Olympus PEN E-P3 in-depth review
The E-P3 offers a dramatically upgraded video recording specification compared to previous PENs. Most notably, it adds Full HD recording in AVCHD format, compared to the 720p Motion-JPEG format of previous cameras. AVCHD is less friendly for sharing, or displaying and editing on a PC, but it does allow longer recording times as it's not subject to the same 2GB file size limit as the Motion-JPEG format.
The E-P3 offers a pretty impressive specification for movie recording. It's not quite in the same league as the Panasonic GH2, but comes close to pretty well any other camera in this sector of the market. Possibly the biggest disappointment is the lack of any control over sound recording; there's neither a volume control nor any kind of wind-cut filter (both of which you'll find on several competing cameras). However there is the option to use an external microphone, but for this you'll need to add the optional EMA-1 adapter that plugs into the accessory port (and so can't be used at the same time as the EVF).
• FullHD Fine : 1920x1080, 60i Recording*, 17Mbps
• FullHD Normal : 1920x1080, 60i Recording*, 13Mbps
• HD Fine : 1280x720, 60p Recording*, 17Mbps
• HD Normal : 1280x720, 60p Recording*, 13Mbps
* Frame rate of image sensor output is 30fps
• HD: 1280x720, 30fps**, Aspect 16:9
• SD: 640x480, 30fps**, Aspect 4:3 (VGA)
** Some Art Filters are exceptional
|Audio Recording|| • Internal Stereo Microphone
• External Stereo Microphone via optional EMA-1 adapter
• Dolby Digital (AVCHD)
• Stereo PCM/16bit, 48kHz, Wave Format Base (Motion-JPEG)
|File Format|| • AVCHD
• AVI Motion-JPEG
|Max recording time||AVCHD Format:
• 29 min
• 22 min (20 Mbps)
• 7 min @ HD
• 14 min @ SD
|Max file size|| • 4 GB (AVCHD)
• 2 GB (AVI Motion-JPEG)
|Image stabilization||• Electronic image stabilization|
Using Movie Mode
Using movie mode on the E-P3 is pretty straightforward. You can initiate recording from any exposure mode using the red record button on the back of the camera; the camera will honour any exposure compensation you have set before shooting, but will otherwise choose its own exposure parameters (it won't necessarily employ the set aperture or shutter speed in A and T modes, for example). By default the camera will automatically adjust for any brightness changes in the scene while recording, for example when panning from dark to light areas, but you can lock the exposure before recording if you prefer (just as long as you have a Fn button set to AEL).
The E-P3 also retains a dedicated movie record position on its mode dial. This offers a greater degree of manual control over exposure: the camera can be set to work in one of the PASM modes from the Custom I menu, allowing you to specify the shutter speed and aperture it will use for recording (and hence control motion blur and depth of field). You can also apply Art Filters to movie recording, but with some limitations with regard to framerate and sound recording.
Movie mode also allows previewing and composition in the correct aspect ratio for your movie (normally 16:9). Curiously though, when you press the record button, the camera crops-in slightly from the preview image, which makes precise composition literally a matter of guesswork: it's impossible to know exactly what will be in the frame once recording starts.
Once you've started recording a movie, you can't change any exposure parameters such as shutter speed, aperture or exposure compensation, but you can refocus by half-pressing the shutter button. A full press of the shutter will stop movie recording and capture a still image.
Movie mode displays
Almost all of the same display options are available with the dial set to video mode as when shooting stills - live histogram, electronic levels and the like. However touch focus and display magnification (for checking fine focus) are unavailable. Once you start recording, all of the onscreen information simply disappears (you have no choice in the matter), which is a pity: when shooting handheld it would sometimes be nice to have the gridlines or electronic levels available while recording.
|The preview screen before you start recording is similar to when shooting stills, but cropped to 16:9 to compose HD movies properly,and showing the recording time available on the memory card. The exposure control options shown are defined by which mode you set in the Custom menu.||When you press the record button the display simplifies, losing such things as grids, histograms and electronic levels. Oddly the camera also crops in slightly compared to the preview image, as can be seen here.|
Video quality comments
The E-P3's HD videos are generally pretty good. Just as when shooting stills, exposure, while balance and colour rendition are all excellent. There are some visible artefacts, most notably sharpening halos and 'jaggies' on diagonals, but moire is well-suppressed and hardly ever visible, even on finely-detailed repetitive structures such as brickwork.
The E-P3 offers a 'Full HD' recording mode with 1920x1080 resolution alongside the 1280x720 mode shared with its predecessor, but this doesn't in practice deliver significantly higher levels of detail when comparing movies shot side-by-side in each. Presumably this mainly reflects the fact that both modes top out at the same bitrate of 17 Mbps, and to be fair this also means that there's no real disadvantage to shooting Full HD either (file sizes aren't any larger).
When using the 'designed for video' MSC lenses (including the 14-42mm kit zoom), autofocus during recording movie recording is not only relatively fast and positive, but also essentially silent; this is a huge advantage over any video-enabled SLR. Brightness changes during recording are also handled smoothly and elegantly, with no visible 'stepping' of the aperture. The E-P3 uses electronic image stabilisation while shooting movies, and while this can help reduce shakiness when shooting hand-held, it's no panacea. As usual, the only sure way to eliminate shake is to use a tripod, especially when working with longer lenses.
The small top-mounted stereo microphone delivers sound quality that's acceptable, but not wonderful. As is common with built-in units it's also rather susceptible to wind noise, and sadly there's nothing you can do about this as the camera has no wind-cut filter. For any serious work you'll therefore want to use an external mic, but you'll need to buy the EMA-1 adapter to use one.
These videos were shot in a range of different environments, and at a range of different settings. We are pleased to announce that dpreview.com is now partnering with Vimeo to bring you high-quality embedded video in our test pages, but as always, the original files are available for download from the links beneath the thumbnails. We've turned HD playback on by default for our embedded videos, but depending on the speed of your internet connection, you may get better performance by turning it off.
All of the sample videos below were recorded using the movie-optimized M.Zuiko Digital 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 II R MSC kit zoom.
Sample video 1 - Outdoors, good lightThis movie was shot outdoors in good light and shows moderate subject motion. You can get some impression of the sound quality using the E-P3's inbuilt microphone. However despite the E-P3's electronic image stabilisation this hand-held footage is visibly shaky.
|1920 x 1080 60i, AVCHD .MTS file, 15 sec. 40.5 MB Click here to download original .MTS file|
Sample video 2 - Indoors, moderately-low lightThis sample illustrates the E-P3's image quality shooting video indoors in moderately low light (in context, stills shooting required ISO 800). Again you can get some impression of the quality of the E-P3's built-in stereo microphone, but be aware the music you can hear was a recording (rather than being played live).
|1920 x 1080 60i, AVCHD .MTS file, 12 sec. 31.4 MB Click here to download original .MOV file|
Sample video 3 - Outdoors, with slow motionThis sample was shot in good light and shows moderate motion; the camera was supported on a beanbag to minimise shake. Colour and exposure are excellent and there's a pleasing lack of artefacts.
|1920 x 1080 60i, AVCHD .MTS file, 15 sec. 38.9 MB Click here to download original .MOV file|
Sample video 4 - Digital TeleconverterShot at the same time as Sample video 3 above, this movie shows the effect of engaging the E-P3's new Digital Teleconverter function with the lens set to its telephoto position. Compared to cameras such as the Panasonic G series or Canon EOS SLRs using their analogous 'teleconverter' functions, the image quality is poor.
|1920 x 1080 60i, AVCHD .MTS file, 13 sec. 31.4 MB Click here to download original .MOV file|
Sample video 5 - Motion-JPEG format, fast motionThis sample shows the quality possible using the E-P3's Motion-JPEG recording format. However shooting with the camera in A mode, the E-P3 has chosen a fast shutter speed that doesn't render the water of the fountain in a very convincing fashion. (This could be improved by switching to Movie mode and controlling the shutter speed manually.)
|1280 x 720 30 fps, Motion-JPEG .AVI file, 15 sec. 59.2 MB Click here to download original .MOV file|
Sample video 6 - Diorama Art FilterThis sample illustrates the effect of recording movies using the E-P3's Diorama Art Filter. This clip represents approximately 1 minute of recording time, sped-up on playback to resemble a stop-motion animation. There's no sound.
|1280 x 720 30 fps, Motion-JPEG .AVI file, 7 sec. 14.0 MB Click here to download original .MOV file|
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