- Small and light, excellent live view system with fast AF, dual card slots
- Ergonomics, noise levels still a little higher than competing models, some white balance inaccuracies
- Review Price: £400
Having finally announced its first Micro Four Thirds model, Olympus has once again reignited interest among consumers wanting small and powerful cameras. It remains to be be seen how well the E-P1 will fare against comparable models, though if first impressions are anything to go by Panasonic’s G-series will have not just a strong competitor but one that reinforces the hybrid concept for the undecided.
So where does this leave Olympus’s DSLR line, and is there anything that will tempt those still willing to upgrade? The company’s latest E-450 is where we turn for such an answer.
Olympus E-450 features
The E-450 is Olympus’s 13th DSLR in its Four Thirds system, with its specification closely following that of the previous E-420 model. There are only a handful of differences between the two, chief among which concern the processor, the LCD screen and the addition of Art Filters functionality.
The processor is perhaps the most significant of the three, being the same TruePic III+ engine seen in the recent E-30 and E-620 models. Olympus claims that this facilitates ‘true-to-life image reproduction while reducing noise and enhancing processing speed’, and it works together with the 10MP LiveMOS sensor to produce images in both Raw and JPEG formats. While the 3.5fps frame rate of the E-420 has remained the same, the camera can now shoot eight images in a single burst without dropping this pace, in comparison to the E-420’s six.
The 2.7in HyperCrystal II LCD screen has also been made brighter to match the performance of its more expensive E-620 and E-30 siblings. It boasts a 176° viewing angle, and is said to maintain sharpness and contrast even when viewed in harsh sunlight. Its size falls a little short of the three inches we’ve seen on recent DSLRs, though presumably squeezing in a larger LCD screen – given the 4:3 aspect ratio of its images – would be tricky without compromising on the size of the camera.
The third change is the addition of Olympus’s Art Filters, although rather than the six seen on previous models there are only three. These are Pop Art, Pinhole and Soft Focus, and are accessed by the mode dial which houses all other exposure settings. A more minor change comes with the camera’s spot metering circle, which now takes its reading from 2% of the scene, rather than 1% as on the E-420.
Aside from these alterations, the camera is essentially the same as the E-420. Sensitivity is offered over a range of ISO 100-1600 in full stop increments, with noise-reduction options for long exposures and high-sensitivity images. Metering, meanwhile, comprises evaluative, centreweighted and spot patterns, together with highlight and shadow spot modes for metering more accurately in tricky conditions, while Shadow Adjustment technology works to optimise images for shadow and highlight detail.
The focusing system is fairly rudimentary in that it offers just three points across the horizontal, with 11 coming into play when the camera’s live view system is called upon. From here, the user has a number of options for focusing; the AF Sensor mode uses the standard autofocus sensor, dropping the mirror to focus before an image is taken, while the Imager AF mode uses the main imaging sensor for the same task. This latter option is the slower of the two, but has the advantage of showing you exactly what the camera is focusing on and with no interruption to the feed. The Hybrid AF mode introduced on the E-420 is also present, which uses a combination of the two for speed and accuracy. Should you want to, however, you can forgo all of these options for simple manual focusing.
As with every other Olympus DSLR, the E-450’s Supersonic Wave Filter uses a vibratory mechanism to shake any dust from the low-pass filter, which at default activates itself upon each powering up of the camera.
There are many other useful features on the E-450. If you’ve taken an image simultaneously in Raw and JPEG formats, you can choose to delete either the Raw or the JPEG version independently without having to sacrifice the other – ideal when running out of memory card space. Wireless flash is offered for controlling up to three groups of flashes, and you can also set the ppi output, saving you from having to resize your images in post-production. Finally, in addition to the ComapctFlash card slot the camera also accepts xD media, which can handily be used as an overflow.
Olympus E-450 design
The E-450’s body is virtually identical to that of the previous E-420, which itself was the same as the E-410 before it. The only differences come with the model’s name on its front, and the addition of the Art Filters option on the mode dial, but everything else right down to the dimensions and weight is the same.
The body is constructed from glassfibre-reinforced plastic, with rubbered paneling on both the grip and thumb rest. The top plate plays host to a standard mode and command dials, with buttons for direct access to exposure compensation, drive modes and for activating the camera’s built-in flash, while the rear features the standard arrangement of buttons lined along the left-hand side of the LCD with a four way menu pad on the other. Sadly, none of the buttons are backlit as on the E-620, to help when shooting in darker conditions, though such an exclusion is understandable on an entry-level body.
Given the similarity between the two, the E-450 shares both its advantages and foibles with those of the E-420. In line with the Four Thirds philosophy it’s an extremely compact and lightweight body, though this miniturisation affects its ergonomics to a point where it can ocassionally be fiddly to use. It’s a shame that the two strap eyelets on the model’s front have remained in the same position as they were previously, as the one on the side of the grip digs into your middle finger when the camera is held, although on such a small body it’s hard to think where else they would have made any better sense.
It’s not all bad, though. While the long-standing menu interface is, unfortunately, still very much an eyesore, the functionality of the Super Control Panel is hard to fault. This facilitates the easy changing of almost all key settings, from white balance and sensitivity to Shadow Adjustment and what memory card you wish to use, while a specific function may be assigned to both the drive mode and left menu pad (Func) buttons on the camera’s body.
Olympus E-450 performance & value
Olympus has worked hard at live view since the feature first appeared on the E-330, and with a variety of focusing and display options you can tailor it to your way of shooting. The contrast detect system is well-paced and with the kit lens operates fairly discretely – naturally this slows down a touch in low light but it is still usable. I had the Zuiko 12-60mm f/2.8-4 SWD lens to hand during the review, which showed a marked improvement in speed over non-SWD lenses when used for live-view focusing. It’s only in lower lighting conditions that the system can be difficult to work with, given the low resolution of the LCD screen and the lagging that slows down the feed.
Lower light also presents a problem for the standard three-point focusing system, which can sometimes hesitate to confirm correct focus; again, this is where the SWD optic shines, although its £850 price tag will no doubt make it out of reach for the average entry-level user. Otherwise the focusing system is fine in general use, even if it isn’t the fastest among its peers.
Although the viewfinder is a little small compared to cameras with APS-C format sensors, when shooting without my glasses I could get up close and view both the frame and shooting information clearly. Given the aspect ratio of the sensor it makes more sense to have the exposure informtaion displayed along the side of the frame as opposed to the bottom (the latter being the case of the E-620 and E-30), although this does force you to read it from top to bottom and not left to right, which can be annoying.
The size of the buffer is roughly on a par with comparable cameras, and I managed to shoot the promised eight Raw frames onto a Lexar 4GB 133x speed CF card before the camera slowed down. The finest quality JPEGs extended this to to 12, while a capture of the two notched up six frames at a constant pace. On such a card this burst of Raw files cleared in just over four seconds, with the JPEGs managing a similar speed, while a combination of the two increased this to nine. Although the camera doesn’t support UDMA flash cards – which at this price point is expected – there are faster cards available which may quicken this pace.
When I was out shooting I suspected there were some issues with the accuracy of the white balance system, but looking at images later on a calibrated monitor, and comparing them to those displayed on the camera’s LCD screen, it appeared the camera’s LCD screen was out of line. Images shot in daylight appeared fine, but in more subdued light or in any overcast conditions they appeared rather cold on the camera.
Currently, both body-only and kit options retail for around £75 more than the E-420, which, given the marginal difference between the two, seems a little too expensive. As the E-420 gets phased out the E-450 should drop to a more reasonable £350 asking price.
Olympus E-450 image quality
Exposure and Tone
The camera does well to expose a variety of scenes correctly. I found the combination of evaluative exposure and the Auto Shadow Adjustment option seemed to give the most reliable results, although the Shadow and Highlight Spot options also found themselves useful.
Colour and White Balance
As with most DSLRs, the E-450 struggles a little under artificial lighting, with slightly warm results. For skin tones for example this can make them look a little too rosy and saturated, but this is easily rectified in camera or post-processing. Performance in daylight was generally accurate, although there were a number of occasions where images were either a little too cold or a little too warm for no apparent reason. Colours are perhaps a little more muted than we may expect, although with no ‘Standard’ colour option the default setting is ‘Natural’ – which goes some way to explain why this is so.
Raw and JPEG
As I found with the E-620, the differences between Raw and JPEG files from the E-450 are so slight you really have to look for them. At times JPEGs appear a little sharper which can slightly bring out noise, and colours show a touch more saturation than the Raw files, though some of the images I shot showed a noticeable (and welcome) boost in contrast over the more neutral Raw files. Everything else, from detail, noise and control over chromatic aberrations seems to be very similar in both.
Detail and Sharpness
In conjunction with a good lens, the camera is capable of capturing very good detail (for a model of the E-450’s calibre), but this is only realised when files have been processed by the user. Noise reduction is advisable before sharpening, as the latter can accentuate the slight graininess present in many of the E-450’s images, typically those shot at ISO 400 and above.
In my review of the Olympus E-620, I noted that the camera was slightly noisier than the E-520, which is likely to come as a result of its more populated sensor (12MP vs 10MP). I was, however, keen to see what sort of results a less populated sensor (ie. the E-450’s) would turn out in combination with Olympus’s latest TruePic III+ processor. A comparison between the three shows the E-620 to still be the nosiest, though the differences between the E-450’s and E-520’s are less obvious. There is, however, slightly less noise in the E450’s images, suggesting that the new processor is making some difference, though on a practical level this will be largely insignificant. There also seems to be an similar amount of banding visible in images from the E-450 and E-520, suggesting the sensor in both is similar, if not identical.
It?s easy to view the Olympus E-450 as a reheated E-420, because essentially that?s all it is. The inclusion of Art Filters and a marginally better LCD screen don?t exactly set the world alight, but to be fair to Olympus, other manufacturers have hardly been at the forefront of innovation with their own recent entry-level offerings either.
The omission of video capture and a high-resolution LCD are understandable given the model?s price point, but it?s worth noting that the model is almost the only recent release not to have image stabilisation included in either body or lens. Presumably, this is in order to keep the body small and light, as well as cheap, and to draw a further distinction between the more expensive E-620 model.
In isolation it?s a capable model, and with the exception of image stabilisation there isn?t really anything ?missing? that we may expect on a comparable camera. If it?s a model you?re considering, though, I?d suggest you look first towards the E-420 to see whether it will provide what you need for a little less outlay.
Score in detail
Image Quality 9