Hands On: Olympus E-510 and E-410

How to pack 10 megapixels, live preview with AF, and image stabilization into a small and inexpensive DSLR.

Hands-On-Olympus-E-510-and-E-410

Hands-On-Olympus-E-510-and-E-410

When Olympus limited sales of its first 10MP digital SL R, the Evolt E-400, to Europe and other regions last fall, we wondered why the U.S. got left out. Now Olympus is making it up to us -- and more -- with a pair of new 10MP DSL Rs, the E-410 and E-510, which have several improvements over the short-lived Evolt E-400. Priced at $799 and $899 (estimated street), respectively, with a hot new Zuiko Digital 14-42mm (28- 84mm equivalent) f/3.5-5.6 ED kit lens, these cameras land smack in the middle of the 10MP DSL R battleground.

We can't tell exactly how they'll compete until we test full production models in the Pop Photo Lab and in the field. But based on our first look and the company's track record with DSL Rs, we expect them to do well in terms of color accuracy, resolution, and noise reduction. In fact, with the narrower 4:3 aspect ratio of the Olympus Live MOS sensor, they could score resolution comparable to an 11.2MP DSL R with a 2:3 sensor. (For more on the relationship between aspect ratio and resolution, see The McNamara Report, January 2007.)

New and Noteworthy

• 10MP Live MOS sensor allows live preview with autofocus.
• The E-510 has a sensor-based IS system compatible with all Four Thirds Standard lenses.

Who are these for?

• E-410: Those moving up to a DSLR and looking for a light, compact system -- in addition to live preview and other features.
• E-510: Serious photographers who want IS for low-light shooting, plus a large battery and some extra control buttons.

If you're familiar with recent Olympus DSL Rs such as the Evolt E-330, you'll recognize another benefit of the Live MOS sensor: Unlike nearly all other DSLRs, the E-410 and E-510 give you a live color preview on the LCD. It works similarly to the E-330 and the Panasonic Lumix DM CL1: When you press a button, the internal mirror flips up and a live video image appears on the bright, sharp (230,000-pixel), 2.5-inch HyperCrystal LCD.

Unlike the Evolt E-330, the E-410 and E-510 can autofocus in Live Preview mode, although the AF may work more slowly in this mode than when Live Preview is turned off. Motion during preview was a bit jumpy on the preproduction model (about 15 frames per second, not the 30 fps needed for smoothness). And video can't be recorded to the memory card (as on compact digital cameras). But these issues shouldn't bother those stepping up from a digital compact, shooting underwater, or using macro without room to focus manually.

Both cameras also have a third generation TruePic III imageprocessing engine that Olympus claims shortens startup time, increases AF speed (over the Evolt E-500), boosts burst capacity (3 fps for dozens of photos in highestquality JPEG mode), and improves exposure accuracy. It also enables advanced noise filtering and antialiasing technology.

Blur buster

The E-510 packs a significant advancement over the E-410 and all Evolt DSLRs: mechanical image stabilization. This chip-based system works like those on the Sony Alpha 100 and Pentax K10D. Unlike the lens-based IS systems from Canon, Nikon, and Panasonic (Leica), which charge a premium for each imagestabilized lens, the Olympus system works with all legacy Four Thirds Standard lenses.

The E-510 can be set to counteract horizontal and vertical shake together, or just vertical shake if you want to use IS while panning. The company claims an additional 2 to 4 stops' handholdability over the nonstabilized E-410.

To accommodate the IS system, the E-510 is wider and thicker than the E-410, and it has a prominent grip that houses a higher-capacity Liion battery. But the E-410's battery is plenty powerful: Olympus claims up to 400 shots without Live Preview, and up to 200 with Live Preview on for 50% of the shots.

Internally, both camera bodies rely on a metal frame across the camera back and a stainless steel lensmount in front to improve durability. Most other internal components are made of strong plastic; body casings are molded polycarbonate with rubberized grip material on the shutter button side. Both cameras have dual card slots for CF and xDPicture Cards, and can store RAW, JPEG, or RAW + JPEG (at several compression settings).

The E-510 has quick-access White Balance, AF mode, ISO, and Meter Pattern selection buttons on the back -- saving you time and a few button clicks while shooting. Unfortunately, on the E-410, those same buttons just help you navigate the menus in the LCD or scroll around zoomed-in images in playback mode.

On both cameras, the LCD has an improved 176-degree viewing angle and easy-to-read fonts. You can turn off the display so it doesn't distract when you're using the viewfinder. The E-410 offers 30 preset scene modes; the E-510, 28. (The E-410's extras? Two underwater modes, for macro and wide-angle shooting are available for divers who purchase an optional Olympus waterproof housing.) Also on both, sample images appear on the screen to explain each preset mode. And before-and-after images let you view results as you adjust the saturation of captured images, turn them into black-and-white or sepia-toned, or remove redeye.

For just $100 more, we think the E-510's sensor-based IS system (plus larger battery, more comfortable hand grip, and external controls) makes it the better choice for serious photographers. In turn, the E-410 will appeal to entry-level DSLR shooters looking for a smaller, lighter, and more affordable camera body.

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