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Olympus have this to say about the camera:
"The ultra-compact dimensions and low weight of this latest Four Thirds Standard camera in the Olympus E-System gives users the freedom to take professional quality photos wherever they wish. This model features a newly-developed 10.0 million pixel CCD for incredible imaging performance and a large 2.5/6.4cm LCD to view results easily."
You can find more information on their website.
The Camera: a visual tour: (Photos of the camera taken with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ3)
Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax 35mm film camera - a medium/compact sized 35mm film camera, on the left, and on the right, compared to an old Zenit B - a Russion 35mm SLR.
Specifications / Features:
The Double Zoom Lens Kit:
Double Zoom Kit Box Contents:
Box contents are fairly good although unfortunately the full manual is on a CD rather than being printed. There are a large range of compatible memory cards available, and a case would also be very useful. The Olympus Evolt E-400 available with two kit lenses gives you a very good zoom range and is very good value for money. There is no memory card provided with the camera.
Battery usage: Battery life seemed good, I managed to take over 350 pictures before the battery low indicator came on. Transferring images using the provided USB cable seems to drain the battery very quickly, so for best battery life it would be worth buying a memory card reader so that you don't have to rely on the USB cable connected to the camera to transfer pictures.
Menu Options / Modes: The camera mode is selected using the top dial. This allows the choice of: Auto, P, A (aperture-priority), S (shutter priority), M (Manual), Portrait, Landscape, Macro/Flower, Sport, Night Portraight, with all scene modes accessible with the dial set to "Scene", these modes are: Portrait, Landscape, Landscape and portrait, Night scene, Night Portrait, Children, Sport, High key (enhances bright areas), Low key (enhances dark areas), DIS Mode (Digital Image Stabilisation - increased the ISO setting and shutter speed to avoid image blur), Macro, Nature Macro, Candle, Sunset, Fireworks, Documents, Beach and Snow, Underwater Wide, Under Water Macro - These last two require the optional underwater housing.
Photo mode/menu: The menu button brings up the menu screen as shown below:
Photo menu 1 options: Card setup, Custom Reset Setting, Picture mode (Vivid, Natural, Muted, Monotone, Sepia - each option allows you to change Contrast, Sharpness, and Saturation), Gradation (High key, Normal, Low key), Picture Quality (RAW+SHQ, RAW+HQ, RAW+SQ, RAW, SHQ, HQ, SQ), White Balance (Each of the following options allow the R and G to be adjusted further, and allow a white balance preview shot: Auto, Sun 5300k, Cloud 6000k, Shade 7500k, Bulb 3000k, Flourescant 1 4000k, Flourescant 2 4500k, Flourescant 3 6600k, Manual White Balance, Custom White Balance (2000 - 14000k)), ISO (Auto, 100 - 1600), Noise reduction.
Photo menu 2 options: Metering (ESP, ESP+AF, Centre-weighted, Spot, Spot-hi, Spot-sh), Flash strength (+2, -2), AF mode (S-AF, C-AF, Manual, S-AF + MF, C-AF + MF), Focus area (Auto, Left, Centre, Right), AE Bracket / Flash Bracket (3F 0.3EV, 0.7EV, 1.0EV).
This menu seems
to be lacking options when compared to the Olympus
EVOLT E-500, however, it appears as thought the majority of other
options (shooting mode, exposure compensation) are now directly accessed
through the external buttons, rather than being in the menu, or alternatively
using the "Photo mode info display" shown below - pressing the
OK button turns this into a menu where you can quickly get access to the
most commonly used features and options.
Screen / LCD display in photo mode: (shown above, right) The screen resolution with 215,000 pixels is very good, and can display a histogram after each shot. The screen is clear and the text and menus are easy to read. In the display is - shutter speed, f setting, mode (manual/auto/shutter priority/aperture priority), date, number of shots remaining. You can also press OK, and use the 4-way controller and change the options on the screen such as: ISO, White Balance, Colour mode, Flash - auto, red-eye, flash on, no flash, red-eye slow, flash slow, flash slow 2, full, 1/4, 1/16, 1/64 (there's also a pop up flash button on top of the camera), Metering, Focus area, Focus mode - single, continuous, manual, single with manual, continuous with manual, Shooting mode, CF/XD, Picture quality - SHQ, HQ (adjustable compression), SQ (adjustable size and compression). Further options become available by pressing the INFO button as shown above right.
Optical Viewfinder (pictured above, left): has a diopter corrector. There is no electronic viewfinder. The optical viewfinder shows additional information to the right, such as aperture, shutter, focus, flash, mode, white balance etc.
Set-up menu 1 options: ALL White Balance +- allows you to change Red / Green + or -, SQ - set SQ image size and compression ratio, Auto flash pop-up, AEL / AFL setup, AEL / AFL memo (on/off), AEL Metering, Function button customisation (One touch WB, Test Picture without saving, Depth of field preview, Off), Sound (on, off), Dial customisation (can be set to change last two dial options (sport, night portrait) to underwater scene modes for use with the optional underwater housing).
Set-up menu 2 options: Date / Time settings, CF/XD, File name, Screen brightness (+/- 7), Language, Video out, Record view, Sleep, USB mode (Auto, Storage, Control, Easy print, Custom print), Colour space (sRGB, AdobeRGB), Pixel mapping, Cleaning mode, Firmware version.
Playback (Review) mode/menu: The menu button brings up the menu screen as shown on the right, below:
Playback mode: Scrolling through the photos is fairly quick. The zoom is very quick and allows you to zoom upto 14x. There were numerous different playback views: Calendar view by date, Normal - with the option of additional info, histogram, highlight, and shadow view, thumbs - showing 4, 9, 16, or 25 thumbnails. Pressing the INFO button allows you to go through these different view modes.
Playback menu options: Playback view (choice of thumbnails per page), Auto-rotate (on,off), Edit (allows you to convert image to black and white, sepia, fix red-eye, change saturation, and resize), print, copy all (XD - CF and vice versa).
Picture Size / Quality: The camera takes the following size pictures:
As shown in the table above, higher quality images take a large amount of memory, so a high capacity memory card is definitely recommended, unless you're prepared to sacrifice image size or use higher compression options to fit more pictures in memory. There is a very good choice of image sizes and compression options (although unfortunately no choice regarding aspect ratio), and inclusion of RAW image mode means you can ensure no image quality is lost before any further editing occurs.
A large memory card is relatively cheap, and highly recommended, I would recommend at a bare minimum a 512mb memory card, if you intend to take JPEG images, and preferably a 1024mb memory card, or larger, especially if you intend to take RAW images. The larger the memory card, the more photos you will be able to take. If you are likely to go on holiday then the largest memory card you can afford would definitely be worth investing in, as you don't always know when you will next be at a computer. You can use Compact Flash, Micro drive and xD picture cards (you can keep 1 Compact Flash card, and 1 XD memory card in the camera at the same time and switch between them whenever you feel like it, for example, if one is full). As the Olympus supports FAT32, it is compatible with the Hitachi 4gb Micro Drive (£89). Listed below are links to memory cards that will work with the Olympus E-400:
the latest prices for CF (Compact Flash) memory cards at Amazon.co.uk:
1gb (1024mb): £24,
2gb (2048mb): £45,
4gb (4096mb): £87,
8gb (8192mb): £198.
Speed: The camera is very quick to switch on and take photos, being ready in just under 2 seconds. Focusing seemed fairly quick, except in very low light when the flash-assist is used - this can seem to take a long time to focus depending on the subject. The playback mode is also fairly quick. The camera shutter response seemed instant when pre-focused - and shot to shot time was quick, with a delay of around 1/3rd second between shots without flash. The flash recharge time was very quick and can be used in continuous shooting mode taking a photo every 0.4 seconds (roughly 2.5fps). The cameras menus seemed quick. Continuous shooting is very quick, at roughly 3fps for multiple shots at the highest resolution, dependant on card technology used - with compact flash 5 shots could be taken sequentially at maximum resolution (RAW/SHQ) before there is a delay while the files were written to the memory card. Using HQ JPEG, 9 shots can be taken at 3fps before there is a delay.
Ease of use: The camera is very easy to use, especially in the AUTO mode and the scene modes, even though the camera has a lot of options. The controls on the back of the camera are quite straightforward - the menus are responsive and easy to read and navigate. The menus are also easy to use, and the options are big enough and easy enough to see clearly. The modes are easy to access, quick and simple, mainly thanks to the large screen (most options are easily accessible by use of the ok button and the direction arrows) which makes it easier to use. It is useful to read the advanced manual to help familiarise yourself with some of the more technical features of the camera eg; knowing that sf and cf mean single focus and constant focus was useful. As with nearly all Digital SLRs: to get the most out of the camera you may want to use RAW, this adds an additional step to the image taking process, meaning that you have to convert the images to JPEG before you can email them to friends or use them in other programs; You may also need to learn how to use custom white balance, and the preset white balance modes to get the best colour from the camera. So whilst the Olympus E-400 is very easy to use in AUTO mode, (simply point and shoot), to get the most out of the camera may take some time.
Ergonomics and Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc.) The buttons are easy to use, and they are in a good position. There seem to be a lot of buttons but this allows easy access to the essential functions and features while you're composing your shot. The buttons feel okay, although some may find them small. The shutter release is good. The scrolling wheel has multiple functions and in play mode is used to zoom in on your picture so you compare magnified sections of one image with the previous or next, making it simple to decide which shot is the one with least camera shake. I thought the camera felt good ergonomically, despite the cameras lack of handgrip compared to other Olympus DSLRs, the small body is easy to hold, and has good sized rubber grips at the front and back. The only problem I had with the camera was the placement of the strap loops, making it slightly uncomfortable for my right hand, thankfully these can be removed. The camera feels like a solid, robust and well built camera.
Image Quality: Here are some real world sample photos taken in various settings, such as Inside, Noise, Outside, Zoom, Macro, to demonstrate the quality of pictures taken and also show different features of the camera. Larger versions of these photos, plus more photos are available in the Olympus EVOLT E-400 Sample Photo Gallery!
Inside: The camera has very good colour - It took a good "Heather and Flower" photo - there is no red-eye in the photo. It has a very good flash, and copes well with group photos, and on AUTO ISO, the ISO setting was kept quite low in these photos. The camera did a good job at focusing even in low-light. Colour is richly saturated and can be altered, Program default to VIVID colour, whereas AUTO (with firmware 1.1) defaults to Natural colour. Flash photos were occassionally slightly under-exposed. It is worth noting that JPEG images did come out slightly softer, and with slightly less saturation - I have included a JPG and a RAW converted to a JPEG (using default settings) in the gallery to show the difference.
Noise: Noise is generally a bad thing - it removes detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as digital camera noise is often made out of blue, red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise. Noise is most noticeable in dark areas of photos. The camera has an Automatic mode for ISO levels, and manual ISO settings (ISO: 100, 125, 160, 200, 250, 320, 400, 500, 640, 800, 1000, 1250, 1600).
Below you'll find the noise test image, plus actual pixel crops from the image taken at different ISO settings, compared with the 6 megapixel, Fujifilm FinePix F30, which is currently the benchmark compact camera for noise tests due to it's excellent high ISO performance, and a 7 megapixel Canon Digital IXUS 850 IS in order to show the difference between an Olympus Digital SLR and a current 7 megapixel point and shoot digital camera.
ISO Noise Test Photos - Flash is off. Fujifilm FinePix F30 on the left, Olympus E-400 in the middle, Canon Digital IXUS 850 IS on the right. The colour difference is due to automatic white balance.
Due to the physically larger size of the imaging (CCD) sensor in the Olympus E-400 you would expect noise to be less noticable when compared to compact point and shoot digital cameras, as they have much smaller imaging (CCD) sensors, which typically results in much higher noise. However, the Fujifilm FinePix F30 is in a league of it's own compared to other compact point and shoot digital cameras, giving even the Olympus E-400 a "run for it's money" with extremely low noise, even upto ISO1600 (the Fujifilm FinePix F30 goes upto ISO3200, but this isn't shown here). Compared to a more normal point and shoot digital camera, the Canon Digital IXUS 850 IS, the Olympus E-400 shows less noise and much cleaner edges at all ISO settings. The E-400 has low noise at ISO100 - ISO400, with ISO800 and above being the only ISO settings that show a large amount of noise. I would say that ISO800 is usable, and ISO settings above should still produce acceptable results as there appears to be no loss of colour. Overall these results go to show that compact point and shoot digital cameras continue to try and close the gap between them and Digital SLRs. The Olympus E-400 has an option to switch noise-reduction on and off, however, this is only activated during long exposures, and is only available in certain modes (Auto, and all Scene modes excluding Children, Sport, and Beach and Snow). Nb. You can view the Olympus E-400 compared to the Pentax K100D in the Pentax K100D Review.
Outside, the camera has rich saturated (and accurate) colours, with good saturation, contrast and detail. There was good detail although some images seemed a little soft (as with most Digital SLRs) - more detail can be extracted from images by using RAW, and then sharpening the images. Noise seemed low for ISO100 photos. I turned up the quality to maximum to avoid jpeg artefacts.
Zoom (and lenses): The double zoom kit provides a very good range of optical zoom power. The first lens provides a 3x optical zoom starting at wide-angle (28mm equivalent), and the second lens provides ultra zoom levels of optical zoom - combining the two gives you 28mm - 300mm of range (in 35mm terms), which is effectively the same as having a 10.7x optical zoom lens. If you don't need all this zoom power, then simply go for the single lens kit as it is great for 'normal' everyday photography, but if you want a camera suitable for every situation from wide-angle use to ultra zoom use, then the double zoom kit is definitely worth going for. However, you might be interested in obtaining different lenses depending on your field of work (for example, a 18mm - 180mm all in one lens may be more convenient, as this is the equivalent to 36 - 360mm). For telephoto work the purchase of a tripod will also help you make the most of your investment.
Exposure / Metering
on the photos of the clock tower seems very good, with the dark areas
of the photo not too dark, and the bright areas of the photo still visible.
Image quality here is very good with excellent detail, no vignetting or
corner softness, and minimal chromatic aberrations.
Lens noise and zoom: The lens is very quiet, making almost no noise when switched on due to the lens already being in position. The manual zoom ring also means that zooming is silent and it gives you very good control of how you frame your subject. Like all SLR's the shutter noise is distinctive and provides some indication of the shutter speed. On the E-400 it does seem quite loud, and if you're used to the silence of a compact point and shoot digital camera, then you may notice the shutter sound is considerably louder than your point and shoot camera.
Other Image Quality issues: Purple fringing can be seen in some extreme test cases near the edges of the photos, however this was only seen when looking closely at the images, and was not seen in the majority of photos. Some purple fringing can be seen in the telephoto clock tower photo taken with the 40-150mm lens.
Macro Lens Performance:
Using the lens set to telephoto zoom, you are able to get a better macro photo - colour and detail is good, and there appears to be fairly low noise at ISO200. The lens / autofocus allows you to get roughly ~10cm away from the subject to the front of the lens using the 14-42mm kit lens, and roughly ~60cm away from the subject to the front of the lens using the 40-150mm lens. Setting the white balance manually helps acheive better results, and even better results will be possible with a dedicated macro lens. Using the 40-150mm lens in full optical zoom as a macro lens requires a good level of light to be on the subject, so that a faster shutter speed can be used in order to avoid image blur.
Summary: The Olympus E-400 is an impressive digital SLR camera, offering excellent image quality, and an excellent range of lenses with very precise manual zoom control. The screen is good, and the camera can produce excellent photos. If you can stick with the lower ISO settings and you want high quality large images then this camera should be high on your shopping list. This camera is easy to use (in auto mode) and offers speedy performance, excellent battery life, with good controls and excellent build quality. I would recommend this camera especially to people who want greater creative control that normal compact digital cameras generally do not provide. I'd recommend trying out the camera and comparing with other brands before purchase, as you may find looking through the viewfinder and getting used to reading the information provided takes a little time, when compared to your average (electronic viewfinder) digital camera. If you have been put off getting a Digital SLR due to the physical size of them compared to point and shoot cameras, then the E-400 could be what you've been waiting for, as one of the smallest, it is also one of the easiest Digital SLRs to take with you. The double zoom lens kit with new smaller lenses, designed specifically for the E-400, offers excellent value for money and a very appealling package. Highly Recommended!
What I like:
What I don't like:
Images - viewable in the Olympus
EVOLT E400 Sample Photo Gallery