For the Love of Olympus E-520

One particular weekend, I lent my beloved Olympus E-5 to a friend who needed it for shooting. I wanted to do my shutter therapy so badly, so I could either use the PEN E-PL1, or my old, trusty E-520 which is already more than three years old. Since E-PL1 is my everyday camera now and I do bring it to almost everywhere I go to, I decided to give it a rest on the weekends and opted for the E-520 instead. I fixed the Zuiko 50mm F2 macro on it, and attacked the streets of KL.

With all the Megapixel race, and the ridiculous demands of higher ISO noise performance and dynamic range, many have lost track of what photography truly is: taking photographs. The E-520 is an obsolete piece of equipment that has been outclassed by many generations of cameras released year after year. Those who believe that better equipments shoot better photographs and those who measure photo quality by high ISO performance, megapixels and all sorts of technical data would find themselves gravely disappointed with the Olympus E-520, which is only 10MP, usable ISO up to 400 (significant drop of image quality at ISO800).and limit of ISO at 1600 only. If you are a professional photographer looking for the best equipment to deliver the best results to your clients, then there is no argument, get the most advanced gear with the latest technologies and specifications. However, if you are like me, a photography-enthusiast who shoots casually and treats photography as shutter therapy sessions, the E-520 is more than sufficient to get the job done. At the end of the day, the most important part is me enjoying the whole process of my shutter therapy sessions.

All images were taken with Olympus E-520 and Zuiko 50mm F2 Macro

I still love my E-520, I still do. I love how it fits my hands perfectly. I love the small size and light body, yet solidly built and rugged enough to endure my torturous shooting conditions over the years. I love the shutter sound. I particularly love the colours, bearing the signature Olympus colours. I love how the camera has almost all the necessary controls and features that I needed: wireless TTL-Flash, anti-lock mirror, live view (though a little on the slow AF side), reliable built in body IS, etc etc. Most of all, I have come to know the camera in and out that I really felt like I am one with the camera when I shoot with it. This only happens when you have been attached to a same camera over the years. Yes, loyalty is a trait which is hard to find these days. Be faithful to your camera, and your camera will be faithful to you too.

I have grown so much with E-520, and I certainly have come a long way. It is sad that Olympus has abandoned the line of E-5XX and E-4XX series, which I believe are truly remarkable line of DSLR system coming from Olympus. Those are the best entry-level (with heavily packed advanced features and controls mind you) DSLR system out there in the market during their time.

Have you shot with E-5XX or E-4XX series before? Do tell some stories, I sure love to hear your experience.


  1. Great writeup Robin!

    The E-520 was my first real camera (aside from a old pentax optio P&S) I still own mine but it gets sidelined alot by my E-pl1 w/ 20mm lens.

    The e-520 was my first introductory into what photography meant to me: love, it really opened my eyes to see things differently, even without a camera on me i find myself composing shots with my eyes hehe.

    Unfortunately lately with more and more of my friends wanting me to shoot portraits I find myself wanting to get a canon/nikon for better ISO handling and Dynamic range. Im not heavily invested in the lens department so that helps with the switch if I so choose.

  2. SO many of my pix were taken with an E-520! My only complaint with it has been when it fails to focus on something...

  3. Hello Ryan,
    Thanks for sharing your experience with E-520. Indeed, for an entry level user, it was a very good choice, and I am sure you have made many wonderful shots with it. I am glad that it has "opened uour eyes", it sure did open mine too, and funny you brought that up, I too, tend to compose shots though there are times my eye was not stuck through the viewfinder !!

    We all have to move on some time, and E-520 is old, I admit that. Do not worry, move where your heart takes you to. Photography comes first, equipments second, that was the main point of the blog entry.

    Hello Dana,
    Thanks for sharing. It is good to know you have made so many beautiful photos with E-520.
    I must say the AutoFocus has its issues, and can be troublesome at times when you need speedy response. Nonetheless, it is just an entry level camera, I find similar issues with other brand's entry level DSLR during the same generation too, if not worse.

  4. still struggling to get a dslr or rethar the Canon SX30 =P Your shots are getting better...

  5. Cyril,
    Olympus E-P3 is the answer for you !!

  6. Yoki - Jakarta7/15/2011 12:41:00 AM

    Hi Robin,

    I found your blog very useful, simple, and represent a 'humble' common user's point of view for a camera/lens (especially made by Olympus).

    Honestly, I still don't understand what Dynamic Range is (don't laugh!), still wondering why I need to shot in raw (like most serious photographers does), and just recently found out the benefits of having 12MP (my EPL-1) compared to 5MP (my E-1), when I have to shot from a very uncomfortable position (where I have to crop the original image a lot and fix lot's of things).

    For me the end result and the experiences when taking the photograph are things that matter most.

    That's why I sold my D70, and bought a used E-520 - simply because I missed the "end result" like I used to have with my Olympus C5060WZ.

    Not because the E-520 is "technically better" than D70!

    E-520 (together with the kit lens) has served me very well for the last 4 years. Banding issues sometimes appears in a low light condition, and honestly; I didn't aware of that issue until someone pointed it out to me! (I thought it was an 'unexpected effect', and look quite artistry! hehehehe..)

    Ever since I have E-1 (and then E-PL1), my E-520 is collecting micro dust in the dry-box. But when I need to shot macro (with ZD50mm), then the E-520 will always be there to serve me..

    For some reasons; I think E-520 + ZD50 is a great combination!


  7. happened to chance upon your blog while searching for reviews on the new ep3..and i luv your way of writing and photography, making it easy and light for reading , especially for novice like me. :)

    you've got a new fan!

  8. The E-520 and the ZD 50 Macro are a match made in heaven. Probably the best handling camera ever. And yes, the colours are still gorgeous, and yes, forget everything above ISO 400 except for special effects and on-purpose B&W "grain". At base ISO, and with only very little sharpening needed (at least with some gem like that macro) this camera really shines - that's why I love it for portraits in the studio, where all you ever use is ISO 100.

    I have used mine at a school event of our daughter lately, where I took photos of almost all parents, and some kids as well. Then I went and ordered A4-sized prints (about 21x28cm or so), and distributed those for free. People were speechless because of the quality, and the crisp results from the 520 and that macro.

    Love the combination. Olympus should IMHO really consider an update for those who believe in Megapixels or high ISO noise. Maybe the day they finally have a newer sensor, they will offer that?

  9. Hello Yoki,
    Thank you so much for telling your point of view, and yes, sometimes, I do wonder why some people can get so frustrated over banding and dynamic range. We must remind ourselves that photography is not all technical all the time, photography is art. You have said it yourself so well, it is the process of shooting and end results that matter, not all the technical issues, which may not really apply to most of our shooting needs.
    I am glad you found the joy of using the 520 + 50 combination, it is difficult telling people how marvelous and powerful this combination is. Thanks again for writing, I appreciate it.

  10. Hello joeist,
    Wow, it is an honor to receive such a flattering comment from you !! Thanks a lot. Nonetheless, lets be friends, instead of fan. I am still rather new to photography, so lets share and learn together.

    Hello Wolfgang,
    I knew you had something to say about the 520 and 50 macro !! Made in heaven, indeed.
    It was indeed very generous of you to snap photos and distribute for free, and goodness, it must have been very rewarding to receive such kind comments from the parents. They must have treasured your effort a lot.
    At the moment it does seem that the direction Olympus is taking is a little bit unclear, but lets hope for the best for the PEN series, if they are successful enough (making enough cash inflow) perhaps they would revive the E-5xx series.

  11. This is indeed sad. The e-620 was a great dslr, with fantastic color accuracy! How can there be no succesor to that..?

  12. bartosz,
    indeed olympus is not doing well financially for the past years. now that the pen is generating income it is a wise decision to move towards that direction first. lets all hope for the best. by the way I prefer e520's color,. smoother and more pleasing. just my own preference of course.

  13. I agree, more softer, more photo feel, the colors, less hard. The 50mm is my favo !!

  14. Oh, you are a young 'un. Wait till you see my "grandfather" 510! It is one generation earlier than the 520, has less aggressive anti-aliasing filter, quite brash colours (compared to my even great-grandfather 330).

    I just bought a 620 after meeting you in KL this year - that is a real class improvement (two generations) but the grip is really small.....

  15. hai robin, really love the way you present your story. Anyway do you have compact camera? how about xz1, I would like to know if you ever try xz1 before. Thinking to get one.

  16. Hi Robin,
    Great article, I still shoot with my E-520 (all the photos on my website were taken with it!) It was my first DSLR and was complemented early on with the 11-22mm and 50-200mm zuiko lenses. I have been very pleased with the results - particularly the great colours

    More recently though I have been questioning if I should stay with Olympus (by perhaps jumping to the E-5) or even switching systems ans moving to full frame sensor. As an avid landscape photographer, this last option is quite appealing but can't quite justify the $$.

    Luckily, my happiness with the E-520 means I am in no great rush to change.

  17. Hello rick,
    the 50mm is my favo too !!

    Hello Ananda,
    The E-510 could probably be the most successful Olympus camera ever made, and it really stood on its own weight for a long, long time. It is a great camera, and E-520 is a slight step up from 510. I agree with you the grip on the 620 is rather small, and can be uncomfortable for long hour shooting. I love the grip of 520 very much, it is just nice, and it fits my hands nicely. I cannot say for those who have larger hands.

  18. Hello variamaya,
    I used and killed three kodak compact cameras before I dived into DSLR photography. I currently own a panasonic lumix LZ8 which I seldom use. I have not used the XZ-1 to be able to comment much, but based on the specifications and feedback from friends, it is indeed a great camera.

    May I recommend Olympus PEN E-PM1? it is the new PEN mini, the size is almost the same with XZ-1, and the image quality and performance are so much more superior.

  19. Hello Lisa,
    Thank you so much for your kind words.
    11-22mm and 50-200mm !! Those are two legendary lenses from Olympus. I do not have the 50-200, but I am loving my 11-22mm to bits. No surprise you got that lens since you love landscape.
    For landscape, I would suggest full frame cameras, mainly for the strong advantage when it comes to dynamic range. The difference is quite startling. If you are thinking to switch to APS-C sized cropped sensor, then I would say staying with Olympus is a good choice, there really is not that much difference. Go full frame, or else stay with Olympus.

  20. Hi Robin,
    good to hear your E-520 got a work-out... Have to look after that 50 mm macro lens. I'm still using my E-520 as a 2nd unit, good that the batteries are the same for the E-5.
    Yes, some mentioned the weak AF but what I was impressed from the first day were the colours. I'm an Oly veteran, started with a C-2020 in 2001 which I used for documentation on my construction sites, got my own C-5050Z in 2003, replaced it with a SP-500UZ (no match for the C-5050Z but it was beyond repair - have to get one again, helluva camera, F 1.8!). I published shots made with the C-5050Z and a Mamiya 645super next to each other in a magazine - each half page size - you couldn't tell which one was the medium format shot and which the 5 MP RAW image.

    And so the E-520 replaced my 35mm gear (an EOS-3 with some nice lenses), I came to love it during a winter trip shooting trains in Nevada. This was really demanding because with the Mamiya I had manual metering as all this and with the E-520 I just my eye and shot and didn't care about metering. Fantastic out-of-the-box results. With the Mamiya I had to start thinking - a black steam engine in white snow needs some compensation in one or the other direction...

    One of the E-520 pictures was used as a cover photo of a magazine... The Double-Zoom-Kit really earned its money :-) And it's still a good back-up unit. My wife loves it too...

    At the end of the day it's all about taking pictures.

    Btw., my first Oly was a secondhand 35RC, bought in 1993, made fantastic slides with that.




    Digitalrev E-p3 review :)

  22. Hello Rolf,
    Whoah !!!
    You sure have come a really long way since the first Olympus camera you picked up, and your multiple accomplishments with the E-520 is very, very inpiring. Who needs a full frame camera for cover shots, right? You have proven those people with mentality of "expensive gear guaranteeing results" wrong, even with the humble twin kit lenses you created miracles, congratulations my friend !! Many of us should learn from you that it is not the gear that truly matters, but the photographer himself, and knowing how to bring out the best from the camera. E-520 is a very capable camera, you have shown how true that is.

    Like yourself, I am using the E-520 as a second unit myself, and yes, it is very convenient that the batteries are compatible with E-5, save me a lot troubles too.

    Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful experience. I am sure my readers will appreciate it a lot.

  23. Hi Robin,
    thanks for your kind words, but your street photography is really inspiring, you've got an excellent eye...

    In fact, there's no urgent need for a full-frame DSLR on my side. If you stick to the lower ISOs the E-5 matches or just wins over competitors like Nikon 700 and most of the crop-sized sensor class of cameras, no matter how many Megapixles they might boast. There's almost no loss of texture compared to all those Canons...
    So the E-5 is good for even calendar photography up to a certain scale. I used my Mamiya for that, it now rests in peace :-)

    Here's one I made with the E-520 and the 14-42 kit lens:

    And this was nailed down with the 40-150 (without tripod):

    Talking about available light here :-) No need to switch to higher ISO here as most DSLR newbies might do when the light fades. But I'm glad the AF worked good on that.

    And this is the cover shot I was talking about:

    No wonder that I was inevitably hooked on digital photography after that trip.

    Take care and keep on shooting, always the best therapy...


  24. Hai Robin,

    Nice seeing your images.Its good to hear your honest review that we dont need top-notch camera to create good images.

    As for me, i`m satisfied with my EPL-1 and standard kit lense which i have used it for Floria Putrajaya 2011 this evening and it really suprised me.I have posted some picture in my blog:

    Keep up inspiring people with your images.

  25. Rolf,
    Thanks again for such kind remarks, they mean a lot to me.
    And look at what you have done with your E-520, my goodness, who would have believed those images you have produced were from mere entry level camera and lenses? You have done justice with your gear !!
    Thanks for sharing those links !! Anyone would have been really happy and proud with such accomplishments.

    Hello Hafeezghani,
    Thanks for such kind comments !! E-PL1 is a great camera, I am loving mine, and I use it almost everyday. I do not have the chance to go to putrajaya flower festival though, I heard it is really good, and the fireworks is fantastic. Do share more photos !!

  26. Lux Lucis, Huntsville, AL USA9/02/2011 10:57:00 AM

    Robin rocks. No one has ever been able to understand how I feel about my E-520, but Robin has put in words better than I could ever have done myself. Thanks for the great essay.
    I have Nikon D5100 with all sorts of fancy lenses. It takes great pictures. I am former Canon Rebel 35 mm film man. No other camera has ever felt so good in my hands as Olympus E-520. I still use it almost daily.

  27. The E-520 engineers did a wonderful job on the feel of the camera; I feel exactly the same way.

    It feels absolutely great and I have never felt so 'at one' with a camera as I do the E-520.

    I get the feeling Olympus was really trying to put a dent in the bigger competition when they made this machine; it was so feature-packed and controls were brilliant to me. I reluctantly use my D5100 today with no pixel mapping (I have stuck pixels)...and terrible ergonomics compared to the E-520, along with larger lenses.

    The wireless commander flash controls built-in to the E-520 body is also something I love in the E-520. Too many features and tweaks built-in to list. I love it.

    The only thing that I always felt spoiled the great package to me is no AF assist lamp; instead we get the flash pulsing like crazy in order to get focus at night when using the built-in flash. That and that Olympus didn't continue making regular DSLRs with improved sensors as the years progressed. The mirrorless stuff is OK but nothing beats the control and low-light ability of an optical viewfinder and a great body and the wonderful feel of the E-520 in the hands, with all the direct controls so easily accessible without taking your eye off anything.

    I LOVE THE E-520!

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