Olympus E410 Digital SLR camera review

Barely 6 months on from the launch of the E400, Olympus announced an updated version of that camera which, while almost identical, has a couple of important differences.

Overall, its design, build, and shooting options remain unchanged (also read my Olympus E400 review for more specifics on these), the E410 includes a new, Matsushita-made Live-MOS sensor that affords the previously unique-to-Olympus-DSLRs Live View feature; rather flatteringly to Olympus, in my view, Canon’s new top-end EOS 1D Mk III has a version of the system.

Live View allows you to use the camera’s 2.5-inch colour screen to compose images in a way similar to composing and on a digital compact; it includes magnification for manual focusing and allows AF, although the mirror must still flip out of the way to do so which slows things down and is bit noisy to boot.

Other tweaks to the E410 include a new approach to noise suppression and processing thanks to the new, TruPic III image engine that’s faster, and affords better noise reduction and processing. Here, however, there appears to be increased noise processing at higher sensitivities than compared with the E400. However, those noise problems don’t become obvious until you get to the ISO 800 level, or above so the E410 is much better than its predecessor in that department.

But, and there’s always one of those it seems. Once the noise processing kicks in, you do get a level of overly aggressive detail smoothing as a result, but, because you can shoot at up to ISO 800 with relative confidence in terms of noise, noise processing can be left on hold for all but the highest ISO shots, particularly where detail importance supercedes annoyance value of any noise artifacts.

The E410 benefits from two new kit lenses (as well as any and all lenses available to the 4/3rd system, a total of 23 from Olympus, 11 from Sigma and two from Panasonic/Leica at the time of writing). The kit lenses include a very compact and cute-looking Olympus, Zuiko F3.5-5.6, 14-42mm (28-84mm 35mm film equivalent) optic and a new, F4-5.6, 40-150mm (80-300mm 35mm equiv’) zoom lens, which, between them, provide an excellent 28-300mm focal length range.

The E410 is sold as body only, a kit with the 14-42mm optic or as a dual lens kit with both the lenses detailed above. And as kit lenses go, both are well above average, so while not necessarily the brightest in terms of maximum apertures at your disposal, they’re sharp; the inclusion of Olympus’ ED glass in their makeup, helps get the most from the new 10-megapixel Live-MOS sensor.

As for the handling, the E410 is as good as it’s forbear, which, incidentally was criticized for only being available in Europe: not so the new model. The control layout is the same as on the E400 with the old camera’s function button being replaced with a screen toggle and Live View activation button.

The excellent fast-access to almost all camera setting options (of which you can adjust almost every single thing on the camera, is, perhaps, a weakness) is via the central “OK” button. This brings alive each option displayed on the camera’s screen; scrolling options is via the four-way jog buttons, adjustments via the control wheel on the top plate.

Alternatively, after another press of “OK”, activates that option’s menu item and turning the control wheels scrolls through the available options (you can still use the four-way jog buttons too if you wish). This system I find to be neat, intuitive and brings to the fingertips a stunning level of control and without needing to dig into menus or with the camera needing hundreds of buttons.

Other signature features include Olympus’ widely regarded Super Sonic Wave Filter dust removal system, dual card storage (CF Type I/II and xD-Picture Card) and the excellent. Compact lithium ion battery pack that is good for around 500-shots says Olympus. Heavy use of Live View and the built-in flash will impact on this as I found and so expect around 300 shots on average.

Metering and focusing are excellent. The former is a 49-segment system with Digital ESP centre-weighted average, spot and highlight or shadow based spot metering. It’s flexible and reliable and flash metering I found to be rather good too.

The focusing is a modest three-zone system that’s fast and accurate and while the limited AF zone capability may make focusing on, say, a moving subject a challenge, and cameras such as the D40x have similar three zone focus systems. In truth, this need not be a handicap.

What may put some off, however, is the small viewfinder, which although much brighter than on the E400 is still not as bright as some larger chipped cameras and its tunnel-like viewing experience takes time to get used to. I found it no problem after a couple of days switching to Live View helps. However, here again another flaw arose, the screen is not bright enough to sue really effectively in brighter conditions.

Another foible is the electronic linkage to the lens for manual focus control. If the camera is turned off the focusing system is disengaged and resets to infinity. But it also means the lack of a mechanical linkage makes manual focus feel, well, divorced from the control of your fingers. It’s not unresponsive and it is not a critical issue, it just feels, well, different.

On the up side, Comprehensive white balance control includes the usual array of presets (daylight, tungsten etc.) as well as colour compensation within each setting for both red and green colours, which can be applied to every WB mode including the full auto setting. There’s even a simple preview available for any tinkering so you know exactly what your fiddling is doing to the result without wasting memory.

I have one more minor quibble; the strap swivels! They are just, well, in the wrong place and not particularly meaty. Their position unbalances the camera round your neck and, even worse, when a flashgun or heavier lens is slotted home, it flops about rather annoyingly as if on a bit of string. True this is a minor quibble, but, as the one thing that stands out in the end to moan about, the camera cannot be half bad, can it.

Verdict

A camera packed to the gunnels with so much excellent kit and user control might cost twice as much; the E400 I criticised for being to dear, now pricing is much better and as a result I can heartily recommend the E410 to anyone because the other bonus of this model is it is available world wide.