currently, Olympus, Panasonic and Leica are producing DSLR cameras and lenses with Sigma offering a range of lenses second only to Olympus in range and numbers.
A Four-Thirds based image sensor is roughly half the size of typical 35mm film negative, which the industry refers to as ‘full frame’ but because of the way it is designed, it is technically similar, which is why it is called a ‘full frame transfer’ or FFT sensor architecture. And that in gist is the groundwork that Olympus and Kodak had done in developing Four-Thirds with a future engineering potential capable of extremely high-density sensor designs greater than thirty (30) megapixels assuming there is a need to go that high.
By halving the imaging area, a Four-Thirds DSLR like the E-510 will produce a focal length that is twice what the lens is quoted at. For example, the companion Zuiko Digital 14-42mm is, in 35mm film terms, a 28-84mm zoom lens. The smaller sensor size also brings about quite a number of benefits that might not be immediately evident but a careful study will reveal that the E-510 is capable of producing images with a stronger depth of field by comparison.
Another benefit of the Four-Thirds standard is that DSLR form factors can be more compact and this doesn’t only apply to camera bodies but even more importantly the lenses. In practical terms this means that in a typical camera bag, the weight you carry and the room you need are lesser.
As the E-3 has proven, viewfinder size is not a burden of the Four-Thirds standard. Although the E-510’s viewfinder is on the smallish side, the standard itself is not hamstrung. It is an issue that can be solved by thinking outside the box and fitting into a budget. Clearly the E-510 was designed and built to be price competitive because the market segment demands that if Olympus were to do well.
Perhaps the one outstanding advantage that Olympus had – and still has – with the Four-Thirds standard is that it was designed from scratch. Unlike others, any legacy hold on 35mm-based SLR cameras and lenses was ditched in favour of a completely new from-the-ground-up system that is purely digital. Olympus felt that if they abandoned the technical baggage from the past, they could pull ahead with a design that took full advantage of what digital offers. And when they decided to collaborate with Kodak, Olympus was privy to the largest haul of patented digital imaging technologies that others had no access to. With all these at hand, both companies set about to optimise a sensor design that although was smaller, was actually more capable in producing superior quality images.
The cornerstone of the Four-Thirds optical system is called ‘telecentricity’ and it refers to the manner in which light leaves the exit pupil (at the rear of the lens) far straighter than otherwise. Lenses designed for film cameras were essentially non-centric and the deal here is that with telecentric-designed lenses, light reaches the image sensor more fully and in a less askew fashion. When that happens, the sensor catches far more light all the way to the periphery.
Again in practical terms, a Four-Thirds DSLR like the E-510 will have a better chance at producing more accurate (read less exaggerated) colours. This also means that there is lesser need to rely on the image processor to do any prodigious in-camera colour correction.
Like its siblings and past models, the E-510’s Four-Thirds mount does not make a good fit for Olympus’ renowned Zuiko legacy lenses. To do that, you’ll need to get a lens adaptor that enables OM compatibility so that these lenses fit. However because the Four-Thirds mount lacks mechanical coupling, none of its electrical contacts would work with the Zuiko lenses. You’ll focus manually and open-aperture metering isn’t possible but for owners of Olympus’ famous line of OM System cameras, the existence of the adaptor will be a godsend as it means that they needn’t ditch the lenses that made the company so famous for its optical qualities.
One interesting point about the E-510’s kit lenses is that their rear mount flange is no longer made from brass or chromium. What you get now is plastic (shock horror) but not the type you’re probably thinking or assuming. If you like the way the E-510 feels in your hands, you ought to by now understand that there are different qualities of plastic available. The type used for the lens mount flange is rigid, hard and highly durable. Tests at Olympus have proven that repeated removal and mounting of the lens does not wear out the plastic flange and it will take an ox to damage it. In any case, I’d wager a bet with anyone that all Olympus has done is to pave the way for other camera manufacturers to merely follow suit. So watch this space.
As far as lens availability is concerned, Olympus’ initial weak point was that it had to start building a complete range from scratch while its immediate competitors brought along their legacy lenses that gave them a head start. But it wasn’t a head start that the company wanted at any rate. For Olympus, it was more strategic and superior in a long run to begin building a range of lenses that were optically digitally optimised than not.
From a starting point of only four, today you can equip your E-510 with not just Olympus’ Zuiko Digital range but also those offered by Sigma and Panasonic/Leica. There’s precious little that you want that you cannot find and at any rate, the range is growing continuously.
For more information on the complete range of Four-Thirds lenses available for the E-510, go to the official Four-Thirds website at http://www.fourthirds.org or click here.
Sensor format name: Four-Thirds; Lens mount type: Four-Thirds; Lens compatibility and support: Via Olympus, Sigma, Panasonic and Leica Four-Thirds lens ranges; Sensor type: Negative metal-oxide semiconductor (nMOS) or LiveMOS; Sensor size: 17.3 x 13.0mm or 0.7” x 0.5”; Aspect ratio: 1.33 (4:3); Equivalent 35mm film focal length: Approximately twice the focal length; Absolute pixel density count: 11,800,000 pixels; Working (effective) pixel density count: 10,000,000 pixels; Filter array type: Primary RGB colour; Anti-aliasing correction: Fixed low pass filter (LPF)
5. Sensor dust removal
Although not exactly an outgrowth of the technologies promised by Four-Thirds per se, Olympus’ E-series DSLR line-up have been a showcase of pioneering ideas that continue to be its key highlights and the E-510 continues this tradition in stunning fashion. Never one to follow, Olympus’ tradition of upstaging its competition has long been recorded for decades and in the digital age, the E-1 introduced the world’s first in-camera dust-reduction sensor mechanism.
Called SSWF – for Supersonic Wave Filter – this feature addresses the susceptibility of image sensors to dust and that often can happen during a change of lens. Since then every single Olympus DSLR has featured it and through collaboration, both Panasonic and Leica also provides the same technology.
It’s always interesting in hindsight to look at an innovative piece of idea that many scoff at but eventually pick up the pieces and run with it. This is the case with SSWF. When the E-1 followed by the E-300 came equipped with it, the industry was divisive over the feature with most if not all other camera manufacturers pitched at the other end of the fence, decrying what they claimed was unnecessary, unworkable and unimportant. And they stuck to their bargain for a while.
By the time the E-400 was launched, Canon, Sony and Pentax released new DSLR models that offered variations of the same theme – certainly a testimony to the company’s foresight – although independent tests have frequently proven that none worked as effectively as Olympus’ pioneering effort.
Technology name: Supersonic Wave Filter (SSWF); Mechanical type: Resonating filter in front of image sensor; Resonance frequency: Approximately 750 hertz; Activation procedure: Pre-start and when lens is mounted; Dust collection method: Adhesive tape collector
6. LiveView LCD
The E-510’s LiveView LCD is courtesy of its ten-megapixel NMOS (also known as LiveMOS) sensor. Ditching the CCD in favour of a CMOS-based sensor design meant that it follows the lead of the E-330 in offering the ability to view your subject without resorting to the optical viewfinder.
Although by and large, DSLR shooting is viewfinder based, the option of using LiveView means that difficult or awkward shooting angles are now a thing of the past because you need not have to lie on the ground or wish for a ladder you don’t have. Unlike the E-330, the E-510’s LiveView implementation allows you to flip the reflex mirror out of the way for the sensor to read and relay the image live without autofocusing. To get the AF to work, you’ll need to press the AFL/AEL button and wait.
The entire mechanism is not as refined as the one you find in the E-3 but it isn’t too shabby either. When you press the shutter release button to shoot, the mirror must return to position for the autofocusing to work and then flips up once more for the exposure. Once the exposure is completed, the mirror comes back down only to move out of the way since the LiveView mode is still enabled.
For all the wordiness here, the system actually works a lot less clumsily than with the E-330. There are some tangible improvements but the feature can still do with a bit more. Subsequent DSLRs from Olympus will come with LiveView as a standard feature and by the time the next model arrives in 2008, SSWF will be a more polished act again.
The E-510’s LCD panel is competitive in size. At 2.5 inches measured diagonally, it is sufficiently large. Any larger and two things will result. Firstly the camera will have to be proportionately larger in size. You lose the benefit of the E-510’s compact form factor. It will also be heavier because the LCD is entirely made from glass. Moreover a larger LCD will emit more heat and this can compromise on the integrity of the image you view through it.
At 230,000 pixels, the E-510 is up there with the competition but interestingly when reviewing the images you have captured, it doesn’t seem to be as sharp as you might expect. That gives you a false feeling that perhaps the autofocusing didn’t work so well or that you might have misjudged the subject. You could even think that you need to improve the Sharpness setting. However when you use the Magnify feature to draw the image closer, you’d realise that after all, the image is sharp. I can only put that to the fact that at ten (10) megapixels, there’s a whole lot of image data that 230,000 pixels can’t quite cope.
By default, the brightness level of the LCD is not going to be enough when you review your shots in broad open daylight especially under a hot scorching sun. No amount of shading that you can provide with your cupped hand will actually help. The image just simply disappears into darkness. Unlike the E-3 with its Luminance Detection Sensor that automatically regulates the brightness, you have to access the E-510’s menu to incrementally improve its viewability until which point you are satisfied with it. Needless to say, you’ll have to manually revert to a less bright mode when you shoot under night conditions.
Rather ridiculously, some people are wont to make direct comparisons between the E-510 and the more exotic E-3 when it comes to the LCD panel. Because the latter has an articulating arm that enables the panel to be twisted to angles that suit your use and the E-510 hasn’t doesn’t mean very much. The cost of building that feature in wouldn’t have made it competitive in pricing terms. Clearly you cannot have everything in the E-510 if you expect to pay this smaller sum compared to the E-3.
In any case, the E-510’s LCD has an all-round viewing coverage of 160 degrees and that is in practice extremely useful because you’ll find that perhaps having no articulation might not be such a bad omission. When I place the E-510 close to the ground, I can still see the LiveView in action without setting my body on to the ground. Similarly I can also have the E-510 well above my head with both my arms fully extended and yes, I can still see the image clearly. So with or without an articulating arm, the E-510’s fixed LCD panel still does the job well.
Live preview type: LiveView via low-heat output liquid-crystal display (LCD) thin-film transistor (TFT) panel with proprietary HyperCrystal technology; Field of view: 100%; LCD panel size: 2.5” measured diagonally; LCD panel construction type: Glass; LCD pixel density count: 230,000 pixels; Brightness level: Manually controllable via seven available steps accessible via the menu; Maximum angle of view: 160 degrees in all directions; LiveView technology: ‘Mode B’ with locked-up mirror and no autofocusing; LiveView autofocusing activation: Possible via AFL/AEL button; LCD panel articulation: Fixed, non-articulating; LCD operating levels: Off (fully disabled), Control Panel view, Menu view, image review and LiveView; LiveView information: 100% field coverage during LiveView, 7/10X magnification possible and histogram; Depth of Field preview capability: Available
7. Third-generation imager technology
In its third iteration, Olympus’ TruePic imager technology has matured dramatically. It can be said that with the E-510, TruePic III has now turned an important corner because of some very measurable improvements that signal the company’s new-found competitiveness in the areas it was weak.
Before the E-410 and E-510 hit the market, models like the E-500 and before suffered from relatively poor noise behaviour beyond ISO 400. It wasn’t as bad as some product reviews made it out to be but it wasn’t that competitive either.
The E-510’s TruePic III offers new and advanced algorithms to resolve noise at higher ISO settings. Now at ISO 800, images are pleasantly clean to the visible eye but I have noticed that given the darker or shadowy passages, there are still small traces although noise behaviour seems more uniform and very film grain-like, which is more than acceptable. For most of the times, ISO 800 is entirely usable to the point that whenever I have indoor assignments to cover that’s the setting I use without much thought given.
ISO 1600 gets a touch noisy but still very usable if you have no choice. If it’s a case of having a picture or not having one at all, the E-510 will produce one at ISO 1600 that you can clean up with a software program like Noise Ninja, which I have not tried but I have heard nothing but impressive news.
At ISO 100 to 400, the E-510 produces superb clarity and if you have the choice, these are the settings you’ll want to use although it must be said that ISO 100 is actually a bit more like ISO 125.
Olympus has also developed TruePic III with a lot more headroom than ever before. This can mean a few things. Firstly the fact that the E-3 shares the same processor suggests plenty that with the built-in headroom, it is designed to do far more than what the E-510 is currently. With a bit more firmware updates arriving, do not be surprised that some interesting new features might make their way.
Imager technology: Olympus TruePic; Imager name: Olympus TruePic III; Auto ISO range: ISO 100 to 400 inclusive; Manual ISO range: ISO 100 to 1600 inclusive; Manually selectable ISO steps: 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1600