A well-designed compact 8-megapixel digital SLR camera, the Olympus E-500 offers a notably broad set of features for its class, including Olympus's signature dust-reduction system. Every time you turn on the E-500, its supersonic wave filter vibrates 35,000 times per second to shimmy dust off the CCD. With more fine-tuning tools than you might expect for the price, not to mention compatibility with Olympus's sharp Zuiko Digital lenses, this affordable model offers an appealing alternative to competitors such as the Nikon D50, the Canon EOS 350D, and the Pentax *ist DL.
With a width of 127mm and a basic weight of 410g, the Olympus E-500 is one of the more compact digital SLR cameras available, but its sturdy plastic body doesn't feel cheap. As with most SLRs, an array of buttons and dials are spread about the body, but the general design is logical and easy to understand after a few uses. The camera's right-hand grip allows for an easy hold, but the contoured thumbrest on the upper-right side of the body's back isn't as generous as those on some similar SLRs.
Most features are accessible via a combination of the menu button, the mode dial and a four-way controller, though a few other functions have dedicated buttons. Unlike some similar cameras, the E-500 doesn't have a top-mounted status screen. Most of the data you need is found on the large 64mm LCD monitor on the camera's back. Peering into the viewfinder, you'll also see standard information such as your current aperture and shutter speed, as well as battery life, flash status and a few other settings.
The four-way controller gives you direct access to focus, white balance, metering and ISO settings, which you may want to change fairly frequently depending on your shooting conditions. The mode dial on top of the camera gives you a standard selection of shooting modes -- auto, program, aperture-priority, shutter-priority and manual, as well as automated scene modes for portraits, landscapes, sports, night portraits and close-ups. By combining the mode dial with the main menu, you can choose additional modes for unruly children, landscape portraits, candlelit scenes, high-key or low-key lighting situations, fireworks, sunrises and sunsets. This is an effective design that lets the most frequently used modes get top priority without obscuring the more specialised settings.