Olympus E-1 Review
Olympus has chosen to use a similar white balance selection system as they did on the E-10 and E-20, that is to provide Kelvin temperature selections with labels as to which light is the nearest match. The E-1 has no less than 12 preset white balance positions between 3000 K and 7500 K, the Kelvin color temperature range is explained quite simply by the diagram below (from the E-1 manual). In addition of course the E-1 has automatic white balance which it implements using a combination of information from its external white balance sensor and captured image data. Lastly the E-1 provides no less than four manual preset white balance memories which can be easily set thanks to a dedicated manual WB preset button on the front of the camera (just aim at something white / light gray and press the button).
Each of the E-1's 12 preset white balance settings are labeled like this:
- 3000 K (Incandescent)
- 3300 K
- 3600 K (Incandescent)
- 3900 K
- 4000 K (Fluorescent)
- 4300 K
- 4500 K (Fluorescent)
- 4800 K
- 5500 K (Sunny)
- 6500 K (Cloudy)
- 6600 K (Fluorescent)
- 7500 K (Shade)
As you can see below the E-1's external white balance sensor did seem to improve its ability to correctly select automatic white balance in incandescent light, something most digital SLR's fail to do. However this didn't extend to our fluorescent tube which it couldn't match (and neither could the presets).
Settings: ISO 100, E 14-54 mm F2.8-F3.5 @ F5, Sharpness 0, SQ JPEG (1280 x 960)
|Outdoors, Auto||Outdoors, 5500K
Also: 5500K, 6500K, 7500K
|Incandescent, Auto||Incandescent, 3000K
|Fluorescent, Auto||Fluorescent, 4500K
Also: 4000K, 6600K
White Balance Fine Tuning
You can also fine tune each of the preset white balance settings by a value of -7 (warmer; red) to +7 (cooler; blue). As you can see from the samples below the preset 3000 K was best tuned to '-7' for our studio lamps (which is a bit odd because they have a measured WB of 3000 K).
|3000K -4||3000K +0||3000K +4|
|3000K -7||3000K +7|
Olympus provided the new FL-50 flash unit for testing with the E-1. This unit proved to be very well featured if a little large on the E-1's relatively small body. Direct flash shots (with the flash head aimed straight forwards) were well metered with no color cast. Bounce shots didn't appear to have enough power to illuminate the subject, a little flash exposure compensation could be used to improve this.
|FL-50 direct - Well metered, good white balance (no color cast)||FL-50 bounced - Under exposed|
|Color patches - Even illumination, good metering, excellent white balance, good color|
The E-1 has dark-frame subtraction 'Noise Reduction' option available on the record menu. Without this long exposures of 8 seconds or longer appeared to have a fair amount of visible hot pixel noise, enabling Noise Reduction removed all of this and left very little 'black pitting' behind. It's also interesting to note the top left corner of the images without noise reduction have a 'glow' which disappears in the images with noise reduction enabled. Obviously the disadvantage of this kind of Noise Reduction is that the exposure takes twice as long, for example a 60 second exposure with noise reduction enabled takes 120 seconds.
Settings: ISO 100, E 14-54 mm F2.8-F3.5, Sharpness 0, SHQ JPEG
|Noise Reduction off||Noise Reduction on|
|ISO 100, 15 sec, F8|
|ISO 100, 60 sec, F16|
Standard Test Scene
The E-1 has another type of noise reduction, this is labeled as 'Noise Filter' and is described by the user manual as: "This function eliminates the random noise that may be conspicuous in flat or smooth images such as the sky or a wall.", the user manual also notes that, "It takes longer to record pictures since the noise filtering process is activated after each shot." Which is very true, in fact for a single image enabling Noise Filter extended the processing / write time by almost five times. This was rather surprising, especially considering the professional nature of the E-1, hence the not inconsiderable horsepower under the hood and the moderate size of its imager (five megapixels).
What was more surprising was that the noise filter option actually has very little effect on the visibility of noise in images, while it's true it does 'soften' the speckle effect of random noise in the image it is certainly not as effective as noise reduction we have seen in other cameras nor the various noise reduction methods possible in post-processing (in third party applications). It seems a little odd then to include an option which has such little effect but does introduce such a large performance hit.
Below are some 100% crops from images taken at a range of sensitivities between ISO 400 and 3200, with the Noise Filter both disabled and enabled. Remember also that sharpness here is set to zero (default), increasing the sharpness setting will also increase the visibility of noise.
Settings: ED 50 mm F2.0 Macro, Sharpness 0, SHQ JPEG
|Noise Filter off||Noise Filter on|
Available for download
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