I have few complaints about the E-410's design. With its slim profile, almost gripless body, and modest 1 pound, 4.2-ounce heft (with the 28mm-to-84mm-equivalent lens), the E-410 feels solid and not at all like a budget model. Both kit lenses are equally lightweight and compact. I initially thought the flat grip would be awkward, but as long as you hold the camera with two hands--as you should--it remains quite comfortable. For certain tasks, however, a bigger grip makes a difference; when trying to adjust white balance manually with a white card, for instance, holding the camera and operating the controls with just my right hand proved quite cumbersome.
One of the main selling points for the E-410 as a first-timer's camera is the Live View mode. In theory, this preserves the LCD framing, digital-photography experience to which digital snapshooters are accustomed. Whether you like it for the 100 percent scene coverage while framing, the what-you-see-is-kinda-what-you-get exposure and white balance preview, or the less distancing feeling it gives you as a photographer, there's a lot to be said for the capability.
But keep in mind that the Live View experience doesn't quite match that of a snapshot camera. For one, holding a 20-ounce camera steady with extended arms feels quite different than holding a 6-ounce model in the same position. On a snapshot camera, the LCD preview occurs silently and swiftly, and the camera works the same way for both viewfinder and LCD: hold the shutter button down halfway to lock focus and exposure. With Live View, you use the AEL/AFL button for a focus preview but the shutter button for focus lock through the optical viewfinder. And it's neither silent nor swift--the camera flips down the mirror, which is quite noisy. Furthermore, Live View imposes considerable lag on shooting. The camera has to flip down the mirror, focus, and snap, which makes it impractical for shooting kids and animals, two very popular subjects for the E-410's target audience. So while Live View can be immensely useful, it doesn't quite fulfill Olympus' goal of a seamless snapshot-to-SLR transition.
The menu interface design and control layout resembles that of most entry-level dSLRs, with a mode dial split between scene, manual, and semimanual exposure modes. The Scene selection offers snapshot-like descriptions and thumbnails of all the available scene modes--about 20 in all, including 2 underwater options. An OK button pulls up a screen for changing all your shooting settings, including, oddly, drive/self-timer/remote setting, for which there's already dedicated button. The menu structure and layout differ significantly from Olympus' current crop of snapshot cameras, however, so newbies shouldn't look for any learning-curve shortcuts there.
You can program the left arrow key for one of four functions: manual white balance, shoot without save, depth-of-field preview, and DOF preview in Live View. In one of the many perplexing default choices, it comes unassigned. It took several readings of the manual to figure out that in order to set the manual white balance, we first needed to program that key.
Beginners and advanced amateurs alike will find the E-410 a fully-featured camera. It can shoot simultaneous raw plus JPEG and allows you to choose white-balance color temperature values between 2,000K and 14,000K, as well as fine-tune along the red-blue and green-magenta axes. It offers five metering schemes, including two spot-metering variants--HI and SH--which automatically boost or decrease exposure to keep white or black subjects (such as snow or shadows) from rendering as middle gray. An Anti-Shock setting slows the mirror movement to minimize shake at long shutter speeds. The maximum sensitivity of ISO 1,600 is a bit of a disappointment, but the mere 3-point autofocus more seriously impacts performance.