We've provided this printable version of our review for your convenience. Please remember that your shopping clicks support this site. If you think this camera is a good choice for you, please consider returning to the link below to check prices and make a purchase via our shopping links.

Also note that this is just one of the pages from this review. Full reviews have several pages with complete analysis of the many test shots we take with each camera. Feel free to download and print them out to see how the camera will perform for you.

Full Review at: http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/E410/E410A.HTM

 

Olympus E-410
Overview

by Shawn Barnett
Hands-On Preview: 3/05/07
Full Review: 7/31/07
UPDATED 8/14/07: Kit lens comparison

As the smallest digital SLR on the market, the Olympus E-410 brings to mind the revolution started with the company's first full-frame 35mm SLR back in 1972: the M-1, later renamed the OM-1. As of this writing, there are other small SLRs already on the market, that are very close in size -- and smaller in some dimensions -- so the E-410 is not quite the revolution that the M-1 was. But it's just the right size when you want to pack light, as it's also the lightest camera on the market.

Born simultaneously with the larger E-510, the Olympus E-410 shares most of its internal features with its fraternal twin. It has a 10-megapixel Live MOS sensor, a new TruePIC III processor, a 2.5 inch LCD, and uses both CF and xD memory cards. The Live MOS sensor, made by Panasonic, enables a true Live View mode, allowing image composition on the LCD, much like the common digicam most have grown used to (note that I don't say "just like the common digicam").

Since it's a Four-Thirds camera, the E-410 is compatible with all 28 Four-Thirds lenses made by Olympus, Sigma, and Panasonic. Two new Olympus lenses were introduced with the line, and the E-410 can be purchased with one or both lenses in a kit. The lens that appears in both bundles is the 3x, 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6, a very small optic that is equivalent to a 28-84mm lens on a 35mm camera. The 40-150mm f/4-5.6 is not much larger or heavier, and is equivalent to 80-300mm on a 35mm camera. Together the two lenses span 10.7x. It's quite an impressive range that fits in the smallest of camera cases, and that's the real story to the Olympus E-410.

 

Olympus E-410
User Report

by Shawn Barnett

History. Unlike most camera manufacturers, Olympus has only ever produced two lines of SLR cameras with interchangeable lenses. The original OM-series spanned three decades, culminating in the OM-4T, an innovative, albeit manual-focus camera that was finally discontinued in 2002. In 1990, the company introduced a three-point AF system in their IS-1, a camera design that they dubbed ZLR, for Zoom Lens Reflex. It was essentially a film SLR without interchangeable lenses.

Olympus never produced an autofocus SLR system with interchangeable lenses, which is why it was easy for them to let go of the manual-focus OM-series and build an entirely new system designed around a smaller sensor. Unlike other manufacturers, all with an existing base of AF lenses to support with their new digital SLR designs, Olympus could afford to start fresh.

Smaller, lighter. The main design goal of the Olympus E-system was to keep everything small. I can't be sure whether they chose the Four-Thirds sensor size for this reason, or if it was a size that was more affordable, but the company claims the goal was to enable smaller lenses and smaller cameras.

Smaller lenses. This is a very small photographic combo, yet it offers 10.7x magnification.

Until these two latest lenses, it didn't seem like they were realizing their goal. The bundled lenses were as big as most equivalent competing designs, and sometimes bigger. But these two lenses finally deliver on the promise of smaller optics. The 3x lens is only smaller by a nose, but the 40-150 takes you to 300mm equivalence in a remarkably small space.

The other major goal of the Four-Thirds system was to be "designed for digital." At first, manufacturers like Nikon, Canon, and Pentax were using lenses that were designed for 35mm film cameras, while using sensors that were roughly APS-C sized. This was a smart way for these companies to keep their loyal lens owners by giving them a safe upgrade path. But Olympus argued that digital sensors themselves required a different approach to avoid light falloff in the corners, among other problems.

According to our tests, the approach may be helping. Though other manufacturers have come out with their own digital-specific lenses, it seems these two new lenses outperform the two most popular manufacturers' kit lenses. More on that later.

Look and Feel. I should note that the E-410 body style is not new to most of the world, as it's essentially identical to the E-400 introduced in Europe last year. But it's new to the US, so I'll go on about it as if it's new.

Old and new. Approaching the small size of the revolutionary OM-1, the E-410 is one small digital SLR.

The Olympus E-410 is so small that it begs comparison to many cameras. The Pentax K100D, the Rebel XTi, the Nikon D40, and the Olympus OM-1 come to mind. I happen to have all of these here, including the OM-1, and the comparison is interesting. It's amazing to think that the OM-1 is all gears and springs, and the E-410 is mostly transistors.

Homage. Olympus says they hid a little tribute to the OM-1 under the E-410 and E-510's pop-up flash.

I won't actually compare the two, except to say that the OM-1 is wider and thinner, with a shorter prime lens. Olympus took an extra step, however, to invoke the memory of their OM-series cameras. If you pop up the E-410's flash, you can see the same shape found on the OM-1's pentaprism housing. It's a subtle, but interesting homage. Because of the natural shape of a pentaprism or Penta-mirror, you'll find a similar shape under the Rebel XTi's flash; but I'll take Olympus's word that they did this on purpose.

Subtle. It's more of a contour than a grip, but easy to get used to, with a nice textured surface.

Grip. Unlike all the other small SLRs I've mentioned, the Olympus E-410 doesn't have much of a grip. It's more of subtle arrangement of contours that help enhance your hold. There's a soft well on the back for your thumb, and a raised ridge on the front. Both are enhanced by a soft, textured, rubbery surface to improve traction. The sensation really does bring back the old days of slim, gripless camera bodies. It reduces the bulk of the camera overall, and makes it look slimmer. Holding the E-410 for long periods of time is not as easy as holding an E-510 or even the Rebel XTi, whose grip is very small, and it gets even harder if you attach a long zoom or heavy prime lens to the E-410, but when I'm just headed out for some casual shooting, the E-410's small profile and small lenses are just right.

Controls. I was pretty partial to the E-500's power switch on the top deck just behind the shutter button, so I'm a little less excited about the power switch jutting out from the back of the E-410. When off, the switch is a little close to the Control dial, so you have to press your thumb into it to get a good grip. Though less than ideal for speed, it's probably better, since it makes accidental activation less likely.

Simple controls. From placement to function, the controls work very well.

The Mode dial sits atop the power switch, and has just the right stiffness to maintain its position while riding around in a bag. The Control dial to the right of this is excellent. It has just the right feel as you turn it through its detents, with a tactile feedback and sound that's very similar to the OM-1's dials.

The Shutter button is out on the front of the top deck. I prefer grip-mounted shutter buttons, but once my hand has found a comfortable grip on the E-410, my index finger quite naturally rests on the shutter button, so no harm there. Just right of the shutter button is the EV/Av adjustment button. If you shoot in Manual mode, you press this button to adjust the Aperture, since there's no dedicated dial. Most consumer SLRs have this requirement. Flash and Drive mode buttons are on the left of the top deck, and a very common set of buttons is on the back.

Card door. The card cover conceals not one, but two types of memory card slot.

Storage and Power. The E-410, like the E-510, uses both CF cards (CompactFlash) and xD cards. This is great for those already invested in either kind of card. Most pro SLRs use CF, so E-1 owners will already have storage for these new cameras; but consumers who own a digicam that uses xD can also step into the E-410 with less initial cost.

There are two benefits to using CF, however: speed and capacity. According to our tests, the Olympus E-410 captured 15 Large/Fine JPEG images before the buffer filled, then it took only five seconds to save all images to the card. Using a regular speed xD card, we managed only 9 frames, and it took 26 seconds to save the data off. Currently, the largest xD card you can get is 2GB, while the largest CF available is 16GB.

Given that the E-410's Large/Fine JPEGs can be as large as 8MB each, you'll want one or two large CF cards for vacation. If you're shooting RAW or RAW+JPEG, each image can be 17.3MB and 25.6MB each, respectively.

With Live View mode off, the E-410 can capture around 500 shots with its slim 7.2V, 1150mAh lithium-ion battery (Model: PS-BLS1). I have trouble getting the pack to come out of the unit we have. It seems like the spring on the retention latch is a little strong, and the pack doesn't come out far enough to grasp. Initially I had to use my Leatherman to grab the battery, but it's loosening up a bit after a few weeks of use.

Viewfinder. An optical viewfinder is where you get the best speed with any SLR, and that's true with the Olympus E-410. The viewfinder is cramped, unfortunately, and Olympus puts the status display off to the right of the viewfinder window, rather than across the bottom, which means I can't see it without pressing my glasses into the rubber eyecup and peering to the right of the viewfinder. There is good news, though. If I take off my glasses and press my nose in against the left of the camera, I can get right in there, and the diopter can compensate for my vision. No other brand makes a camera that compensates for my nearsightedness out of the box. I think most users would appreciate greater magnification from the viewfinder, as well as a higher eyepoint. It happens that the OM-1's viewfinder is unusually large; optically, the E-410's viewfinder appears to be about 1/4 the size of the OM-1's.

Live View. Though it increases shutter lag, Live View offers some intriguing possibilities. As these roll by above, you'll see the different modes available by pressing the INFO button. The green box can be moved around the Live View screen; then you press the OK button to zoom in 10x and verify focus. Handy for fine tripod work. If you press the OK button when out of the zoom mode, a modified translucent Status display comes up allowing you to change major settings on the fly.

Live View. From a technology perspective, the company that gave us smaller SLRs, Focal Plane flash sync, and automatic dust removal is once again taking the lead, deploying the second generation of full-time live preview SLRs for consumers. Unfortunately, their implementation doesn't jibe with consumer expectations. It's not just expectations, but the problem of the marketing department promising something that the engineering department hasn't quite built.

I'm reminded of something close to my heart, the Apple Newton fiasco. They were incredible handheld computers, and people who see them today -- even those who own the most advanced modern handheld computers -- marvel at the design and interface. But because the Newton's handwriting recognition wasn't perfect, the public and media panned them. Handwriting recognition was only one aspect of the Newton, but because that was its most potentially impressive feature, when it didn't work perfectly for all types of handwriting, people saw it as flawed. After all, it had no physical keyboard, so bad handwriting recognition made it worthless, right? Not quite. Onscreen keyboards were also part of the Newton, and data entry was easy with this method; and the Newton would gradually learn your handwriting.

Today, digicam users seldom look through their optical viewfinders. They've grown accustomed to holding their cameras out in front of them and composing on the LCD. Never mind that this method introduces more shake than holding the camera to your eye; it's more comfortable, usually more accurate, and easier to envision your print on a larger, backlit screen.

Surely a digital SLR with a Live View mode will attract millions of digicam users looking for the same functionality they love in their digicam. Absolutely. And that's what buyers will think and retailers will emphasise when discussing the Olympus E-410 and E-510.

But there's a problem. One thing digicam owners quickly grow to dislike more than small, cramped optical viewfinders is extreme shutter lag. That's the time between when you press the shutter button and when the camera actually captures an image. Well, Live View introduces significant and widely varying shutter lag, ranging from a half second to three or more seconds depending on whether the camera can focus on the subject. There's your handwriting recognition on the wall.

It's not that Olympus is entirely marketing these two cameras exclusively as Live View SLRs, but because they're the first with Live View, people will expect the E-410 to work just like their digicam; and further, because it's an SLR they will also expect it to have lower shutter lag than their digicam. But both notions are incorrect.

Compared to XTi. One is taller and the other wider, but the E-410 is just a little smaller overall than the XTi. Both have dust reduction, but only the E-410 has Live View.

Though Live View does give you a live image onscreen, that image won't be in focus until you press the AEL/AFL button. When you do, the image freezes and the mirror and shutter flip closed until focus is achieved. Then your live image returns and the selected AF point illuminates onscreen. Depending on how contrasty your subject is, you can focus in around a half second, or it might take a few. It also might never focus. You can move the camera to a more contrasty subject, but you won't be able to see just where you've moved it until the camera focuses and your live view returns. Sound frustrating? It is.

You can also just trust that the Olympus E-410 will focus properly, press the shutter all the way, and it will usually focus right before it fires. Shutter lag in this mode is 0.88 second, provided it has a good target and sufficient light to focus. If you prefocus by pressing the AEL/AFL button, this time goes down to 0.59 second. For comparison, if you shoot with the optical viewfinder, the shutter lag does full autofocus in 0.37 second, and if you prefocus it's a blazing 0.092 second. That's what you buy an SLR for: fast AF and fast capture. But in Live View mode, the E-410 is slower than most digicams, let alone most SLRs.

Add flash to Live View, and the full AF shutter lag actually gets slower than the Panasonic L1. The preflash is a lot faster, but somehow the E-410 manages to be slower overall. Having a faster preflash is surprisingly helpful, however, because I found that with all the shutter and mirror flipping as the L1 focused, adding a preflash 1/2 second before the actual exposure added the last bit of confusion to the mix, leading my subjects to think I'd taken several shots.

Live View can be confounding to the subject and the photographer if you're not patient.

And that's the true pitfall of Live View: those who choose it as their main shooting mode will think the E-410 is the slowest camera they've ever used. It's the perception, not the truth that stands to hurt Olympus's reputation. But that need not be the case, which is why I've bothered to explain all that.

As I suggested in my preview of the Olympus E-410, you'll want to use the optical viewfinder for most shots, because you want to eliminate as much shutter lag as possible. But as I've spent time with both cameras, I have been surprised by just how often I use Live View mode.

Taking a picture of my son sleeping on the floor, I realized the shot would be a little better if I could get directly above him, but without my feet in the shot. If only I could hold the camera out over him and still see through the viewfinder, I thought to myself. Then I remembered Live View. Just press the button on the back, compose on the LCD, and press the shutter button. So long as there's sufficient contrast under one of the three AF points, and I hold the camera still, the mirror will flip down, the camera will focus, and the mirror will flip back up to capture the image. In this situation, I don't care that it's slow. He's sleeping, after all. The noise of the multiple shutter sounds might wake him up, but not in this case.

The point is that Live View is a feature of the Olympus E-410 that you won't get many other places, but it's not the main mode you should use. Most of the chief benefits of an SLR are found in the optical viewfinder: You're seeing exactly what the lens sees, and what the sensor will see once you press the shutter. Compared to an LCD display, you're getting your information at the speed of light, not filtered and delayed through oodles of electronic circuits before it gets to the LCD. Live View is great -- a worthwhile feature -- but it's nowhere near as great as an actual live view at 186,282 miles per second (299,792 km per second).

Keep it in perspective, and the E-410 is a little more versatile than most digital SLRs because it offers both.

I was also surprised to see the Live View image change to black and white in very low light. This presumably allows the Olympus E-410 to gain up without significant color speckles dancing on the screen. It also gives clearer detail. Impressive.

Dust. You can't see it in the first shot, but open the Auto Levels version and the dust becomes visible (click on the images to see larger versions). In our testing, the E-410 apparently gathered no dust from start to finish, but it didn't manage to shake any loose, either. These are just stubborn pieces of dust that will have to be cleaned from the SuperSonic Wave Filter.

Dust suppression. Olympus was also the first to take on this challenge. Dust was always a problem with film, but now it's worse. Film caused scratches on the emulsion while moving through the camera, and stuck to negatives and slides in storage. Seldom did it affect a single frame during capture; and if it did, that would change when the film advanced to the next frame.

With digital, there is no advance to the next frame. The sensor is the same shot to shot, so any dust that sticks to the glass just sits there, affecting each frame the same as the last. Now that Olympus has enabled Live View, the problem is magnified because the sensor can be exposed to dust for minutes instead of fractions of a second.

So far, it looks like Olympus's dust solution is still the most effective. What dust it doesn't shake off is substantially blurred in the final exposure. I'll have to take brief issue again with the marketing strategy, because once again they're overselling a good thing. The main E-410 brochure I received is full of wonderfully worded overstatement: "Dust. It's everywhere. It's annoying. It's relentless. It must be stopped. We've declared war on dust. And driven it out of our cameras." Then it goes on to describe a scene where the protagonist in the story has the confidence to change lenses while quads race past, "with dust swirling everywhere."

I'm an Olympus fan from way back, but I'm concerned about these claims. Any experienced camera owner can tell you not to change lenses in areas where dust -- especially sand -- is "swirling." Even if the Supersonic Wave Filter can shake most of the airborne sand from the sensor, this fine abrasive will work its way into vital parts in the lens, shutter, buttons, dials, and wear on the mount.

My understanding is that while some of Olympus's high-end lenses are sealed to resist dust and moisture, these two new lenses are not. You'll never get all of it out, and your camera will never be the same. The E-410 might indeed be a good camera for use in dusty environments, but please wait for the dust to settle before you change lenses.

Had Olympus not made these claims, I'd have been able to say that their Super Sonic Wave Filter works well to remove many types of dust, and the body is sealed to keep most dust out. Be aware, however, that even if the body were perfectly sealed and you never removed the lens, dust still enters through zooming and focusing the lens, and dust can even come from the camera's internal components, especially the fast-moving shutter and mirror mechanism. The good news is that Olympus's system works well; but the truth is that you'll still periodically need to clean the sensor, as you will with all other brands.

Interface. As I mentioned, the buttons and dials are great on the E-410, but the digital interface is important too. Their implementation of the Status display makes adjusting most settings very easy. Unless you're in Live View mode, the Status display is present for about ten seconds after you release the shutter button. In this time, if you press the OK button, one of the blocks on the status display turns yellow. You can use the four arrows to move around to the item you want to change and press OK again. The selection menu for that item then appears, and you can use either the arrows or the Control dial to make your selection. Press OK again, and you're back to the Status display. There are two displays, a simple and a more intricate one, selected with the Info button.

Fireworks mode. I had a terrible location, with a telephone pole and street light right in front of me, and most of the fireworks were bursting right behind that pole. But with zoom I managed to get a few good shots that I later cropped. This was taken with the 40-150mm kit lens.

The menus are fairly straightforward, but oddly organized, and it's often unclear which button you should press to move onto the next screen. If you decide you want to change the Picture Mode item, you press the right arrow to bring up the next screen. If you press OK instead, you leave the menu entirely. If you own the camera, it won't be a problem; if you use dozens like I do, it's annoying.

Features. Nearly all the advanced features you expect from a mid-range SLR are included in the E-410. Flash exposure compensation; multiple color modes, including black and white tones and filters; High and Low key settings; Preset and Kelvin White balance capability; mirror lockup; and even AE bracketing. The E-510 has a little more than the E-410, though, starting with White balance bracketing and Flash bracketing. You can also set a high ISO limit with the E-510, define a color space, turn on shading compensation, and an array of other custom functions that are left out of the E-410 to keep it simple.

Of course the Olympus E-410 is replete with Scene modes, 20 in all. I managed to make good use of the Fireworks mode this past Fourth of July. This one earned a place on my wall, but there's another in the Gallery. I was pleasantly surprised by how little I had to do to get great results. A tripod was required, of course.


Olympus Studio. With Studio 2.0, you can remote control the camera and instantly upload pictures from the camera to the computer. You do not get a live image onscreen, however.

Remote control. What wasn't left out of the E-410 is the ability to work with Olympus Studio 2.0 software, which is a more advanced version of the Olympus Master software bundled with the camera. It's available for $200, but a demo version can be installed from the included disk.

One of the more interesting features of the software is the ability to remote control the E-410 via USB connection. Just click a button onscreen and your image is captured and downloaded to the computer. If you can't imagine why you'd need that, it's probably not worth buying the software. You'll get most of what you need to handle RAW images with the included software. The good news for studios, whether pro photographers or ebay stores, is that this software is there if you need it. (The Canon Rebel XTi comes with the software for this trick.)



Underwater Housings: We covered Olympus's Underwater Housings at PMA 2007. This video is mostly dedicated to the E-410 in its housing.

Optics and Accessories. Buying an E-410 avails you of the entire suite of 20 Zuiko Digital lenses, as well as flashes, cables, finders, and there's even a lens adapter for using old OM lenses. Something else that you won't find for the E-510 is the PT-E03 Underwater Housing, available for around $1,100 (It also requires a "lens port" for the size of lens you'll be using; the PPO-E01 will work with the kit lens and costs approximately $365). Waterproof down to 131 feet (40 meters), the E-410 is a great choice for diving, not only because its small size allows for a smaller housing, but because the Live View mode makes composing images underwater much better than having to squint through a viewfinder or use an awkward frame. Other accessories include a flash housing for the FL-20 and FL-36 flashes. You can even get a zoom ring to allow zooming of the camera while it's in the housing.

As for settings, the E-410 has special underwater Scene modes that make adjusting your camera for underwater photography as simple as selecting one of the modes. See the video above right for more.

Center vs. Corner. The charts above plot "blur factor" from our DxO test charts against aperture (lower blur factor numbers are better). We start at 5.6, because this is the first aperture that all three lenses share in common at all focal lengths. We attribute the slight increase in blur at f/22 to diffraction limiting due to the Four-Thirds sensor's smaller pixels. Otherwise, the Olympus clearly outperforms Nikon and Canon's Kit lenses in terms of corner sharpness.

Lenses. Olympus has some impressive lenses available for the E-410. I played with a few during this review, and enjoyed both their size and overall sharpness. It took some time to get used to them and their idiosyncracies, especially the very narrow depth of field wide open (not unusual, but I find I have to play with a lens a few times before I tune in to its habits and capabilities on a given body). I used the 150mm f/2.0 and the 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5. Both were very sharp, but I got better results locking them to the center AF point due to the narrow depth-of-field. These were large and heavy enough that they really required a tripod, and were better suited to the Olympus E-510, with its bigger grip and sensor-shift image stabilization.

*UPDATE 8/14/07* Digital lens design. We're in the process of starting our tests of Olympus Four-Thirds optics on SLRgear.com, and the initial results show that my experience and Olympus's claims for their edge-to-edge sharpness are indeed valid, at least in the first lens we've tested. Jim Tanner, our lens technician, tested the Zuiko 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6, and plotted the average results against the average results from Canon's EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 and Nikon's Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G. While all three lenses are pretty close when compared by center sharpness, it's at the corners where we see a significant difference. As I've mentioned in other reviews, the Canon lens looked much better when used on a 6-megapixel camera, but the 10-megapixel Rebel XTi reveals significant softening in the corners. The same goes for the Nikon D40's performance with its kit lens when compared to the 10-megapixel D40x. The Zuiko 14-42mm kit lens does much better, as you can see in the plots at right.


FL-36. It's small and packs easily, but the FL-36 recycles too slowly for my kind of shooting.

Flash. I only used the FL-36 external flash occasionally. While it was fine with the E-410's kit lenses, and worked reasonably well in bounce situations, the flash recycle time was a little too long; and the camera wouldn't fire until the flash had recycled. That is probably fine if you're shooting in a darker setting, but very often I was using the flash for fill, and would have preferred to just take a shot without fill so that I didn't miss the moment. I'd recommend the FL-50, as the FL-36 doesn't recharge quickly enough after a full-power shot, probably due to its use of only two AA batteries.

It's also worth noting that with the FL-36 mounted, you really miss a larger grip. The entire combo slipped out of my hand easily at one point, thankfully landing on a 3-inch thick padded mat.

The on-camera flash is very small, and offers very poor coverage at the camera's wide angle setting. It's fine for telephoto shots, if a little underpowered. I also found that the E-410 didn't always make the right decision for proper exposure, producing underexposed, flat images.

Well enough. In one of the rare moments, the E-410 caught my kid sitting still.

Low light. I took my kids to a local play area recently, where it was dark enough that ISO 1,600 was insufficient to freeze action. So I worked with the FL-36 at first, then switched to the on-camera flash. Despite its narrower range, I had better results with the on-camera flash. Both flashes resulted in a very blue cast against the yellow lights, but they're usable shots. My biggest complaint was the poor speed of the autofocus system. I really had to work to get it to focus, and my little models didn't stay still for long. The E-410's pop-up flash actually had better success focusing, but it took a lot longer, with several bursts of illuminating flash. Most cameras will give you some trouble focusing in low light, but this was more trouble than I'm used to.

We also ran into an odd problem with hot spots appearing only at ISO 400 and above, and only at certain exposure times (e.g.: ISO 400 at 2.5 seconds and f/3.2). In our first sample, the spots exceeded hundreds, but our second sample was significantly better. This will not affect most shooters, but anyone doing time exposures for cityscapes might want to take note. See the Exposure tab for more (scroll down to Low Light).

Image quality. Take a look at the Exposure and Optics tabs for the full breakdown on image quality. It's a bit of a mixed bag, unfortunately. The test results do indeed show the corners to be quite a bit sharper than the competition's kit lenses, so it's likely that Olympus's digital-specific lenses do indeed have an advantage.

High ISO images are also pretty good, with admirable control over noise, especially considering the smaller size of the Four-Thirds sensor. Below, I've compared the E-410's ISO 1,600 shot with the Canon XTi and Nikon D40x.

Canon
Rebel XTi
Nikon
D40x
Olympus
E410

Respectable high ISO. The Olympus E-410's ISO 1,600 performance was pretty good, producing somewhat soft images, but with little noise. Whereas the Canon XTi on top left much chroma noise to preserve detail, and the D40 effectively smooshed out chroma noise along with some detail, the E410 strikes a balance between the two extremes. The image is softer overall, however.

Difficult recovery. Though I managed to compensate for it in levels, the odd tone curve applied to this image by the E-410 made recovery difficult, requiring individual attention to each color channel. Auto Levels did next to nothing, by the way, and Curves didn't respond well at all, so this is not a tweak for the amateur, nor is it one I want to do often.

Odd Tone Curve. Our lab tests are designed to simulate common situations you're likely to encounter with a camera, but we also spend time with the cameras and use them in our real lives. I've been shooting the E-410 and E-510 for more than a few weeks, living with the cameras and using them for my personal photography (hence all the kids).

Taking nothing away from our lab shots, it's different when you're looking at a picture you took yourself of your child at a parade. When the highlights are blown and shadows are plugged in the lab's Sunlight Extreme test, I point it out and write in the appropriate warning to watch out for direct sunlight situations; but when it's a shot I'd like to post or print, I have to go through the rigors of trying to salvage the blown highlights or deep shadows, while making sense of the mid-tones. The lesson strikes home.

So it's also from experience that I can tell you: the Olympus E-410's tone curve produces images that are often difficult to tweak. Highlights are too often blown, and shadows are too deep; detail in these areas can't be recovered. But it's not just the darkest shadows, mind you: the mid-range tones are often too abruptly dark. Shots in the shade are flat, with very little nuance to allow an easy recovery. Recovering mids without blowing the highlights is also very difficult; way too complex for the average snapshooter.

In bright sunlight, we found that reducing the contrast to -2 in the Normal mode kept shadows from clipping too badly, but highlights were still too strong. Shadows were usually deeper in the images than they appeared to my eye. Skintones, especially, suffer in sunlight.

Because the LCD is somewhat dim in bright sunlight, these images seem badly underexposed; but if you adjust the exposure for a better appearance on the LCD, you'll blow the highlights even worse. It's frustrating. See the Imatest page for more on this.

300mm equivalent. Though it seems huge compared to the E-410, this 150mm f/2.0 lens is short compared to others of the same length and power. It is heavy, but it gives you a lot of light gathering ability in a small package.

Appraisal. The Olympus E-410 is a handsome and handy little SLR, one I could have easily fallen in love with. Though its Live View mode is not what it many will think, introducing extreme shutter lag, it is quite useful on occasion, allowing you to get shots you couldn't otherwise. Its small size and light weight let me take it along more often, and it was nimble and easy to adjust to my needs. Autofocus in low light was weak, however, resulting in many a missed shot; and its tendency to blow highlights and underexpose the mids left some shots similarly out of reach. As has been the case with every Olympus SLR I've reviewed, though, I managed to get some very good shots with the E-410. Some of them, unfortunately, were a lot of work, either before or after capture. Manually tweaking the contrast to a lower setting helped reduce the blown highlights, so there is a way to deal with it if you know how.

So it's a mixed bag. Easy to use, great design, perfect size, nice features, good lens; but sometimes getting a good shot is harder than it should be. I hesitate to recommend the E-410 to the rank amateur, because I think too many of their images will be disappointing, especially indoors or in shadow. I do think it's a good choice for those who need the smallest camera possible, and don't mind tinkering with camera settings, and tweaking pictures after.

 

Features

 

In the Box

The EVOLT E-410 kit package contains the following items:

 

Recommended Accessories



 

Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Small and light, easy to bring along
  • Excellent lens beats others in its class
  • Lens is sharp corner to corner
  • Wide range of optics to choose from
  • Live LCD preview allows shots from odd angles
  • Good resolution
  • Good control of chromatic aberration
  • Smart control design
  • Uses both CF and xD memory cards
  • Good high ISO performance, with low noise
  • Color doesn't fade as ISO increases
  • Continuous mode is fast at 3.25 frames per second
  • Smart status display doubles as quick link to oft-used menu items
  • Scene modes work well
  • Supersonic Wave filter removes (most) dust from sensor when camera is turned on
  • Good Prefocus shutter lag
  • Slow startup and shut-down times
  • Grip is fine for the camera only, but is insufficient for added accessories
  • Live View mode is very slow, introducing extreme shutter lag
  • Optical viewfinder is small and information is displayed off to the right, rather than beneath the image
  • Has trouble focusing in low light
  • Manual focus is electronic, not physical
  • Images are slightly soft overall
  • Greens are undersaturated
  • Skin tones are somewhat pale
  • Auto White balance leaves incandescent shots quite warm
  • Continuous mode is sometimes inconsistent, slowing every three to four frames
  • Tendency to underexpose images indoors, requiring +1.7 EV compensation
  • Multiple LCD display modes can be confusing
  • Less dynamic range compared to other SLRs means blown highlights and plugged shadows
  • Flash coverage doesn't fill most of the wide angle frame
  • Mids of images are often underexposed
  • Tone curve makes highlight detail hard to maintain as you work on other parts of the image
  • Hot spots appear at high ISO at very specific exposure times (not good for those doing night photography and certainly not astronomy!)

 

Olympus's EVOLT E-410 finally realizes one of the most clearly stated goals of the Four-Thirds standard: A small camera with a great lenses and good quality. Unfortunately, I think there's still some work that needs to be done to make the camera's imaging abilities all they can be. As has consistently been the case with Four-Thirds cameras -- the only exception being the E-500 -- I have to spend more time weighing the positives against the negatives than I do with other cameras.

On one hand, the Olympus E-410 is cute, quick, fun to shoot (used with Live View off), and stows easily. Its main kit lens is small and sharp even in the corners, and the 40-150mm telephoto lens makes for a small 10.7x combo. Its Scene modes are great for the novice, but two modes in particular are tuned for professional divers willing to spend more than the camera costs in an underwater housing and accessories. This little portable wonder also works with a pretty impressive array of high-quality optics that are themselves quite small.

On the other hand, I see the E-410 as aimed mostly at the consumer photographer. Though it has the great lens and full-auto modes, it too often fails to serve up accurate exposure and white balance indoors where consumers take a good portion of their pictures. Where I was most frustrated was when my pictures lacked contrast and nuance, with areas that weren't so dark to my eye appearing quite dark and flat in the image. There are workarounds, but it's harder to strongly and universally recommend a camera that kept me guessing most of the time, not to mention working too hard to recover images that should have been straightforward.

Still, I know that I can make great images with the Olympus E-410, because I have. It's a camera I'd love to take on a hike, or carry on a daily basis, but I'd have to spend some more time solving the problems I've mentioned. Unless your needs are specifically for a very small camera that you'll be shooting primarily in daylight -- and you have no problem regularly tweaking images -- I think most consumer needs will be served better with a different SLR. Those who are into photography and/or love the whole Four-Thirds philosophy would probably be happier with the Olympus E-510. Tinkerers who have been waiting for a small SLR and like to make good products better with a little attention to detail will love the Olympus E-410. The E-410 is a good camera in the hands of an experienced photographer, but not the best choice for the average consumer.

Click here to visit B&H's website