Conclusion - Pros
- Compact and lightweight digital SLR which is comfortable despite the lack of grip
- Good image quality and resolution if not optimum straight out of the box
- Low noise across the ISO range by default, turning down noise filter doesn't spoil images
- Through the lens Live View with Auto Focus (although requires mirror up/down)
- Up to ten times magnification in Live View for manual focus
- Supersonic Wave Filter ensures no dust on sensor
- Responsive in use, auto focus fairly quick, shutter lag short
- Good quality lightweight kit lens makes for lightweight 'carry around' kit
- User control over ISO noise reduction ('Noise Filter')
- More customizable / feature rich than competition
- Black and white mode with selectable filters
- Kelvin white balance option, all white balance presets fine tunable
- Selectable color space (sRGB / Adobe RGB)
- Fully customizable RAW+JPEG (many competitors have fixed JPEG settings)
- Spot metering with shadow and highlight based spot
- Timed long exposures up to sixty seconds
- Effective long exposure noise reduction ('dark frame subtraction')
- Mirror lock-up with custom delay
- Unlimited continuous shooting on fast card with HQ quality JPEG
- Good Compact Flash write performance, up to 7 MB/sec with a fast card
- Good range of playback options / views
- In-camera RAW development feature
- In-camera JPEG image editing
- Easy, automatic online firmware upgrades (via Olympus Master / Studio)
- High speed USB 2.0
- Orientation sensor
- Value for money
Conclusion - Cons
- Dynamic Range less than competition (highlights by about three quarters of a stop; 0.7 EV)
- Small viewfinder (difficult to see fine detail, difficult to check focus)
- Live View usefulness countered by LCD which doesn't tilt, not bright enough outdoors
- Maximum sensitivity actually ISO 1250 not ISO 1600 as indicated
- Battery life seemed shorter than we would like (thanks to small battery, regular LCD use)
- Best results require adjustment of Noise Filter and Sharpness settings
- Slower than average startup due to the SSWF (should be at power-off / intervals)
- No delete / cancel option during record review (immediately after shutter release)
- Auto focus provides just three focus points, although AF performance good
- Focus-by-wire kit lens means no focus distance indication
- Flash must be raised for AF assist
We first got our hands on the E-400 back in August last year, and were very excited that Olympus had delivered a small, lightweight digital SLR with echoes of the great compact film SLRs of the past (the Olympus OM-10 comes to mind). This was after all one of the key benefits that a smaller-than-APS sensor was supposed to bring; smaller, lighter bodies and lenses. That initial excitement was dampened slightly by the fact that the E-400 was only going to be available in Europe and Asia. Six months after the E-400 came the E-410, available everywhere in the world and sporting a new ten megapixel sensor (with Live View) and an updated image processor (TruePic III).
After using the E-410 for a couple of months I really grew to like it. The body itself is very light, and - when combined with the plastic-shelled (but otherwise pretty good) 28 - 84 mm equiv. kit lens - makes for a great carry-around digital SLR. We've become accustomed to large hand grips, but the E-410's design works just as well; you just hold it slightly differently (ring and little finger tucked under the body). This slim design looks great but has one trade-off, the size of the battery; the PS-BLS1 may have more specified capacity than those used in the D40X and EOS 400D, but for some reason it just didn't seem to last as long. This is perhaps down to the combination of occasional use of Live View and the control panel display, but whatever it is I had to get into the habit of putting the battery on charge every evening.
Another thing I liked about the E-410 is its designed-in performance. Sure this is no pro shooter but auto focus is fast and the camera always responded to the shutter release button (lag was very low). The E-410 has also not been obviously crippled in any way; it's fully featured and flexible, with almost all the options and settings you'd expect of a mid-range 'prosumer' SLR. And so you get bracketing, flexible mirror lock-up, customizable RAW+JPEG and control over high ISO noise reduction (something we applaud Olympus for including, even if we weren't completely happy with their default levels).
The E-410 also has a couple of stand-out features which just complete the offering; there's Oympus's customary SSWF (Supersonic Wave Filter), which - despite the dramatic name - is simply a flexible filter placed in front of the sensor that vibrates to shake off any dust which may have gathered (we would have preferred it to occur at switch-off or regular intervals so as not to impact startup). Secondly there's Live View, and yes I've not been the biggest fan of Live View in the past, but the usefulness of the feature is growing on me. That said, its range of use on the E-410 is limited by an non-articulating LCD that proved to be insufficiently bright to cut through reflections outdoors.
So lets talk about negatives. Firstly we're still having to deal with relatively small viewfinders; the E-410's does seem brighter than previous offerings, but it's still tunnel-like. Secondly we were kind of disappointed with the dynamic range performance - dropping three quarters of a stop of highlight range can be the difference between a beautiful blue sky and one which is white and washed-out, although in practice it didn't cause us too many problems. Also disappointing were the high levels of noise reduction, which impacted image sharpness and detail at lower sensitivities. We got much better results turning the Noise Filter off without seeing too much impact on visible noise (we applaud clean images, but not at the expense of detail). Other negatives were really 'niggles' which may or may not impact your use of the camera.
Default image quality is good, if not as crisp as the competition. However, if you play with the settings for a while, or more specifically turn Noise Filter off and set Sharpness to -2 (to compensate for the default high sharpening used to overcome the softening effect of the Noise Filter) you'll see that the camera is capturing just as much detail (if not more) than other ten megapixel digital SLRs, and that the lens is more than up to the job too.
So what's the final word? At the end of the day I found myself quite liking the E-410, it's a grower that offers great value for money in a small compact package, has some real stand-out features and hasn't been crippled to 'fit into the range' like similar models from other manufacturers. Just make sure you turn off the Noise Filter!
Rating (out of 10)
|Ergonomics & handling||8.0|