Skip to main content
  • Related content

BackThe 2.5-inch LCD dominates the back of the E-400. The large rubber cup around the eyepiece is directly above the LCD. Going clockwise, the E-400 features a focus/exposure lock button, a Function button, the 4-way controller, and a column of buttons up the left side of the LCD. They're labeled INFO, Menu, Trash, and Playback. The back of the media card door makes up the right side of the back, and there is a small notch for the user to slide a fingernail to pull the door open. The back is contoured for a thumb rest, with a patch of rubber for traction. The connectivity door, with a combined USB/AV port, is on the lower right of the back, behind a rubber door.

LeftA strap lug sticks out where the left side and the front of the camera meet. There aren't any other functional features of the left side.  **Right**The right strap lug sticks out the same way the left one does, limiting the options for holding the E-400. The rubber surface of the hand grip wraps about halfway around the side of the camera, up to the media door. The media door takes up the rest of the side. It is not sealed against moisture or dust, and simply snaps closed, rather than latching.  **Top**Two chrome buttons sit on the left side of the E-400's top. The forward one opens the flash and the back one cycles the camera through burst mode, remote control, self-timer, and single modes. The hot shoe, which accepts Olympus dedicated flashes as well as generic ones, is on top of the viewfinder. The chrome shutter release button is on the right side, at the top of the grip. The exposure compensation button is next to it. The mode dial dominates the top. It's tall and heavily curled. The power switch pokes out from underneath it. The control dial is at the back right of the top, convenient for the user's thumb. The top of the viewfinder features a diopter control.  **Bottom**The tripod bushing is metal, and centered under the lens axis, which improves stability on tripods, and makes aiming the E-400 on a tripod more convenient. The bushing is surrounded by a heavily-textured surface, which should grip tripod heads well, and hide scratches from tripod studs. It's a thoughtful feature. The battery compartment is under the right side of the E-400, and latches with a metal mechanism that looks unusually durable.  
 **Viewfinder**The E-400's optical viewfinder is small, but about par for the course, for an entry-level compact DSLR. It's easy to see both the image and the shooting data display, even for glasses-wearers. The exposure data visible includes f-stop, shutter speed, autofocus confirmation, exposure compensation, exposure mode, metering pattern, and battery status. **LCD Screen**Olympus's Hypercrystal LCDs have impressed us before, the one on the E-400 is also very ****good. At 2.5 inches and 215,000 pixels, it is large and detailed. We found it easy to evaluate ********images on the display for both color and sharpness. Text displays were also clear and pleasing.

With the E-400 tethered to the Olympus booth, we couldn't test it in daylight or dim conditions, but it offers 7 brightness levels.

Flash **The E-400's flash pops up with spring-loaded alacrity, though the control is an electric switch. The mechanism is thick, heavy plastic, and seems more robust than other pop-ups. The flash itself is small and rectangular. Small light sources produce hard, harsh shadows, which aren't flattering in portraits, so the built-in flash should be regarded as a convenience. We expect many users would be happier with results from an external flash. The E-400 offers several sync modes: auto, on, off, slow sync, second-curtain, red-eye, slow sync red-eye, and manual flash at full, half, and 1/4 power. In auto flash modes, the flash can be compensated up or down 2 EV, in 1/3-EV steps. The shutter syncs flash up to 1/180. ****Zoom Lens**The E-400 is packaged with an Olympus 14-42 mm, f/3.5 – 5.6, which translates to a 28-84 mm lens on a 35mm camera. We're always disappointed to see a maximum aperture of 5.6 on a short telephoto – it's very limiting indoors. We did not have the chance to test color sharpness or correction of the lens at Photokina. The same lens was on the E-330 we tested in a full review, and we noticed color fringing and barrel distortion at the wide angle setting. Olympus may offer packages with upgraded lenses, and users should consider those choices. 
 **Model Design / Appearance**The E-400 looks like many typical DSLRs, but smaller. The shallow handgrip is significantly responsible for the small appearance. The E-400 is mostly plastic, but Olympus uses heavy, thick material. Like other models, the E-400 feels solid. Though we examined a prototype, the fit and finish were excellent. **Size / Portability**The E-400 is 5.1 x 3.5 x 2 inches, and 13 oz., which is very small for a DSLR. It's still a DSLR, though, and we expect most users will need a separate camera bag, particularly if they add an additional lens and flash into their kit. The E-400 will be comfortable on a neck strap. The E-400 should have better environmental seals than it does. Though its sturdy construction should prevent dust from entering though joints between structural elements, the ports and doors are not well-sealed, and the camera needs the typical level of care for a DSLR. **Handling Ability**The E-400 is small enough that a fair portion of users will find it cramped. The handgrip particularly feels tiny. We didn't get the firm grip we wanted with our right hand, and found a need to rely on our left hand to maintain our grip on the E-400. That's unusual – we find it typical to hold a camera with our right hand, and simply brace it, for steadiness, with our left. **
Control Button / Dial Positioning / Size Olympus tends to be careful with their control buttons – they're well-made, they feel good to use, and they seem durable. The buttons on the E-400 fit in this laudable tradition. A symptom of the E-400's small size is that the buttons are close together. The E-400 has only one control dial, so it is necessary to turn it while pressing a button to access various functions, and that's hard when everything is so close together. We prefer 4-way controls that are built as a single dish which rocks in two directions, but the E-400's 5-button configuration works well. The buttons are large enough but close enough together to be easy to operate quickly, without making it likely to hit two buttons at once. We also found the distribution of buttons around the body to be logical. ****Menu**Olympus burdens its DSLRs with very long menus. On the E-400, there are fewer than on some other models, but they are split into 5 tabs: 2 for shooting parameters, one for playback and two for setup. Still, the tabs for setup scroll down to reveal their long lists of content. In shooting mode, a large set of parameters appear on the LCD, and can be adjusted directly. The include exposure, exposure mode, ISO, white balance, which balance fine-tune, color mode, exposure compensation, flash exposure compensation, autofocus mode and pattern, color space, filename, memory type, file format and quality, and the number of frames left.      **Ease of Use The Olympus E-400 offers extensive automation as well as full automatic controls. A significant level of customization is possible, though not as much as on the E-330. One could call it a loss of features, but we welcome the simplification. We wish the controls weren't so cramped, and that it was easier to control aperture, shutter speed, and exposure compensation without such finger gymnastics. 
***** *****Auto Mode The E-400's full auto mode takes care of everything – exposure, white balance, ISO, meter pattern and so on. If the camera is set to allow it, the full auto mode turns on the flash when it's needed. The E-400 can become a point-and-shoot camera, an option we expect many users will welcome. Movie Mode**The E-400 does not offer a movie mode. DSLRs aren't built for it. There is to be the possibility that successors to the live-preview E-330 could shoot movies, but Olympus left that feature out of the first incarnation. **Drive / Burst Mode**We couldn't test burst mode on the E-400. The sample we examined is not a final production model, and Olympus wouldn't let us run it with our own memory card. Olympus predicts 3 frames per second in the final product, for up to 5 RAW images or 10 HQ JPEGs. HQ is the middle quality designation for JPEGs. The burst length for SHQ JPEGs will be shorter than 10.  Playback Mode **The E-400 is supposed to be a step-up camera for snapshooters who have gotten ambitious. In that context, it makes sense that the Playback function is as varied and useful as the ones on nice compacts. It offers thumbnail views of 4, 9, 16, or 25 images at a time, a calendar mode to search for images by date, and slideshows of thumbnail pages. Given the limitations on how we could handle the camera at the show, we didn't get to check all the slideshow options. For the more technical photographer, it shows separate histograms for Red, Green, and Blue channels, plus luminance, and full shooting data. The histograms are small and hard to read. Apparently, the E-400 allows image editing, so the user can change a color image to black-and-white or sepia, resize images to smaller formats, and treat red-eye. We could not test these functions at the Photokina booth. Custom Image Presets**The E-400 has 18 presets. They are: Portrait, Landscape, Landscape Portrait, Night Scene, Night Portrait, Children, Sport, High Key, Low Key, Digital Image Stabilization, Macro, Nature Macro, Candlelight, Sunset, Fireworks, Documents, Beach/Snow, Underwater, and Underwater close-up. The E-400 helpfully describes each of the modes on the LCD, noting particularly that the camera is not waterproof. The underwater modes are meant to be used when the camera is in a special waterproof housing.  Again, we could not evaluate each of these modes. In general, Olympus's modes on other cameras are programmed to set shooting parameters about the way an experienced photographer would set a manual camera in the given situation. Though they can be fooled, the basic ones, such as Portrait, Landscape, and Sports, should be useful. Shooting documents, and high-key or low-key scenes, takes a bit more insight into the photographic process, and we don't expect those modes to work as well. 
********* *****Manual Control Options  The E-400 offers a complete set of manual controls for exposure, ISO, white balance and image parameters. The significant compromise is the ease of accessing them, given the camera's small size and crowded controls. Focus***Auto Focus*The E-400 apparently has the same autofocus system we've seen on the E-300 and E-500. Though we couldn't fully test it at the Photokina booth, we'll note that it's not as fast as some of the competition, and it has only three sensors, placed close together in a row near the center of the frame. Systems with more sensors, spread further apart, are more convenient, and nearly all of them are faster than this one. We got accurate focus from the E-400 at the booth, especially with the 50mm macro lens that was attached. The E-400 uses its flash in strobe fashion as a focus assist light. Though it would be distracting in candid situations, it was effective.  *Manual Focus*The E-400's clear, bright screen was excellent for manual focusing. We found it easy to focus critically across the screen. The action of the manual focusing rings on Olympus lenses is quick, but not sloppy. The autofocus system confirms manual focus with an indicator light. **Exposure On the manual side of the mode dial, the E-400 offers full manual, program, aperture priority and shutter priority. The exposure compensation control goes from 5 stops above to 5 stops below the metered exposure, in 1/3-EV steps. Metering The E-400 offers the typical evaluative, spot and center-weighted metering patterns, plus highlight and shadow patterns that are meant to measure high-key and low-key scenes. We did not get the chance to evaluate the metering in a systematic way, but the highlight and shadow modes could be helpful, if they work.

**White Balance
The E-400 has 7 white balance presets: Sun, Shade, Overcast, Tungsten, and 3 settings for Fluorescent Lighting. The E-400 also takes manual white balance readings and can be set to automatic. In manual and automatic, the user can make fine adjustments along a blue-to-amber axis and a green-to-magenta axis. Finally, the E-400 can be set to specific Kelvin temperatures from 3000 to 7500. It's a very flexible system, though it would be useful to be able to fine-tune the presets, and the Kelvin range is not as wide as some cameras have. **ISO**The E-400 has an ISO range from 100 to 1600. The full range is available when the ISO is set to auto. Previous Olympus DSLRs have had trouble with image noise at high ISO, and have denoted speeds over 400 as an "extended mode." The E-400 doesn't make that distinction. Without testing, we can't say if this indicates an improvement in noise performance.

Shutter Speed

In automatic and custom preset modes, the E-400 will set shutter speeds from 1/4000 to 4 seconds. In manual modes, it stretches that out to 1/4000 to 60 seconds. In bulb mode, it's capable of 8-minute exposures. The speeds can be set in 1/3-EV increments. The fastest normal flash sync is 1/180, though Olympus's super FP flashes are good for the whole speed range. 1/180 is a bit slow for outdoor-fill flash, and some users will wish that it went up to at least 1/250.

The range is very good, and shouldn't be limiting for E-400 users.


The kit lens, an Olympus 14-42 mm, f/3.5 – 5.6, is disappointing on the aperture front. It's not bright enough for available-light shooting indoors, and it will encourage users to bump their ISO setting in many outdoor situations – simultaneously increasing image noise. We'd recommend looking into Olympus's wider-aperture offerings.

********* *****Picture Quality****/ Size Options**The E-400 writes JPEGs and Olympus RAW files. RAW files aren't subject to lousy compression. The E-400 offers 4 levels of JPEG compression: 1/2.7, 1/4, 1/8, 1/12, which run from very little quality loss to quite a bit – and much smaller files. The E-400 also offers a range of pixel dimensions. The maximum, native resolution is 3648 x 2736, and is available in RAW and the better-quality JPEGs. The other sizes range from 3200 x 2400 to 640 x 480.  The options range from very large, uncompressed files to tiny files that could be emailed over dialup connections. **Picture Effects Mode**Shooting color can be set to Vivid, Natural, or Muted, as well as Black and White or Sepia. The user can also vary Contrast, Saturation, Gradation, and Sharpness in shooting. 
 **Connectivity***Software Olympus typically ships Olympus Master software with DSLRs. It's a package for editing RAW files, as well organizing and printing images. We did not evaluate it at Photokina. *Jacks, Ports, Plugs*The E-400 has a combined USB/analog video out port, a hot shoe for dedicated flash, and an infrared remote. It does not accept an external power supply, a feature that users who rely on the camera for slideshows might find valuable. *Direct Print Options*The E-400 is apparently PictBridge-compatible, and writes DPOF print orders. We were not able to fully explore the printing options on the E-400. *Battery *Olympus supplies the E-400 with a custom Li-ion battery, which has become the standard means of powering digital cameras. Li-ion cells offer a very good size-to-capacity ratio, an important factor for cameras as small as the E-400. We didn't get an impression of how long the E-400 will run on its battery, but we're optimistic, given the cell type. Memory *The E-400 takes Compact Flash and xD cards. Compact Flash is the most popular format for DSLRs. They're widely available, relatively cheap and sturdy. XD media are newer and much smaller than Compact flash. Olympus was involved in developing xD.

Related content

Other Features*Ultrasonic Dust removal* – All the companies offering dust removal on their DSLRs have jumped on Olympus's bandwagon. That much imitation means Olympus must have a good idea.*

Pixel Mapping – The E400 can check its sensor for bad pixels, and remove the results from images at it records them. We could test it, but it's theoretically a powerful tool to avoid retouching. **Depth of Field Preview on the LCD* – The E-400 will show an unsaved image on the LCD to allow the user to check depth of field. At small apertures, that's easier than checking it in a dark viewfinder.** **
****** ****Value**The E-400 is in a suddenly crowded market – there are several 10-megapixel DSLRs marketed for beginners. It costs a bit more than some of them, namely the Canon Rebel XTi (EOS 400 in Europe, where the E-400 will compete) The Nikon D80 has better controls, and the Sony Alpha adds stabilization as well as dust removal. The E-400 brings very little distinction to the party. It's smaller, but not so much that it would change the way users would carry or store it. There are finally other manufacturers selling Four Thirds cameras; when the E-300 was hanging out there with just the beleaguered E1, Four Thirds smelled like a disadvantage. At this point, we'd upgrade it to a difference.  **Who’s this Camera For?***Point-and-Shooters - The E-400 should be an easy transition for point and shooters – it's well-automated, compact, and not too heavy. **Budget Consumers - The E-400 costs more than comparable cameras, without a compelling advantage. **Gadget Freaks - Without compelling new technology or unusual execution, we don't see the tech-lust factor in the E-400.  * *Manual Control Freaks - Though the E-400 has full manual controls, we think this group should look for more convenient implementations of them. **Pros / Serious Hobbyists - We sometimes look at entry-level cameras with the thought that they might make a nice back-up body for a serious shooter. The question is – what's the pro body that the E-400 would back up? We haven't seen pro-level image quality from a Four Thirds body yet. 

*Conclusion**Timing can be very important. If the E-400 had been introduced two years ago, in the place of the E-300, it would have been very impressive to see all its features in such a small package. It would have made the Four Thirds format look like the next big thing. Small, high-resolution, not ugly, with dust control – it appears much more exciting than the E-300. But it’s too late. The only distinction it has left is the Four Thirds format, and that shouldn't sway first-time DSLR buyers. Without knowing about its image quality, it's not sensible to say whether this is a camera to buy or not. But it's sensible to say there's nothing about it that separates it from the pack.

Meet the tester

Patrick Singleton

Patrick Singleton


Patrick Singleton is a valued contributor to the family of sites.

See all of Patrick Singleton's reviews

Checking our work.

Our team is here for one purpose: to help you buy the best stuff and love what you own. Our writers, editors, and lab technicians obsess over the products we cover to make sure you're confident and satisfied. Have a different opinion about something we recommend? Email us and we'll compare notes.

Shoot us an email