PDA, Notebook and Phone Reviews and buyers guide

PDA Phone Notebooks Gaming Gadgets iPhone & iPad Shop Discussion


Home -> Gadget Reviews -> Olympus EVOLT E-500

Olympus EVOLT E-500

Editor's rating (1-5):
Discuss this product
Where to Buy

Reviewed July 6, 2006 by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief

Digital photography and I go way back. My first digicam was the Apple QuickTake, a VGA affair that looked more like an underwater exploration pod than a camera. Needless to say 1) I've been using these things for a long time 2) I had film SLR cameras for those times I wanted to take "real" pictures. Well, those days have long passed and film cameras are going the way of the dinosaurs. Digital has gotten that good, both in the point and shoot and SLR segments. The drawback is high end dSLRs can set you back over $2,000 (and that's just for the body). The bright spot is that prosumer, "entry level" digital SLR cameras can be found for just under $1,000, with a few being significantly under that price, including a kit lens. That's a lot more than their film counterparts, but not much more than a high end digital point and shoot.

Olympus E-500

The Olympus EVOLT E-500 is one of the bargains among entry level digital SLR cameras. For around $799 you get the 8 megapixel camera and two kit lenses covering the most commonly used ranges in photography. Nice. Unlike the tepidly received EVOLT E-300 which was quite high tech and eschewed too much of the standard SLR design (it was a flat-top with no pentaprism and had a 4:3 aspect ratio instead of the normal film ratio), the E-500 is the more "normal" dSLR we'd hoped Olympus would produce with a pentaprism. They still keep the 4:3 ratio, but that will be covered later and isn't necessarily a bad thing.

The E-500 is one of the more compact and lightweight digital SLRs, weighing in at 15.34 ounces, with controls and menus systems that a relative novice can easily comprehend. The camera's black polycarbonate plastic housing feels solid, and all dSLRs in this price range have plastic bodies, not metal. It comes with everything you need to get going other than a memory card and no digital SLR comes with a memory card in the box. It feels good in the hands, and is a bit larger and more solid feeling than the Canon Digital Rebel XT (which men often complains feels too small in the hand).

The thing to know about Olympus is that they've gone full force into digital and quit film altogether. That means that they have a nice range of digital-only lenses (the Zuiko digital line) which are a perfect match for the dSLR's sensor size and cpu. As of this writing, Olypmus has 14 Zuiko digital lenses from fisheye to ultrawide zoom to macro and long teles. Prime lens lovers should note that Olympus offers only macro and long telephoto primes, though the 35mm and 50mm macros work well as "regular" non-tele prime lens. Since lenses are equally as important as the body when it comes to image quality, and you might find yourself growing into different shooting scenarios which call for additional lens types or simply better lenses, it's important to know that the selection is there. Though some folks call Zuiko lenses expensive, they are in the middle of the pack when compared to Canon and Nikon's offerings.

The other important thing is that Olympus is the only digital SLR manufacturer to offer cameras with sensor cleaners. The E-500 has a built in "Supersonic Wave Filter" sensor cleaner that runs each time you turn on the camera (it vibrates 35,000 times per second to shake off dust). Dust generally gets on the sensor when you change lens. This happens with film cameras, but the film itself is the sensor, and it obviously gets changed with each frame and roll of film, unlike a permanent digital sensor. Now, it's not all that hard to clean a dSLR sensor yourself (a cleaning is in order when you notice spots in your picture, most easily seen in areas of continuous tone like a blue sky). But entry level dSLR buyers are less likely to want to muck around the innards of a $1,000 piece of equipment, so the feature is compelling.



Deals and Shopping





What the Camera Can Do

The E-500 accepts both CF cards (type I, II and MicroDrive) and Olympus' own xD-Picture Card media, has a large and bright 2.5" LCD and a somewhat small viewfinder with 95% coverage and diopter adjustment. The viewfinder tells you most everything you need to know, and this is pretty much the only SLR which uses the back LCD for further information since it lacks the usual top monochome status LCD window. Once you get used to this, it's not bad, though the big 2.5 color LCD does use power and hence it's usually off on other cameras except for post-shot viewing and menu navigation. The camera can take photos in JPEG, TIFF and RAW formats at a maximum resolution of 3264 x 2448. It's compatible with USB 2.0 but supports only a max of 12 Mb/s which is USB 1.1 High Speed rather than 480 Mb/s USB 2.0 Full Speed connections to PCs and Macs and can output to a TV via the included video cable.

side of camera

The camera with the kit 14-45mm zoom lens.


As you'd expect from an SLR, you can shoot in a variety of manual modes (program, aperture priority, shutter priority and full manual) or choose from auto and a variety of Scene modes (sports, portrait, macro, landscape, night and a custom scene). The E-500 has a 3 point auto focus system (not impressive compared to Canon and Nikon's entry level offerings) and supports manual focus as well as continous auto focus. That said, the AF works quite well and we weren't plauged by soft shots. The camera can take continuous shots at 2.5fps up to 4 frames in RAW or until the card is filled before it runs out of buffer (assuming a very fast CF card is used). That's good enough to capture the grandkids but not fast enough for serious sports coverage. It has a maximum shutter speed of 1/4000 down to 60 seconds in the non-automatic modes and has a self timer. The built in TTL flash has a guide number of 13 (average for its class) and it offers red eye reduction, slow sync and fill flash with a 1/180th sync speed (a little slow, Canon does 1/250 and Nikon does 1/500th). You can manually control the flash up to +/- 2EV.

For an entry level digital SLR, the EVOLT E-500 sports a few high end features such as exposure bracketing, white balance bracketing and ISO that goes all the way down to 100 (Nikon and Pentax low models and even the D70s only go down to 200) up to 400 in auto or 1600 in manual. You can set ISO in 1/3EV increments and set metering to Digital ESP (full frame evaluation), center weighted or spot (some Canon's have been missing spot). Metering was very good in our tests and it only failed us on some of the most challenging shots (contrasty and backlit scenes). But for a camera in this price range, it did a good job.

What's in the Box

The E-500 is available in three configurations: body only, single zoom lens bundle and two zoom lens bundle. The two lens bundle is what you'll find in most stores and represents the greatest value for the money (unless you're into high end glass and want better lenses immediately). Since the EVOLT targets entry level folks, their assumption and mine is that you'll be happy enough with the bundled lenses, making this a great deal for the average buyer. In fact, for the price, the included lenses are decent. Kit lenses are often not the best, but the two zooms make for sharp shots without a hideous amount of pin cushion or barrel distortion.

bottom of E-500

top of Olympus E-500

Notice there's no top LCD!


Olympus includes the camera, a neck strap, viewfinder cover (for long exposure remote shots), 14-45mm f3.5/5.6 Zuiko Digital Zoom Lens, 40-150mm f3.5/4.5 Zuiko Digital Zoom Lens, a hood for each lens (nice touch, those are usually sold separately), Lithium Ion battery (sorry, it doesn't take AA batteries like the Pentax *ist DS), battery charger, USB cable, video cable, a thick manual and a software CD.

Let's Talk Sensors

The E-500, like the E-300 which preceded it, has a 4/3 CCD image sensor with 8.15 effective million pixels. Megapixels aren't everything. Really! But buyers often rely on megapixel ratings just as they do CPU speeds on computers (even though CPU speeds aren't equivalent across different processor types and brands). That said, over a year ago, Olympus had the MP lead with the E-300 and Canon and Nikon's intro level 6MP SLRs (the original Digital Rebel and the Nikon D70) didn't look so hot on paper. The Digital Rebel XT answered the megapixel war by upping the camera to 8MP, but Nikon's D50 and D70s hold steadfastly onto 6MP, which is in some ways the sweet spot for entry dSLRs (you need 6MP to match the imaging capabilities of an SLR, but you don't need more unless you want to print really large pictures (bigger than 11 x 14).

What about that 4/3 sensor? To read in great detail about four thirds sensors, visit Here's the short version: some camera makers like Olympus went with an image sensor that isn't modeled from the 35mm or APS world. They decided to start with a new design just for digital SLRs which would take into account the ways that digital varies from film, such as the effective angle at which light hits a sensor vs. film. 4/3 sensors have the standard computer monitor 4:3 aspect ratio while film and APS-sensor sized digital SLR cameras use the traditional 3:2 (more of a widescreen) aspect ratio. The E-500's sensor size is 17.3mm x 13.0mm while a traditional APS-sized 8MP sensor such as that used on the Canon 30D is 22.5 x 15.0mm. So, the 4/3 sensor is smaller but the size of the sensor vs. the larger mount allows more light to hit the sensor at the required 90 angle, in theory making for better images (brighter, more true colors). Since we're reviewing the EVOLT E-500 and not the 4/3 system, we won't get too much further into the matter. Hard core photographers favor the full-frame sensors used in 35mm film and $4,000 + dSLRs requiring no lens conversion factoring for focal length and giving you an even larger 36mm x 24mm sensor. Or, if they're Nikon people (Nikon only makes APS-sized sensor digital SLRs) and go for the best money can buy. Reduced sensor size does mean smaller, lighter lenses, which casual photographers favor since they won't break their backs lugging gear on vacation. And not all of us have the money or desire to buy a $5,000 camera.

Sample Images

Here are three images taken with the Olympus E-500 and the kit 14-45mm zoom lens. They are unedited other than resized to fit this page. Click on an image to see a larger version. All were shot in JPG SHQ mode at the lowest compression setting.


Sammy, indoors.
f4.7, 1/60th sec, ISO 100, 32mm focal length, flash fired, auto mode.


Sunny day with pool for lots of reflections which the camera handled fairly well.
f7.1, 1/125, ISO 100, 14mm focal length. Landscape mode.


Sony Ericsson W810i. The camera had trouble metering for the dark phone vs. the bright day and underexposed the phone's display. We tried 3 different metering methods and this was the best result. The Nikon D70s and Canon EOS 30D were able to handle this shot.
f8, 1/60th sec, ISO 100, 33mm focal length, program mode.

Image Settings and Menus

The EVOLT E-500 is easy to pick up and use, and is thus well-suited to novices or anyone who doesn't relish reading thick manuals just to take those first few shots. Of course, you'll get the most out of the camera if you do read the manual . Those who've used other Olympus cameras including their digital point and shoot models will feel right at home since the E-500 has similar menus and some of the same Scene modes.

The camera can save images in RAW, TIFF and JPEG formats. JPEG has three quality settings, SHQ, HQ and SQ and you can select the amount of compression in JPEG images. In addition, the E-500 can simultaneously save in RAW and JPEG modes, and unlike the higher-end Canon EOS 30D, you can select any of the JPEG qualities you like when using dual shot mode. The maximum image resolution is 3264 x 2448 and SHQ JPEG files are approximately 4 megs in size with a low compression setting. SHQ (super high quality) is so good that it's hard to see a difference between it and TIFF file formats. Folks who are serious about their image editing and photography will likely still use the RAW mode for its non-destructive image editing power. But for the rest of the world, SHQ turns out a gorgeous picture that you can print at 8 x 10 on a good photo printer with no qualms.

For quick control over images, the E-500 has 5 picture modes: vivid, natural, muted, monotone and sepia. These each tweak contrast, saturation and sharpness settings to produce the desired effect and likely most will use vivid for its strong (but not overbearing) colors and contrast. You can also adjust saturation, sharpness and contrast to your liking should the presets not suffice. For a camera in this price range, you do get an impressive amount of creative control and some higher-end features like exposure bracketing. Nice.


Olympus Master for Mac and Windows ships on the CD included with the camera. You can use it to transfer, backup (to hard drive/CD/DVD), browse images, send them via email, create slideshows and albums, and print images. I don't tend to use the software that ships with cameras since I'm a Photoshop veteran, but Olympus Master is a nice piece of software which shows you histogram and detailed shot data (EXIF) and has a decent palette of image-editing tools.


Good times for dSLR shoppers. It's really hard to go wrong with any of the intro offerings from Olympus, Canon, Nikon or Pentax. The EVOLT E-500 does give a lot of bang for the buck, especially if you go with the 2 lens bundle. It has some of the most user-friendly controls we've seen, that won't scare the pants off of point and shoot folks, feels good in the hand, looks and feels well made and it takes very good photos. The feature set is more advanced than we'd expect from a camera in this price range, which is appealing for more serious photographers and gives novices room to grow. Photos do have a somewhat more "computer-ish" look than the more natural photos from the Nikon D70 and Rebel XT thanks to the camera's image processing algorithms which favor strong contrast and very saturated colors. Those accustomed to digital cameras (the non-SLR variety) won't notice this, and there are a lot of folks who love the vivid and sharp look of processed images over a more film-like look.

Pro: Excellent resolution, great color (accurate and vivid), Supersonic Wave Filter keeps the sensor clean, pretty fast continuous shot mode, lightweight and compact yet still has substance.

Con: Viewfinder is small. 4/3 might be a put-off for traditionalists. Shots over ISO 400 aren't great. Startup time isn't instant (even when automatic sensor cleaning is disabled).

Price: $799 to $899 for 2 lens bundle kit (single lens bundle with 14-45mm f3.5-5.6 and body only packages available as well)

Web Site:

Comparison Shopping: Where to Buy



Type Type Interchangeable Digital SLR Camera
Media Compact Flash Card (Type I, II), Micro Drive, xD Picture Card (Dual Slot)
Imaging Size 17.3mm x 13.0mm
Lens Mount Four Thirds Mount
Compatible Lens Zuiko Digital, Four Thirds System Lens
Number of Effective Pixels 8 million pixels
Image Sensor Type 4/3 type Full Frame Transfer Type CCD solid-state image sensor
Effective Pixel Number 8.15 million pixels
Aspect 4:3
Filter Array Primary color filter (RGB)
Dust Protect Filter Yes - Supersonic Wave Filter
Recording System Recording Format DCF (JPEG), TIFF, RAW
Recording Mode JPEG, TIFF Ver. 6.0 (Exif 2.2), RAW (12bit)
RAW + JPEG Recording Yes: RAW + SHQ/HQ/SQ modes
File Size RAW: 3264 x 2448 Uncompressed Approx. 13.6 MB
TIFF: 3264 x 2448 Uncompressed Approx. 24.5 MB
SHQ: 3264 x 2448 1/2.7 Approx. 6.4 MB
HQ: 3264 x 2448 1/4 / 1/8 1/12 Approx. 4.5 / 2.5 / 1.8MB
SQ: 3200 x 2400 1/2.7 / 1/4 / 1/8 / 1/12 Approx. 6.2 /        4.4 / 2.4 / 1.8 MB
       2560 x 1920 1/2.7 / 1/4 / 1/8 / 1/12 Approx. 3.7 /        2.5 /1.3 / 0.8 MB
       1600 x 1200 1/2.7 / 1/4 / 1/8 / 1/12 Approx. 1.5 /        1.0 / 0.5 / 0.4 MB
       1280 x 960 1/2.7 / 1/4 / 1/8 / 1/12 Approx. 0.9 /        0.6 / 0.3 / 0.2 MB
       1024 x 768 1/2.7 / 1/4 / 1/8 / 1/12 Approx. 0.6 /        0.4 / 0.2 / 0.2 MB
       640 x 480 1/2.7 / 1/4 / 1/8 / 1/12 Approx. 0.3 /        0.2 / 0.1 / 0.1 MB
Viewfinder Type Eye level Penta Dach Mirror type Optical View Finder
View field coverage Approx. 95%
Magnification Approx. x 0.9 with 50 mm Lens set to infinity on -1diopter
Eye Point 16 mm (-1m-1)
Diopter Adjustment Built-in type -3.0 to +1.0 diopter
Focusing Screen Fixed type
Mirror Quick Return Mirror
Viewfinder information AF frame, Shutter speed, Aperture value, AF confirmation mark, Flash, White balance, AE lock, Number of storable still pictures, Exposure compensation value indication, Metering mode, Battry check, Exposure mode, Record mode
Eye Piece Shutter Interchangeable type, EP-4 supplied
Depth of Field Preview One-touch WB Button (Customizable)
Playback Monitor Type HyperCrystal LCD (TFT Color LCD)
Size 2.5 inch
Pixel Number 215,250 pixels
View field coverage Approx. 100%
Brightness Control +/- 7 steps
Auto Focus Type TTL Phase Difference Detection System
Focus Mode Single AF (S-AF) / Continuous AF (C-AF) / Manual Focus / S-AF + MF/ C-AF + MF
Focus Area 3 points
Detection Range EV 0 to 19 (ISO 100)
Focus Area Selection Automatic Selectable / Manual Selectable
AF Assist Lamp Built-in Flash type
AF Lock Locked by first position of Shutter Button/ AE/AF Lock Button (Customizable)
Focus Tracking Available in Continuous AF Mode
Manual Focus Available by rotation of a Lens Focus ring
Available for setting Manual focus operation in AF Mode
Exposure Control Light Metering Mode Digital ESP/Center Weighted Average/Spot (Approx. 2%)/Spot with Highlight, shadow control
Detection Range Digital ESP/Center Weighted Average; EV 1 to 20 (50mm F2, ISO 100) Spot/Spot with Highlight, shadow control; EV 3 to 17 (50mm F2, ISO 100)
Exposure Mode Full Auto, Program with Program Shift/Shutter Priority/Aperture Priority/Manual/Scene Program AE/Scene Select AE
Scene Program Portrait/Landscape/Macro/Sports/Night Scene & Portrait
Scene Select Portrait/Landscape/Landscape & Portrait/Night Scene/Night Scene & Portrait/Firework/Sunset/Macro/Sports/High-Key/Low-Key/ Documents/Beach & Snow/Candle/Children
Sensitivity Auto: ISO100 to 400
Manual: ISO100 to 400, Expandable to 1600 (in each 1/3 EV step possible) (Noise filter is selectable in ISO boost)
Exposure Compensation Up to +/- 5 EV in each 1, 1/2, or 1/3 EV step
AE Lock Locked by first position of Shutter Button / AE/AF Lock Button (Customizable)
Exposure Bracketing 3 Frames in +/- 1, 2/3, 1/2 or 1/3 EV step
White Balance System WB mode Auto WB, Preset WB, Custom WB, One-touch WB
Preset WB Lamp1(3000k) / Fluorescent 1 (4000k) / Fluorescent 2 (4500k) / Fluorescent 3 (6600k) / Daylight (5300k) / Cloudy (6000k) / Shade (7500k)
WB Compensation R-B/G-M up to +/- 7 step in each 2mired step for each Auto / Preset setting
Custom WB Compensation up to +/- 7 step
2000-6000K in 100K steps
6000-8000K in 200K steps
8000-10000K in 500K steps
One-touch Mode 4 one-touch Settings
WB Bracketing 3 Frames with +/- 4/8/12 mired steps
Picture Mode Vivid/Natural/Muted/Black & White/Sepia
Color Mode Color Space sRGB/AdobeRGB
Saturation 5 levels in each Vivid, Natural and Muted mode
Image Quality Sharpness 5 levels in each Picture mode
Contrast 5 levels in each Picture mode
Shutter Type Electronic Controlled Focal Plane Shutter
Shutter Speed A,P,Ps: 1/4000 to 60 Sec. (depends on conditions)
S: 1/4000 to 60 Sec.
M: 1/4000 to 60 Sec. and Bulb (up to 8 minutes)
AUTO: 1/4000 to 2 Sec.
Scene: 1/4000 to 2 Sec (depends on selected mode)
Self Timer 12 or 2 Sec (possible to cancel)
Remote Control Wireless with bulb function by RM-1 (RM-1:option)
Drive System Drive Mode Single/Sequential Shooting
Sequential Shooting Speed Approx. 2.5 fps.
Max. Frame Number on Sequential Shooting RAW; TIFF:4 Frames
JPEG (HQ, SQ); Up to full capacity with high speed Media (with SanDisk Extreme III CF card on default image quality mode {HQ 1/8})
Control Panel Control Panel Information Flash mode, Flash compensation value indication, Metering mode, Focus mode, Record mode, Aperture value, Shutter speed, Battery check, Number of storable still pictures, Image quality adjustment, ISO, Color space, Mono tone, Hi/Lo Key, White balance, Remote control, Self-timer, Exposure level indicator, Exposure compensation indicator, AF frame, Number of storable sequential pictures, Exposure compensation value indication, Auto bracket, Noise reduction, Single-frame shooting/Sequential shooting, Color saturation compensation value indication, Sharpness compensation indication value, AE bracket, WB bracket
Flash Control Type TTL Auto FP/TTL Auto for Olympus Dedicated Flash
Built-in Flash Yes. Flash Guide Number: 13
Flash Modes Auto/Red-eye Reduction/Slow synchro/ Fill-in for Exclusive Flash
X-Sync Speed X = 1/180 Sec.
Intensity Control Up to +/- 2 EV in each 1, 1/2, or 1/3 EV step
Syncro Timing Front curtain and Rear curtain selectable
Multi Flash Control Yes (control built in and ext FL flash independently)
Playback Display Mode Single/Zoom ( 2/3/4/6/8/10/14x)/Index (4/9/16/25 frames)/Calendar View/Slide Show/Light Box View
Information Exposure Mode, Metering Mode, Shutter Speed, F-Stop, Compensation level, ISO, Color Space, WB Mode, WB Compensation Level, Focal Length, Focus Area, File type, Picture Mode
Erase/Protect Function Erase Mode Single/All/Selected
Image Protect Mode Single
Menu Menu category REC1, REC2, Play Back, Custom, Setup
Languages English, German, French, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean (depending on region)
Customize Custom Reset 2 types
External Connector Personal Computer Interface Full Speed USB 2.0 (12Mb/s)
Personal Computer Connector USB connector: MiniB
Video Signal Output Video Out Jack (NTSC or PAL selectable)
X-synchronization Socket (PC Socket) Hot Shoe
Remote Cable N/A
Power Supply Battery Rechargeable Li-ion battery Pack BLM-1/3x CR123A with LBH-1
Battery Check Automatic check
Sleep Mode Yes (1, 3, 5, 10 min. selectable)
Date/Time saving Approx. 5 months using the built-in battery
Size/Weight Dimensions 5 x 3.7 x 2.6 in. (129.5 x 94.5 x 66 mm)
Weight 15.34 oz. (435 g) [body only]
Operating Environment Temperature Operating Range: 32°F to 104°F ( 0°C to 40°C); Storage Range: -4°F to 140°F (-20°C to 60°C)
Humidity Operating Range; 30 to 90%, Storage Range; 10% to 90%
Dust and Splash Proof No


Back to Home Questions? Comments? Post them in our Discussion Forum!