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Color reproduction

Here you can see a generated GretagMacbeth ColorChecker chart, place your mouse over any of the labels below it to see the color reproduction in that mode. Select a camera/setting combination from the 'Compared to' drop-down to comparative boxes inside each patch.

The E-P1 has the same overall 'feel' as its E-system SLR siblings, but we suspected when using it that the results were slightly 'punchier' in the default 'Natural' mode, something confirmed by our testing, which shows the E-P1 has a very slightly more saturated and contrasty output. This can cause highlight clipping on bright days and the occasional eye watering colors, but you can of course change the image parameters as you wish, or shoot raw for total contol.

Olympus Pen E-P1 Compare to:  
      
      
      
      
NaturalVividMutedPortrait
MonotoneAdobe RGB

Artificial light White Balance

Like most digital SLRs (scrub that, most digital cameras), the E-P1's auto white balance system is woefully incapable of getting anything like neutral results under artificial light, something that isn't fixed by switching to any of the manual presets either. Fortunately there's a fully featured manual white balance feature for those times when the light ain't right and you need whites to be white.

Less fortunately there's the now-familiar battle to set a custom white-balance (which can only be done by configuring the Fn button to white balance preset), but all the settings can be fine-tuned in both the Amber-Blue and Magenta-Green axes.

Incandescent - Auto WB
Red: 6.8%, Blue: -8.9%, Average
Incandescent - Incandescent preset WB
Red: 3.4%, Blue: -3.7%, Average
Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red: 5.6%, Blue: -9.5%, Average
Fluorescent - White Fluorescent preset WB
Red: 6.8%, Blue: -5.3%, Average

Flash

The E-P1 doesn't have a built-in flash, but it does, of course, fully support all Olympus system flashguns, including the dinky new FL-14, which is officially a shocking $200 - though you can pick them up online for quite a lot less if you shop around. With its poor (and I mean really poor) low light focus using the kit zoom the E-P1 is hardly suited to social snaps indoors at night, something compounded by the slightly hit and miss flash exposures (which we suspect are related to the focus problems). When it works it works perfectly (and if a face is detected a burst of pre-flash gets rid of any red-eye pretty efficiently), but without an autofocus illuminator it has to be said that using the E-P1 and FL-14 in poor light is a frustrating experience.

One minor annoyance for less experienced users; if you use the flash in iAuto mode it nearly always attempts to get a bit of atmosphere into the shots by use of slow synch, and in low light the result is virtually always a blurred image. We got far better results using P mode and playing with the ISO setting. Once again this reinforces our belief that the E-P1 simply isn't suited to the kind of novice user who it undeniably appeals to.

In camera corrections

Although both Olympus and Panasonic remain somewhat coy about it, there's no doubt that the Micro Four Thirds standard makes liberal use of digital corrections to mitigate the optical challenges created by such small lenses and such a short flange-back distance. You can understand their reticence to talk about these corrections - which are baked into the JPEG processing and the supplied raw coversion software - when you see the reaction from purists to the very idea of designing lenses that only produce optimal results with the help of a little digital trickery.

Well, some might see it as cheating, but we're not nearly so worried about it as long as the end result is good enough (though we'd concede that an advanced option to turn it off in the raw converter wouldn't go amiss). This is the digital age, and Micro Four Thirds is the most 'purely digital' system camera yet - even more so than the standard Four Thirds, so why shouldn't its designers make use of the latest technology if it means lighter, smaller and more affordable lenses?

We obviously don't know exactly what's going on under the hood - we do know there's moiré removal (because Olympus told us) and it's obvious looking at the examples below that there's distortion correction (DCRaw, unlike some raw converters, ignores any instructions baked into the file telling it to apply corrections). What the E-P1 doesn't appear to do is any CA (chromatic aberration) removal, as evidenced by the obvious fringes when using the 17mm pancake lens.

E-P1 + M.Zuiko 14-42mm at 14mm

Camera JPEG
Distortion:
0.6% barrel
Raw file converted using DCRaw*
Distortion: 2.1% barrel

E-P1 + M.Zuiko 14-42mm at 23mm

Camera JPEG
Distortion:
0.1% pincushion
Raw file converted using DCRaw*
Distortion: 0.1% pincushion

E-P1 + M.Zuiko 14-42mm at 42mm

Camera JPEG
Distortion:
0.0%

Raw file converted using DCRaw*
Distortion: 1.2% pincushion

*As DCRaw produces larger files than the camera (uses a little more of the edge of the sensor) these images have been cropped back to the E-P1's offical file dimensions.

Shadow Adjustment Technology

The E-P1, like the other recent Olympus SLR releases offers Shadow Adjustment Technology (SAT), based on technologies from Apical (similar to those in Nikon's D-Lighting and Sony's DRO modes). This attempts to increase the range of tones conveyed in the final image while retaining local contrast.

The theory is that it results in images that are closer to the way the human brain perceived the scene, while the cost is that you get additional noise in shadow regions of the images. Unlike most other included software often doesn't include these dynamic range compression algorithms, Olympus Studio can apply or remove the effect of Shadow Adjust Technology from RAW files. Simply switching the 'Gradation' setting to 'Auto' will apply the effect, while any other will apply a conventional tone-curve to the whole image.

On the whole, it's a question of taste but there are plenty of situations in which an increase in noise in the shadows is an acceptable price to pay for a final image with a more balanced tonal range, so we'd be inclined to move gradation to 'Auto' in high-contrast situations. There's no harm leaveing it on if you tend to shoot RAW, either - you can always use Olympus Studio to re-create the effect if you find you prefer the results to those of your chosen RAW converter.

Gradation Normal (SAT Off) Gradation Auto (SAT On)

Overall Image Quality / Specifics

Overall there's really very little to complain about; metering, white balance (in natural light) and focus are all reassuringly accurate, and Olympus has tuned the E-P1 to squeeze the maximum detail out of whatever lens you put in front of it. The kit zoom lens is a lot better than we expected (the 17mm pancake is less impressive - more detail soon when we add reviews of both these lenses to this article), and with a really good lens (such as the Olympus 50mm macro) the output is stunningly sharp and detailed.

Our only real complaint - apart from the focus speed issues mentioned elsewhere - is that the E-P1 tends to clip highlights more readily than most other SLRs, something you can only avoid by careful exposure compensation (since there's not a lot of headroom in the raw files). In general, however, the E-P1's output consistently impressed us.

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