By Gordon Lewis
If you’re looking for a compact DSLR with built-in image stabilization, that’s also available with a fast but equally compact, lightweight, wide-to-telephoto zoom, there’s really only one choice: the Olympus E-510 with Zuiko 14–54mm ƒ/2.8–3.5. Because of Olympus’ four-thirds format, the 14–54mm has the same effective focal length range as a 17–55mm for APS format or a 28–105mm for 35mm format. For most photographers this is the ideal range for a multi-purpose “walkaround” lens. It certainly is for me.
I’m well aware that Canon and Nikon offer smaller, lighter bodies, but they all lack built-in image stabilization. I’m also aware that Canon and Nikon offer smaller, lighter, image-stabilized kit lenses, but both choices have an ƒ/5.6 maximum aperture at the long end. The 14–54mm Zuiko lets in 1.5-stops more light, which allows for faster shutter speeds and lower ISOs in low-light conditions. It also has low linear distortion, low chromatic aberations, minimal vignetting at maximum aperture, and weather-sealing. Regardless, I’m not trying to justify my decision; I’m simply explaining the thought behind it.
Why the high emphasis on reduced size and weight? In my case it was because I was planning a five-day trip to London. I dreaded the thought of lugging my Canon EOS 30D and 17–55mm ƒ/2.8 IS zoom on my shoulder for hours at a time. Although this combo has many wonderful qualities, compact size and light weight are not among them. Together, the body and lens total roughly three pounds (1.4 kg). That may not sound like much until you compare it to the combined weight of the E-510 and 14–54mm: two pounds, which is 33% less. If you’re 6 foot 5 inches tall and burly, this weight difference might be negligible. When you’re 5 foot 6 inches tall and wirey, trust me, you notice. I sold the Canon 17–55mm zoom on eBay and used the proceeds to buy the Olympus E-510 and 14–54mm combo.
That’s why I bought the E-510. Other noteworthy features include the live-view feature (which I seldom use), dual card slots (Compact Flash and xD), and relatively low price (less than $500 U.S., body only). In part two, I’ll explore the pros and cons of using the Olympus E-510 for casual travel, candid, and street photography. I’ll also provide some insights into how to overcome its most significant shortcoming: limited dynamic range.
(I asked my friend Gordon Lewis if he'd share some of his experiences with his new E-510, which he'll do over the coming days and weeks. —M.J.)