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Timings & File Sizes

As we should expect for a camera targetted at professional photography the E-1 is typically very responsive and 'ready to shoot'. Power on time was around two seconds, faster that most 'consumer level' digital SLR's but not as fast as the likes of the Canon EOS-1D/1Ds or Nikon D2H which are ready to shoot the moment you turn the power switch. One area Olympus has improved imeasurably compared to the E-10/E-20 is write times and Compact Flash interface throughput which is now as good as the fastest digital SLR's.

As far as the E-1's overall performance were concerned I felt there were two areas which could be improved, firstly the record review image (that which appears immediately after taking the shot) takes around three seconds to appear (and that without an option for histogram or highlight blinking), that's almost twice as long as most other DSLR's. Secondly was the negative performance impact of enabling noise reduction or lens shading compensation, while I can appreciate the advantage of having these features in-camera they really should match up to the speed of the rest of the camera.

Timing Notes: All times calculated as an average of three operations. Unless otherwise stated all timings were made on a 2560 x 1920 SHQ JPEG (approx. 3.1 MB per image).

The media used for these tests were:

  • 512 MB Viking Type I Compact Flash card
  • 1 GB SanDisk Ultra II Type I Compact Flash card
  • 1 GB IBM Microdrive Type II Compact Flash card
Action Details Time, seconds
(Viking)
Time, seconds
(SanDisk)
Time, seconds
(Microdrive)
Power: Off to On   1.7 1.7 3.0
Power: On to Off *1   2.1 2.1 2.1
Record: Review *2 JPEG 3.2 3.2 3.2
Record: Review *2 RAW 3.4 3.4 3.4
Record: Enter play mode JPEG 0.9 0.9 1.4
Record: Enter play mode RAW 0.9 0.9 1.4
Play: Image to Image JPEG 0.4 0.4 1.3 *3
Play: Image to Image *3 RAW 0.4 0.4 1.3 *3
Play: Thumbnail view 2 x 2   0.5 0.6 1.2
Play: Thumbnail view 3 x 3   0.7 1.0 1.5
Play: Magnify   <0.1 <0.1 <0.1

*1 Assuming all buffered images have been written out to storage card, otherwise the camera remains powered on until images have been written away.
*2 Time taken from the shutter release being pressed to the review image being displayed on the LCD monitor.
*3

If the Microdrive is already spinning then this time is reduced to 0.6 sec, thus if you are browsing quickly through your images it's acceptably quick.


Low Light Auto Focus

This test is designed to measure the minimum amount of light under which the camera can still focus. The focus target is our lens distortion test chart (shown here on the right), camera is positioned exactly 2 m (6.6 ft) away.

Light levels are gradually dropped until the camera can no longer focus. Before the shutter release is half pressed the lens is manually focused to the closest subject distance (typically 0.5 m) to "throw the focus out". This test target is the optimum type of subject for most AF systems (as it has a vertical line at its center).

AF assist lamp

The E-1 has a three bulb AF assist lamp which produces a pattern of three circles with horizontal and vertical bands, these are cast onto the subject and are used by the camera's AF system to confirm focus distance. The AF assist lamp can be disabled.

Lens Focal
len.
Aperture
at focal len.
AF assist lamp Lowest light focus Time to focus
from min.
*1
E 14 - 54 mm F2.8 - F3.5 14 mm F2.8 Yes Darkness 1.4 sec
E 14 - 54 mm F2.8 - F3.5 54 mm F3.5 Yes Darkness 1.9 sec
E 14 - 54 mm F2.8 - F3.5 14 mm F2.8 No -0.1 EV 3.1 sec
E 14 - 54 mm F2.8 - F3.5 54 mm F3.5 No 1.0 EV 1.8 sec

*1

Lens was manually focused to minimum subject distance before AF was started. This is the maximum amount of time you should expect the camera to take to get an AF lock at this light level, with the lens pre-focused to 1 m focus times were halved.

  Light intensity (Lux) = 2.5 x 2^EV (@ ISO 100), 10.76391 Lux = 1 foot-candle (fc)

Overall the E-1 performed well, if more slowly in low light situations. As you can see the AF assist lamp is perfectly capable of providing enough illumination for focusing in complete darkness, and the longest focus time was around two seconds. Without the lamp a small amount of light was required to perform an AF lock, we did manage to get the E-1 to focus at even dimmer light but it did need more than one 'bite of the cherry' (more than one press of the shutter release).


Continuous drive mode

To test continuous mode the camera had the following settings: Manual Focus, Manual Exposure (1/400 sec, F3.5), ISO 400. No matter what the image output format the continuous drive rate and buffer size were always as below. We then timed how long after a burst of shots you could take another shot and how long after a burst of shots you could take another full burst.

  • 3.0 frames per second
  • 12 images in a burst

Time after a burst of twelve images

The media used for these tests were:

  • 512 MB Viking Type I Compact Flash card
  • 1 GB SanDisk Ultra II Type I Compact Flash card
  • 1 GB IBM Microdrive Type II Compact Flash card
Timing
 
Quality Time, seconds
(Viking)
Time, seconds
(SanDisk)
Time, seconds
(Microdrive)
Next single shot *1 RAW 5.6 3.2 6.1
SHQ 3.6 2.1 2.9
SQ *3 2.0 1.7 2.2
Full write / next burst *2 RAW 64.4 33.3 55.8
SHQ 33.6 25.1 31.6
SQ *3 18.6 14.4 16.2

*1

How soon after taking a burst of twelve shots you can take the next single shot. Note that the E-1 requires you to take your finger off the shutter release and re-press it before it will take a shot after a burst.

*2 How long a burst of twelve shots takes to be processed and fully written to the Compact Flash card. As images are written away the buffer space indicator on the control panel LCD (top of camera) counts back up to 12.
*3 Set to 1600 x 1200, 1/2.7 JPEG quality.

What a difference a fast Compact Flash card can make, for RAW images the SanDisk Ultra II card halved the total amount of time taken to write away the entire burst of 12 images to just 33 seconds (an incredible 3.7 MB/sec throughput). Overall continuous shooting performance was good, the E-1 doesn't have the shooting speed of other digital SLR's aimed at sports photo-journalists however it does have a respectable 12 image buffer and does process and write these image fairly quickly.

One slight annoyance for me was the fact that you have to remove your finger from the shutter release and depress it again after a burst of 12 images, it would have been nicer if the camera would simply shoot as soon as space was available in its buffer.

Noise Filter & Lens Shading compensation

The E-1 manual specifically states that 'sequential shooting is not possible: when noise reduction is set to on'. In actual fact you can still select noise filter or lens shading in continuous shooting mode but it soon becomes clear why Olympus place that disclaimer in the manual, there is a huge performance hit when either of these image filters are enabled. The media used for this test was the 1 GB SanDisk Ultra II Type I Compact Flash card.

Timing
 
Quality No filter Noise Filter Lens Shading
compensation
Next single shot *1 SHQ 3.6 sec 44.9 sec 25.6 sec
Full write / next burst *2 SHQ 33.6 sec 8 min 32 sec 4 min 37 sec

The camera takes 15 times longer to process the images with noise filter enabled and 8 times longer with lens shading compensation enabled.


File Write Timing

Timings shown below are the time taken for the camera to process and "flush" the image out to the storage media. The E-1 continues to process images in the buffer and write data out to the storage media in parallel to you composing (and taking) the next shot.

The media used for these tests were:

  • 512 MB Viking Type I Compact Flash card
  • 1 GB SanDisk Ultra II Type I Compact Flash card
  • 1 GB IBM Microdrive Type II Compact Flash card
Store Time, secs
(Viking)
Time, secs
(SanDisk)
Time, secs
(Microdrive)
Approx. *3
File size
Approx. *3 512 MB card
2560 x 1920 TIFF 8.8 4.6 7.8 15,696 KB 31
2560 x 1920 RAW+JPEG 8.9 4.9 8.0 13,500 KB 34
2560 x 1920 RAW 5.9 2.8 5.8 10,400 KB 48
2560 x 1920 SHQ 3.0 2.0 3.4 3,100 KB 128
2560 x 1920 HQ 1.8 1.0 2.1 1,100 KB 400
1600 x 1200 SQ 1.2 1.0 2.1 900 KB 350

*1 Timer was started as soon as the storage compartment light came on and stopped when this light went off. This was seen as the ACTUAL recording time. In reality the E-1 has a very short delay (less than half a second) between the exposure ending (mirror dropping back down) and the write process beginning.
*2 For RAW+JPEG timing the SHQ JPEG quality was selected.
*3 Camera estimate.

A very impressive performance from the E-1, especially matched with a high speed card. The process & write time of just 2.8 seconds for a 10 MB RAW file on the SanDisk Ultra II card is phenomenal and is exactly what we would want from a professional digital SLR. Kudos Olympus for delivering very fast process and write times. My hot tip has to be for the SanDisk Ultra II cards which have performed consistently well with the E-1.

Here are the approximate write throughput figures for each card:

  • 512 MB Viking: 1.0 MB/sec (JPEG) - 1.7 MB/sec (RAW)
  • 1 GB SanDisk Ultra II: 1.5 MB/sec (JPEG) - 3.7 MB/sec (RAW)
  • 1 GB IBM Microdrive: 0.9 MB/sec (JPEG) - 1.7 MB/sec (RAW)

Noise Filter & Lens Shading compensation

As noted above enabling the noise filter or lens shading compensation options has a significant impact on write performance, the timings below are for a single image taken at ISO 400. The media used for this test was the 1 GB SanDisk Ultra II Type I Compact Flash card.

Store
 
No filter Noise Filter Lens Shading
compensation
2560 x 1920 SHQ 2.0 sec 10.2 sec 18.9 sec
1600 x 1200 SQ 1.2 sec 8.9 sec 18.3


Battery life

The E-1 manual doesn't specify how long the battery is expected to last. Our experience was that the standard battery is very powerful and can run the camera for at least a thousand frames and probably more. This was supported by the hands-on second opinion of Les Freed (see later in this review).

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