Olympus E-520 Review

by Reads (8,053)
  • Pros

    • Image colors awe without overwhelming
    • Nifty, powerful wireless flash controller
    • When the AF's fast, it's very fast
    • Powerful custom options make it feel more expensive than it is

  • Cons

    • When the AF's slow, it usually just gives up
    • Shots are noisy next to those from competition
    • Interface can be confusing, lots of dedicated buttons
    • Tries to do too much?

Though we’ve seen some great cameras emerge as a result of seemingly minor upgrades, it’s mostly been a year of light makeovers, slight tweaks, and progressive developments in the consumer DSLR space. With all of the phenomenal power that’s been released in the upper half of the market since last summer, interchangeable-lens cameras for the masses have largely been laying back to ride whatever waves of technology roll in from their more advanced brethren.

Olympus E-520

Built on the solid E-510 platform, the Olympus E-520 is the latest light overhaul to head our way. Without a new sensor or processor to fall back on for this latest iteration, Olympus has focused its efforts on tricking out the previous model’s baseline performance. From this, the E-520 returns with more options and soft features than ever in hopes, it would seem, of making the new 500-series model the camera for everyone – novices and serious shooters alike.


The latest DSLR from Olympus to use the familiar 10 megapixel “Live MOS” CMOS sensor, the Olympus E-520 brings a combination of user-friendly features and advanced options that is somewhat unique among its competition. Top-level specs and features include Olympus’s TruePic III image processing technology, mechanical image stabilization, a live view system that allows auto focus without interrupting the on-screen preview, and wireless flash control.

Like every new Olympus DSLR, the E-520 uses the open-format Four Thirds lens mount and accompanying smaller sensor. As a result, lenses on the E-520 are subject to a 2x field-of-view crop factor – meaning the E-520’s 14-42mm kit lens functions like a 28-84mm unit. As with other Four Thirds cameras, the E-520 can use compatible system lenses from other manufacturers (including Panasonic and Leica), with the caveat that not all camera functions are compatible with other manufacturers’ lenses.

On the processing side, the E-520 packs two of the hottest technologies in the digicam market: face detection and a dynamic range expansion tool (what Olympus calls “Shadow Adjustment Technology”). As it turns out though, both systems proved to be a bit of a disappointment in this particular device. Shadow Adjustment Technology, which can be set to one of the E-520’s many user-customizable function keys, simply didn’t show the kind of huge shadow-expanding results we’ve seen from some competitive systems. Likewise, face detection felt just a bit too tacked on in this application, showing some serious difficulty in quickly and accurately recognizing faces. Of course, to use face detection you also have to use live view, and given the limited effectiveness of the first system and the compromises required by the second (more on that in the sections that follow), I’m inclined to just skip the whole business.

Though some of its gadgetry may not be as polished as I might have liked, the E-520 works hard to make up for these minor annoyances by being an excellent camera where basic shooting is concerned. The camera features the following primary shooting modes:

  • Auto: Camera selects all exposure values
  • Program: Auto exposure mode with user control for flash settings, metering mode, etc.
  • Shutter Priority: User selects shutter speed, and camera calculates aperture for correct exposure
  • Aperture Priority: User selects aperture, and camera calculates shutter speed for correct exposure
  • Manual: User selects both aperture and shutter speed
  • Scene: A total of 20 scene presets are available

Like most DSLRs in this class, the Olympus puts its more general scene presets (landscape, portrait, sports, etc.) on the mode dial with the P/A/S/M options, but also repeats them in the illustrated on-screen shooting situations list.

Olympus E-520

A total of 20 presets, including two underwater modes (which specifically advise against taking the E-520 for a swim without a housing), are available.

As with previous Olympus DSLRs, the E-520 has separate slots for Compact Flash and XD-Picture Card memory types. Shooters can use two cards – one of each type – simultaneously, with a shooting-screen option for selecting which card is being written to.

For a detailed listing of specifications and features, please refer to the specifications table found at the bottom of the review.


Olympus’s DSLR designers have always taken a slightly quirky approach to camera form, imbuing their creations with a signature look and feel. Building on the E-510, however, the E-520 is more conventional in size and shape than Olympus’s smaller 400-series DSLRs.

Styling and Build Quality

Olympus has been carrying around the same basic look seen in the E-520 in their DSLRs since back when they all had names that included “Evolt.”

Olympus E-520

If Olympus’s trademark techno styling doesn’t have the hipster energy behind it that it once did, the design hasn’t quite run out of steam just yet: the E-520 isn’t at the front edge of fashion, but it doesn’t look notably dated either.

Olympus E-520

More importantly, excepting a card slot cover that doesn’t quite feel up to snuff, the E-520 is as solid feeling and bricklike as any Olympus DSLR that’s come before it. Buttons and dials all click reassuringly, and the slightly heavy camera’s textured finish gives off a feeling of ruggedness and quality.

Olympus E-520

Ergonomics and Interface

Ergonomically, the E-510 and E-520 are essentially indistinguishable. The camera’s dense body and long, low layout are a comfortable fit in my hands, with a rubberized front-side grip and back-side thumb rest falling in just the right places. Though its slightly different body shape and physical control arrangement give it a different feel from most of the DSLRs out there, after several full days of shooting I couldn’t come up with any serious ergonomic concerns with the E-520’s basic in-hand feel.

Olympus E-520

Like the E-510 before it, it’s also fair to say that the E-520’s interface is “button rich.” As with its nearly identical predecessor, if the newest E runs the risk of sending novice shooters into a panic with the sheer number of controls, seasoned shooters will find the layout transparent and logical once the E-520’s surfaces are mapped to your fingers; similarly, those moving up from previous 500-series cameras should take to the new arrangement almost instantaneously. I still can’t help but wish that Olympus had made the d-pad just a bit larger, but more nimble-fingered users may feel differently about the matter.

Olympus E-520

In many ways, the E-520’s dedicated button and universal control dial arrangement feels like a throwback to the late 1980s and the pinnacle of advanced 35mm SLR development. If you’re indifferent to menu wading, however, this little bit of nostalgia is cause for cheers rather than jeers – the E-520’s control setup means that adjustments to any of the basic shooting parameters are never more than a single button click away. All of this suggests a way of thinking about the user interface not seen in many beginner DSLRs: in spite of the E-520’s sub-$1000 price, the shooting experience unquestionably shares more in common with the enthusiast camera set than with most entry-level models.

Olympus E-520

Even more unique in this price class, the E-520’s bevy of buttons is highly customizable, allowing you to assign different functions to the function, drive mode, and flash mode buttons if you desire. Similarly, the slightly awkward feeling focus-by-wire system used in Olympus’s new lenses – in which the focusing ring is electronically rather than mechanically coupled to the movement of the lens elements – comes with an unexpected benefit: you can configure whether you’d like the focus ring on any compatible lens to turn clockwise or counterclockwise when focusing out to infinity. If you’re coming to Olympus from another system, this kind of programmability offers the ability to get a familiar feel from the new camera right from the start.

Olympus E-520

Olympus’s much discussed on-screen shooting information display (which can be toggled on or off with the INFO button) tends to divide Olympians (and potential buyers) into two camps: those who love the information overload, and those who find it frighteningly cluttered.

Olympus E-520

I understand the arguments of both sides on this one, but in my own experience once you spend a little time figuring out what you’re looking at (which is, in fact, a list of selected settings for everything from sensitivity and white balance to gradation processing style and face detection mode), having access to most every exposure and processing parameter via a single, scrollable screen is not bad at all. Beats the heck out of page after page of menus, in my view.

One bit of confusion, however, comes in the fact that many of the settings that are accessible from the information page using the d-pad and/or scroll wheel also have their own dedicated buttons, menu areas, or both. That’s right: if you want to change the white balance setting, for instance, there are three (count them, three) ways to access the list of presets. It can be a little overwhelming, and reasons for the redundancy (and redundancy on redundancy) aren’t always clear.


Among current consumer cameras, the E-520’s optical viewfinder is toward the front of the pack. About 95 percent of the frame is visible, and finder is both bright and crisp enough to allow manual focusing. Magnification is par for the course in this class, meaning those with less than perfect vision will likely prefer the diopter-corrected view option instead of the “miles from the image” feeling of looking through the viewfinder while wearing glasses.

Through-the-viewfinder information is comprehensive, with the E-520 relaying shooting mode, IS status, and battery life in addition to the usual metering info. I personally dislike the placement of info along the right-hand side of the finder rather than at the bottom, and the “flashing number” metering read-out in manual mode is a bit confusing for those of us more used to a conventional under/over bar presentation.

The E-520 gets a light screen upgrade over the E-510. The new 2.7-inch HyperCrystal II LCD appears to be sharper and more contrasty than its predecessor, though I’m not entirely sold on the color accuracy (our test unit had a bit of a warm cast to its on-screen images). Bright enough most of the time, the LCD does a fine job for image review in normal shooting situations. Several on-screen review, instant playback, and shot information options appear to be new to the new model.

Like most DSLRs with live view, the E-520’s LCD is a bit on the jumpy side when used for shot composition, and grainy to boot. As we noted in reviewing the E-510, it’s certainly a far cry from most point-and-shoot cameras in terms of fluidity. A boost mode gains up the preview image for shooting low light, but at the expense of color information (you get a black and white preview only).

If live view doesn’t always look great, getting into the mode couldn’t be easier. The E-520 features a dedicated live view button that makes calling up the mode dead simple. Several focusing mode options (more details under “Auto Focus” in the next section) provide as much flexibility as any live view DSLR affords these days. While it’s not time to start getting rid of optical viewfinders on DSLRs just yet, as I noted in my initial evaluation of a pre-production E-520, Olympus has created one of the most familiar feeling live view experiences out there courtesy of its point-and-shoot style contrast-detection AF system: simply half-press the shutter button to lock focus, and then fire at will. The system is still slow, but at least it’s convenient.

More on live view performance in the next section.


When we looked at the E-520’s predecessor around this time last year, we came away thoroughly impressed with the performance value it offered. Lots of settings flexibility and superb quickness helped the E-510 respond like a more expensive camera – making it equally good as a bridge device for point-and-shoot users moving up and advanced shooters moving over to Olympus. In spite of the technological advancements of the last year, what made the E-510 one of the more versatile cameras of 2007 still looks pretty fresh in 2008.

Timings and Shutter Lag

The E-520 sprinted to some fairly spirited numbers all around in timings testing. Shutter lag is miniscule – below the .04 second threshold that our testing method can accurately pick up. Suffice it to say the camera is at least as good as – and probably much better than – your reaction time when pre-focused.

Focusing is also reassuringly fast (with one exception, addressed in the next sub-section), with press-to-capture times between .2 and .3 seconds the norm. All of this positions the E-520 fairly high up the entry-level ladder.

Although it didn’t quite live up to Olympus’s 3.5 fps continuous full-res JPEG shooting claim, it’s hard to fault the E-520 too much for the very respectable nine frames in 2.9 seconds (or about 3.1 fps) it turned in. The amount of time it takes the E-520 to recompose itself after the nine-frame buffer is filled, however, depends a lot on the kind of memory you’re using: a standard xD-Picture Card turned in an almost painfully slow buffer flush time of 20.5 seconds – if you can’t completely microwave a TV dinner while you wait, you can at least make a good start on one.

Switch to even a slow CF and clearing the buffer takes just a little more than half as long (12.8 seconds). Moreover, the fact that Olympus included both CF and xD slots on the E-520 shows a real interest in attracting to customers who may be turned off by a semi-proprietary format like xD. Still, if respectable high-speed performance is a concern, the best bet seems to be to steer clear of xD memory with the E-520.

Finally, power-on to first shot times were the one slight oversight in the E-520’s speed equation. It took an average of more than three seconds to turn the E-520, lock focus, and grab that first shot, keeping the new Olympus a step behind the class leaders in this one area.

Auto Focus

As noted, the E-520 is capable of some pretty impressive AF performance. At times, though, the auto focus on the E-520 made me want to party like it’s 1999 – not usually a good thing this far into the next decade. A three-point system like the one in the E-520, albeit a very fast one most of the time, is already an increasing ways back from the cutting edge in this class. Throw some oddball performance into the mix and partygoers may start looking for the door.

In fairness, when the E-520’s AF works – and that’s roughly 99 percent of the time – it’s excellent, with the camera capable of grabbing a lock on just about anything you’re trying to shoot in plenty of time. Where the E-520 struggles is in low contrast (and by extension, low light) situations. In one or two compositions out of 50, the camera will unexpectedly start dancing back and forth across the range with no focus lock in sight. Sometimes it finally grabs focus; sometimes it hangs up and stops focusing completely. It’s almost as if the threshold on the AF sensors is too high, making the camera unable to hit its mark against a target without some contrast variation.

With the E-520’s generally snappy performance, I don’t want to make too much of this one auto focus frustration, but spending a little in-store time with one before you buy might not be a bad idea.

AF modes are conventional (single or continuous), with Olympus’s usual full-time MF override modes also thrown in. Selecting one of the manual-override modes allows the user to simply grab the focusing ring and start manually focusing to shift the camera from AF to MF: no switches, buttons, or settings changes required. Once you get your hands on a camera that does this, you’ll never want to go back.

The E-520 also sports several AF options when using live view. In addition to the standard phase-detection system (which requires the mirror to be lowered for focusing during live view, thus blacking out the live view for more than a second), the E-520 features a slightly quicker “hybrid” system (which uses contrast-detection AF like a compact camera for initial focusing, and then phase-detection for final confirmation) and a point-and-shoot style contrast-detection AF system that doesn’t interrupt the on-screen image for focusing.

Contrast-detection AF is a nice touch that we’ve seen in a few live view cameras, including Olympus’s E-420, this season, but speed is the primary trade-off for convenience in this case. The E-520’s contrast-detection system takes around four seconds – or about eight times as long – to lock focus on average. The fact that the camera sounds like a Dust Buster on overdrive while using the imager-based system doesn’t help my positive impressions of it either. Overall, Olympus continues to innovate in this area and the E-520 makes another step forward, but if you’re hoping for on-screen focusing with the quickness of your point-and-shoot, keep hoping.


The E-520’s onboard flash brings decent power (guide number: 12 at ISO 100) for fill work or other general purpose applications. Exposures with the pop-up unit, which is mounted a little lower than many of its competitors, were appreciably flat, but truthfully no worse than expectations for this sort of thing.

Olympus E-520

As a flash controller, though, the E-520 really shines. A nice selection of settings, including first- and second-curtain slow-sync modes and power compensation modes, are available with the onboard and hot-shoe mounted units. Additionally, one of the E-520’s key upgrades over its predecessor is the ability to wirelessly control multiple external flash units via the E-520 without any additional equipment (other than a wireless-enabled Olympus flash unit, of course).

I took the E-520 for a spin with an Olympus FL-50R flashgun and found everything to be as promised and then some: this is almost certainly the most powerful flash control setup on a camera in this price range.

Olympus E-520

Once RC flash is enabled, the basic setup menu allows you to custom-tailor three mode options (A, B, and C) per channel – allowing the user to configure TTL metering in one slot, manual exposure control in another, and then quickly and seamlessly switch between these user-defined presets. Communication took no time at all to establish on the FL-50R flash unit, and controlling multiple flashguns (I used the Olympus-provided FL-50R plus a borrowed FL-36R) is equally intuitive and flexible.

Serious photographers understand the creative possibilities opened up by lighting positioning, but a consumer camera that allows shooters to explore illumination options without having to fool with sync cords and adapters is something relatively unique. Using TTL metering, exposure was always dead-on, allowing plenty of leeway for novices who want to play with techniques like side-lighting.

Olympus E-520

When considered alongside this camera’s accessible in-camera processing options and eye-popping color, the E-520’s very successfully implemented wireless flash controller makes a strong case in attracting aspiring portrait photographers to Olympus’s camp.

Image Stabilization

IS on the E-520 is of the sensor-shifting variety, meaning that any lens you can mount to the latest Olympus is a stabilized lens. The system automatically gathers focal length information from Four Thirds system lenses, and stabilization is enabled by default.

Shooting in live view permits a nifty trick that actually allows you to see the effects of IS: simply press and hold the dedicated IS button to stabilize the on-screen preview. I’m not entirely sure about the usefulness of this function in the long run, but it’s worth two minutes of play time. Beyond that, it gives a pretty clear idea of just how much shake the system is able to cope with.

System performance proved to be reasonably solid in testing. I had no trouble shooting hand-held with a moderate telephoto lens down to at least 1/20, and pulled off a few sharp 1/5 shots. As with some other camera brands, I dislike Olympus’s IS mode naming conventions, however. The E-520’s three stabilization modes – dual axis, horizontal axis only (which prevents stabilization from interfering with side-to-side panning shots), and vertical axis only (likewise, but for up-and-down panning) – are listed as “IS.1,” “IS.2,” and “IS.3.” Without further on-screen explanation, users are left to dig into the manual to figure out what’s going on.


When many new consumer-grade DSLRs are adding battery grips as an available accessory, the lack of such an option for the E-520 may get some long-day shooters bent out of shape. Thankfully, what was good with the E-510 remains good here, largely mitigating concerns about battery life.

Olympus E-520

As before, Olympus claims to provide 650 shots from a single charge in this application. And as before, it’s hard to argue with their numbers: I took more than 300 shots with the E-520 spanning a few days of “field shooting,” and never saw the battery life indicator so much as flinch. No doubt lots of live view use would eat heavily into these numbers, as would extensive use of the onboard flash. Even so, Olympus continues to offer one of the most longevity endowed combos on the market with this battery and their latest 500-series camera.


“Film-like” is a description that’s thrown around a lot in camera reviews these days. But of this year’s crop of consumer DSLRs, the E-520 may come the closest to capturing the qualities – both good and not so good – of a film image. Images from the E-520 are smooth, a bit soft compared to many digital shots, and can do a decent impersonation of Fuji Velvia with the right combination of settings. The shots are also susceptible to color casts and a bit watery at times. If it’s not exactly the best of both the film and digital worlds, there’s still a lot that’s appealing about this approach.

Olympus’s 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens, used for all of the studio shots that follow, is a decent match for the E-520. While it’s soft wide open, the lens stops down nicely and brings out plenty of contrast besides. Very fine details can be a little ragged, but given that insane fine detail capture isn’t really the name of the game with the E-520 anyway, there’s little concern about the sensor seriously outpacing this lens.

Exposure, Processing, and Color

With the E-520, Olympus takes a fairly conservative image processing approach all around that closely resembles the look and feel evoked by the E-510’s images.

Olympus E-520

Default sharpening with the new model is not particularly strong, leaving some slightly soft edges. Plenty of detail capture, clean demarcations, and in-camera sharpness fine-tuning, however, all make it easier to pull more definition out of the E-520’s shots – either straight from the camera or in post-processing.

Even after custom setting the white balance to account for any inconsistency, the E-520 is prone to rendering colors in all lights that skew somewhat toward the cool side of neutral. Custom white balance tuning allows the proclivity to be largely tuned out when using specific presets, but it’s a bit of an irritation just the same. Interestingly, at least part of the tint seems to derive from the tendencies of the camera’s kit optic, as images processed from RAW showed a slight blue-green shift as well.

Overall, color processing under the default (“Natural”) color rendering is a little more muted than that seen from some competitors – the exception being the E-520’s strong, bold, saturated reds.

Olympus E-520

The Vivid color mode opens up the rest of the range accordingly, with Portrait and Muted settings offer different contrast curves but similarly low saturation levels. The full range of color mode options appears as follows:

Olympus E-520
Olympus E-520
Olympus E-520
Olympus E-520

Though I tend to avoid Vivid color modes, the E-520’s provides a nice image tone that mimics in many ways the look of a good positive film: strong saturation, but without the artificial look of excessive digital saturation. That said, with strong reds even under the default setting, Vivid rendering can push them right up to the point of clipping.

Olympus E-520

In addition to the preset rendering options, the E-520 allows users to custom-set processing options for saturation, contrast, and sharpness. Each parameter has five steps of adjustability, and the resulting combination can be saved as a preset. The only thing that advanced shooters might wish for, in fact, is more than one space to save user-generated presets.

Like the recently reviewed E-420, the E-520 sports a user-selectable gradation processing parameter, which modifies the contrast curve of the resulting image to bring out specific tonal areas. Four settings – Auto (the default selection), Normal, High Key, and Low Key – cover the entire tonal range, and the distance between the highlight-emphasis (High Key) and shadow-emphasis (Low Key) settings is extremely wide.

Olympus E-520
Low Key
Olympus E-520
High Key

Obviously, these settings aren’t doing anything that can’t be pretty easily (and perhaps more pleasingly, given the aggressive mid-tone shifts at work in the examples above) applied in post-processing, but experimenting with how image tone alters the mood of a shot can fun for casual shooting all the same.

Olympus E-520
Low Key

Default multi-area metering tends to be accurate and well tuned to maximize detail preservation, given this sensor’s known slight dynamic range compression compared to many DSLRs. If anything, the E-520 has more difficultly reproducing smooth shadow details: when shooting straight to JPEG, I often found it advantageous to use the Low Key gradation setting and simultaneous push the exposure compensation up slightly as necessary to get a correctly exposed shot with more subtle transitions in the shadow areas.

Olympus E-520

The shadow areas under the leaves in the above shot were almost all lost off the bottom of the spectrum using the default settings, requiring some careful adjustment using the technique above to draw out in a straight-from-camera JPEG.

White Balance

If expectations for auto white balance performance among current consumer DSLRs are admittedly fairly low, the E-520 does better than most in this area. Incandescent light is actually rendered in a way that’s surprisingly pleasing using the auto setting – there’s a hint of warmth that’s true to the way incandescent light looks, but less aggressive color shifting all around.

The standard range of presets, including three custom-set spaces that all users to enter the color temperature, are available. Manually setting the white balance is more difficult than it should be, as one of the function buttons has to be custom mapped to the white balance set control before proceeding.

Sensitivity and Noise

With their smaller Four Thirds sensors, Olympus DSLRs of late have been unable to match the noise performance from competitors with larger sensors. While this is objective true, it’s also fair to say that spotting the difference in most cases requires a print certainly larger than 5×7, and usually larger than 8×10.

Olympus E-520
ISO 100
Olympus E-520
ISO 100, 100% crop
Olympus E-520
ISO 200
Olympus E-520
ISO 200, 100% crop
Olympus E-520
ISO 400
Olympus E-520
ISO 400, 100% crop
Olympus E-520
ISO 800
Olympus E-520
ISO 800, 100% crop
Olympus E-520
ISO 1600
Olympus E-520
ISO 1600, 100% crop

Overall performance from the E-520 looks about on par with what we’ve seen in the past, with more visible noise at ISO 800 and ISO 1600 than we’re used to seeing from a DSLR. The look isn’t nearly as offensive at high ISOs as what comes from a typical compact, however, with plenty of smoothness and a light graininess that is less jarring to the eye. If it’s not the true film-like grain of, say, the Nikon D3, it’s still a perfectly acceptable look that’s significantly better than it could be.

Though it’s disabled by default, the E-520 features a noise reduction; there’s also a separate noise filter with four strength settings: Off, Low, Standard (default), High. The number of settings combinations afforded by these two related but separate systems can be a bit overwhelming, but the first important truth is that noise reduction really doesn’t buy you any significant performance improvement.

Olympus E-520
ISO 1600, NR enabled
Olympus E-520
ISO 1600, NR disabled

From ISO 400 on up, the shots with noise reduction engaged are actually blotchier than those without, and the accompanying edge softness makes NR hard to justify.

High noise filtering has much the same effect when compared to the default setting: there’s clearly less grain, but the increased softness over the Standard setting is considerable.

Olympus E-520
ISO 1600, High noise filtering
Olympus E-520
ISO 1600, Standard noise filtering

Unless you’re a big fan of grain, there’s no real advantage to going lower than the default Standard setting on the noise filter either.

Olympus E-520
ISO 1600, Low noise filtering
Olympus E-520
ISO 1600, No noise filtering

With the noise filter completely disengaged, the shots pick up a healthy dose of luminance noise, though chroma still appears relatively low. If you’re going for the true high-speed film look (and especially for black-and-white shooting), it might be worth it to play with disabling the noise filter altogether. Otherwise, the stock settings really do appear to hit be best balance about ISO 400.

Additional Sample Images

Olympus E-520 Olympus E-520
Olympus E-520 Olympus E-520
Olympus E-520 Olympus E-520
Olympus E-520 Olympus E-520


In terms of overall approach, the E-520 may well be the most flexible consumer DSLR we’ve reviewed this year: whereas the Nikon D60 proved to be an excellent first SLR, and new models from Canon and Pentax have aimed to appeal to a slightly more advanced audience, the E-520 does both at once. Live view, advanced flash control, face detection, and the mother lode of in-camera processing options all reside under one roof. Reading the specs, you might assume this would be an uncomfortable arrangement, but the E-520 surprises again and again with just how well all of these seemingly misshapen parts fit together.

Issues (and perceived issues) with the Four Thirds sensor will remain a hurdle for digital photography purists, and even with all of its noise filtering and fine-tuning options, there’s no denying that the E-520’s high-sensitivity shots simply aren’t as clean as those from APS-C speced competitors. Our reported AF bug may also be worth a raised eyebrow, but as with the noise concerns, unless you’re planning to a lot of low-light shooting you may not even notice. Hence, for casual shooters – especially those interested in exploring a range of different photographic styles – I feel that these technical shortcomings are more than offset by the E-520’s successes as a photographic tool.

Out of all of this, the obvious concern about the E-520’s versatility may be that it tries to do too much without ever landing cleanly in a niche or target market. That said, although I never fully connected with its odd yet somehow highly functional mixture of beginner swag and advanced-am swagger, the Olympus E-520 delivers crisp, colorful shots that are hard to argue with. And for aspiring photographers shopping in the sub-$1000 segment of the market, that may be a convincing enough bottom line in itself.


  • Image colors awe without overwhelming
  • Nifty, powerful wireless flash controller
  • When the AF’s fast, it’s very fast
  • Powerful custom options make it feel more expensive than it is



  • When the AF’s slow, it usually just gives up
  • Shots are noisy next to those from competition
  • Interface can be confusing, lots of dedicated buttons
  • Tries to do too much?


Olympus E-520 Specifications:

Sensor 10 megapixel Live MOS, Four Thirds format (17.3×13.0mm)
Lens/Zoom Four Thirds system mount, 2x crop factor
LCD/Viewfinder 2.7″, 230K-pixel HyperCrystal II TFT LCD; optical viewfinder
Sensitivity ISO 100-1600
Shutter Speed 60-1/4000 seconds
Shooting Modes Auto, Program, Apeture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, Scene
Scene Presets Portrait, Landscape, Landscape+Portrait, Night Scene, Night+Portrait, Children, Sports, High Key, Low Key, Digital Image Stabilization, Macro, Nature Macro, Candle, Sunset, Fireworks, Documents
White Balance Settings Lamp, Fluorescent 1, Fluorescent 2, Fluorescent 3, Daylight, Flash, Cloudy, Shade
Metering Modes Digital ESP, Center-Weighted Average, Spot
Focus Modes 3-point TTL phase-difference detection system, 11-point contrast detection AF; Single AF, Continuous AF, Manual Focus, S-AF+MF, C-AF+MF
Drive Modes Single Frame, Sequential
Flash Modes Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Red-Eye Reduction with Slow Sync, First Curtain Slow Sync, Second Curtain Slow Sync, Fill, Manual, Forced Off
Self Timer Settings
10 seconds, 2 seconds, Off
Memory Formats CompactFlash Type I/II, Microdrive, xD-Picture Card
Internal Memory
File Formats JPEG, RAW
Max. Image Size 3648×2736
Max. Video Size
Zoom During Video N/A
Battery Lithium ion rechargeable
Connections USB 2.0, AV output, DC input
Additional Features Face Detection, Shadow Adjustment Technology, Perfect Shot Preview, Live View, TruePic III image processor
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