The Class of 2007
Olympus E-410 and E-510 SLRs
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This is a brief commentary on the two Olympus digital SLR cameras of 2007: the E-510 and E-410.
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:
The most important diference is a new feature included in the E-510, but not in the E-410:
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.
|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)||130×95×66 mm||136×92×68 mm||130×91×53 mm||130×91×53 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.|
|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.|
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.|
(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.|
Here is a list of other features in the new models which I consider worth your attention, in no particular order.
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".
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.
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