http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/olympuse410/page19.asp for comparison between E410, Nikon D40X & Canon 400D, the E510 has similar image quality to E410 but also have sensor-based IS making it an even more attractive camera for those who don't mind a little bit more size, weight.
Super brief summary:
see digital SLRs
a word of warning - being frail human beings with egos, the best camera or lens is the one we don't have, and we all want something 30% better than we have - once you realise this you can buy what is reasonable for your near term needs and make the most of what you have and not keep worrying about what you don't have. For most people in 2006, a 6-8 megapixel camera is good enough as long as it can focus fast, has reliable metering and can take great quality images. Buying older technology digital may seem attractive for some purposes, but newer technology usually gives better value even if you pay a little bit more. Life is short and opportunities readily pass you by, why spend a lot of effort on achieving a special photo when you scrimped on your image quality unnecessarily - and don't forget a good tripod!
the most important factor when choosing a SLR is the quality, range, affordability, and size of the available lens system as in the end, it is what lens you will actually take with you and use that will become the limiting factor in the resolution, depth of field and optical aberrations in your images, and although these are improving all the time with the advent of ED glass, one can assume the camera bodies will improve much more rapidly.
buy the best quality lenses you can afford for the amount of time you will be using them, as long as they won't always be left at home because they are too big. Think twice about just settling for a cheap kit lens that comes with the camera (although the Olympus ones are very good compared to other brands), you may regret not spending a couple of hundred dollars more for a few years to come.
be realistic though, don't choose a system just because it has some great lenses if these lenses are well outside your budget - in this case they may as well not exist so ignore them.
if you are mainly going to print the images to A4 or 8"x12" size then an 8-10 megapixel camera is all that you need - a 22 mpixel camera will NOT give more resolution at this size print just because it has more pixels and the difference in ability to enlarge does not change a great deal when going from 8 mpixel to even 12 mpixel - it is not 50% more resolution but only 25% more.
in terms of camera bodies:
Olympus E3 has jumped ahead of its competitors in a number of important areas:
fastest AF even in low light while being very accurate for action shots at 5fps.
most rugged, weatherproof body and lenses - almost waterproof - you can pour a bottle of water on it.
the most effective sensor cleaner built-in (same as Olympus E330/410/510)
best performing image stabiliser (now 5EV instead of 2-3 EV as on Nikon & Canon) which works on ALL of its digital lenses.
thus image stabilised:
macro (Nikon has a VR macro)
super wide angle or fisheye (neither Nikon or Canon have this - widest Canon/Nikon cropped is 27mm)
wide aperture standard zooms (F/2.8-3.5) - fastest cropped: Nikon f/3.5-5.6; Canon f/2.8 but expensive;
wide aperture telephoto zooms such as 70-200mm effective constant f/2.0!
best live preview LCD system with Live BOOST and an articulating, swivel screen but still no silent mode or real time AF.
best range of lenses designed for digital cropped sensors
what other cropped sensor body allows such high quality lenses with 5EV IS as the Olympus teamed with:
Olympus ZD 12-60mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD giving 24-120mm coverage
Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD giving 100-400mm coverage
or the less expensive Olympus ZD 70-300mm ED giving 140-600mm coverage at smaller aperture
best telephoto reach when you need it thanks to the 2x crop factor
ability to use mirror lock up and self-timer together (these are exclusive functions on the D300)
60sec timed exposures instead of only 30sec
+/- 5EV exposure compensation for easier HDR work (D300 has this but 40D is only +/- 2EV)
lightest body including batteries of the 3 comparable cameras (800g cw 822g for 40D and 925g for D300)
ability to adapt almost any legacy manual focus lens such as Leica R lenses (can do on Canon but not on Nikon)
the light, compact Olympus E410 or E510 makes a great backup camera for mounting a second lens.
Nikon D300 has a few advantages over the Olympus E3 but I think the E3's advantages beat the D300:
marginally better image quality and 14bit RAW instead of 12 bit RAW - most will not notice the difference in quality.
marginally less image noise at high ISO
marginally faster burst rate at 6fps
optional WiFi FTP
proven wireless TTL flash system whereas Olympus has just released their version
perhaps better ergonomics of its buttons.
higher resolution LCD screen but this won't give you better photos although gives better pixel peeping to check them
real time AF in live preview but uses a slow contrast detection method and screen does not articulate
Canon 40D seems to be beaten on features by both the D300 and E3 but gives comparable image quality.
Canon 5D is older technology and soon to be replaced but included as it offers:
full frame sensor at high image quality at a similar price point
has the advantage of being able to use Canon EF tilt shift lenses but no Live Preview to assist in their accurate focusing.
no live preview and no sensor cleaning.
at a much higher price point there are the pro cameras:
Nikon D3 with its improved image quality and ability to use ISO up to 25,600 for general purpose and low light work
Canon 1D MIII with its 10fps burst rate for sports and use of tilt-shift lenses for selective focus.
Canon 1Ds MIII with its 21mp sensor for studio, landscapes
Sony requires Minolta mount lenses and proprietary flash, so unless you have a stack of Minolta lenses I wouldn't recommend Sony.
if you don't already own lenses and a compact, high quality, affordable system is important:
personally, I would only consider these manufacturers: Canon, Nikon, Olympus.
on a budget, it's hard to go past the Olympus E510 for its live preview and sensor-based IS and their range of high quality compact digital lenses
the new Olympus E3 is a great compromise semi-pro / pro camera with its swivel live preview, almost waterproof rugged body and lenses, best system of lenses designed for a cropped camera, fastest and most accurate AF, best performing image stabiliser, best AWB, better telephoto reach and usable 5fps with comparable image quality to the new Nikon D300 or Canon 40D
low light photography with digital SLR's and sensor size:
any digital SLR can achieve low noise at low ISO, thus the bottom line is - what fastest shutter speed can you attain for the conditions at a given acceptable noise level
the 30% smaller sensor of the 4/3rds sensor compared to the 15.1x22.7mm sensor will equate to having to use ISO about half a stop slower to achieve the same noise although noise comparisons of the Olympus suggest perhaps 1 stop difference.
this "loss in ISO" is offset by the fact that the 4/3rds sensor allows smaller, faster lenses for the same price which not only make up for the half stop loss but means less to carry and potentially less camera shake with lighter lenses.
of course, particularly if you have lots of good old lenses & you don't mind carrying heavy gear and you are rich, then go for a full frame Canon or Nikon D3, for a compromise, go for the Canon 40D or Nikon D300.
for action photography:
one needs fast shutter speeds & reasonably deep depth of field:
low noise at high ISO becomes more important as it allows shorter exposures at smaller f/stops
BUT, the smaller the sensor, the greater the depth of field and the cheaper it is to get fast, light telephotos, so low noise at high ISO is not necessarily the most important factor.
although an IS Canon lens enables one to hand hold a shot for shutter speeds at ~ 2stops slower than usual, this is not as good as using a tripod & does not help with photos of moving objects, when it is still required to use a fast shutter speed & thus requires either a fast lens or high ISO or both, thus if you can afford a high quality fast telephoto then this is better than an IS lens and this is where the 4/3rds standard starts to come into its own with more affordable fast telephotos.
short of buying the much more expensive & heavier Canon 1D MIII or Nikon D3, the Olympus E3 makes a great action camera with its fast & accurate AF, ability to take it in any weather conditions dusty, sandy or pouring rain, as long as you are happy using max. ISO 1600-3200 and 5fps with accurate AF which is perhaps better than 10fps on the Canon 1D MIII and pot-luck with AF shots being in focus.
if you already have 35mm lenses which you hope to use, here are a few points:
the smaller the sensor:
the greater the image crop ie. a 50mm lens on an Olympus becomes a 100mm effective lens which is great if you want telephoto, but this means you will have trouble getting wide angle unless the camera is full frame 35mm sensor, even with a 1.6x crop sensor you need a 13-14mm lens to get a 21mm wide angle effect & such a lens has much more aberrations than a 21mm prime;
the greater the need for good lens resolution ie. most old lenses need to be stopped down a stop or two to avoid poor sharpness on Olympus cameras with a 2x crop, hence the new ED lenses specifically designed for digital
avoid zoom lenses and go for good quality prime lenses
the harder it is to visualise manual focus accuracy unless you have magnified live preview as with Olympus & new Canons.
you can get adapters for many old lenses to cross-fit each of the digitals (except Nikon camera bodies as there is not enough physical space to allow infinity focus) see http://www.cameraquest.com/adaptnew.htm
need light camera body with low noise at high ISO
preferably with mirror lock up to reduce vibration
preferably a wired remote control to lock long exposures
preferably with reasonable IR sensitivity (hence the Hutech modified Canon 40D or Olympus E410)
preferably not full frame as most telescopes cannot give good images beyond a 25mm radius of the axis.
preferably ability to focus via magnified LCD screen (eg. Canon 40D, Olympus E410) or via laptop
ability to save true RAW images in at least 12 bit per channel
see comparison tests on 300D vs 350XT vs 20D vs D70 at http://www.tcann.com/
unfortunately the Olympus E330 has more noise and tends to cause horizontal banding at higher ISO with long exposures, but it is good for up to 60sec exposures at ISO 400 - see my comet photos
5-6 megapixel digital SLRs moved to here.
2004-2006 models moved to SLRs 2006
10-12 megapixel live preview SLRs:
see also another comparison chart of the Olympus E3, Nikon D300, Canon 1DMkIII, Canon 40D and Sony A-700:
|Canon 1D MIII (June 2007)||Canon 40D (Aug 2007)||Olympus E3 (Nov 2007)||Olympus E420/520 (May 2008)
Olympus E510 (Mar 2007)
Olympus E410 (2007)
|Nikon D300 (Nov 2007)|
|sensor size||28.7 x 19.1mm 3:2 1.3x crop 14bit||15.1x22.7mm 3:2 1.6x crop 14bit||4/3 13x17.3mm 4:3 2.0x crop 12bit||4/3 13x17.3mm 4:3 2.0x crop 12bit||DX 15.6x23.7mm 1.5x crop 4288 x 2848 12.3mp 14bit|
|body||pro magnesium weather-sealed||magnesium||pro magnesium weather-sealed||plastic||magnesium, weather-sealed|
|sensor image stabiliser||no||no||yes 3-5 stops||yes 2-3 stops (E510 not E410)||no|
|burst mode||up to 10fpsx30RAW||up to 6.5fps||5fps x17RAW||3fps x7RAW (3.5fps x8RAW for E420/520)||6fpsx19 12bit RAW|
|AF||49 point; flash assist||9 point; flash assist||11 twin cross points; fastest AF and down to -2EV light levels||3 point; flash assist
(+11pt contrast in live preview for E420/520)
|predictive AF||AI Servo||AI Servo||yes||yes||yes|
|inbuilt flash||no||GN 12m||GN 13m||GN 12m||GN12m|
|RAW write time|
|metering||35 zone; spot||35 zone; 9% centre spot||49 segment; spot||49 zone; spot;||3D metering|
|white balance||poor AWB incand. custom WB cumbersome||poor AWB incand.||easy custom WB; possibly the best AWB - dual mechanism||easy custom WB|
|LCD review max. zoom to check focus||10x||10x||5x, 7x, 10x||8x, 14x|
|LCD size/resolution||3" 230,000pixels||3" 230,000pixels||2.5" 230,000pixels||2.5" 230,000pixels (2.7" in E420/520)||3" 922,000 pixels|
|long exposure issues||v.good for astro.||v.good for astro.||OK for limited astro.||OK for limited astro.||OK for astro but RAW files are not truly RAW see here|
|x-sync||E-TTL II; wireless TTL flash support||E-TTL II; wireless flash support||1/250th; 1/8000th in SP mode; wireless TTL flash support||1/180th; 1/4000th in SuperFP mode;||wireless TTL flash support|
low noise at high ISO
optional WiFi FTP/remote control
available tilt-shift lenses but full frame
|low noise at high ISO
live preview allows button to access transient AF similar to Olympus
possibly best AWB
easy custom WB
great new SWD lenses designed for digital
60sec timed exposures
movable LCD screen
2x crop allows more telephoto reach for same size lens
3 or 5 frame exp. bracketing
CCD-shift IS in the E-510/520 but not the E-410/420.
light & compact dSLR - E410 even lighter & smaller;
easy to use;
easy custom WB;
2x crop allows more telephoto reach for same size lens
infrared remote available
wireless TTL (E420/E520)
AF face detection in live preview (E420/520)
low noise at high ISO;
live preview allows sensor-based AF
hi-res. LCD screen
best TTL flash system
optional wifi FTP
optional battery holder allows 8fps shooting
|cons:||very heavy, bulky
live preview doesn't allow easy AF mechanism
limited wide angle options due to 1.3x crop
some issues with possible bugs in its AF system
no sensor IS
no macro IS lens
no built in flash
dust on sensor is still problematic;
no sensor IS
no macro IS lens
EF-S lenses are generally not pro quality while full frame lenses are not well matched
exposure compensation only +/- 2EV instead of 5EV as with the others
1.6x crop may become redundant
|smaller sensor means more noise at high ISO
wireless TTL flash new and untested.
manual focus by wire
|smaller sensor means more noise at high ISO and less dynamic
no wireless TTL flash (E410/510)
only 3 frames exposure bracketing up to +/- 1EV limits use for HDR
smaller viewfinder view
shutter to 1/4000th not 1/8000th sec
manual focus by wire
|cannot adapt other mount legacy lenses as you can with
Olympus or Canon.
limited sensor dust protection
1.5x crop may become redundant
no sensor IS
burst rate only 2.5fps in 14bit RAW mode
clumsy live view implementation
RAW files are not truly RAW see here
|weight w batt.||1335g||822g||810g + batt||490g (E510)||925g|
Olympus E410 smallest & lightest DSLR to date and has live preview.
Olympus E510 (2007)
cheaper Nikon D80 released late 2006 see dpreview
cheaper, light Nikon D40X 10mpixel announced in March 2007.
also, the Fuji S5 Pro based on the D200 but with Fuji's sensor
Leica have released a 10mpixel high end rangefinder, the Leica M8 which is compatible with Leica M lenses but with a 1.33x crop factor.
see also Pentax 20D
see high end digital for the SLRs with more pixels
Some lens comparisons:
|Lens||35mm equiv. f.l||f/ratio||retail price approx. UK pounds (2005)||retail price $A||weight|
|Olympus 11-22mm||22-44mm||f/2.8-3.5||569||485g 72mm filter|
|Olympus 50 macro||100mm||f/2.0 macro||359||$A899|
|Canon 10-22 EFS||16-35mm||f/3.5-4.5||549||385g|
|Canon 17-85 EFS IS||27-136mm||f/4-5.6 IS||454||475g|
|Canon 60 EFS macro||96mm||f/2.8 macro||319||335g|
|Canon 200 L||320mm||f/2.8||~$A1200|
|Canon 300 L IS||480mm||f/2.8 IS||3249||2550g|
|Canon 400 L IS||640mm||f/2.8 IS||5449||5300g|
|Canon 24-70 L||38-112mm||f/2.8||929||$A2575||950g|
|Canon 70-200L IS||112-320mm||f/2.8||$A3395 (cw $A2620 without IS and $A1375 for f/4 w/o IS)|
|Nikon 28-70 AF-s||42-105mm||f/2.8||$A3380||935g|
|Nikon 17-35 AF-s||26-53mm||f/2.8||$A2995||745g 77mm filter|
|Nikon 12-24 AF-s DX||18-36mm||f/4||$A2110||485g 77mm filter|
|Nikon 17-55 AF-s DX||26-83mm||f/2.8||755g 77mm filter|
|Nikon 18-70 AF-s DX||27-105mm||f/3.5-4.5||420g 67mm filter|
|Nikon 10.5 AF DX fish-eye||16mm||f/2.8||305g|
|Nikon 70-200 VR||105-300mm||f/2.8||$A3380||1470g 77mm filter|
lenses especially made for the smaller digital sensors (thus not compatible on full frame cameras) are:
Four Thirds mount (Olympus, Panasonic) which have a 2x crop factor compared to 35mm:
Canon EF-S (1.6x crop factor):
60mm f/2.8 macro
10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 - equiv. to 16-35mm, this has reasonable build quality and minimal aberrations with good resolution. Not dust proof.
17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS - equiv. to 27-136mm; this is the "kit lens" to get for the Rebel but build quality still not great and tends to collect dust inside the lens. Front element fortunately does not rotate so can use a polariser. Versatile but substantial distortions, vignetting and CA still. No where near as good as the Zuiko 14-54mm.
18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 - budget kit lens designed for the garbage bin - plastic cheap feel, difficult to use a polariser as front element rotates & need to use f/8 to reduce aberrations and get reasonable resolution - don't even bother with this lens
17-55mm f/2.8 IS - equiv. to 27-88mm, introduced in 2006; $US1150
Nikon DX (1.5x crop factor):
10.5mm f/2.8 fisheye
12-24mm f/4 ie. 18-36mm
17-55mm f/2.8 ie. 26-83mm
18-70mm f/3.5-4.5 ie. 27-105mm
18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 ie. 27-82mm
18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 VR ie. 27-300mm
55-200mm f4-5.6 ie. 82-300mm
Thus, to get a 24-140 range zoom as with most prosumers, you are going to be hit with significant cost for adequate resolution to match the digital SLR's - it seems your best cost-effectiveness would be the Olympus ZD 12-60mm with its fast f/2.8-3.5 lens which is ~1.5 stops faster than the equivalent Canon EF-S lens and half the price and weight of the Canon 24-70 EF L which lacks wide angle being only 38mm at the 1.6x crop factor.. Having said this, given the Canon's lower noise at high ISO, and the built-in image stabiliser in the lens, a good choice may well be the Canon 17-85 EF-S lens despite its slow aperture of only f/5.6 at the portrait/telephoto end - but remember - if you upgrade to a full frame sensor body your investment on this lens cannot be leveraged as it will not fit a Canon 5D or 1D.
So what combinations would I consider buying?
Olympus E-510/520 or E3 plus:
OM lens adapter for my old manual focus lenses and astrophotography
then I would consider adding these high quality weather-sealed lenses:
Olympus ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro for portraits, street photography and macro work and can be used nicely for stitched panoramas
Olympus 12-60mm f/2.8-4.5 SWD - this is an ideal general purpose lens covering 24-120mm - just about everything I usually need when travelling - the f/2.0 of the 50mm macro complements this nicely when you need background blurring.
I also bought the Olympus ZD 7-14mm lens for creative work and extreme wide angle in tight spots but this is very expensive although quite unique 14-28mm pro quality zoom (it matches really nicely with the full AF tiltable live preview Olympus E330).
If you want a bit more telephoto, then the Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD lens matches the above nicely to give 100-400mm range at f/3.5 with fast AF and image stabilisation in the camera body, what more could you want?
well, if you got the money, they do make some very nice pro lenses as well.
Canon 1D Mark III:
I bought the 1D MarkIII at it is actually quite a nice complement to the Olympus system as:
the 1.3x crop allows different DOF possibilities in the same lighting, focal length
the 10fps burst allows better action capture
the low noise at high ISO allows extended low light work although there is no IS built into the camera
the availability of some nice complementary lenses such as:
90mm f/2.8 tilt shift for creative work or close up
135mm f/2.8 L and 85mm f/1.8 for portraiture
maybe one day I'll get the 300mm f/2.8L for sports too
the Olympus is better suited for:
travel & street photography where its compact, light, less intrusive aspects are important
when large DOF is needed such as for macro work, travel or landscapes
when extreme wide angle is needed (can get to 14mm on Olympus without fisheye effect, while a 18mm is widest on the 1.3x crop of the 1D)
alternatively the new Nikon D3 looks like it may give this camera a run for its money in many areas
this is a very nice camera with a great LCD screen and seems to have a very functional live preview system with its live AF (although not as good as normal AF).
my main concern is the 1.5x crop, but at least there are some decent lenses for it
Canon 40D or 450D:
but what lens - this is a bit of an issue with this camera as most lenses for this are a compromise.
the good ones (eg. EF L series) are very big & expensive and not well matched to the 1.6x crop sensor, while the EF-S ones are a bit ordinary although one may have to settle with the 17-85mm EF-S IS lens for its versatility and relatively lower cost although still expensive for a non-weather-sealed lens with significant aberrations.
neither excite me, but would be good for astro work if you are really serious, and then you need to get them modified.