Despite its small size the E-400 handles very well. The camera is so light that holding it at any angle is no effort at all, and even without a bulky handgrip its shape fits the hand very well. The low weight might make it more vulnerable to camera shake, certainly a factor on a camera that has no image stabilisation, but the shutter release action is very soft so movement while shooting is reduced. The viewfinder, while a little small, is clear and bright with a good range of displayed information.
The control interface is simply excellent. The E-400 uses the same monitor-based interface as the E-500, utilising its sharp 2.5in 215kp screen to display the camera’s current settings, such things as ISO, white balance, colour mode, metering, AF selection etc.
This information display doubles as a shooting menu. In order to change a setting, you first press the centre button on the D-pad to activate the selection mode, then use the direction arrows to select the setting you want to change. It’s very quick and easy to use, and means that things like drive mode, focus area, contrast, sharpness and even colour space can be adjusted in seconds. The only slight problem is that if the screen is on, you have the a bright glow at the edge of your field of vision whenever you have the camera up to your eye, which I found quite distracting especially when shooting in vertical format. Fortunately there is a button to turn the screen off when shooting, if you remember to press it.
There are other shooting modes, including a simple full Auto mode, program, manual and aperture or shutter priority exposure, five shooting programs and 19 scene modes.
The top panel controls look a little cluttered, especially the comparatively large mode dial, but in actual operation this is really not a problem and the controls fall neatly under the fingers. The power switch is a bit fiddly, but this also means it’s unlikely to get switched on by accident. There are separate buttons for flash mode and remote/self-timer/drive mode on the left of the top panel, but since these functions are duplicated on the information display menu they seem a bit redundant.
In terms of overall performance, the E-400 is impressive. It starts up in under a second, and wakes from standby in about the same time. In HQ JPEG mode it can shoot at a continuous three frames a second until the memory card is full, which with a 1GB card means over 200 frames. In SHQ JPEG + RAW mode it can fire off five frames at three frames a second, and it only takes around 10 seconds to empty the image buffer before you can shoot another 5-frame burst.
This is slightly faster than the E-500, and compares favourably with the Sony A100. I’ll be testing the Nikon D80 next week and hopefully the Canon 400D the week after, so I’ll find out then how they compare.
The camera is powered by a relatively small 1150mAh Li-ion battery; I’ve seen compacts with batteries the same size as that. I wasn’t able to make an accurate assessment of total battery life, but I took over 150 shots with it over several days, including many flash shots and the battery meter was still reading full. One of Olympus’ main claims for this camera is its energy efficient circuitry, which seems to be borne out by this result.