A well-built, ultra-compact DSLR camera with some excellent features for novice users.The smallest DSLR on the current market, the Olympus E-410 is 100 grams lighter than its nearest rival and offers 10-megapixel resolution. Targeted at 'Everyday' photographers (i.e. novice DSLR users), it's as easy to operate as many long-zoom digicams but has the benefit of producing much better pictures, thanks to its significantly larger image sensor. Developed by Panasonic, this 'LiveMOS' sensor uses CMOS technology and has been developed to allow photographers to compose and capture shots with the camera's 2.5-inch LCD. . . [more]
The smallest DSLR on the current market, the Olympus E-410 is 100 grams lighter than its nearest rival and offers 10-megapixel resolution. Targeted at 'Everyday' photographers (i.e. novice DSLR users), it's as easy to operate as many long-zoom digicams but has the benefit of producing much better pictures, thanks to its significantly larger image sensor. Developed by Panasonic, this 'LiveMOS' sensor uses CMOS technology and has been developed to allow photographers to compose and capture shots with the camera's 2.5-inch LCD.
The live view function is probably the main feature that will attract digicam upgraders to the E-410. A large component in the success of the live view mode is the E-410's LCD, which is brighter than average and has a wide viewing angle. If you're used to framing shots on a large LCD, the E-410 provides a similar (though better) view than any digicam we've reviewed.
Olympus has released no information on how the E-410's live view sensor works beyond saying that it differs from the system used in the now-discontinued E-330 model. From the information we've been able to find, it seems only one image sensor is used: the camera's primary sensor.
Whereas the E-330 had two live view modes, one allowing for autofocus and the other not, the E-410 has only one live view function, which supports autofocusing. In addition, because there's no second imager in the viewfinder housing, the camera's viewfinder is significantly brighter than the E-330's – although it's still rather small.
Live view is activated by pressing the Display button (see below). The optical viewfinder is automatically covered when you switch to live view mode but you get 100% scene coverage, which is great for close-ups and a significant improvement over the viewfinder when precise framing is required for shots. Olympus has added a function that lets you jump to a 7x magnified view in live view mode to check focusing. Pressing the AEL/AFL button provides a focus preview and a green dot is displayed on the screen to confirm focus before the image is recorded.
A live histogram can also be displayed and Golden Section, Grid and Scale frame assist guides can be superimposed on the live display. Unfortunately, we can't show you what these guides look like as the function wasn't working on the test camera. You can also adjust exposure and white balance and see the changes as they happen in the live view. And you still have access to all camera settings. A semi-transparent view of the menu is overlaid on the live view, allowing you to make all the adjustments provided by the menu system. It's easy to read, except in very bright outdoor lighting.
When you shoot with the live view mode, pressing the shutter button lowers the mirror to measure light levels then raises the mirror again to take the shot. This adds roughly half a second to the normal capture lag, which in our tests averaged 0.2 seconds so you're looking at a lag of approximately 0.7 seconds. The process is also quite noisy.
You can circumvent this sequence by half-pressing the shutter button, which activates the pre-capture sequence. This delay makes the live view mode unsuitable for shooting moving subjects like active children and pets (both popular subjects for the target market). However, for static subjects – especially when the camera is tripod-mounted – live view has the advantage of letting you check depth of field and exposure levels before shooting.
Body & Controls
The E-410's body is reminiscent of the earlier E-500 model and has echoes of the OM series cameras of the 1970s. It's very nicely constructed from tough, polycarbonate plastic with a textured surface that gives a comfortable feel and improves handling. The grip itself is similar to the grip on Olympus' long-zoom digicams. Small and shallow, it's likely to be uncomfortable for users with large hands – but they're not the target market for this camera. The thumb pad on the rear panel positions your index finger to rest comfortably on the shutter button and adds a touch of comfort and security.
Although small, the E-410's viewfinder is reasonably easy to use, thanks to a relatively high eyepoint and soft rubber eyecup. The top panel layout is similar to the E-500, with buttons left of the viewfinder housing for flash and self-timer/remote and drive controls. The latter button doubles as a copy/print button in playback mode. A blue LED lights up beside the mode dial when you switch the camera on, reminding you of the SSWF (Supersonic Wave Filter) dust removal system. Behind it is a command dial that is used for adjusting settings.
The rear panel layout is simpler than the E-500, with a central, non-adjustable LCD monitor flanked by four buttons on the left (playback, delete, menu and info) and an arrow pad on the right. The live view button is located near the arrow pad to the right of the LCD, with the AEL/AFL button above it. A multi-purpose connector lies behind a cover below the arrow pad, providing both USB 2.0 Hi-Speed and video out connections. A memory card compartment sits beneath your thumb with space for both CF and xD cards. The battery slots into a compartment in the base panel.
The mode dial has the standard Auto, P, A, S and M shooting modes plus positions for Portrait, Landscape, Close-up, Sports and Night Portrait modes. There's a dedicated Scene position that accesses 20 scene pre-sets, each of them illustrated with a brief explanation of their usage. Two underwater settings are provided for photographers who wish to use the camera in an underwater housing.
The illustrated scene menus make it easy for novice users to set the camera for correct exposures.
Text explanations provide information on how the camera settigns are applied.
The E-410's menu system is similar to the menus of other Olympus DSLRs, with a dual mode control display, which allows you to access frequently-used camera settings by pressing the OK button. Most shooting settings – including resolution, ISO, white balance, metering and AF patterns, flash and drive modes – can be set with the OK button. A second press on this button takes you into the relevant sub-menu, where the arrow pad is used to move from one setting to the next. Our only gripe with the system is that toggling is one-way. If you want to go back to the default setting, you must press the opposite arrow!
Pressing the OK/Set button calls up a comprehensive selection of camera settings.
White-balance is adjustable with both pre-sets and color temperature values between 2,000K and 14,000K, as well as manual measurements. You can also fine-tune colour settings along the red-blue and green-magenta axes. Two useful shooting settings are the High Key and Low Key modes. The former can be used to maintain the brightness of snow and beach scenes, while the latter lets you keep dark scenes from being recorded as mid-grey.
Pressing the Menu button accesses the Card Setup sub-menu where you can format memory cards and access custom settings, Picture Mode (Vivid, Natural, Muted and Monotone); Gradation (normal, High Key and Low Key); image size and quality, white balance, ISO, noise filter and noise reduction. The second page covers metering and AF modes, flash exposure adjustments, AF area selection, AE bracketing and the Anti-shock adjustment. The latter counteracts vibrations and you can set the time from when the mirror is raised to when the shutter is released in one-second increments up to 30 seconds. Also accessed via the Menu button are playback settings and two pages of set-up modes.
Interestingly, you can't use the delete button in shooting mode so you can't erase a photo immediately after taking it without entering playback mode first. However, in playback mode you can tag individual images for deletion and then delete them in a group, a big improvement on deleting shots individually or having to erase all images on the card.
JPEG compression levels are relatively modest at the highest quality settings, as shown in the table below but pretty savage at high compression settings. Interestingly, Olympus publishes both the compression levels and file sizes for all the JPEG image sizes supported by the E-410, although matching them to the SHQ, HQ and SQ settings in the camera's menu can be a challenge! But kudos to Olympus for providing camera users with such valuable information.
JPEG compression level
3648 x 2736
3200 x 2400
2560 x 1920
1600 x 1200
1280 x 960
1024 x 768
640 x 480
Bundled with the E-410 is comprehensive user manual plus a CD-ROM containing Olympus Master 2, a slightly more advanced version of the application that is supplied with all Olympus digicams. This software is used for transferring and organising still pictures taken by the camera and includes basic editing facilities and a rudimentary Raw file converter. The disk also contains a 30-day trial version of Olympus Studio, which claims to be "a professional workflow software application for picture management, raw conversion, image-editing and tethered image capture with all Olympus digital SLR cameras".
The editing interface in Olympus Studio
Image cropping in Olympus Studio.
Image editing functions provided by Olympus Studio include adjustments for tone curves, gamma (contrast), colour balance, brightness, sharpness, contrast, hue and saturation. It also provides automatic and manual light-fall off (corner shading) compensation, automatic or manual linear distortion adjustment, rectilinear correction of images shot with the Zuiko Digital 8mm fisheye lens and conversion to black and white with colour filter options for sepia images. The application will run on both Windows and Macintosh operating systems.
Olympus Studio will cost you an additional $199 and, although it's more powerful than Olympus Master, we think it's still far from ideal as a Raw file converter/editor. We also found the trial version somewhat 'bug-ridden'. From time to time a message popped up on the screen warning: "This image has been edited. Do you want to save the change(s)?" Regardless of which of the three related buttons we clicked on (Yes, No or Cancel) – or whether we clicked on any button – the application crashed within a minute or two of the message appearing.
The message that cropped up whenever we adjusted the image (this time for a sepia conversion).
We remain unimpressed with camera manufacturers that charge extra for Raw file conversion software. When you've paid more than $1000 for a camera, we think the least a manufacturer should do is give you an acceptable file converter/editor. If they're not prepared to do that, they should make sure that the camera's Raw files can be opened in all of the popular third-party file converters before the camera is released to the market – or use the universal DNG raw file format.
Outdoor shots taken in bright lighting were recorded by the test camera with plenty of colour and relatively high contrast. Exposure levels were somewhat variable, depending on ambient lighting. In bright, contrasty conditions they tended to be pitched towards capturing shadow detail, leaving highlights to block up. We obtained some good results when the exposure compensation was set to -0.3EV in such conditions, although saturation was relatively high for a DSLR with the default Natural setting.
In shade and subdued lighting, the metering system delivered better balanced shots. Indoor flash exposures were generally good and skin tones were rendered very naturally and the slight warm bias negated the cool cast of shadowed light. We found no obvious evidence of coloured fringing but long exposures at night had a distinct orange/yellow colour bias that was not a true representation of the actual colours of the scene. Close-up shots were competently handled, with subtle tonal nuances fully preserved.
Image noise remained low in long exposures, right up to ISO 1600. Flash exposures taken with this sensitivity setting were particularly good, as they were at all ISO settings. The default noise reduction setting actually produced worse results than applying no noise reduction processing at all, especially at high sensitivity levels. We also found the exposure problems identified above were largely solved by switching noise reduction off.
Imatest showed resolution to be slightly below expectations for a 10-megapixel camera with the 14-42mm lens but close to expectations with the 40-150mm lens. In both cases, the best performance was between f/5.6 and f/11, although we found little deterioration at either larger or smaller apertures. Resolution declined only slightly as sensitivity was increased. There appeared to be a fairly high level of post-capture processing in the JPEG files that were used for our analysis (Imatest was unable to work with the ORF Raw files).
Overall colour accuracy was acceptable, although Imatest detected slight colour shifts and boosted saturation in reds. This was confirmed in actual shots. Lateral chromatic aberration was negligible with both test lenses. The auto white balance mode failed to correct the colour casts produced by either incandescent or fluorescent lighting but did significantly better with the latter. The manual pre-set and measurement modes produced slightly better colours but failed to achieve true neutrality.
The test camera took 1.5 seconds to power up ready for shooting. We measured an average capture lag of 0.2 seconds, which was totally eliminated by pre-focusing. It took roughly five seconds to display a captured image on screen and roughly the same time to process a burst of 10 shots recorded in the continuous shooting mode. Shot-to-shot times for both JPEG and Raw files averaged 0.65 seconds without flash and one second with flash. The continuous shooting mode can record JPEG shots at 3.3 frames/second for about 16 frames before beginning to slow down but we found the AF system had difficulties matching this burst capture rate.
The E-410 has a lot to recommend it to photographers who wish to upgrade from a digicam to a DSLR and novice photographers who want a DSLR camera that is as straightforward to shoot with as a digicam. Its shallow grip and small size won't suit photographers with large hands or limited dexterity and its light weight and lack of image stabilisation makes using long lenses challenging. We would have liked faster and more accurate autofocus and a better metering system but, on the whole, the E-410 is a nice little camera for its target market.
Coincidentally, at the same time as we were reviewing the E-410, we also received the Olympus SP550 digicam, which has an 18x optical zoom lens. (A review of this camera has been posted on the Photo Review website.) Although the digicam was noticeable smaller, the difference in weight between the two camera bodies was only 10 grams in the digicam's favour and with the 14-42mm lens attached, the weight difference was only 180 grams when the cameras were ready for shooting. Although the DSLR costs an additional $500, we feel it is by far the better choice for most photographers.
Resolution with the kit 14-42mm lens.
Resolution with the 40-150mm lens.
Close-up with the 14-42mm lens.
Close-up with the 40-150mm lens.
The camera's metering system had a few problems with strong backlighting.
Three shots taken from a burst sequence. Note the focus and exposure problems.
The test camera's innate warm colour bias delivered attractive skin tones with subjects in shade.
Indoor flash portraits had attractive skin tones.
Image sensor: 17.3 x 13.0mm Live MOS sensor with approx. 10.9 million photosites (10 megapixels effective)
Lens mount: FourThirds mount
Focal length crop factor: 2x
Image formats: RAW, JPEG, RAW+JPEG
Image Sizes: 3648 x 2736, 3200 x 2400, 2560 x 1920, 1600 x 1200, 1280 x 960, 1024 x 768, 640 x 480 (4 JPEG compression levels)
Image Stabilisation: no
Dust removal: SuperSonic Wave Filter
Shutter speed range: Auto mode: 2-1/4000 sec., P(Ps), S, A, M mode: 60-1/4000 sec. (Bulb: up to 8 min. with limiter), Scene mode: 4-1/4000 sec. (depends on settings)
Exposure Compensation: +/- 5 EV in 1/3 EV steps
Self-timer: 12 sec., 2 sec. (cancel available)
Focus system: TTL phase difference detection; 3-point auto/manual selection
Focus modes: Single AF (S-AF), Continuous AF (C-AF), Manual Focus (MF), S-AF + MF, C-AF + MF
Exposure metering/control: TTL open aperture metering with 49-zones multi-pattern sensing system; Digital ESP, centre-weighted and spot metering (with/without highlight/shadow control); Auto, P, A, S and M shooting modes plus 20 scene pre-sets
Colour space options: sRGB, Adobe RGB
ISO range: ISO 100-800. Available in AUTO, Program, A, Scene Program AE, Scene Select AE; to ISO 1600 in manual mode
White balance: Auto, Lamp (3000K), Fluorescent 1 (4000K), Fluorescent 2 (4500K), Fluorescent 3 (6600K), Daylight (5300K), Cloudy (6000K), Shade (7500K), Custom WB; WB compensation of ±7 steps in each R-B/G-M axis (in Auto WB/Preset WB mode)
Flash: Retractable pop up flash (GN 12); X-synch at 1/180 sec. or longer
Flash exposure adjustment: ±2 EV in 1/3 EV steps
Sequence shooting: 3 frames/second for up to 8 RAW frames; JPEG depends on image size/compression
Storage Media: CompactFlash (Type I and II), Microdrive, xD-Picture Card. (Dual slot).
Viewfinder: Eye-level TTL Optical (approx. 95% field of view, 0.92x magnification)
LCD monitor: 2.5-inch HyperCrystal LCD (Approx. 230,000 pixels)
Data LCD: n.a.
PC interface: USB 2.0 High Speed
Power supply: BLS-1 Li-ion battery; C.I.P.A rated for approx. 500 shots using optical viewfinder only (with 50% flash shots)
Dimensions (wxhxd): 129.5 x 91 x 53 mm (body only, excluding protrusions)
Weight: 375 g (body only)
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