Olympus E-P3: Video and Image Quality

June 30, 2011 by Jerry Jackson Reads (5,100)
Editor's Rating

Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

    • Image/Video Quality
    • 8
    • Features
    • 9
    • Design / Ease of Use
    • 7
    • Performance
    • 8
    • Expandability
    • 8
    • Total Score:
    • 8.00
    • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10

Video Quality
Of course, the E-P3 features the ability to record HD video like virtually every modern compact camera and DSLR. While previous PEN cameras were limited to shooting HD video at a resolution of 1280×720, the E-P3 will shoot up to 29 minutes of full 1080i HD video in either AVCHD or AVI formats. To get a handle on baseline video quality, we’ve included samples of the video playback below. Overall we found the video quality to be quite good – smooth, crisp, and highly detailed.

To download the original file in its native resolution and format, click the link below.

Sample Video File Download

As with any modern DSLR, the E-P3 gives the ability to capture video in aperture priority for depth of field control and allows single auto focus or continuous AF with compatible lenses when shooting video. As previously mentioned, you’ll want to use a lens that carries the Olympus Movie and Still Compatible (MSC) label so that you won’t hear the AF noise in your video. In terms of the continuous AF during video, the E-P3’s AF system still get confused when you pan the camera or there are multiple high-contrast objects moving in the foreground and background. Yes, you can still shoot video in manual focus mode if you don’t want to deal with the possibility of auto focus problems.

One added bonus that the digital PEN cameras offer is the ability to add complex digital filters to your video footage in camera. Video can be shot using any of the camera’s Art Filters, meaning you can get film-esque black-and-white or high-saturation video straight from the camera.

Image Quality
The new E-P3 uses a brand-new Live MOS sensor with 12.3 megapixel resolution that offers higher sensitivity for low light shooting with ISO up to 12800. This is where I normally complain about the fact that every other major camera manufacturer has released cameras with higher resolution image sensors while Olympus has remained at 12 megapixels since 2009.

It’s true that some megapixel-obsessed shoppers will probably overlook the E-P3 since you can buy cameras with higher-resolution image sensors like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 or Sony Alpha NEX NEX-5 for less than the price of the E-P3. That said, you can still produce some huge prints with a 12-megapixel image file and if you only display your images online you’ll never notice the difference between a screen-sized image from a 12-megapixel camera and a 40-megapixel camera. At the end of the day, the relatively low resolution of this camera shouldn’t be a concern to most people.

Another reason we’re probably not seeing a big increase in resolution from Olympus is the physical limitations of the Four Thirds sensor format. The Four Thirds sensor is smaller than the size of the APS-C sensors used in most DSLRs. Engineers can only squeeze so many pixels into that smaller space. The more pixels you pack into a space, the less efficient they become at collecting light (image data).

Thankfully, Olympus engineers have been working on overcoming the physical limitations image sensor size with some help from the new TruePic VI dual-core image processor. TruePic VI brings two things to the table to help improve still images: Real Color Technology and Advanced SAT (Shadow Adjustment Technology). The new Real Color Technology improves color reproduction and color gradation (color transitions) of specific colors and fine details.

The colors which are most impacted by the Real Color Technology are “emerald green” (commonly found in photos of water such as oceans or aquariums), yellow, and magenta. Advanced SAT is activated when iAUTO or Auto Gradation is turned on in the camera’s menu. This both improves tones in backlit or high-contrast shooting situations and helps reduce shadow noise and loss of fine details in shadows.

These technologies are clearly coming to bear in the EP-3. Colors appear more true to life (if a little under saturated compared to a point-and-shoot camera) and there is far less destructive shadow noise visible in photos from the E-P3.

White balance is generally good on the latest generation of Olympus cameras, but I did notice that the auto white balance is more accurate under sunlight or flash than it is under incandescent or florescent lights. It’s also worth mentioning that the “i-Enhance” picture mode setting does a remarkable job of helping tweak white balance while simultaneously adjusting exposure.

Both measured and Kelvin temp custom white balance options are available, and in this case, I found the user-set modes more accurate than the presets for getting natural looking white balance.

Auto White Balance, 5500k fluorescent light

Shots are exceptionally clean through ISO 800 and even rival what we see from larger APS-C cameras. There is some shadow noise showing up at ISO 1600, but even at this high ISO setting the image quality remains quite good.

ISO 200

ISO 200, 100% crop

ISO 400

ISO 400, 100% crop

ISO 800

ISO 800, 100% crop

ISO 1600

ISO 1600, 100% crop

ISO 3200

ISO 3200, 100% crop

ISO 6400

ISO 6400, 100% crop

ISO 12800

ISO 12800, 100% crop

Some fine details are still quite visible up into ISO 3200, but it’s in this area where color starts becoming less accurate and details begin to get smudged. ISO 6400 and ISO 12,800 are there as a “last resort” but you’ll end up with images that lack fine detail and color fidelity.

Additional Sample Images

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