For less than $1,000, substantially less if you shop online, it's
possible to get a two-lens digital SLR camera outfit that delivers
stunning photos at a resolution of 10 megapixels.
Such an assertion would have seemed ludicrous a couple of years ago,
but that's how quickly the camera market is changing. Last week, for
example, Nikon announced a $3,000 professional-level digital SLR
camera. Its sensor, the computer chip that records images, is said to
be the same size as a 35mm film negative. The camera is said to
compete with a similar model from Canon.
Most of us aren't in need of such high-powered gear, and for us, a
camera such as the Olympus E-510, unveiled earlier this year, is
highly worthwhile. I last looked at an Olympus two years ago, and
found the 8-megapixel E-300 an outstanding value. Along with the
25-percent increase in megapixels (the more of those, the bigger an
enlargement you can make) the E-510 is lighter, has a larger LCD
screen, and packs an armload of features into the camera.
Did I say this was a bargain? The list price is just under $1,355, but
you can find it online at amazon.com for $891.13, and
One of the smarter ideas Olympus has had here, one echoed by at least
one other digital SLR maker, is to offer a package with more than one
lens, and to do so at a reasonable price. The E-510 unit I've
evaluated came with two Zuiko lenses: 14-42mm at f/3.5-5.6 and
40-150mm at f/4.0-5.6. The two ranges can take you from rather wide to
rather close, and while there's always room for other lenses in a
camera bag, these should cover most situations a committed amateur
The camera received its "break in" during a drive along Skyline Drive
in the Shenandoah National Park, one of my favorite photo spots.
Unlike an earlier trip, I didn't run across a black bear in the woods,
but snapped some great panoramas, some neat cloud scenes and several
nice trees. It was nice having the two lenses, and nicer still having
a 2.5-inch LCD display on the back of the camera, making it easy to
In operation, the camera performed marvelously, snapping pictures
rapidly and providing good battery life off a single charge. The
camera uses Compact Flash, or CF, as well as xD-Picture Card
format cards to save images; at the default settings, my 512
Mbyte CF card could store 262 such snaps, or more than seven
36-exposure rolls of 35mm film.
The camera's capacity for instant playback of images, a digital SLR
staple, is enhanced by a thumbwheel with which you can zoom into the
image, and arrow buttons which let you move around. Photos shot in
"portrait," or vertical, mode are "righted" in the LCD, another nice
Getting the photos from camera to computer can be accomplished either
via USB cable or placing the CF card in an appropriate bay on the PC
or an adapter. The E-510, by the way, is said to be "Certified for
Windows Vista," which means it's supposed to play well with the latest
Microsoft Corp. operating system.
The camera could play a tad nicer with Mac OS X Tiger, since it takes
an extra step to import photos from the E-510 to Apple's IPhoto '08
, something I didn't notice with the E-300 and earlier IPhoto
iterations. Once completed, however, the photos move over quickly and
The choice of a digital SLR can, it seems, largely comes down to
personal tastes: there are Nikon fanatics and Canon aficionados. But
Olympus does a very good job with its cameras, the E-510 is light,
seems rugged, and offers an exceptional value for the money, beating a
similar Nikon offering by about $160 in price and several ounces,
which can count when hiking around. Check out the E-510 - I don't
believe you'll be disappointed.