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Video

Despite being the pioneer of live view (a prerequisite for video capture) and despite the fact everyone else seems to be offering it, Olympus has so far resisted the temptation to include a movie mode in any of its digital SLRs. Whether this is down to limitations in the cameras' processors or a stubborn refusal to jump on bandwagons I don't know, but the fact that the E-P1, the first Olympus 4/3 camera to sport a movie mode, also boasts a new version of the TruePic processor hints it may well be the former.

Unlike digital SLRs and the Panasonic GH1, the E-P1 uses the standard shutter release to stop and start movie clip capture (there's a separate movie mode on the dial; there's no separate movie button). This, to my mind, makes shooting movies a far more intuitive process, but it does mean you can't quickly grab a movie when in stills mode (as you can with some cameras) - though there is an option to capture a full resolution still at the end of every movie clip.

The E-P1's movie mode isn't the highest resolution on the market, nor does it make use of more efficient codecs such as MPEG4, nor does it have a microphone socket (though it does use a very high quality audio encoder), but it is easy to use and produces user-friendly motion JPEG .AVI files that look pretty good and can be opened on most computers without additional software or video editing experience.

Sizes • 1280 x 720 (30 fps)
640 x 480 (30 fps)
Audio PCM 44.1kHz Stereo (Internal Mic only)
Format AVI (Motion JPEG)
File size ~3.9 MB/sec (HD)
Running time 2.0 GB maximum file size (approx 8.5 mins HD)

As we've said many times, we're not videographers and we're not yet in the business of giving movie modes the kind of intense scrutiny we apply to stills, but we've seen enough over the years to at least offer our opinions. The E-P1's movies - like those we've seen from most of the first generation of video-enabled digital SLRs - are pretty good; better than most compacts and, thanks to the ability to control depth of field, more cinematic than any consumer camcorder. Like all the cameras we've tested you'll see rolling shutter issues if you pan very quickly, but it's nowhere near as bad as some of its competitors.

On a computer screen, if you look closely, the movies are a little soft (and show some noise in the shadows in anything but bright sunlight), but viewed on an HD television they're very impressive. Although the exposure system handles changes in scene brightness fairly smoothly and quickly, we did notice occasional flickers (brief exposure jumps) when shooting a bright scenes with a wide lens. Overall, however, movie quality impresses more than it disappoints. The E-P1 has a comprehensive range of options and controls for budding Spielbergs, including Aperture Priority mode and access to all six Art Filters (though if you use Pinhole or Grainy Film modes you'll find the frame rate drops dramatically to around 2.0 fps).

Although continuous focus is an option in movie mode there's little - if any - point using it, as it simply can't keep up with even the smallest change in subject distance (and you'll get endless movies of the AF hunting).

The digital image stabilization works surprisingly well, ironing out the wobbles when shooting handheld, with only a small price to pay (the loss of a little field of view).

Movie mode displays

As with stills you can choose the level of information overlaid onto the preview image (here I'm shooting in 720p mode, hence the image is cropped to 16:9 proportions). The histogram is optional (it's found in the DISP settings menu).
The quick menu gives you immediate access to most movie shooting parameters. The image stabilizer in movie mode is digital (the sensor doesn't move), and turning it on reduces your field of view marginally. During recording the REC display blinks and a timer countdown shows time elapsed.
All six Art Filter shooting effects are available in movie mode, but the more processor-intensive filters (Soft Focus, Grainy Film and Pinhole) reduce the frame rate dramatically - to as little as two frames per second).
In playback mode you get a thumbnail of the first frame in the clip. Press OK to play. During playback you get basic pause/fast forward/rewind controls. The built-in speaker means you can listen to the soundtrack (if recorded).

Sample video (manual focus / narrow depth of field)

1280 x 720, 24 fps. AVI (motion JPEG) file. 9.2 sec. 36 MB (14-42mm kit lens)

There are many more sample movies at the end of the review in the Movie Samples section.

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