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The Olympus E-410 is a Four Thirds System dSLR camera with a 14-42mm lens. Four Thirds cameras tend to be smaller than digital SLRs based on film cameras, and the E-410 is comparatively light, even with the lens attached. The camera takes up little room in a bag or even a large pocket.
Priced at around £470, this is the kind of entry-level camera that will appeal to newcomers to single lens reflex digital photography. We investigate how auto focusing, preset modes and a range of auto options shape up in a dSLR.
The rear of the E-410 is dominated by the 64mm (2.5-inch) LCD screen. A row of buttons down the left will be familiar to users of compacts, as will the four-way clickpad and central OK button. The controls arranged around the screen are well thought-out and generally intuitive to use.
The mode wheel allows you to choose from aperture priority, shutter priority or fully automatic and manual modes. The priority modes allow you to specify one setting yourself and takes care of the rest of the exposure parameters for you. Unfortunately, If you want to switch from scene selection to manual modes, which are next to each other, you have to twist the wheel all the way round in the other direction.
A button press and part turn is all that's required to remove the lens. The E-410 has a supersonic wave filter technology that vibrates a small filter in front of the CCD sensor. This shakes dust out of the field of view and should keep your images free of specks.
The only downside of the E-410's comparatively smaller frame is that there's very little to grip, especially on the right-hand side, which is typically chunkier on other dSLRs. The shoulder-strap lug is annoyingly placed right on the shoulder of the camera where the right hand grips. One-handed operation, such as changing settings, is also difficult.
The E-410 is one of the first to incorporate live view. The ability to frame pictures and get WYSIWYG exposure on the LCD screen is the definitive feature of digital photography, certainly on compacts. There are some qualifications for live view on dSLRs, however. Even though it's light for a dSLR, the E-410 is no compact camera, and holding it at arms' length to frame pictures on the LCD will almost certainly lead to camera shake as your arms tire.
Visibility is good from a range of angles as you hold the camera away from you, but as always with LCD screens, bright sunlight will defeat it. Live view also slows down focusing, often causing the camera to fuss about flipping the mirror up and down.
The lens supplied should cover general tasks with relative ease, but it's not a particularly long zoom. In line with the camera, the lenses are light in weight and the use of engineering plastics has been stretched to include the mounts as well. These do tend to wear slightly faster than their metal counterparts.
Some menus behave oddly, some preventing you from cycling up through them. It's a minor gripe, but an irritating inconsistency.
The E-410 isn't just aimed at beginners. Many features will impress those with more knowledge of photography. It can shoot simultaneous raw footage as well as JPEG. It also offers five metering schemes, including two versions of spot-metering -- HI and SH -- that automatically raise or lower exposure to ensure white or black subjects (such as snow or shadows) don't show up a middling grey. You can set white-balance colour temperature values from 2,000K to 14,000K, as well as fine-tune along the red-blue and green-magenta axes. The maximum sensitivity of ISO 1,600 is a disappointment, though.
The image quality delivered by the 10-megapixel sensor is impressive in comparison to equivalent compact sensors with a similar pixel count. Noise at the higher sensitivity settings is controlled well and even the ISO 1,600 setting produces usable images, although by that speed noise is evident.
At lower, more usual ISO settings, the colour reproduction is pleasingly accurate with the default settings, making the available adjustments much more meaningful. Purple fringing is not visible at normal magnifications and there's only slight evidence of distortion at the wide end of the short lens.
The default modes tended to underexpose images by as much as a stop. Turning off noise reduction improves this issue, which is generally recommended because the noise filtering seems to indiscriminately blur the image.
Once you have set the date and time, the E-410 will start up in less than 1.5 seconds. On standard quality setting the E-410 will capture a blistering 2 frames per second. In our lab test, without flash, the E-410 maintained 2fps for just over 5 minutes, stopping only because it filled a 1GB CF card with 733 pictures.
At higher quality settings the E-410 captured 3fps for the first 5 seconds and then dropped to 1.5fps until the card was full. There was a similar quick start followed by a significant drop-off when shooting raw or raw plus super-high-quality JPEGs, with the camera hitting 3fps out of the blocks then dropping to less than 1fps after 5 seconds.
The camera slowed to buffer these images but didn't stop, and happily continued snapping with no hesitation for as long as there was space on the card.
In these tests the lithium-ion battery exceeded 1,000 frames shot under a variety of conditions without flash or live view. Flash and live view significantly decrease the number of images captured to around 200.
There are plenty of automatic settings and presets, but noise reduction and exposure concerns mean it's best to dive straight into the menus and begin learning how an SLR works. The supplied lens is a little on the cheap side, but the Four Thirds System gives access to a wide range of lenses, opening up the SLR experience to beginners.Edited by Jason Jenkins