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Timings & File Sizes

It's reasonable to expect a camera at this level to offer fast, responsive operation and the E-3 doesn't disappoint, feeling very snappy indeed in use - far more so than any previous Olympus DSLR. Focus speed with the new SWD lenses is superb, though there is noticeable hunting at longer focal lengths in low light. Focus with older non-SWD lenses is less impressive, and seems no faster than any other Four-Thirds camera. Continuous shooting is excellent (as long as you keep away from xD cards) and fast buffering means you'll never have to wait for the camera to catch up with you no matter how fast you're snapping.

Of course using live view slows things down noticeably, adding around 0.6 seconds to the shutter lag (and not just the shutter lag; our timings show that having live view turned on slows down most operations), but this is hardly something unusual to the E-3.

Timing Notes: All times calculated as an average of three operations. Unless otherwise stated all timings were made on a 3648 x 2736 JPEG SHQ (approx. 4,9100 KB per image).

The media used for these tests were:

  • 512MB Fujifilm xD-Picture Card Type H
  • 2 GB Lexar Pro 133x CF card
  • 4 GB SanDisk Extreme IV CF card (UDMA)

Media comparison

Action
Time, secs
(512 MB Fuji xD)
Time, secs
(2 GB Lexar)
Time, secs
(4 GB SanDisk)
Power Off to On *1 1.1 1.6 1.2
Power Off to Shot *2 0.9 1.3 0.9
Sleep to On 1.1 1.1 1.1
Power On to Off 1.1 1.1 1.1
Record Review RAW *3 0.8 0.8 0.8
Record Review JPEG *3 0.9 0.9 0.9
Play Image to Image RAW <0.1 0.1 <0.1
Play Image to Image JPEG ~0.2 ~0.2 ~0.1

Live view off / on (8 GB SanDisk Extreme IV)

As you can see enabling live view adds between a half to one second to most operations, this is primarily due to the time it takes the camera to raise the mirror, open the shutter and initialize the sensor for live view.

Action
Time, secs
(Live view off)
Time, secs
(Live view on)
Power Off to On *1 1.2 1.7
Power Off to Shot *2 0.9 2.0
Sleep to On 1.1 1.4
Power On to Off 1.1 1.8
Record Review RAW *3 0.8 1.4 *4
Record Review JPEG *3 0.9 1.4 *4
Record to Play (JPEG) <0.1 0.7
Record to Play (RAW) ~0.1 0.7

*1 This is the amount of time before the status screen is shown on the LCD monitor, as shown by the next measurement you can actually take a shot fractionally earlier than this.
*2 To test this we turn the camera on with the shutter button depressed (manual focus mode). This bypasses the SWF cycle.
*3 Time taken from the shutter release being pressed to the review image being displayed on the LCD monitor.
*4 Obviously this figure includes the time needed for the mirror movement before the shot is taken

Continuous Drive mode

To test continuous mode the camera had the following settings: Manual Focus, Manual Exposure (1/400 sec, F2.0), ISO 200. Measurements were taken from audio recordings of the tests. Media used were the same as above. (Note that we also tested with Noise Reduction on / off without any difference in performance).

The tests carried out below measured the following results for JPEG and RAW:

  • Frame rate - Initial frame rate, this was always 5.0 fps (+/- 0.01 fps) for JPEG, dropping slightly with some cards in RAW mode.
  • Number of frames - Number of frames in a burst
  • Buffer full rate - Frame rate if shutter release held after burst (buffer full)

Burst of JPEG Super Fine images

Timing
4 GB SanDisk
Extreme IV
2 GB Lexar
Pro 133x
512MB Fujifilm xD (Type H)
Frame rate (average) 5.0 fps 5.0 fps 5.0 fps
Number of frames 23 24 17
Buffer full rate 2.1 fps 2.3 fps 0.3 fps

Burst of RAW images

Timing
4 GB SanDisk
Extreme IV
2 GB Lexar
Pro 133x
512MB Fujifilm xD (Type H)
Frame rate (average) 4.9 fps 4.8 fps 5.0 fps
Number of frames 15 17 14
Buffer full rate 0.9 fps 1.6 fps 0.2 fps

The E-3 offers significant improvements over other Four-Thirds cameras when it comes to continuous shooting, and is broadly comparable with its direct competitors. Of course compared to the 'big beasts' of the professional SLR jungle both frame rate and buffering look slightly pedestrian, but that's what you're paying all those extra thousands of dollars for. You cannot shoot indefinitely at the highest JPEG quality setting, but if you drop down to the 'N' (normal) setting you can.

File Flush Timing

Timings shown below are the time taken for the camera to process and "flush" the image out to the storage card. Timing was taken from the instant the shutter release was pressed to the time the storage card activity lamp beside the compartment door went out. Media used were the same as above.

Image type
Time, secs
(4 GB SanDisk)
Time, secs
(2 GB Lexar)
Time, secs
(512MB
Fuji xD)
Approx.
size
3648 x 2736 RAW + JPEG 'SF' 3.0 2.1 8.9 15,050 KB *1
3648 x 2736 RAW 2.2 1.3 5.4 9,650 KB
3648 x 2736 JPEG 'SF' 1.4 1.2 3.8 5,400 KB
3648 x 2736 JPEG 'N' 0.9 0.8 1.7 2,125 KB

*1 File size reported here is the size of the RAW and 'SF' quality JPEG files added together.
*2 The E-3 begins writing around 0.3 seconds after the shutter release is pressed so you must subtract 'processing time' from the timing to get the actual write time.

Our slight disappointment at the E-3's ever-so-slightly pedestrian write speeds is more than mitigated by the fact that the large, fast buffering makes it very unlikely most users will ever get to the point where they're left waiting. Our tests also show that the write performance varies widely according to the card in use (in this case Lexar's Pro card offers a clear advantage), so it's worth trying a few before making a major investment. Of course the xD card performance is another matter altogether, and are frankly best avoided.

USB transfer speed

To test the E-3's USB transfer speed we transferred approximately 350 MB of images (mixed RAW and JPEG) from a SanDisk Extreme IV 4 GB CF card.

Method
Transfer rate
Olympus E-3 (MTP device mode) 2.8 MB/sec
Olympus E-3 (Mass storage device mode) 5.5 MB/sec
CardBus PCMCIA adapter 10.5 MB/sec
SanDisk Extreme IV USB 2.0 card reader 17.1 MB/sec

The E-3 delivers average if not stunning transfer rates ins mass storage device mode. Switch to MTP (PTP) mode and as we've seen with other cameras the transfer rate drops by about 50%. As you can see the best performance (over three times faster) was achieved using a relatively inexpensive SanDisk USB 2.0 card reader, this would always be our recommendation.

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