||True “SLR” through-the-lens viewing|
||GREAT resolution & sharpness
– 1024×768 (D-500L)
– 1280×1024 (D-600L)
||LCD and optical viewfinder|
||3x, f2.8 zoom lens
– 50-150mm (D-500L)
– 36-110mm (D-600L)
Olympus has been one of the more successful traditional, film-based camera manufacturers making the transition to digital. Their first efforts (the D-200 and D-300) enjoyed much critical acclaim and commercial success, and the updated versions of those models (the D-220 and D-320) continue to be popular. With the introduction of the D-500L and D-600L though, Olympus has substantially raised the bar for the entire category of digital point and shoot cameras. Both offer high image resolution, excellent optics, convenient usage, and single-lens reflex (SLR) viewing, at prices near a thousand dollars. (At the time of this writing, suggested retail prices were $899 for the D-500L, and $1299 for the D-600L.)
Because these two cameras share so many features and capabilities in common, we have taken the unusual step of merging their reviews here, so readers can better understand some of the subtle differences between the two.
Aside from excellent resolution and image quality at a reasonable price, the biggest innovation of the D-500/600 cameras is the fact that both are true single-lens reflex (SLR) devices, offering through-the-lens (TTL) viewing. This means that when you look through the optical viewfinder, you are actually looking through the main lens of the camera, and can see exactly what the sensor will see when the shot is taken. By guaranteeing that “what you see is what you get,” TTL viewing contributes greatly to the ease-of-use of the cameras, especially for macro work or other applications involving filters or other optics added in front of the lens.
The D-500L/600L are both “high resolution” point and shoot digital cameras, the 500 producing 1024×768 pixel images, and the 600 producing 1280×1024 images. To accommodate situations in which you might not need all that resolution, both cameras provide “low-res” capture modes, with image sizes of 640×480 and 640×512 respectively.
The cameras also offer a very unique styling, borrowing heavily from Olympus’ pioneering “ZLR” (Zoom Lens Reflex) design popularized by their IS-series film cameras. This has been a popular, if unconventional, design in the film world, and it’s easy to see why: The elongated body and molded grip for the right hand give you lots to hold on to, a definite help in stabilizing the cameras for long exposures.
We expect the D-500L and D-600L to be very popular cameras, thanks to their excellent image quality, high resolution, and wealth of features. Some reviewers have consigned the D-600L to “professional” usage because its resolution goes well beyond that required for high-quality prints at the popular 4×6 inch size. On the face of it, this may seem like a valid argument, but we beg to differ: One of the biggest limitations to date of non-professional digital cameras has been the lack of any ability to crop-down the pictures, to isolate interesting subject areas and improve composition. With the D-600L, you finally have enough pixels to do this with, yet still retain reasonable image quality. This is truly a first for an inexpensive digital camera, and is a feature that should be of interest to anyone, not just “professionals.”
At first glance, either the D-500L or D-600L could be mistaken for a film camera, sharing the unmistakeable elongated, integrated-lens design of Olympus “ZLR” design. There’s good reason why the ZLR design has been popular: Besides their excellent optics, the Olympus design fits the hand well, and is easy to hold, even for telephoto or low-light exposures. We expect this form factor will enjoy similar popularity in Olympus’ digital cameras.
At first contact, we were somewhat surprised by how compact and light the cameras were. Both devices measure 4.5 x 3.3 x 5.1 inches (115 x 83 x 130 mm), and weigh in at 16.6 ounces (470 gm) without batteries. Size is all relative of course though, and the dimensions and weight place the D-500L/600L at the upper end of the scale for digital point and shoot cameras. Their size will probably preclude carrying them in a coat pocket, so the optional (and very nicely made) leather case makes a lot of sense.
Although the D-500L/600L includes a 1.8 inch (46 mm) LCD panel on the back of the camera, it is not intended for use as a viewfinder, but for image review only. This really isn’t a limitation, since the TTL viewfinder lets you actually look through the main lens itself, providing an accurate representation of what the sensor will ultimately capture. The LCD panel does work well for reviewing images once they’ve been captured, and selectively deleting those you don’t want to keep. To help you rapidly review a number of images, you can display as many as nine images in “thumbnail” form simultaneously on the LCD screen. Also, after taking a picture, a copy of the new image appears on the LCD panel for a few seconds. This automatic, “instant review” is very helpful for making certain you actually got the shot you were trying for, and it’s nice not to have to press multiple buttons or change camera “modes” to be able to see it. In our testing, we found the TTL viewfinder worked very well, and didn’t regret the lack of a real-time LCD display at all. (In another “real camera” feature, eyeglass wearers will also be glad to find a diopter adjustment built into the viewfinder, to compensate for either near- or far-sighted eyeballs!)