In almost every physical respect, this dinky DSLR camera is identical to the Olympus E-400, launched barely six months ago. It's still supremely small and light, and it noticeably lacks the bulge of a battery grip that appears to be a standard fixture on all other digital SLRs.

This slimline appearance makes it feel much more like a traditional compact film SLR, harking back to the classic Olympus OM-series of designs from the 1970s.

As well as its good looks, the E-410 has an excellent LCD interface. This doesn't just show the current settings, it also enables you to select and adjust them directly. The Nikon D40x offers this too, but it's nowhere near as elegant or successful in its execution.

Inside the camera, though, some major changes have taken place. The biggest is the incorporation of a Live View mode, where you can, optionally, compose pictures using the LCD rather than in the viewfinder.

Olympus pioneered Live View in the complex and ugly E-330 (now discontinued), which had a secondary 'viewing' sensor within the camera. The E-410 dispenses with this. It simply flips the mirror up, opens the shutter and feeds the image from the sensor directly to the LCD display.

This approach has a couple of disadvantages. Firstly, it exposes the sensor to dust within the camera body for longer periods than usual.

However, Olympus was first to introduce an anti-dust system, and the E-410's SuperSonic Wave Filter vibrates the sensor to shake dust off each time the camera is started up. We were pleased to see that none of our test shots showed any visible signs of dust.

The second problem is that Live View does slow things down. Shooting in Live View mode involves some convoluted mirror movements. First of all the mirror has to come up to enter Live View mode.

It flips down when you press the shutter to enable the focusing (presumably the AF sensor is in the pentaprism), then flips up and down again during the exposure in the manner of a regular SLR. Finally, the mirror flips up once more after the shot in order to return ready for Live View mode again.

It sounds worse than it is, but the E-410's Live View mode still isn't ideal if you're in a hurry. On the other hand, it enables you to make more intelligent exposure assessments using a live histogram and EV compensation control.

On a regular SLR, you have to shoot, check the histogram then re-shoot if necessary. Live View also offers 7x and 10x magnification, which is great for precise manual focusing on macro shots and portraits.

Image quality

The E-410 boasts a new image-processing engine. We remarked that the E-400 didn't have the 'bite' of other 10MP SLRs and that noise increased at higher ISOs. The E-410 seems to be a significant step forward (bearing in mind that our E-400 was a pre-production model anyway).

There's no clear difference in image sharpness between this camera and the D40x and EOS 400D. At low ISOs there's effectively no noise, as you'd expect, and at high ISOs quality holds up well. It's only in the step from ISO 800 to 1600 that you see a downturn in quality. The E-410's 10MP rivals have their own battles with noise at high ISOs, too.

The danger lies in hair-splitting, pixel-by-pixel comparisons that distract from other, important differences between cameras. The E-410's colour rendition, contrast and saturation are excellent. The camera's exposure system helps, combining great accuracy with high levels of control.

The multi-pattern metering can sometimes 'blow' bright highlights, but that's fairly standard. It doesn't fall into the trap of overexposing heavily backlit subjects, though, nor does it produce dull and gloomy colours in bright, high-contrast conditions.

As well as Live View, centre-weighted and spot metering, there are 'shadow' and 'highlight' spot metering modes. These adjust the exposure for dark areas and bright areas in the photo respectively.

While the metering system is sophisticated, the AF system looks pretty basic. The E-410 has just three focusing points arranged horizontally across the screen. Too few? We're willing to bet that you'll spend more time trying to manage the multiple AF points in more complex systems than you will adapting to the simpler three-point system in this camera.

The E-410 is pretty fast at processing images, too - or faster than some of its predecessors at least. It can shoot six RAW shots at 3fps before the buffer is full, and in HQ mode it can continue at that speed until the memory card is full.

The E-410's body-only price seems high at £450, and at £500 the standard body and lens kit combination is hardly a budget buy. But the twin-lens kit is only £100 more at £600, and this looks like good value indeed.

Some people may find the E-410 a little small in the hand - but that didn't stop the classic OM series from becoming one of the most favoured tools of travel photographers. Others may be unsure about committing to the Four Thirds sensor that's been championed by Olympus.

Other manufacturers use rather larger sensors in their SLRs. However, if you can get over those two points then you'll be rewarded with a really great camera that produces excellent results.

Via PhotoRadar