The Olympus E-520 proved itself to be quite a contender. Its live view display was very sensitive and fitted our astrophotography needs perfectly. In our shots of M42, the display showed us the most stars out of all the models in the review, while zooming in on a specific region of the display was relatively straightforward although not quite as slick as some models. The live view magnifications were set at 7x and 10x, and seemed pitched just about right.
Manual focus with the Olympus’s live view gave a nice sharp result when shooting the Moon. Pressing the shutter button, we found the exposure length that the E-520 shot the Moon with was also spot-on.
The E-520 has bulb exposure just as a proper DSLR camera should. This enables you to manually control the time the shutter stays open for – useful for taking the long exposures needed to capture faint deep-sky objects. With this camera the maximum exposure length is limited to 30 minutes. Although this is a little odd, 30 minutes is still quite long and won’t typically interfere with normal astronomy exposures.
There’s a high-ISO noise reduction mode, which does seem to keep both chroma and luminance noise pretty much under control, although we noticed that detail starts to smooth out the more this is applied. Fortunately, you can choose from four levels of noise reduction: off, low, standard or high. The lower the setting, the more noise appears, but the sharper the image. It’s best to use low noise reduction setting for shooting deep-sky objects like the Orion Nebula.
Our 15-minute dark-frame exposures showed some banding (horizontal or vertical lines of noise) at high ISO settings, but at low ISOs the results weren’t bad at all and there was no sign of amp glow. There's a good range of exposure settings for astro imaging, going right up to a 60-second exposure setting. This went beyond the normal 30-second exposure time found on most cameras. The camera’s controls are fairly easy to get to grips with in the dark. Most settings are carried out via a four-way cursor control, or by rotating a wheel on the top of the camera.
So is the Olympus E-520 a capable camera for astro imaging? Actually, it’s not bad at all and some of the camera’s functions are very useful for taking astro images. The excellent sensitivity of the live view function is to be applauded and it really does work very well when focusing on the stars and the Moon.
The balancing act that you have to do between noise and sharpness of detail lets it down, but if you’re happy to work with shorter exposures up to several minutes long and at low ISOs, then this is a great camera to use.
A version of this article first appeared in the May 2009 issue of Sky at Night Magazine