Olympus PEN E-P3 in-depth review
Like previous PENs, the E-P3 has a choice of four 'Gradation' settings for controlling the tonality of its images. Aside from Normal there's High Key and Low Key, which essentially make your images brighter or darker than usual; while these are nice to have for specific occasions, we suspect most users will simply choose to achieve these effects via the rather more-accessible exposure compensation control (although the results aren't quite identical).
Auto Gradation is a different kettle of fish, though, as is works adaptively on different areas of the image in an attempt to selectively increase shadow detail without losing the highlights. In bright, contrasty situations this works pretty well, but it does come with the risk of increased shadow noise.
|1/640sec, F6.3, ISO 200||1/500sec, F6.3, ISO200|
100% crop, highlights
100% crop, shadows
This example shows a relatively subtle example of the use of this control. With Auto Gradation the camera has reduced the exposure slightly, which has subtly improved the highlight detail. The shadows have also been lifted, and while this comes with a visible increase in shadow noise, it's far from excessive here.
The Gradation control is also available when converting raw files using Olympus Viewer 2, the difference obviously being that it can't adjust the camera's exposure to protect highlights, so you'll need to look after this yourself. However for raw shooters it's a quick and straightforward way of pulling up the shadows, albeit without any real control over the final result.
The example below shows this in action. The original exposure was shot toi retain the highlights, but when processed with Normal gradation the shadow areas are blocked up. Re-converting with Auto gradation gives a much better result, with much more detail in the shadows but still plenty of local contrast. Again there's a fair bit of noise in the shadows (note these are processed with the noise filter turned off), but the image is still quite useable.
E-P3, 1/1250 sec F6.3 ISO 200
|RAW, OV2, Gradation Normal, NF Off||RAW, OV2, Gradation Auto, NF Off|
100% crop, shadows
Overall the Auto Gradation tool can be very useful and effective, for both JPEG and raw shooters who process using Viewer 2. It works best when you're shooting in bright contrasty situations at relatively low ISOs, but it's probably best to turn it off when using higher ISOs.
New to the E-P3 is a 'Digital Teleconverter' function. This is little more than a 2x digital zoom, and sadly it's not a particularly good implementation; anyone hoping for something similar to Panasonic's rather useful 'Extra Tele Converter' function will be disappointed.
When shooting stills, the Digital Teleconverter crops-out the center of the frame, then resamples to the selected image size. Unfortunately it does this after the normal image processing, including sharpening, which means that the resultant file can look pretty ugly at the pixel level if you have the camera set to full resolution. Where Olympus's version scores brownie points, though, is that it will still save a full-resolution raw file which you can process to taste later - most manufacturers restrict you to JPEGs only.
|E-P3 + M.ZD 14-42mm @ 42mm||42mm with Digital Teleconverter|
|100% crop||100% crop|
In movie mode, unfortunately much the same applies. Rather then read-out the central region of the frame to produce a genuinely high definition movie (a la Panasonic and Canon), Olympus again appears simply to be doing little more than cropping and crudely upsampling each frame after the initial processing. This results in movies which are light on detail but heavy on artefacts - sadly they don't look very good at all. So while this can be a handy way of increasing your effective zoom range, we'd only use it if there was really no alternative.
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