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DCRP Review: Olympus EVOLT E-410
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: March 4, 2007
Last Updated: February 13, 2008
This is our final review of the Olympus EVOLT E-410. The camera described is a full production model, and product photos have been re-shot if necessary. All sample photos are from the production-level cameras. Thank you very much for your patience.
When Olympus announced that their compact E-400 digital SLR would not be sold in the US, the collective groan could've been heard in space. After all, we Americans want small D-SLRs too! Thankfully someone at Olympus was listening, and they brought the E-400's replacement -- the E-410 -- to the rest of us. This compact SLR, priced from $699, has quite a few tricks up its sleeve. They include:
The E-410 has a big brother as well (the E-510), which sells for $100 more. The two cameras share the same basic components, with the E-510 adding CCD-shift image stabilization, a larger right hand grip, and a more powerful battery. I'll have some side-by-side shots of the two cameras later in this article.
The entry-level D-SLR space is pretty crowded these days. How does the E-410 fare against the competition? Find out now in our review!
What's in the Box?
The E-410 will come in three kits: body only ($699), with a 14 - 42 mm lens ($799), or with that lens plus an additional 40 - 150 mm lens ($899). Here's what you'll find in the box for each:
If you get either of the lens kits then you'll be one of the first to use the new 14-42 and 50-140 mm lenses. These aren't quite as fancy as some of Olympus' other lenses (they're not weather sealed) but they're more than adequate for most people. You can, of course, use any of the other FourThirds lenses on the market, most of which are made by Olympus. The camera has a 2X crop factor, so whatever lens you attach will have the field-of-view twice that of the focal range of the lens.
Digital SLRs never come with memory cards, so if you don't have an xD or CompactFlash card laying around, you'll have to buy one. Yes, that's right, the camera supports two totally different memory card formats. I'd recommend a 1GB or 2GB card as a good starter size, and it's definitely worth paying more for a "high speed" card (called "Type H" on xD media).
The E-410 uses the new BLS-1 lithium-ion rechargeable battery. This compact packs a pretty powerful punch, with 8.3 Wh of energy. Here's how that translates into battery life:
When shooting with the viewfinder the E-410 gets "average" battery life in the entry-level D-SLR group. Olympus doesn't publish battery life numbers if you're using live view, but it's probably close to half of the viewfinder only number. Stepping up to the E-510 gets you considerably better battery life, as it uses the more powerful BLM-1 battery.
I should remind you that proprietary batteries like the BLS-1 cost more than AA rechargeable batteries -- they're about $50 a pop. Also, if your rechargeable battery dies there's no off-the-shelf option available. The only camera that lets you use AA batteries out of the box is the Pentax K100D. A few other cameras can use them with an optional battery grip.
Speaking of which, the E-410 does not support a battery grip, which is too bad, as it would make the camera easier to hold for those of us with big hands.
When it's battery charging time, just drop the BLS-1 into the included charger. You can expect to wait about 210 minutes for the battery to be fully charged. This isn't one of those handy chargers that plugs directly into the wall -- you must use a power cable.
Being a digital SLR, you shouldn't be surprised to hear that the E-410 supports a ton of accessories. Here's a quick summary of what's available:
Now that's one expensive underwater case -- and that only protects the body! You'll need to buy extra accessories for your lenses and flash, so it can really add up if you're into taking your E-410 under the sea.
One big accessory missing from this list: an AC adapter. This allows you to power the camera without draining your battery. I believe that the E-410 and E-510 are the only D-SLRs that don't offer one.
Olympus Master 2 in Mac OS X
Olympus includes version 2 of their Olympus Master software with the EVOLT. The software is, for the most part, a nice upgrade over the previous version. It's pretty snappy (except when loading an RAW image), the interface is simple, and it can do just about everything you could ever want.
After you've transferred photos over from the camera (either into albums or folders on your hard drive) you'll arrive at the usual thumbnail screen that is standard in all photo viewing software these days. The thumbnail sizes are adjustable, and you can see shooting data and a histogram on the right side of the thumbnails. There's even a built-in RSS reader for subscribing to Olympus-related newsfeeds, though it wasn't yet working when I tried it.
Here you can organize photos, e-mail or print them, or display them in a slideshow. If you have a bunch of photos that you want to stitch into a panorama, you can do that with a few clicks of your mouse.
Olympus Master also lets you update the firmware on your camera and lenses from within the software.
Like a lot of photo viewers, Olympus Master lets you view you images in a calendar format. There's even a "diary" for each day for you to record notes in.
Above you can see the edit window, which you access by either double-clicking on a thumbnail or by clicking the Edit button in the toolbar. Functions here include resizing, cropping, brightness/contrast/sharpness adjustments, redeye reduction, distortion correction, and much more. When you're performing one of these edits, the software does a side-by-side before and after comparison, so you can see exactly what changes you've made.
Olympus Master also features a basic RAW editor. It lets you adjust exposure, white balance, picture mode (color, b&w, sepia), contrast, sharpness, saturation, noise filter, and color space. When you adjust any of the settings, Olympus Master shows you the results after a few seconds of grinding away. Do note that you don't get the before and after view like you do when you're editing JPEGs.
The RAW conversion engine used by both Olympus Master and Olympus Studio (which I'll describe below) is pretty lousy. It turns RAW images into JPEGs that are quite soft, and not really representative of what the camera is capable of. It all has to do with the "Noise Filter" setting, which is found both in the software and on the camera itself. Later on I'm going to tell you why to turn the noise filter off in the camera, but first here's why you don't want to use it in the software either.
Camera noise filter on, software noise filter on
Camera noise filter on, software noise filter off
Camera noise filter off, software noise filter "as shot"
Camera and software noise filters off
This is kind of confusing, so bear with me. If you're shooting with the camera's noise filter turned on, images will be pretty soft. If you've already taken the shot, you can go into Olympus Master, flip over to the "Basic 2" tab, and turn the noise filter off. As you can see by comparing the first two crops, there is a slight improvement in sharpness.
Now, let's suppose, you took a picture with the camera's noise filter turned off (which is a good idea) and bring it into Olympus Master. The image is just as soft as it was with the camera's noise filter on, as you can see in photo 3. To truly turn off the noise filter, you'll need to flip the noise filter switch in OM to off as well. Then you finally get a photo with the most detail, although it's pretty noisy (see photo 4).
This isn't the place to talk about noise -- I'll save that for later. Rather, I wanted to point out this apparent bug in the software so you are aware of it.
Olympus Studio for Mac OS X
If you want more advanced RAW editing tools then you might want to consider Olympus Studio 2 ($100). This adds tone curve adjustment, false color suppression, aberration and shading compensation, distortion correction, and batch processing. Unfortunately, it seems to use the same conversion engine as Olympus Master, so you'll have the same problem that I just described.
Olympus Studio - Camera Control Feature
Olympus Studio also lets you control the camera over a USB connection. You can adjust all the settings on the camera, and the images are saved right to your Mac or PC. You don't get a live preview on the computer, though -- you'll still have to compose with the viewfinder, or use the preview function in the software.
If you don't want to use Olympus' software for RAW conversion, then you'll be pleased to hear that the latest Camera Raw plug-in for Adobe Photoshop CS3 supports the E-410.
Oh, and if you have no idea what the heck RAW is, I'll tell you. Basically, it's a file containing unprocessed image data direct from the camera's sensor. You'll need to process it on your computer (or on the camera -- more on this later), but this allows you to adjust things like white balance, exposure, and noise reduction (well, in theory at least) without reducing the quality of the original image. It's almost like taking the photo again. Be warned that RAW images are considerably larger than JPEGs, which means that they take up more space on your memory card, and decrease camera performance.
Olympus includes a fold-out quick start guide as well as full, printed manual in the box with the E-410. The manual isn't very user-friendly, with lots of fine print and "notes" on each page, but you'll more than likely find what you're looking for inside its pages.
Look and Feel
The E-410 is currently the smallest digital SLR on the market. Yes, even smaller than the D40x and Rebel XTi. Like the Rebel, the E-410 doesn't have much of a grip for your right hand, so be sure to try this camera before you buy it. I personally prefer the more substantial feel of the E-510.
The camera is made of high grade plastic, but it doesn't have the "cheap" feeling of some other entry-level cameras. The camera has more than its share of buttons, some of which aren't placed in the best location.
Here's how the E-410 and its big brother (the E-510) look side-by-side:
As you can see, the E-510 is slightly larger than the E-410, with the main difference being its much beefier grip. You can also see that neither camera has an LCD info display -- they use the main LCD for that (more on this later). Inside the cameras, the main difference is the CCD-shift image stabilization found on the E-510, which will certainly be the big selling point for that model.
Now let's see how the E-410 compares to other D-SLRs in terms of size and weight: