Olympus E-410 Regina SK

Olympus's latest entry-level digital SLR is different to its competitors for a number of reasons. The most obvious is its size. SLR cameras are never exactly pocketable, but at 375g the E-410 is much lighter than usual and looks petite next to other digital SLRs. This is partly down to the Four Thirds design, which uses a smaller sensor and shorter lenses than other digital SLR cameras.

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Olympus E-410

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Olympus's latest entry-level digital SLR is different to its competitors for a number of reasons. The most obvious is its size. SLR cameras are never exactly pocketable, but at 375g the E-410 is much lighter than usual and looks petite next to other digital SLRs. This is partly down to the Four Thirds design, which uses a smaller sensor and shorter lenses than other digital SLR cameras. The downside is that the small handgrip isn't as comfortable to hold as those of the camera's competitors, but not to the extent that it's a serious problem.

The E-410 is also unusual for a digital SLR in its ability to display a live preview on its LCD screen - a feature that we first saw on the Olympus E-330 but have never seen since. This time, Olympus has made the most of live previews with a histogram display and instant feedback for white balance and exposure settings on the preview image. However, it's disappointing that the screen doesn't tilt to allow shooting at awkward angles.

The zoom ring on the supplied lens has a smooth, manageable travel, but the focus ring has an overly long 360 degrees of rotation and doesn't stop at either end to confirm that you've reached its limits. Combined with the relatively small optical viewfinder, manual focusing is cumbersome and a little imprecise. We actually found it easier to focus using the LCD screen and a momentary 7x digital zoom. This is certainly a welcome feature, but it's bewildering that the optical viewfinder is of limited use on a digital SLR camera.

There aren't an enormous number of buttons and dials, but the camera is reasonably quick and easy to use. When it's not showing a live preview, the screen displays either the 10 most commonly used settings or a pretty exhaustive set of 18, and the five-way navigation pad provides quick access to any of these. The command dial is a faster means of making large changes to settings, although the number of clicks doesn't always relate to the amount of change, and when turning it quickly it struggles to keep up.

A dust filter in front of the sensor vibrates as you switch the camera on, but you don't have to wait for it to finish, as pressing any button overrides it. Auto-focus is fast, and continuous shooting runs at 3fps for around nine shots at the top JPEG quality setting, at which point the memory card slows things down - considerably when using xD cards, although a fast CompactFlash card kept going at a reasonable 1fps, or 2.3fps when using the second-from-top JPEG compression quality setting. Battery life is excellent at 693 shots in our test.

Our image-quality tests revealed excellent colours, with automatic white balance that tended to produce warm skin tones without being flattering to the point of inaccuracy. Highlights were clipped more than we would like, though. We had to look hard to see any noise at ISO 400, and ISO 1600 proved perfectly usable for when conditions demanded it, although not to the standard of Canon's EOS 400D. However, the auto-focus was less reliable than those of the other cameras on test this month. Even when the lens focused correctly, we found that detail was distinctly soft. The fact that it was worse at higher ISO speeds suggested that noise reduction was to blame and, sure enough, switching the noise reduction off gave us the sharp detail we expect from a 10-megapixel digital SLR. Noise was still unobtrusive at ISO 400 and even at ISO 800 in some shots, but we had to keep a tight grip on camera settings to get the best image quality from the E-410.

Despite our grumbles, we enjoyed using the E-410 and were pleased with the pictures it produced. However, Canon's EOS 400D is a largely similar camera without the live preview, but also without as many minor flaws.10.0 megapixels (3,648x2,736), 3x zoom lens (28-84mm), Four Thirds lens mount, xD and CompactFlash slots, Li-ion battery

Author: Ben Pitt

Olympus E-410 with 14-42mm lens