The Class of 2007

Olympus E-410 and E-510 SLRs

My other articles related to the Olympus E-System cameras.

This is a brief commentary on the two Olympus digital SLR cameras of 2007: the E-510 and E-410.

Check also my detailed, technical review of the E-510, my quick hands-on impressions of that camera, the samples, and the E-410 User Report.

After the successful E-500 of 2005, in March of 2007 Olympus announced two new SLRs on the same day — quite unusual. Both cameras are aimed at the amateur segment of the market, but the specifications and performance are going to satisfy even a discerning user, as long as you do not expect a full-metal body and splashproof construction.

The new models are designated as E-410 and E-510, a clear indication of being an incremental improvement to the currently sold models: the E-400 and E-500. Because, however, the E-400 has been on the market only since September, 2006 (and that only in Europe, never offered in the States), I will be comparing them both mainly against the E-500 (a camera I've been using for the last year and a half, and which I like a lot), and against each other.

(Images by Olympus)

The latter comparison is quite important, as the E-510 and E-410 really are non-identical twins, basically the same camera differing in just a few details (and one significant feature).

The most important new features shared by both new models are:

  • Live image preview (only with the mirror up, which means really useful for tripod work only);
  • New sensor: 10 megapixels, CMOS type.

The most important diference is a new feature included in the E-510, but not in the E-410:

  • Body-based image stabilization.

Before we go into details, let us just have a quick look at the changed specs.

Specifications and internals

Here is a table of basic specs and of new features introduced in the E-510 and E-410, as compared to the E-500 and E-400. Note that the two new models are shown in the center columns, to facilitate the comparison between them.

Feature E-500 E-510 E-410 E-400 Remarks
Body weight 435 g 460 g 375 g 375 g Without battery or card. (Quoted after the Four Thirds site)
Body size (W×H×D) 1309566 mm 136×92×68 mm 1309153 mm 1309153 mm The E-510 grew 6 mm wider than E-500!
Sensor 8 MP CCD 10 MP NMOS 10 MP CCD Switch from CCD to NMOS may be the most important change in the new models.
Image size 3264×2448
7.62 MP
7.99×106 pixels
9.52 MP
9.98×106 pixels
In this notation 1 MP is 1,048,576 pixels.
Live preview None Yes, with mirror up only None Can be interrupted for AF.
Image stabilization No Body-based No Vertical only or vertical and horizontal.
Internal flash GN = 13 m
(at ISO 100)
GN = 12 m
(at ISO 100)
GN = 10 m
(at ISO 100)
GN 13 provides about 70% more light than GN 10.
Battery Li-Ion: BLM-1 (10.8 Wh) Li-Ion: BLS-1 (8.3 Wh) The Wh rating describes the total energy stored.
USB interface speed USB 1.1 rate USB 2 "High Speed" rate My measurements show that the new transfer rate is 6 to 7 times faster than the old one.
Wired remote None Optional RM-UC1
(Uses the Video/USB socket on the back.)
Too bad RM-UC1 is not compatible with the E-500, in spite of that one having the same socket.
Image file formats ORF, JPG, TIFF ORF, JPG TIFF was never really useful.

The highlights

Here is a list of other features in the new models which I consider worth your attention, in no particular order.

  • The excellent Control Panel from the E-500 remains virtually unchanged (the color mode display was reduced in size, which is good, as it was a bit wasteful). E-500 users will feel right at home.
  • The finder magnification, which I consider the weakest point of the E-500, remains almost unchanged at 0.92× (just 2% increase) which makes it look as 0.46× in a 35-mm SLR using a lens with the same viewing angle; somewhat disappointing.

    In this case you cannot say that "0.92× is 0.92× regardless of frame size", as the data is usually quoted for a given focal length of the lens (50 mm), and not for the given lens angle (or EFL). A hypothetical SLR with a 3×4 mm sensor with a 1× finder magnification may look good on paper, but the actual finder image will be useless for any purposes.

    This is why in order to compare between finders on cameras with different frame sizes you should divide the quoted value by the focal length multiplier (1.0 for 35-mm SLRs, 1.6 for APS-C, 2.0 for Four Thirds).

  • The LCD monitor remains non-articulated. While this makes the live preview less convenient (for example, in macro shooting), it also reduces the body size and weight. An articulated display like the on in the C-5060WZ would have been very nice, but Olympus had to make a choice here, a tough one.
  • The AF is still using three sensors, probably the same as in the E-500. (Actually, 90% of the time I am just using the central sensor only, trusting my judgment more than the camera's logic. A creative use of the lock button and the half-pressed shutter release allows me for quick and accurate AF and AE locking.) The low-light end of the AF range remains unchanged at EV 0.
  • Olympus claims much lower noise levels at higher ISO settings in their new cameras. The settings above ISO 400 no longer have to be explicitly unlocked. I don't think this is very important, but, indeed, even ISO 1600 can be used, and I find myself using ISO 400 freely even under good outdoors conditions for fast-moving objects or with long lenses.
  • Continuous shooting rate has been increased to three frames per second, and the larger buffer will hold up to seven raw images, or 25 highest-quality JPEGs.

One of the most significant features in the new cameras is that they allow for adjustment of noise filtering (I mean the dynamic, random noise, not the static, "dark" one, which is handled by dark-frame subtraction, see my noise article).

Often criticized for "excessive" noise levels in its SLRs, Olympus yielded to the market voices and introduced more aggressive noise removal algorithms in the new, NMOS-based cameras. Actually, too aggressive for my taste: you cannot remove noise without sacrificing some detail. Luckily, the E-410 and E-510 allow you to adjust the noise filter strength within a quite wide range — and I'm very glad they do.

Reducing the filtering to the minimum (marked as Off, which is probably not accurate) brings out the impressive resolution of the lens/sensor combination. And I'm saying "impressive", because I mean it: the amount of detail rendered is greater than in any digital camera I've tried before, including those costing four times as much. (Sometimes I also suspect that Olympus might have reduced the strength of the anti-aliasing filter — just a wild guess.)

While this amount of resolution may be more than most of us need in most applications, in some it is nice to have, especially combined with a ten-megapixel sensor: images cropped to six megapixels still look good when printed to 9×12".

Non-identical twins?

As I've already mentioned, the cameras are almost identical, except for the image stabilization system, included in the E-510 and omitted in the E-410. In particular, the image sensor and processing engine are the same, thus leading to identical imaging characteristics. (This is as claimed by Olympus, but also confirmed by my side-by-side shooting sessions with both cameras.)

Still, there are some secondary, lesser-importance differences. Of these, the most visible one is that the E-410 uses a smaller battery (see the table above). While this allowed the designers to streamline the camera's shape (no grip protrusion), it also reduced (by 25%) battery life, and made it incompatible with other E-System SLRs as well as some other advanced Olympus cameras (C-5060/7070WZ).

Smaller battery compartment (and handgrip) in the E-410 necessitated a small change in the location of the shutter release, exposure compensation button, and power switch; while the arrangement of these elements on the E-510 may be a bit more convenient, I find this difference insignificant in everyday use.

Another simplification is the removal of two external buttons, which on the E-510 allow to access directly some of camera's settings: one used for a user defined function, and one for choosing the autofocus point. Surprisingly, I do not regret these deletions: most of the time I'm using the central AF point only, and the user-defined function can be assigned in the E-410 to the left-arrow button (see below).

The E-410 (at left) compared against the E-510; note the difference in size (I've rescaled both images as needed for comparison) and fewer buttons on the smaller model.

(Images by Olympus)

This is not all: the arrow buttons, used in the E-510 also to access directly some settings (ISO, AF mode, WB, and metering pattern), in the E-410 serve just as arrow buttons, for screen navigation and nothing else. There is one exception: the left-arrow can be now designed to one used-defined function (like, for example, reference white balance, or depth-of-field preview).

Is this, as some call it, a "dumbed down" interface? I do not think so; I would rather refer to it as streamlined, and some people may like it that way. The adjustments for which these buttons were used are still easily accessible via the Control Panel; the simplified interface is almost as fast and more consistent.

The last group of simplifications in the E-410 is related to some preference settings, accessible in the E-510 menu system and disabled in the E-410. The list is quite long and I'm not going to quote it here; all removals (more than twenty of them) are listed im my article on E-510/E-410 settings.

With one minor exception, all removed preference settings have been hardwired to reasonable defaults: I've set them to those in my E-510 anyway, so I do not have any complaints here. You may, but only if you're really picky: those preferences are not accessible on most other digital SLRs anyway. On the other hand, removal of more than 20 entries from the menu system (which is not so well-designed anyway) simplifies the navigation noticeably.

To summarize the user interface differences: I do not consider the E-410 worse in this aspect than its bigger brother. Just simpler, which for many may be an advantage.

A matter of choice

Every week I receive a few email messages from Readers who ask my advice about choosing between these two cameras. Frankly, I cannot give you a clear recommendation.

If you think you really need image stabilization, then you have to get the the E-510. Just don't be surprised if this does not solve all your problems with blurry pictures in low light.

If this is not the case, the choice becomes a matter of personal preference. Both cameras deliver equally good images, both share the same features and adjustments. The simplification of user interface in the E-410 is a plus, but you may be among the (very) few people who will miss the removed external controls or preference options. On the other hand, the 85 g difference in weight may be an advantage of the E-410 if you like to travel really light; so may be its flat body shape, if you like the traditional (non-grip) classic film cameras of the past.

If this did not help you to make your mind, visit a local camera store and try how both cameras feel in your hands, then follow your intuition. In either case, you will not regret your choice.

My other articles related to the Olympus E-System cameras.

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Posted 2007/03/05; last updated 2008/06/30 Copyright © 2007-2008 by J. Andrzej Wrotniak