DigitalCameraReview.com
Olympus E-520 First Thoughts
by David Rasnake -  5/12/2008

Announced at the stroke of midnight, the latest DSLR to join Olympus's lineup – the Olympus E-520 – offers some generally light upgrades to the basic aesthetics and functionality of the E-510 platform. Even though it's not a complete reworking of the manufacturer's 500-series model, when word of the new camera's impending launch came down from Olympus, we jumped at the chance to take a pre-production E-520 out for a spin. Having spent several days shooting with the new camera, we offer you an early hands-on look at Olympus's latest DSLR offering.

Olympus E-520
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Compared to most DSLRs it competes against, the E-520 is long and low, with a slightly short, slightly wide arrangement that can make reaching some controls one-handed a stretch. With its deep, nicely contoured grip, the new E model offsets its weight with very good balance all around and a natural two-hand support position.

Olympus E-520
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In my opinion, Olympus's latest DSLRs have been among their best in terms of build quality, and the E-520 lives up to expectations in this regard as well. Rubberized grip pads and tight fit and finish impart a well-made feel.

Olympus E-520
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Buttons tend to click more than press smoothly, and some more solid latch on the E-520's clip-closed card cover would have been a nice upgrade. Beyond this, though, chrome accents and an all-business black textured body come together in a functionally and stylistically cohesive package.

Olympus E-520
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Like the E-510 before it, it's fair to say that the E-520's interface is "button rich." As with its nearly identically laid out 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.

Olympus E-520
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I still can't help but wish that Olympus had made that d-pad just a little bigger, but more nimble-fingered users may feel differently about the matter.

Olympus E-520
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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 suggested price, the shooting experience unquestionably shares more in common with the enthusiast camera set than with most entry-level models.

Olympus E-520
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In the same vein, I'm coming around to the opinion that all DSLRs beyond the entry level should be required to have dual card slots in some fashion (as with previous Olympus DSLRs, the E-520 supports both CF and xD-Picture Card simultaneously). This arrangement, which allows for a "scratch disk and final cull" sorting system, makes a lot of sense and provides the security of in-camera image backup if desired. For anyone who's ever lost a day's worth of priceless shots to a card failure, the implications of this idea are huge and represent one of the clear advantages of digital that simply weren't possible in the film days.

Olympus E-520
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Coming alongside these technologies targeting advanced users, recent leaps-and-bounds advances in live view, which should make many photographers transitioning from compact cameras happy, found their way into the E-520 as well. With the addition of contrast-detection AF to the latest 500 camera and the elimination of any tomfoolery or obtuse button-press combinations in making the camera auto focus, Olympus has created one of the most familiar feeling live view experiences in a DSLR: simply half-press the shutter button to lock focus, and then fire at will. Assuming the final E-520 turns in a performance on par with the similarly speced E-420 – and it looks, from all indications, like it will – the system still won't be fast or fluid enough to appease top-performance technophiles. But if you want the best thing around in live view technology at the moment (which isn't half bad, especially considering the painfully slow and clunky early attempts), you may well be looking at it with the E-520.

Olympus E-520
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With the E-520 sharing its 10 megapixel CMOS sensor and TruePic III processing technology with the E-510, it's probably a safe bet that image quality fundamentals will be very much in keeping with what we've seen already from the previous model. Although the E-520 seems to emphasize upgrades to basic functionality over image pipeline changes, it will be interesting to see whether and to what extent Olympus has tweaked the previous camera's imaging approach for the new model. Sadly, to make that judgment we'll have to wait for a production version with the finalized hardware and firmware.

Based on conversations with Olympus, production-spec review units should be coming down the pike in the near future, meaning the wait to see how this latest entry into the consumer DSLR market stacks up against its competition shouldn't be a long one.