A downside of our rapidly evolving market is that an important feature of a camera goes unnoticed: How well does it hold up? Is it rugged enough to endure normal handling year after year, or does it all fall apart after the thousandth picture? Customers want reassurance on this point, but what can we tell 'em? By the time most people have shot a thousand pictures, the next model has come out. The problem subsides a bit with the Olympus Evolt E-520. It's an upgrade of the well-received E-510, which we were testing a year ago and continue to use. It did not fall apart after a thousand pix.
The E-520 externally is almost the identical camera. The live-view monitor screen is a smidgen larger, and the menu has been somewhat redesigned, but the main advance of the new model is a face-detection tracking system for the autofocus. It's a very logical way to follow focus and is relatively easy to include in a camera. It adds considerable value to the camera without adding considerable price.
The live-view monitor, which permits framing-up with the camera at a distance from the eye, also enjoys an upgrade in the E-520. It permits focusing to be seen before taking the first picture with the live-view monitor. In the E-510, focusing took place after the shutter was pressed. You could have faith that the picture would be sharp, and it would be in focus if you took it a second time. But it was a little disconcerting to frame a blurred picture, and the actual focusing could introduce a short pause between pressing the shutter and actually snapping the picture.
With the E-520 you can see the scene snap into focus on the monitor screen before the first picture is taken. It's simply a more comfortable way to proceed with the process.
The wireless flash system Olympus introduced with their E-3 pro model has migrated to the E-520 as well. This introduces a number of new things for customers to do, and certainly encourages the idea of flash units as add-ons. The idea would not be new to the event photographers who would be drawn to this camera, but to the consumer and prosumer, an idea like off-camera flash might take a little elaboration.
To the nonprofessional market, an off-camera flash represents a degree of sophistication they may think beyond them. If they've seen such products in use at all, it's probably been in studios for fashion shoots and the like, where the photographer needs to light a large area. Multiple flash units can be fired wirelessly to light large areas for the E-520, too, but Joe 'n' Jane Foto may not need to work on such a grand scale. Hence they may not have thought much about the advantages of a single hand-held light source. They may if, for starters, somebody tells them that having a flash that makes light from the side practically guarantees the absence of red-eye.
But there's more to it than that. Ever since flash pictures were made by powder, there's been a harshness to flash that is generally unflattering to faces and declares loudly, "This is camera lighting, not the real lighting of the scene."
A wireless flash permits holding (or standing--the Olympus flash unit comes with a detachable base) the flash off to the side, higher or lower as wished, direct or bounced as wished. It makes a prettier, more natural photo, and provides a range of alternatives--maybe the picture looks best if the flash is held this high, and maybe it looks best with the flash held that high.
Of course, the flash can be mounted in the E-520's hotshoe, like any flash, but it can produce so many more effects from the side, or above, or below. It's a principle that probably warrants a few moments of explanation.
BUNDLE OF FEATURES
Retained from the E-510 are an in-camera image-stabilization system, the Olympus dust-reduction soundwave, and a lot of intelligent little touches--the ISO selection button being a dedicated tab on the back of the camera, changes to light sensitivity are direct and convenient. On the whole, the body remains compact but spacious enough for generally easy handling.
Like the E-510 predecessor, the E-520 contains dual card slots, one for CompactFlash, one for the Secure Digital/MultiMedia Card. The latter has not advanced as dramatically as CF--which soon will be shipping in 32GB capacities--but the second slot has advantages, anyway. It can function as "internal memory" that the customer keeps as backup in the camera, in case he somehow manages to overflow the CF, or is busy downloading the CF when another photo op arises.
The camera cranks about three frames per second for about five or six frames in JPEG format. This once would have been breathtakingly fast, though today DSLRs can reach motion-picture speeds. Still, shooting too fast usually produces a hundred frames that are barely different. It can be more important in sports, but for people pictures, the E-520 could easily suffice.
The E-520 can write each picture in one format, JPEG or RAW, or in both on the same card. This makes it of possible interest to the event photographer, who may be thinking of printing handouts from the camera there on the spot. Combined with face detection, the camera has real possibilities working crowded events. Of course, the typical Joe 'n' Jane Foto work a lot of crowded events, too. Made to sell at around $700, the Evolt E-520 could look attractive to more than one kind of customer.
All customers should take comfort that this is one camera whose legacy is reliable performance--or so its predecessors seem to tell us.