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Personal: Olympus E-520 Double Zoom Kit

Posted by Roy Triesscheijn on Friday 20 November, 2009


After working with my fathers’ old Pentax K1000 (which is really old as you can see here ) until it finally broke down a few years back (Leaky shutter). I haven’t been doing much photography at all. But recently my little brother bought a Canon 1000D and I found out that I just couldn’t resist not touching it :). So blood began to boil, a few weeks past and then I just had to buy myself a new camera.

Because my budget is pretty limited, being a student and all, I set myself the task to find the best possible camera €300,- could buy me. Quickly I narrowed it down to these camera’s:

Nikon Coolpix P90 (€290~410)
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 (€307~403)
Casio Exilim EX-FH20 Zwart (€280~350)
All good bridge camera’s in my price range. As an added bonus the Casio has an excellent film setting, the Nikon has great image quality (for a bridge camera). And the Panasonic just caught my eye as a nice all rounder. As you no doubt have noted hower, the title of this post is the Olympus E-520, which isn’t on this list, and isn’t a bridge camera. I looked at bridge camera’s because I didn’t think I could afford a nice DSLR. However after using excellent pricewatch to check if I had missed any cameras in my price range I came across the Olympus E-520 Double Zoom Kit package. At first I thought I was being fooled with, a fully functional DSLR, on par with the Canon 1000D, and two zoom lenses listed for less than €300,- by the cheapest store (Azerty, Netherlands) . After checking out the store reviews I came to realize that this was a reliable store and that this either was an insane offer or a mistake. Quickly I payed for the kit and had it send to me. And to my delight I really got it for only €285,-. Shortly after I bought the camera there though the normal price was restored and the kit is now listed there at €640,- (although there are a lot cheaper stores selling it for the more adequate €400,-, I guess they want to undo some of the damage 🙂 ).

After toying around with the camera I really felt like a price winner. I’ve given a quick review on both and the store, but I’ll try give a more detailed one here as well.

The review

Facts / external reviews

First some basic facts. The kit I bought is the Olympus E-520 Double Zoom kit, featuring two zoom lenses by Zuiko Digital (Olympus’ daughter corporation that makes some of the most excellent kit lenses, outclassing those of Nikon and Canon).  The first lens is the Zuiko Digital 14-42mm 1:3.5-5.6 listed at here. The lens scores very good for a kit lens and gets the ‘recommended seal’.  The second lens is the Zuiko Digital 40-150mm 1:4.0-5.6. It hasn’t undergone a decent lens review yet but in a short summary here, says

“Covering a focal range of 40-150mm (equivalent to 80-300mm on a 35mm camera), this 3.8x zoom lens offers superb mid- to telephoto functionality at an attractive price. A fast f-stop of f3.5-4.5 gives Olympus E-300 owners ample opportunity to get creative by extending their telephoto capabilities.”

So,  excellent lenses! But ofcourse these lenses are useless if the body isn’t able to handle them. Luckily reviewed this camera in a 32 page review here. Listing it as just falling into the Highly Recommended category. I’ve taken the liberty of copying the most important pros and cons directly so you can view them without clicking through 32 pages :).

Conclusion – Pros
Good image quality at low ISO settings
In-body image stabilization means the benefit is seen with all lenses
Control panel display allows quick access to the important shooting parameters
Generally snappy performance (though it would be nice to disable SSWF at every startup)
Supersonic Wave Filter ensures no dust on sensor
Quality kit lens
Conclusion – Cons
Dynamic range limited compared to the rest of class – can lead to more easily clipped highlights
Small viewfinder
Disappointing high ISO performance
Menu structure a little longwinded (especially the setup menus)
Auto focus provides only three focus points, although AF performance good

So it’s not the camera to take with you on a nightly trip, but still it has a very good price/quality ratio.

Personal Experience

Well let’s tell something new instead of just copying (I can’t help it, they are just so thorough). When I first started using this camera I was a bit overwhelmed with options. Especially the setup menu was a bit cumbersome, leading me to frequently ‘wrong click’ which made the setup menu disappear. It was a bit strange walking trough context menus by pressing left and right. Some options really require to use the manual. For example I wanted to set the image format and quality the camera saves the photos in, and I just couldn’t find it. Turns out that instead of image format, or something else descriptive the menu option is hidden behind some kind of arrow icon. The settings weren’t very clear either, L/M/S and F/N (and RAW and RAW+JPEG with one of these combinations of options). After reading a bit trough the manual (which is very clear, and has a good index) I got the hang of it and selected the highest resolution and quality setting for JPEG.

After a bit of shooting I found out that I head a dead pixel in the sensor, these things can happen, it’s not easy to get 10M light sensitive ‘pixels’ on rectangle with a diameter 4/3rd of an inch. The dead pixel was always bright and began to annoy me. Right before I was sending the camera back for repair I came across a helpful fellow who told me to try the pixel mapping feature. (More about that here). This option tries to detect if there a haywire pixels in the sensor and turns them of and compensates for them. I tried as hard as I could but I can’t find any evidence now of there ever being a dead pixel. This option is really valuable!

So then the time came to really get some photos cracking. I love the way the shooting options are set via some sort of “super menu” on the display. By pressing ok once you can freely move over the tiles which represent options and pressing ok again allows you to change the current option to whatever you like. This gives an easy review of the settings you are shooting with, as well an easy way to change them. Of course the most important options are visible in the ocular piece as well.

I’m in love with the ‘paparazzi’ mode which lets you shoot about 3.5 photos per second. And if your CF or XD card is fast enough you can keep doing this until the card is full. (You need at least a card capable of writing 20MB/s).  One oddity about those CF and XD cards btw. Al tough the camera works fine with both XD and Compact Flash, only XD cards ‘unlock’ the panorama setting in the scene menu, very weird.

The photos seem very sharp in places where there is enough light. If there is not enough light the camera sometimes has trouble auto focusing, luckily you can always switch to manual focus with the touch of one button or set the flash to help focusing (even if you don’t want the flash to fire for the photo itself). The photos taken with flash don’t feel so worn out as usual, the white balance options really compensate a lot for this, and thus even flashed photos look warm and great. (But of course you can manually adjust the white balance settings and program).

I really love how feature full this camera is, it’s really a full grown DSLR, but in a pretty compact shape. Its’  body slightly smaller than the Canon 1000D and the lenses, thanks to the FourThirds system are a lot smaller, keeping everything very neat and compact. So this camera is definitely right for someone who wants to do more than just study/indoor photograph. The body and lenses are sturdy and feel less plastic than the Canon and Nikon starter DSLRs. However the camera is not weatherproofed (you’d need a few levels up in the Olympus product catalog).

I don’t know much about lenses so I don’t feel comfortable giving an outspoken opinion about them, so let’s get to the  conclusion.

I think the Olympus E-520 Double Zoom kit has an extremely good value for money. Because of the size of its sensor and the quality of the lenses this camera outclasses every bridge camera out there. It’s also a camera that can keep up nicely with the big boys (Canon and Nikon) in the starter segment of DSLRs. Great white balance, good quality lenses, a sturdy compact body and full featuredness are big pluses for this camera. Of course there are a few lesser points like the poor performance on high iso’s but I as a whole this camera is excellent. Especially if you consider what I paid for it.

Because I’m not a professional photographer, I haven’t shot any really nice pictures yet with this camera. However I can’t review a camera without posting at least one picture. So here’s a picture of one of our cats. The composition is not great but I hope you’ll be distracted by his smirk :). (Artifacts are largely due to the image upload service of tinypic)



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