Olympus Evolt E-410
I have few complaints about the E-410's design. With its slim profile, almost gripless body, and modest 1 pound, 4.2-ounce heft (with the 28mm-to-84mm-equivalent lens), the E-410 feels solid and not at all like a budget model. Both kit lenses are equally lightweight and compact. I initially thought the flat grip would be awkward, but as long as you hold the camera with two hands--as you should--it remains quite comfortable. For certain tasks, however, a bigger grip makes a difference; when trying to adjust white balance manually with a white card, for instance, holding the camera and operating the controls with just my right hand proved quite cumbersome.
One of the main selling points for the E-410 as a first-timer's camera is the Live View mode. In theory, this preserves the LCD framing, digital-photography experience to which digital snapshooters are accustomed. Whether you like it for the 100 percent scene coverage while framing, the what-you-see-is-kinda-what-you-get exposure and white balance preview, or the less distancing feeling it gives you as a photographer, there's a lot to be said for the capability.
But keep in mind that the Live View experience doesn't quite match that of a snapshot camera. For one, holding a 20-ounce camera steady with extended arms feels quite different than holding a 6-ounce model in the same position. On a snapshot camera, the LCD preview occurs silently and swiftly, and the camera works the same way for both viewfinder and LCD: hold the shutter button down halfway to lock focus and exposure. With Live View, you use the AEL/AFL button for a focus preview but the shutter button for focus lock through the optical viewfinder. And it's neither silent nor swift--the camera flips down the mirror, which is quite noisy. Furthermore, Live View imposes considerable lag on shooting. The camera has to flip down the mirror, focus, and snap, which makes it impractical for shooting kids and animals, two very popular subjects for the E-410's target audience. So while Live View can be immensely useful, it doesn't quite fulfill Olympus' goal of a seamless snapshot-to-SLR transition.
The menu interface design and control layout resembles that of most entry-level dSLRs, with a mode dial split between scene, manual, and semimanual exposure modes. The Scene selection offers snapshot-like descriptions and thumbnails of all the available scene modes--about 20 in all, including 2 underwater options. An OK button pulls up a screen for changing all your shooting settings, including, oddly, drive/self-timer/remote setting, for which there's already dedicated button. The menu structure and layout differ significantly from Olympus' current crop of snapshot cameras, however, so newbies shouldn't look for any learning-curve shortcuts there.
You can program the left arrow key for one of four functions: manual white balance, shoot without save, depth-of-field preview, and DOF preview in Live View. In one of the many perplexing default choices, it comes unassigned. It took several readings of the manual to figure out that in order to set the manual white balance, we first needed to program that key.
Beginners and advanced amateurs alike will find the E-410 a fully-featured camera. It can shoot simultaneous raw plus JPEG and allows you to choose white-balance color temperature values between 2,000K and 14,000K, as well as fine-tune along the red-blue and green-magenta axes. It offers five metering schemes, including two spot-metering variants--HI and SH--which automatically boost or decrease exposure to keep white or black subjects (such as snow or shadows) from rendering as middle gray. An Anti-Shock setting slows the mirror movement to minimize shake at long shutter speeds. The maximum sensitivity of ISO 1,600 is a bit of a disappointment, but the mere 3-point autofocus more seriously impacts performance.
The E-410 really delivers a mixed bag on the performance front. On one hand, it can be very fast: Up and shooting in 1.4 seconds, 0.4-second response time for high-contrast subjects with a 0.7-second shot-to-shot time each for JPEG and raw under the same conditions. For dimly lit subjects, that rises to a reasonable 0.9 second, and if you turn on the flash to improve your exposure, that drops to 0.7 second. It can also maintain a 3.3fps clip in continuous-shooting mode, regardless of resolution, for about 15 or so frames.
For other aspects of performance, however, things get a little grimmer. In its default Program mode settings--the ones typically used by first-timers--the E-410 underexposes and overblurs photos. It seems to be metering correctly, but selecting an aperture and shutter speed one-half to one stop darker than expected. Switching to any manual or semimanual exposure mode and changing the Noise Filter to Low or Off fixes the issues. That said, it still has some problems with delineations between light and shadow, as if it's not adjusting the tonal range to open up the midtones. Furthermore, the automatic white balance and presets tend to produce overly cool images. And though it snaps speedily, the photos aren't always quite as focused as I would expect. The camera needs more visual/audible feedback for when it can't achieve a focus lock, as well as an option to preclude shooting while unfocused.
In general, the E-410 is capable of producing very good photos; in that respect, it differs little from competitors like the Nikon D40x and Canon EOS Rebel XTi. It takes a little more effort to get there, however--a bit of an absurdity given Olympus' marketing it as a nonthreatening step up for the point-and-shoot photographer. If the Live View mode or compact design appeals to you, go to your local retailer and give the Evolt E-410 a try to make sure that their appeal lives up to your expectations. If not, you'll get better value for your entry-level buck with almost any of the models on our list of top prosumer dSLRs.
|Time to first shot||Raw shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim light)||Shutter lag (typical)|