The Olympus E-520 is the replacement for the maker's popular mid-range E-510 DSLR camera.
With cosmetic improvements to the finish and controls, the Olympus E-520 now looks slightly better made. See also: Olympus E-420 review.
The Olympus E-520's chunkier rear-selector dial is an improvement, its profile making for quicker, more assured use, but it doesn't look or feel particularly sturdy in use.
Little changes to the ergonomics mean the Olympus E-520 is comfortable to hold, especially when used with the maker's larger lenses, as the rubber-composite covered handgrip is deceptively large.
Surprisingly, Olympus hasn't added an optional vertical grip, something that would enhance its appeal to photographers without seriously infringing on the E-3's territory. Nor has it enhanced the Olympus E-520's viewfinder optics, meaning the image remains quite small even when compared with rival sub-frame variants. An optional viewfinder magnifier is well worth the extra cost, but we think it should be included as part of the kit.
A slightly larger 2.7in screen now adorns the back, and the Olympus E-520 adds face detection to the auto-focus Live View options, like that seen in the maker's latest digital compacts.
Although we wouldn't recommend it, it's tempting to use this combination with one hand, especially as the Olympus E-520 brings the maker's highly effective anti-shake system to the table. Located in the camera body, this image-stabiliser system works with every Olympus lens, including its superb range of fast-aperture lenses.
The screen's greater size and improved colour accuracy is as welcome during playback as it is when doubling as the data screen. Legibility in bright sunlight is better than before, but it's really only noticeable when making selections from the menu or data screen. Sadly, it's still difficult to assess colour and focus during playback.
We couldn't test it, but the wireless flash compatibility first seen in the Olympus E-3 has also been added. You'll need to budget extra for the new FL-50R and FL-36R models, though.
To our minds, the most worthwhile improvements come courtesy of a new auto white-balance algorithm, and the addition of the maker's Shadow Adjustment Technology (SAT). This tweaking of the image-processing pipeline, including the application of a fairly steep tone-curve, provides output that's vastly superior to the generally underexposed and murky looking images of the E-510.
The result is far more pleasing under a wider variety of lighting conditions and, with the SAT (Auto-Gradation) option enabled, even areas that are usually underexposed are given a lift. The down side is that coloured speckles can be more visible in the shadow areas - especially at ISO 800 and above - but generally noise levels are well controlled.
We would have liked to see Olympus push the envelope a little to include ISO 3200 as the maximum sensitivity, like many rivals, but the option to include Auto ISO selection up to the maximum ISO 1600 instead of ISO 400 over its predecessor is welcome nonetheless.