Olympus E-410 -- Digital SLR Camera

A compact, sturdy bargain among digital SLRs.

— -- In the crowded -- and growing -- marketplace of digital SLRs, camera makers need to distinguish themselves from their competitors in big ways. Olympus, with the E-410 and E-510, decided to go the small route.

Hold the E-410 to your eye and you'll realize that it's -- well, it's surprisingly small for an SLR camera. Even with batteries, it weighs about 20 percent less than Canon's Digital Rebel XTi, and about a third less than the Nikon D80 -- two market leaders that, like Olympus, promise 10-megapixel resolution.

How'd they do it? Olympus started a movement in digital photography called Four Thirds. There's a lot of engineering stuff involved, but the key is that the light sensor in the E-410 is somewhat smaller than in other SLRs, allowing for a smaller camera.

The pictures from the E-410 are very, very good -- far better than what most point-and-shoot cameras will give you, and there's a neat feature borrowed from them.

SLRs are designed so that by looking through the viewfinder, you see, with the help of a couple of mirrors, the image through the camera's lens. Olympus decided if you don't like that, you can press a button, up flips the mirror, and the 2.5-inch screen on the back of the camera shows you what your picture will look like.

One other small thing: price. Olympus, having to compete with other camera companies, is underselling them. For about what you'd spend for other 10mp SLR bodies, you get two zoom lenses, one for wide-angle, the other, a 3x telephoto.

Street price with 14-42 and 40-150mm lenses: $680 to $750. The body only can be had for under $550. The E-510, for about $100 more, has image stabilization.