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From what I've noticed, a good majority of people who are used to the live preview advantage of a compact camera, cringe when they hear that most D-SLR cameras require you to use the optical viewfinder. They also hate the fact that you can't shoot video from it, but that's another story. The point is, a live preview mode in D-SLRs has been in the works (and even successfully implemented) for a while now because that would be the best way to bridge a casual user to a semi-professional camera.
We here have just encountered our first D-SLR with live preview - the 10 megapixel Olympus E-410. We just can't wait to find out how well its live preview works... among other things of course.
Build & Features
Anyone who's hated D-SLR cameras for their bulky nature is in for a treat here. At 130 x 91 x 53 mm its just about as big as a superzoom and the 435g weight of the body is quite light too. But the size seems to come at a price. The first thing I noticed was the missing auto-focus/manual-focus switch. I actually did spend a while scoping out the camera body for a switch placed probably at a not-so-obvious location, but it just wasn't there. Then I noticed that I had an option to change my focus options by going through the menu, which is by-far the most inconvenient way to do it.
The camera has just a single display screen, which is the 2.5 inch LCD display at the back, which also doubles up as a digital viewfinder (the camera's USP). When you're not using the screen for live preview, you get a list of all your current settings, as in most D-SLRs. When you're looking through the optical viewfinder, there's another basic display on the right, which gives you all your basic information regarding the exposure settings, the kind of focus you're using, white balance and flash.
It's good to have a big screen on your D-SLR, but since that's the only display you'll really have for quick reference, I believe it should have had a tilt-n-swivel function. Not only will that function fill in for the lack of a top digital display but also make better use of the live preview mode.
On the top, you have a wheel to select the shooting mode, which consists of the basic scene modes like portrait, landscape, macro, etc., along with a separate scene mode that has more options like high-key, low-key, candle, sunset and fireworks to name a few. Every mode comes with a good description about the situations it would be best for.
There's just a single jog dial on top for setting the shutter speed and aperture size. Though personally I'd go for two separate wheels, I guess a single wheel is ok, considering size of the E-410's body.
The flash pop-up too is not mechanically controlled, as the flash button gets activated only once the E-410 is switched on. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it just goes to show that the camera is dumbing things down for the end user by keeping most of its functions electronically activated instead of mechanically. Though that will work very well with a casual user, an enthusiast may take a while getting used to the lack of control.
There are quite a number of functions in the E-410 that make it very consumer-friendly. Firstly there's the Supersonic Wave Filter (SSWF) technology that removes lose dust particles from the sensor. By default the SSWF takes place as soon as you start the camera, which is why there's a slight delay on the start-up time.
Then there's the dual memory card compatibility, so you can use a CF card or an XD card on the camera.
When you put everything in place, the lowdown is that the E-410 is the closest bridge you can have from a consumer camera like a superzoom and a fully-functional D-SLR. Though you can do just about everything on the E-410, only few of those options are instantly accessible. But then, lesser mechanical parts and lesser buttons probably equal to a smaller build, which I feel was one of Olympus' bigger priorities.
Live preview may sound great on paper, but when it comes to actual usability, it doesn't even compare to an optical viewfinder. Well, at least not in this case.
The LCD screen here, at its resolution of 215,000 pixels, just doesn't have the clarity or the punch to compete with what you get to see from its optical counterpart. Though the live preview function was usable, it wasn't good enough to replace the optical viewfinder for me anytime soon. Now, only if the screen had a tilt functionality, I would have forgiven it all its sins.
Another thing that bothered me about the E-410 was, if you customize any settings in the scene mode or auto mode, the settings would go back to default once you turn off the camera. This was especially annoying as important features like flash settings and manual focus mode would go back to their defaults if I ever switched off the camera when taking a break between shots.
Speaking of focus, I'm not entirely sure whether this problem exists with all the Olympus lenses, but the basic 18-55mm zoom lens we got with the camera was a b*tch to focus with. The focus ring had to be turned for a lifetime before I could get it right. The best option here was to do a basic autofocus and then probably fine-tune it with manual.
With that said, the autofocus worked very well in getting an accurate focus especially in optimal lighting. If the situation was a bit too dark, it would fire a series of flashes before getting the focus right, but the results would be great, unless you're shooting in pitch darkness.
Colors were consistently good, but with a slight tinge of saturation — just the right amount to appeal to a pro as well as a consumer. In a lot of cases, however, the camera tends to lean a bit towards warmer shades, because of which, shooting under yellow light needs a lot of calibration before you get the colors right. The white balance setting in the E-410 is comprehensive. There are many presets to help you set the right color tone and every one of those presets can be altered.
When it comes to image sharpness, however, the E-410 is outdone by the competition. While the images do appear sharp enough, a comparison with other cameras in its category will show you detail levels that the camera simply blurred out. Though it's a very small deal, which would probably go unnoticed by most users, anyone whose seen results from the Canon 350D or even the Nikon D40x or D80 will immediately tell the difference.
The E-410 shoots at 3FPS in burst mode, which is the standard for cameras in its series. As I mentioned before, there's a slight hiccup at start-up because of the SSWF, but after that, you don't experience a delay in any of the camera's functions.
Overall, the Olympus E-410 is a great camera to move on to from a superzoom, but if you have used a D-SLR before, then the camera will only seem like its slowing you down. In all honesty, I could hardly ever be comfortable using the live preview option, mainly because of the dull LCD on which it was displayed. In the end, with this implementation, it was more of a gimmick for me than a practical advantage.
The bottom line is that Rs. 38,000 is a pretty good deal for a 10 megapixel D-SLR that is probably the lightest model in its rage. But if you want a real D-SLR experience with all its mechanical glory, there are better options available out there for cheaper.
130 x 91 x 53 mm
|Storage||CF & xD card|
|LCD Type||2.5", 215,000 px|
|Effective Pixels||10 Megapixels|
|ISO Sensitivity||Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600|
|Shutter Speed||60-1/4000 sec + Bulb|
|Format||RAW, JPEG, RAW+JPEG|
|Scene Modes||Macro, Candle, Sunset, Low key, Children, Document, High key, Fireworks, Landscape, Beach/snow, Night scene, Sports mode, Nature macro, Portrait mode, Night portrait, Panorama assist, Underwater wide, Underwater macro, Landscape-portrait|
|White Balance||8 positions, plus manual|
|Flash||Auto, Auto FP, Manual, Red-Eye|
|Self Timer||2-12 secs|