For a variety of reasons, the other day I decided to bring my Olympus E-400 out of retirement and give it an outing.
I’ve hardly used it since I bought the E-3 in 2010, but before then it got quite heavy use - it still carries the scars. Ironically, the E-400 was described by Amateur Photographer back then as the “digital OM”. At 385g I think it’s lighter than the OM-D. In terms of dimensions it isn’t far from the E-P1/2/3 series. It was by some margin the smallest DSLR on the market, and caused quite a stir by reverting to the “old SLR” style body without a huge protruding grip. Nevertheless it is comfortable to carry, and with the two lightweight kit lenses that came with it - which certainly are not “lightweight” in terms of optical quality - it was, and perhaps still is, a killer travel camera. Another thing which is quite a big deal to some is that it was the last Olympus camera with a Kodak sensor, albeit a different architecture to the one in the E-1.
For some reason, possibly limited sensor supplies, the E-400 was not sold in the USA. In any case it was quite quickly replaced by the Live View-enabled E-410, with a Panasonic sensor, itself soon retired in favour of a very similar E-420, and finally the Walmart Special E-450. Olympus never seemed entirely sure who to market the E-4xx series at. Of course the E-400 has its drawbacks, and many would place the allegedly “dim, narrow” optical viewfinder high on the list. Well everybody is entitled to their opinion, but I find the viewfinder quite pleasant, especially with the optional magnifying eyepiece. Frankly, in many situations it is nicer to use than the Electronic EVF-2 for the Pen series.
The old 3 point AF module has its limitations, but even so, it is fast and precise, and perfectly ok for the “focus and recompose” method. Basically as a walk-around, relatively discrete camera it still does the job. It doesn’t handle all that well with bigger lenses - the dedicated 14-45 and 40-150 are fine of course, so is the 50mm f/2, and at a push the 14-54 or 11-22, but anything heavier is uncomfortable. Of course the camera isn’t weatherproof, although it doesn’t seem to mind the odd drop of rain.
All this is a lengthy preamble to a few photos I took today on a lunchtime wander, with the 50mm macro. Actually I wanted to see how it would stack up to the Ricoh GRD in macro mode. The Ricoh is great, potentially, but actually quite awkward to focus in many macro situations. But that comparison will have to wait. I was also stimulated by Pekka Pokta’s review of the new m.Zuiko 60mm macro, which he doesn’t seem to find significantly better than the 50mm. The next step will be to try the 50mm on the E-P3, to see how it compares with E-400. I suspect the veteran might put up a good fight.
The deficiencies in these photos are entirely down to poor technique, insipid composition and lack of creativity. They have nothing to do with the camera, and no “improvement” in resolution, dynamic range, or - at a stretch, low-light noise - would make any substantive difference. I would doubtless have made largely the same photos with a brand new state of the art Nikon D800, although my arms and shoulders would have ached more. I might have done something more interesting with the fungi using the E-5, with its Live View and orientable screen, but their we’re looking at handling improvements (which the aforementioned Nikon completely lacks), not pixel-peeping features. I’m not saying that older cameras like the E-400 don’t have their limitations, of course they do. But my opinion, and experience, is that these have very little impact on the final result, in the general case. So does this mean I don’t lust after new gear? Of course not. But perhas it brings me a step closer to discriminating between photography and retail therapy. And there’s more long lasting satisfaction in the former.