Olympus E-410

PMA ’07 saw the announcement of the Olympus E-410, the worldwide successor to the Olympus E-400. The E-400 was a limited release camera, available in only a few markets with a 10MP Kodak sensor and no LiveView.

Olympus E-410Olympus is consistently one of the most innovative manufacturers, releasing models that break new ground in terms of features and form-factor. The E-400/410 is no exception. Doing away with the chunky right-hand grip that characterizes so many DSLRs, it’s clearly a nod to the OM series of old. It also embodies the characteristics of the original OM line – small size, light weight, excellent ergonomics… On top of which, Zuiko glass has an excellent reputation for image rendition.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the E-410 turned out to be a hit with consumers. In fact, there’s a lot of potential along these lines. With cleaner, more minimalistic controls/back interface and a small prime this could be the poor man’s street shooter. I’d love to have one. Heck, I’d pick up one of the current E-410s!

Perhaps someday Nikon will see the light and release a body like this…

Yeah. Sure. Who am I fooling.

Thoughts:
What really appeals to me about the E-410 it cuts down on the depth of the camera. Although the D40 is shorter (both height and length), its larger grip means that it has more bulk than the E-410. I’d love to see a return to the thinner, boxier form factors of yesteryears. The weight reduction’s a welcome too. Oh – and while I’m at it – I’d like a thin, small prime as well ;)

Comments

  1. tcoen - April 4, 2007 @ 23:12

    Not to mention the slightly smaller Olympus sensor results in smaller glass. Olympus should be the one to do away with the mirror and start a line of exchangable lens EVF cameras.

    The dSLR market is too crowded and dominated by two players anyways. The Olympus E330 live view is a crumby hack that makes way too many comprimises.

    I agree with you that dSLRs are too big.

  2. Allen George - April 5, 2007 @ 06:47

    Not to mention the slightly smaller Olympus sensor results in smaller glass.

    Yes and no. With a smaller sensor, we lose ~ 1 stop of DOF. To get that back Olympus pro glass are usually heavy, large f/2 zooms. On the other hand, their low to mid-range lenses are quite compact. Although the four-thirds format makes compromises, its size positions Olympus as the ideal company to create the “poor man’s Leica”. A lot of advanced amateurs would pick one up as a second system.

    As to EVFs…

    Olympus has cultivated the ethos of an innovative manufacturer willing to rethink assumptions. Although there’s lots of resistance within the community against EVFs, I could see them incorporating it as LiveView matures.

    DSLRs are too big. You can pretty much trace their design heritage and styling cues back to the Canon T90.

  3. tcoen - April 5, 2007 @ 16:47

    Yes, but at least they have f/2 zooms.

    As a poor man’s Leica, in addition to the small size, it would need to excel at wide angles. The mirror box pushes the lens away from the sensor resulting in sub-optimal (size and performance) of wide angle retrofocus lenses for SLRs.

    I’ve been using a EVF camera (Sony R1) and will admit that the EVF is not great for size and resolution. But it could be, it would just cost more. Perhaps OLEDs or other developments will open new doors.

    Also, EVFs aren’t all drawback. They have a lot of pluses, just like the rear LCD on a p&s. Real time feedback of metering and white balance and the ability to zoom while manually focusing to name a few.

    Thanks for the link the T90 history, it was interesting.

  4. Allen George - April 6, 2007 @ 22:10

    Well, they need the f/2 zooms to compensate for the loss in speed and DOF. Unfortunately their size, weight and resulting cost offset any advantage conferred by the smaller sensor size.

    I hadn’t realized the impact of the mirror-box on wide angles. If that’s the case, then a DP-1 design or a pure EVF design would be far more advantageous.

    Or, you could always go back to film and use a Cosina Voigtlander Bessa R4A…

    I always thought it a shame that the R1 skimped on the EVF, choosing a 235,200 pixel model instead of the K-M DiMAGE A2’s 922,000 pixel design. But, every camera is a compromise.

    I think EVF’s are the future, though their fidelity and power consumption will have to improve significantly before they’re widely accepted. Removing the mirror box and using an EVF could bring about radical new AF, WB and metering modules. As a body designer you could also experiment with different form factors. From a manufacturing perspective the fewer moving parts the better.

    I figure we’re in a transition period.

  5. tcoen - April 11, 2007 @ 19:53

    Sadly the transistion period may be over. dSLRs are doing so well that they are all that is coming out in the high-end of the consumer market.

    5 years ago manufacturers were taking risks with innovative designs. The Sony F series (F717, F828) were excellent cameras with a great mix of features. The K-M A2 set the bar for EVFs. The Sony R1 used an APS-C sized sensor with a relatively inexpensive lens that performed amazingly due to the short back focus distance.

    All of these are obsolete with no announced replacements. Seems like all that is coming out are dSLRs and ultra-zooms with 7MP 1/2.5″ sensors.

    Actually the new Ricoh GX100 looks pretty good. Although they’ve jammed too many pixels in the sensor (1/1.75″ 10MP).

  6. Allen George - April 13, 2007 @ 05:52

    A single innovative feature does not make a camera. An EVF is useful if it allows me to do something an OVF could not.

    A lot of designs failed because they simply weren’t good as cameras. Users had to make a compromise too many.

    You forget – when the first digital ultra-zoom was released, it was an innovation. It was successful because it addressed a need that users of fixed-lens cameras had and did so without onerous compromises.

    Short back focus distance is a double-edged sword. Unlike film, which can tolerate light at extreme angles, digital sensors perform optimally if light comes in perpendicular to the sensor plane. The more angled it is, the more vignetting you get, requiring offset microlenses to compensate. This increases the cost substantially. The Leica M8 used offset microlenses and a smaller sensor (1.33x) to combat the vignetting. It’s also why the Tri-Elmar 16-18-21 exists (M8 users get their wide back).

    Ricohs are spotty.

    The GR-D’s form-factor and build is very nice, but the LCD interface and actual shooting response is poor – remarkably poor for such an expensive, niche model. Also, even given the smaller userbase I’ve heard a lot more concerning reliability problems than with other manufacturers. And lets not mention the image quality…

  7. tcoen - April 13, 2007 @ 17:18

    I didn’t mean to say that EVFs were an amazing innovation. They have advantages and disadvantages compared to OVFs. They would, however, be necessary for electronic viewfinder exchangable lens cameras (the mythical EVIL cameras that don’t yet exist).

    Refering to your original post, you discussed that Olympus was amoung the most innovative manfucturers, espeecially in regards to the smaller camera bodies.

    With that in mind, it’s kinda disappointing that neither Olympus nor Sony went the EVIL route. Olympus had the chance since they started from scratch anyways with the 2/3rds system. Sony did the same, putting out a good product, but its just another “me too” design.

    My list of advantages/disadvantages for the EVIL cameras (just cuz it’s fun to dream).

    Advantages:

    – No mirror => less noise, less vibration, smaller bodies, less moving parts.
    – Better, cheaper wide angle lenses due to short back focus.
    – Focusing performed on image sensor => no alignment issues, less parts.
    – Metering done on the actual sensor => less parts, potentially more accurate?
    – Lens system would likely have one fixed lens in front of sensor => no dust issue. Apparently some old German cameras had this system?
    – EVF or LCD gives real-time feedback of colour balance and metering before you shoot. EVF also has more space for better overlays.
    – Almost unlimited adjustment of the ROI for focusing and metering.
    – Ability to zoom image for fine tuning of manual focus.
    – Natural support of movie modes.

    Disadvantages:

    – No OVF. OVF’s are for the most part bright, big, sharp and have no lag.
    – No catalog of existing lenses.
    – No phase based focusing. Probably the biggest hurdle IMO. Contrast based focusing requires reading off the image sensor (slow) and cannot determine the direction needed to travel to acheive focus.
    – Probably limited to CMOS sensors for low-power and high-speed readout of subregions for focusing, metering, and real-time display.
    – Possible issue with short back focus length and resulting sharp angle of incident light at edges of sensor. However, apparently this isn’t as big of an issue as initially thought, see here:
    http://www.luminous-landscape.com/essays/Leica-M8-Perspective.shtml
    and I know the Sony R1 has a very short back focal length and almost no vignetting. I don’t know enough about optics or semiconductor physics to understand why. Here are some pics, but no discription of how any problems were solved:
    http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/R1/R1A6.HTM

    Anyways, I’m not trying to hijack your post. I’m just agreeing that dSLRs are too big and an EVIL design would address this somewhat. It would be awesome if a manufacturer did release an EVIL series, although it would probably flop in the market.

  8. Allen George - April 13, 2007 @ 18:38

    Anyways, I’m not trying to hijack your post.

    Heh. No worries – it’s nice to talk with someone who’s actually interested in camera technology. Most people’s eyes simply glaze over.

    I suppose I’m a little ‘down’ on this because:

    • I don’t know if the handling issues with current DSLRs are addressable by new technical innovations
    • No matter what we say, manufacturers will take the path of least resistance

    And of course, I – not my equipment – is the limiting factor when it comes to my photographs.

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