Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Olympus E-510 DSLR (Updated)

I recently had the chance to play around with a friend's Olympus E-510 DSLR.

A lightweight, entry level DSLR with 10MP, body IS and live view, based on the smaller 4/3-sensor system. With the two kit lenses, it's probably the lightest image stabilized DSLR available covering the range from 14mm (24mm effective) to 150mm (300mm effective). An ideal hiking DSLR for weight weenies.

However, I wanted to see how the smaller sensor performed in low light conditions. One of the biggest and most obvious differences between pocketable P&S and DSLR cameras is the amount of noise in the image at higher ISO levels. This is generally related to CCD/CMOS sensor size (small with P&S cameras) and the number of megapixels (MP).

As an informal test, I took the following interior picture of the main library at the University of Arizona. Handheld with body image stabilization (IS) on.

100% crops of the bookcases:
400 ISO (1/30s, f4.0, 40mm)
800 ISO (1/30s, f4.0, 40mm)
1600 ISO (1/60s, f4.0, 40mm)

What does one look for? A noisy image obviously. But also bear in mind that at high ISO values, most DSLR apply some form of noise filtering (NF), i.e. smoothing, at the expense of detail by default. The E-510 does this: I used the default settings. (It can be switched off.)

You can see both an increase in the noise and loss of detail from 400 to 800 to 1600 ISO.

I opened a thread on the thread itself got a bit noisy, but there were some good suggestions put forth:
  • The noise filter is too strong at default setting. It should be either OFF or LOW to give a fair high ISO test.
  • The first thing I noticed about your photo is that it is slightly underexposed and the majority of tones are below the halfway point of the histogram. This is fairly common with the E-510 using ESP metering in low contrast indoor settings. All digital cameras show more noise in the shadow areas and the E-510 is no exception, so when using ESP metering indoors I generally add +0.7 EC.
Unfortunately, I'm not going to be able to borrow the camera again for a while. I'd love to repeat the test.


  1. just curious why the shutter speed and f-stop did not change between iso 400 and 800?

  2. so what? 4/3 sensor isn't much smaller than APS size. all that cameras has noise and difference isn't much. having slightly less noise Canons are less friendly, costs more and has worse kit glass (no IS), so E510 is a winner. let see what Olympus offers vs Canon 450D.
    E510 is perfect for a price!

  3. It's necessary to set the camera Noise filtering NF to none for low ISOs! This is a mistake by olympus programmers who remains NF set on even in low ISO.
    Could you publish a new picture with ISO 100 with NF off? Maybe we will be able to read a book names.

  4. Well, ISO 100 won't be possible handheld.

    I'd have to arrange to bring my Gitzo tripod if I ever get the chance to borrow the E-510 again. But it's not something I carry around usually.

  5. Thank, I will looking for next iso100 with combination NF (noise filtering - math operation but with blur effect) set off and NR (noise reduction - auto subtraction of second black picture) set on.

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