Olympus PEN Lite / E-PL3 Review
The E-PL3 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 16:9 format of the PEN Lite's LCD screen means that the video image fills the screen completely, without the black borders you would see on a 4:3 ratio display.
The E-PL3 offers a pretty impressive specification for movie recording. It's not quite in the same league as the much more expensive Panasonic GH2, but offers a feature set that is generally as extensive as any other camera in this sector of the market. You can record video in PASM mode or with any of the six Art filters active. One notable omission, however, is the lack of control over sound recording (other than disabling it). There's neither a volume control nor any kind of wind-cut filter. 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 at reduced frame rates
|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
• 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-PL3 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 (as long as you have the Fn button set to AEL).
The E-PL3 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 record in one of the PASM modes allowing you to specify the shutter speed and/or aperture it will use for recording (and hence control motion blur and depth of field). Because the camera's video output is 30fps, the slowest shutter speed you can select is 1/30. 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. You can enable image stabilization (IS) for video recording. Activating IS will actually enlarge the recorded image slightly. While this enlargement is visible in the preview on the LCD, pressing the record button still crops-in from the now-enlarged preview. Also note that regardless of which IS mode you choose, the camera will use the Auto setting, which compensates for both horizontal and vertical camera movement.
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, display magnification (for checking fine focus) is unavailable. Once you start recording, most 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 available while recording.
|The preview screen fills the 16:9 LCD completely and can be set to a gridline, histogram or image-only view. The exposure control options shown are defined by the current shooting mode...||..which you can set either in the Custom I menu or via the 'live control' panel.|
|Shooting parameters are displayed on the screen before you start recording. Be aware that this preview is not compositionally identical to what will be recorded.||When you press the record button, not only is much of the display information removed, but the camera also crops in slightly compared to the preview image, as can be seen here.|
Video quality comments
The E-PL3's HD videos are generally pretty good. Just as when shooting stills, exposure, while balance and color rendition are all excellent. There are some visible artefacts, most notably sharpening halos and 'jaggies' on diagonals, but moiré is well-suppressed and hardly ever visible, even on finely-detailed repetitive structures such as brickwork.
The PEN Lite 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-PL3 uses electronic image stabilization 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.
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.
Sample video 1This video was shot on a tripod with the camera set to shutter-priority mode. The Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 14-150mm lens was used at a 34mm (68mm equivalent) focal length. A fast shutter speed of 1/500 was selected which 'freezes' the moving water.
|1280 x 720 Motion JPEG, .AVI file, 21 sec. 84.32 MB Click here to download original .AVI file|
Sample video 2This video was shot on a tripod with the camera set to shutter-priority mode. The Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 14-150mm lens was used at a 34mm (68mm equivalent) focal length. A shutter speed of 1/30 (the slowest speed allowed when in video mode) was selected which gives the moving water a more natural, silky appearance when compared against the previous video sample.
|1280 x 720 Motion JPEG, .AVI file, 21 sec. 77.98 MB Click here to download original .AVI file|
Sample video 3This video was shot handheld and highlights the audio recording capabilities of the PEN Lite's built-in stereo microphone. There is noticeable wind noise (due to the camera's lack of a wind-cut filter) and the microphone picks up a lot of conversation emanating from behind the camera. The EPL3 was set to continuous AF and you can see instances of AF hunt as the musicians move within the scene. Image stabilization was enabled as the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 14-150mm lens was used at the telephoto end of its range. We looked at digital IS shortcomings in more detail on the image stabilization page of this review.
|1920 x 1080 60i, AVCHD .MTS file, 36 sec. 101.44 MB Click here to download original .MTS file|
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