Olympus E-410 reviewed

The Olympus E-410 was one of the first entry-level DSLRs to boast an effective Live View system and is one of the most compact and affordable DSLRs around.

Olympus can’t boast the same depth to its range of DSLRs as Canon or Nikon, but the 10-megapixel E-410 can easily go head to head with the Canon EOS 400D or Nikon D40x. Measuring just 129.5x91x53mm and weighing just 375g for the body alone, the Olympus E-410 is little larger than some digital compacts. And although now overshadowed by its recently announced update, the E-420, some drastic price reductions means the E-410 is a real bargain.

Adding several new features, not the least of which was Live View, the E-410 was itself an update to the tiny Europe-only E-400. As well as packing a new 10-megapixel Live-MOS sensor with the manufacturer’s excellent SSWF (Supersonic Wave Filter) automated sensor cleaning system, the E-410 has a new image processor.

The new TruPic III processing engine provides higher continuous shooting at a respectable 3fps along with an enlarged memory buffer. Also handy is a user selectable noise reduction option. This trades detail at high ISOs (up to the maximum ISO 1600) for less of the colour speckles, but also means you can opt for more-powerful third-party noise reduction software should you need both low-light performance and larger print sizes.

Compact beauty

In the hands the E-410 feels petite and rather delicate, but the plastic outer casing is made of the same tough engineering plastics as the mid-range E-510. Essentially the same height and width of rival models, the E-410 looks a good deal slimmer and lacks a bulky handgrip. Plastics used in the construction of the Olympus-made Zuiko 14-42mm (28-84mm equivalent) kit lens help keep the whole package just under 600g, making it light enough take just about anywhere.

Anyone trading up from a digital compact should feel comfortable with the size but it means the Lithium-ion rechargeable battery is smaller than most other types. During our time with it, we noticed the battery life was shorter than more beefier examples but it still lasted reasonably well, albeit with judicious use of the new Live View feature.

Like rival systems, Live View on the E-410 isn’t meant to replace the optical viewfinder for day-to-day use but it’s a welcome addition for certain applications. For macro work and close-up shooting it’s very handy. High magnification focusing is usually best accomplished using manual focus, and the E-410 obliges with a user selectable focus area complete with a handy choice of either 7x or 10x magnification options for ultra-critical focus.

Importantly both white balance and depth of field – the area in front and behind the subject in acceptable focus – can also be previewed on the LCD. However both options aren’t set by default and must be selected beforehand to avoid wasting precious seconds.

In normal use, autofocus is preserved during Live View but the E-410 doesn’t have the contrast detection AF system of the very latest offerings. Instead the camera’s reflex mirror has to be returned to its downward position briefly, as it is locked-up out of the way of the imaging sensor during Live View.

This maintains the usually fast and accurate viewfinder-based (phase-detection) three-point AF but means the 2.5-inch monitor is blacked out for around a second and a half. For high-or-low-level shooting this is a valuable option.

Holding the diminutive E-410 to the eye reveals a slightly small optical viewfinder, although it’s at least as bright and clear as the D40x. Although it’s one of this camera’s shortcomings, there is a workaround with the aid of an optional 1.2x magnifying eyepiece, the ME-1.

Extensive viewfinder information is shown to the right of the viewfinder screen and includes a handy display of the battery power on start-up. Sensitivity isn’t shown, but is displayed instead on the main 2.5-inch (215,000-pixel) screen, along with various other settings. Images displayed during playback are crisp and the colours are good but the crush-resistant screen is highly reflective and can be difficult to see.

Thanks to the new image processor, the Olympus E-410 is one the fastest entry-level DSLRs around. Auto-focus operation and shot-to-shot times won’t leave you waiting. And, from our tests using a high-speed CF card the E-410 can shoot an unlimited number of high-quality JPEGs at slightly under 3.5fps or as many as 11 Raw files at the same rate. That’s slightly faster than Olympus claims.

Take a look

Files are very clean looking but the rather strong noise reduction applied by default means JPEG images look a little soft and lack some of the fine detail expected. Fortunately, Raw files are crisper and JPEGs can be improved in-camera, albeit with an increase in the distracting coloured blotches and speckles from ISO 400 up. While advanced users will appreciate this level of control, novices may prefer the default ‘look’ of rival cameras.

We were also a little concerned with the metering. It’s fairly easy to overexpose images with strong backlighting, usually resulting in burned out highlights. Various metering modes, bracketing and EV shift options exist but the E-410 lacks the handy dynamic-range optimisation technology of rivals. Colour rendition is excellent though, if perhaps a little muted though this too can be altered using one of three colour Picture Modes.

While we can see it’s easy to plump for well-rounded rivals such as the Canon EOS 400D, the tiny Olympus E-410 has a lot to offer. The kit lens is sharp and focuses quickly and the body is responsive and well-balanced. Picture quality is very good too, especially so after mastering the various options. And while the only handy feature lacking is image stabilisation, a function still lacking from the recently announced E-420, it really needn’t be a deal-breaker.

Olympus E-410 Info

Typical price: £299 with Zuiko Digital 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 ED lens

Pros:
Ultra-compact and lightweight body
Useful Live View option
Effective anti-dust system
Fast operation and good handling

Cons:
Soft-looking JPEGs, with loss of fine detail using defaults
Some exposure inaccuracies
Easily lost highlight detail
Small, cramped viewfinder

Verdict: Although soon to be replaced by the E-420, and disappearing fast from retailers’ shelves, the bargain basement price makes the Olympus E-410 a very tempting choice for novices.

Rating: 

More info: Olympus Website

  • In Live View mode, the contents of the viewfinder are displayed on the E-410’s 2.5-inch LCD screen, great for macro and close-up shooting.
  • One compromise of the small size of the E-410 is the lack of a large handgrip.

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