The 10-megapixel Olympus E-410 updates the E-400 with a new Live MOS image sensor, and new TruePic III image processor.
While the E-400 was a good camera, it wasn’t perfect and one of its problems was image noise – the grainy texture that can affect detail and introduce coloured speckles into pictures. Unfortunately, Olympus is no stranger to ‘noisy’ cameras as its Four Thirds sensors are smaller than most, which makes them naturally prone to high noise levels – the E-300 being a fine example of this.
In that particular instance, when Olympus upgraded the E-300 to the E-330 it put in a ‘LiveMOS’ sensor, which helped keep the noise down. It’s interesting that the company has done exactly the same thing with the E-410 – whereas the E-400 has a conventional CCD (and noisy images) the E-410 uses LiveMOS.
And the results are phenomenal – at least in terms of noise control. Whether it’s purely down to the sensor or – more likely – a combination of advanced processing and LiveMOS, I would happily take images taken at any ISO setting on the E-410 and enlarge them to an A3 print size. Even at ISO 1600 the noise that appears isn’t unpleasant.
Sharpness & Detail
Of course, there has to be a downside to this and in this instance, achieving such smooth prints means the noise reduction takes the edge off your pictures in terms of sharpness and detail. However, we have to stress that it is only a marginal loss of sharpness, and only at the maximum ISO 1600 setting. Below this – especially in the ISO 100-400 range – the less aggressive noise reduction leads to improved sharpness and some cracking A3 enlargements.
Yet while noise is very well controlled, we do have some issues with the E-410’s dynamic range. This is basically the range of tones the camera can record before it delivers pure black or pure white – the wider the dynamic range the more detail you will see in the lightest and darkest areas of a picture. With the E-410, it appears that the dynamic range is slightly narrow, because the highlights in images tend to ‘blow’ quite easily, leaving blank patches of white in the picture. As a result, you have to work a little harder when you make your exposures so you don’t lose your highlights.In high contrast situations we found that underexposing slightly (by up to -1EV) and then lightening the shadows in Photoshop is one answer – it’s easier to recover shadow detail as once highlights go white, any detail is lost forever.
Luckily, Olympus has helped by including a good 49-zone ESP metering system that needs little assistance in getting things right, and if you really want to ensure you have full detail in your highlights you can always use the highlight spot meter option.