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Olympus E-410 DSLR Review - A scant seven months after the release of the E-400, Olympus have replaced it with the E-410. Duncan Evans tried to substitute four words in his original review and post that but was caught out. For his penance, here's the all-new review.
Olympus E-410 Specifications
Sensor: Live MOS - 10.0 Million pixels
- Dust protection: SuperSonic Wave Filter
- Image Size: 3648 x 2736
- Lens: Olympus Zuiko Digital FourThirds
- Shutter speed: 60-1/4000sec plus bulb
- ISO range: 100-1600
- Built in flash: Guide Number 12
- Image processing: TruePic Turbo
- White balance adjustment: seven steps, 3000-7500K
- Focus: TTL Auto/Manual
- Exposure: Programme/AP/SP/M/S
- Metering: Digital ESP, 49 Zone Multi-pattern, CW / S / High-light / Shadow
- Monitor: 2.5in. Hyper Crystal LCD
- Other Features: Live View
- Movie Mode: No
- Storage: CompactFlash/Microdrive/xD Cards
- Batteries: Li-ion Pack
- AC Adaptor: Optional
- Video Output: Yes
- Size/Weight: 129.5x91x53mm - 375g
- Transfer: USB 2.0
The E-410 is a small and lightweight 10Mp camera, bundled in a kit package it retails at £499 with a Zuiko ED 14-42mm lens, or £599 for two lenses. For the same kind of money, you can get a Canon EOS 400D with an 18-55mm lens, a Nikon D40x with an AF-S DX 18-55mm lens for £50 less, or a Sony alpha with an 18-70mm lens with £50 change as well.
Olympus E-410 Modes and features
If you were expecting the kind of leap that the Nikon D40 took to become the D40x, then you're in for a disappointment. There's not much physical difference between the E-400 and the E-410, with the dimensions and weight being exactly the same - the changes are internal. The controls are virtually identical, with the layout being the same. This means that the SuperSonic Wave Filter LED lights up when the camera is switched on with the heavy on/off switch that's located underneath the mode dial. The SSWF gives the CCD a shake to dislodge dust elements, which does make startup slower than other DSLRS as is discussed further on.
The command dial has the same PASM and Auto program modes, then ropes in Portrait, Landscapes, Macro, Sports and Night Portrait as scene modes, alongside the Scene mode option itself. This brings up the scene modes already listed plus others to take the tally to 20 in total. These are selected from the rear LCD and come with both example pictures and text explanation as to what they do. You might wonder how Macro can be listed as a scene mode when the magnification ratio is determined by the lens, but what this does is put other elements into place. It means that you get Auto-ISO to keep the shutter speed up, a fixed f/8 aperture to ensure reasonable depth of field, though, to be honest, if you do have a lens with good close up ability, then you're likely to want a higher f/stop number than that.
The front of the E-410 is surprising clear of buttons or options like a depth-of-field preview, with all the action taking place on the top or in the LCD menus. The downside of having a small camera footprint is that there isn't much space to pack things in, with the result that the top is quite cluttered and there's no secondary LCD display - but then other cameras in this category don't either. There is a button to force the flash to pop up, and one that sets the timer and multi-shot facility though, which strikes me as space and buttons that could have been better employed with more useful functions.
There was a function button on the back of the E-400 that could be employed for a few purposes, but this is the one notable change - it's now the Live preview switch button that flips the prism so that instead of looking at the image in the eye viewfinder, it now appears on the LCD screen. However, the left arrow key on the joypad can now be configured to take a test picture without saving, alter the white balance, produce a depth-of-field preview on either the viewfinder or the LCD.
There are two changes to the E-410 from the E-400, and one is the Live colour preview on the LCD screen. This is trumpeted as a major feature. Press the display key and the live view is switched from the viewfinder, to the LCD, with an audible thunk of the prism flopping over.
Most of the photographic features then, once past the modes, are, apart from exposure compensation which has its own button, hidden in the menus, of which there are two. One is accessed by pressing the Menu button as you might expect, the other by pressing the OK button which brings up the more photographic-feature related ones first. There is an overlap, but the OK button menu has the ones you're likely to want access to more often.
There are a range of metering modes, starting with ESP, which is the Olympus zone system. There are two flavours to this - regular and one where it also factors in the focus frame. It's like centre weighted, except the centre is the area you are focussing in. On top of this there's the genuine centre-weighted metering and spot metering. There are also two further variations on spot metering, one which is for metering from highlights, the other from shadow areas.
On a similar theme, there is also the option in the menu to set the gradation to normal, high key and low key, the aim being to limit the tonal range itself and to put more steps within it for a finer, graduated image. Colour can also be tweaked, and the profile set to sRGB or AdobeRGB.
The focussing system is pretty basic, using either one of three centrally located focus points, or set to automatic whereby it will choose from the three. For those interested in getting the right shot in challenging circumstances, the exposure can be bracketed with three images total, in either 0.3EV, 0.7EV or 1EV. And finally, the ISO settings are down, down into the menu, offering ISO100-1600 or Auto.
Olympus E-410 Build and handling
Same as the E-400 to be honest. It's small and light, but it isn't that much smaller than the Canon 400D - in fact the E-410 is actually longer than the Canon and the Pentax *ist D, is much the same height, it just doesn't protrude out at the front as much and lacks a handgrip. This, I feel, is a nose-face-spite exercise. I'd rather have had a slightly more bulky camera that had a hand grip and thus better handling. However, Olympus aren't selling this camera to me, it's aimed at people who want the most compact DLSR they can get so out it goes. There is room for a thumb position on the back, and the forefinger does wrap over the loop for the strap so it isn't a case of trying to hold a slab of butter.
However, what's very good about the E-410 is that it has a far better build quality than either the Canon 400D or the Nikon D40x, which both feel cheap in comparison. The E-410 has a solid, quality feel, right from the moulded plastic body to the heavy command and control dials.
Olympus E-410 Flash options
Needless to say there's no PC-sync socket at this price point, but it does come with a hotshoe and pop-up flash. The pop-up flash has a Guide Number of 12, which is par for the course, other cameras in this category will offer 10 or 11, and the E-400 itself offered only 10. With a built-in flash it also has flash functions such auto, manual, red-eye reduction, slow synch with red-eye, slow synch, 2nd curtain and slow synch and fill-flash. The intensity can also be changed in one third EV steps to +/-2EV.
Olympus E-410 Performance
As the camera waves the SSWF at the CMOS every time the camera is turned on or initialised after lying dormant, there's a delay at startup. It makes the E-410 one of the slowest cameras to get going. When it has woken up, it managed nine frames in three seconds, giving that claimed 3fps rate, but then it filled the buffer, so that in the full 10 seconds of the burst shooting test it only managed another three pictures, giving 12 in total. That was shooting in JPEG mode, in RAW it managed seven in three seconds and a total of nine in the full 10 seconds. This isn't quite the 3fps for eight shots that Olympus claims, but it's very close. It's also better than the E-400 which offered 3fps but for just five frames. So, for short bursts, this is pretty good, but it's only a short burst, it can't sustain it.
Standard ESP metering seems to definitely favour the ground over the sky, so centre-weighted or one of the spot modes is preferable, and while the choice of focussing points, at only three, is fairly limited, it is at least fairly accurate, if not super-quick, where there is a reasonable amount of contrast in the scene. For featureless surfaces, it will hunt up and down once then give up.
Shooting information is presented clearly on the LCD screen and in simpler terms than the Nikon D40x which tries to hold your hand through the process. The basic meter reading is also presented through the viewfinder, but rather than along the bottom of the picture, this is off to the right and is often hard to see. Of course, one of the main features is using the LCD screen for a live view of the scene, but in practice, this is less useful than you might think.
When the screen button is pressed, the prism clunks up and the image appears on the LCD screen in colour. Fair enough, but when trying to focus, there is no indication at all as to whether it has focussed or not. The red dots from the eye finder don't appear here and there's no audio confirmation of focus lock either. Once fire is fully pressed there's a clunk, the screen dims as it sets the aperture, then a focus lock red dot appears in the focus areas - though it could have been any of them that it used - and then there's another clunk as it actually takes the picture. If you've taken your finger off the button by now there's a final clunk of the prism as it returns to Live view mode. If you haven't because there's been a cavalcade of clunking noises and you're wondering what on earth is going on, then the camera will take the next shot.
So, it's fine in theory, fine for previewing the scene, but it really doesn't work well enough for actually photographing anything other than static macro shots.
This also brings up the idea of using the left joypad button for the depth-of-field preview, as revealed earlier. This can be useful when using the optical viewfinder - though it tends to induce eyestrain - but on the LCD screen it's hard to tell the difference between the background with an aperture of f/5.6 and one of f/22, and strangely, at f/22, the LCD display can turn black and white rather than colour.
The only real complaint about the performance comes into the handling department as the camera is generally quick and responsive. With a limited body space it's ineviatable that most photographic functions would end up in menu systems, but wasting space of a burst/timer mode and putting the ISO control on the internal menu system is a pity.
The biggest difference between the E-410 and its predecessor, is that the CCD has been replaced by the Live MOS chip, and the effects of this can be seen immediately in the noise tests below. There is much less noise at ISO1600, and the image quality is better all round.
Olympus E-410 Noise tests
At ISO100 there's some variation of tone in the grey and a little patch of colour in the shadow area, but nothing to worry about. Moving up to 200 the tonal variation is increased in the grey and black cards. The key test is at ISO400 and this is pretty good. There are distinct patterns now emerging, but the plain areas are okay and it's only the shadows that show defined noise structures. At ISO800 the noise patterns are more distinct everywhere, but this is still very usable. Finally, at ISO1600 the colours are a little darker and the solid colour areas are well sprinkled with noise, with a harsh blue aspect in the shadows. There is still plenty of detail and sharpness in the petals though - this is far better than the Nikon D40x and Sony Alpha for example.
DxOMark provides objective, independent, RAW-based image quality performance data for lenses and digital cameras to help you select the best equipment to meet your photographic needs.
Visit the DxOMark website for tests performed on the Olympus E-410.
Olympus E-410 Verdict
Well, it's been an almost indecently short time between updates to the E-410 and the main difference is the Olympus CCD has been replaced by the Live MOS chip, giving better image quality and noticeably less noise. Live preview is now in colour - showing exactly what the sensor will see, but the system is very clumsy with the prism clunking back and forth. Handling is exactly the same, with just one button changing function. Being small it is harder to hold more comfortably and securely than a Nikon D40x or a Canon EOS 400D, but the build quality is a lot better than either of those two. The E-410 feels much more solid and the controls have a good amount of feedback to them. The E-410 is good for shooting in small bursts and has that RAW option for better quality. The image quality in general is fine, with admirable control of colour fringing and plenty of detail at higher ISOs. There's a point to note about the focal length shift on the E-410 and that is because the CCD is small, the focal length for each lens is shifted by a factor of two. So, the 14-42mm kit lens is actually 28-84mm.
It's slightly harder to get to grips with than either the Nikon or Canon cameras, so for outright beginners, one of those two would be better. Otherwise, if you can live with the handle-less grip, the E-410 beats the Canon EOS 400D and the Nikon D40x in the 10Mp, entry level DSLR stakes fairly easily.
Olympus E-410 Plus points:
New sensor - very good image quality
Excellent build quality for price
Live preview in colour
Ultrasonic dust removal from CMOS
Small and lightweight
Some ability to custom configure
Fast, in small bursts
Takes x-D and CF cards
Olympus E-410 Minus points:
Autofocus isn't fast or tenacious
Live preview is a mixed blessing
Lack of handgrip makes handling trickier
Useful items in menus rather than on dials
Focal length extension is a tricky 2x
The Olympus E-410 kit with 14-42mm lens costs £499 and is available from the ePHOTOzine shop here.