The menus are based around five main sections, dealing with shooting, playback and setup. They're familiar to anyone who's used an Olympus digital camera before and again, like the Info button, allow you to change an unusually wide variety of options for a camera of this price. For example like earlier Olympus cameras you can configure the compression settings with much finer control than most rivals, and there's also a number of bracketing options, including White Balance, AE, Flash and Manual Focus.
Yes, you read that right: manual focusing bracketing on an SLR. Like the E-300 before it, the E-500 employs a motorised system for focusing in both auto and manual focus modes. There's even a menu option which allows you to choose whether the focusing ring operates clockwise or anti-clockwise.
This can be quite eerie for the lenses with focusing distances marked behind a small window though - imagine turning the focusing ring one way and seeing the markings turn the other. Interestingly the lens focus also resets itself to infinity when you power the camera down. It's important to state this focus-by-wire system is a world apart from the motorised manual focusing options on a compact or all-in-one bridge camera, and the increments really are impressively fine. But they remain finite increments none-the-less, and to us just don't feel as reactive or precise as the mechanical manual focusing on a traditional SLR. If you're into manual focusing, you'll really have to try the E-500 for yourself to see if this is an issue or not. On the upside, the auto focus performance is certainly very good.
Sensor and files
The E-500 is equipped with an eight megapixel CCD sensor which measures 17.3x13mm and conforms to the FourThirds format - this means any lenses you attach have their field of view reduced by two times, so the optionally bundled 14-45mm zoom would effectively perform like a 28-90mm lens on a 35mm or full-frame body. The FourThirds mount will take any FourThirds compatible lens such as the increasing range of Zuiko Digital models - 15 at the time of writing.
Images have a 4:3 aspect ratio and the maximum size measures 3264 x 2448 pixels. There are also six lower resolutions available, and any can be saved as a JPEG with the choice of four different compression levels from 1/2.7 to 1/12; the 1/2.7 setting is very mild and ideal for eliminating almost all compression artefacts. Highest resolution JPEGs recorded using this setting work out around 5MB each.
For better quality still, the top resolution can alternatively be recorded in either uncompressed TIFF or 12-bit RAW formats; RAW files can be recorded with an accompanying JPEG if desired. The supplied Olympus Master software can be used to process RAW files and also allows updating of the camera firmware through your computer.
Next page: Colour and white balance