Saturday, July 02, 2011

Olympus E-P3 Review: KL Street Art Festival

Side Note:
1. This is a user experience based review.
2. All images were shot in JPEG LSF (Large Super Fine).
3. General camera settings, Noise Filter = Low, Contrast/Saturation/sharpness = 0, White Balance = Auto (with an option   maintain warm color), Gradation = Normal
4. Minimal post-processing applied to the images. Only exposure compensation (brightness/contrast) and cropping performed for better consistency and overall presentation. Apart from that, the images were as good as straight out of camera (color and sharpness)

This entry is the second part of my Olympus PEN E-P3 user experience review. If you have not done so, please read the Part 1 of the E-P3 review here.

In this review entry, I shall be discussing about Olympus’ claim of “world’s fastest autofocus” of all digital cameras in the E-P3. When I was first being told about this claim, I actually chuckled and said “really?”

When the E-P1, the first Olympus PEN was launched, one of the drawbacks which held the camera down from being otherwise a stellar new mirrorless camera system was the use of Contrast-Detect Autofocus system (CDAF). CDAF until recently, has been marginally and noticeably slower in comparison to the superior phase-detect autofocus (PDAF) that is used in all DSLR cameras. I personally have used the E-PL1 and many times in my recent blog entries I have voiced up my concerns on how slow and at occasions, unreliable the autofocus can be. Nevertheless, Olympus has hinted that it was just the beginning of the CDAF system, and as the technology advances, the performance of CDAF will surpass the PDAF one day. The time is now. In the latest E-P3, Olympus confidently and boldly claimed to have the World’s Fastest AutoFocus.

As I was walking along the streets on one lazy Saturday late afternoon, I was passing by the Merdeka Square and I stumbled upon an open event, Kuala Lumpur Street Art Festival. It was a celebration of Malaysian tradition and culture, where music, dance and other local performances were brought in together at one central stage to be enjoyed by the public. There were many colourful and dramatic stage performances with rapid motions and fast actions, posing great challenge for any camera to keep up and properly catch the stage moments. Therefore, the opportunity to try out the autofocus performance of the E-P3 could not have been any better. Thankfully I was armed with both the M..Zuiko 40-150mm F4-5.6 and 75-300mm F4.8-6.7 telephoto lenses loaned from Olympus Malaysia.


1/250s, F/4.6, ISO800


1/400s, F/4.2, ISO800

1/400s, F/4.1, ISO800

1/640s, F/4.3, ISO800


I was really shocked to find how effortless it was for the E-P3 to perform autofocus. As I clicked the camera just snapped into focus immediately with virtually no delay at all. The dancers on the stage were moving all the time, and they never stopped or paused, and if you know and have seen  traditional Malay and Indian dances you would know how insanely fast their moves on stage would be. I set the camera to Single-Autofocus, the only reason I chose this setting was because it was the method that I was most comfortable using. Not only was the autofocus speed being blindingly fast, it was dead on accurate as well. The hit rate was extremely high, I almost did not miss anything at all.

The lenses almost never had any hunting issue, which is impressive especially shooting with the 75-300mm, at the furthest 300mm telephoto end. Although the dancers never stopped moving I had no trouble to lock focus on my subjects, even while they were in motion!! On very, very rare occasion, most probably due to my own user error, the lens actually focused on something else other than my intended subject, but since the autofocus was so fast, I can quickly half-press the shutter button again and in that instant, the error of the focusing was corrected. It is so fast that you do not even have to half-press the shutter button, you can just fully press it and still you will see dead-on focus accuracy even after the camera immediately snapped the image as you released the shutter. If they keep improving this kind of technology one day there is no need to press the shutter button halfway to autofocus at all!! Wont that be so awesome?

I hate to admit this, but the E-P3 is actually faster than the E-5. No, I am not kidding. Nonetheless, do take note that E-5 is only the world’s fastest DSLR if it is used together with SWD lenses such as the 12-60mm F2.8-4.0. All my lenses do not have SWD, but I have never had any issue with the focusing speed, and I seldom miss my focus. E-P3 focusing speed was just on another entirely different level, and it just works so efficiently it was actually scary. Now the scarier question, is the E-P3 faster than the high-performance DSLR like Canon 1DsMK4 and Nikon D3s? That is not for me to answer, but based on what I feel while using the E-P3, it is almost impossible to believe that currently there is anything faster than the E-P3.

1/640s, F/4.2, ISO800

1/500s, F/4.2, ISO800

1/640s, F/4.3, ISO800

Atilia, Malaysia's famous female singer. Skin tone a little off due to interference of stage lighting, but of course, some colour correction can be done if necessary. I left the original colors as is.
1/400s, F/5.5, ISO1000

Another great example of how much Olympus has improved its sensor's dynamic range. Bright white shirt against bright white background, and you can clearly see the edges, lines and wrinkles of the shirt still. And this was shot at high ISO, not at base 200.
1/640s, F/5.2, ISO1000

1/200s, F/6.1, ISO1000

There were several factors that contributed to the fast autofocus on the E-P3. We all know how slow CDAF was originally, and that was restricted by the 60hz of images (60 images per second) feedback to the CDAF system to determine the focus. Breaking this limit, E-P3 boosted up to 120Hz, which is twice as much data feedback being provided for the CDAF to process and determine the focus. By doing so, the autofocus speed has been improved drastically. To accomplish this task, the E-P3 has a built in dual core processor to enable faster processing. Furthermore, the dual core processor does a lot more than just enhancing the autofocus performance, it takes the camera one step further by reducing the black out time. Generally, after a digital camera takes a picture, it does two things: write the image file to the memory card and produce a display image on the preview screen on the camera. During this process, usually any camera would experience a “black-out” time, and you cannot resume camera operation until the black out time is over. With the aid of the dual core processing, each task (write to memory card and preview on screen) can be assigned to one core, hence speeding up the processing time to nearly none. Not only was the autofocus being super fast, but the responsiveness of the camera has remarkably improved as well.

Generally I was shooting with ISO 800-1600. Approaching sunset, the sun was dying out, but the stage was filled with spotlights which were not doing a very good job in lighting the entire stage evenly. I needed to bump up the ISO slightly higher to achieve fast enough shutter speed to freeze the motion, and lets face it, the traditional Malaysian dances are usually fast paced and flowing in fluid motions. The images shot in this range of ISO setting (800-1600) came out very pleasant indeed. The most amazing thing is that the dynamic range is still well preserved, though obviously not as stunning as previously tested at base ISO of 200. You can visibly see the details on the white shirt of the local Malaysian jazz songstress Atilia’s white shirt, against the bright white background. There was however visible noise (both luminance and chromatic) even at ISO1000, but I must say that the noise was very well controlled at this stage, and should not pose any threat to the overall image quality. I shall dive deeper into the high ISO shooting performance of the E-P3 in the next coming separate blog review entries.

1/250s, F/4.4, ISO1250

1/500s, F/4.6, ISO1000

1/320s, F/5.0, ISO1000

1/400s, F/4.6, ISO1250

Even as the dancers make a quick turn of body, the camera can focus quick enough and capture it in motion. With high shutter speed, the pose was frozen, and look, the face was still in focus !!
1/250s, F/4.7, ISO1250

1/400s, F/5.0, ISO1250

1/500s, F/4.8, ISO1250

1/500s, F/4.2, ISO1250



I do admit that the photographs shown in this entry were not really spectacular and are too messy in terms of composition, but that was entirely on my own fault. I saw an opportunity to test out how the camera handled different shades and layers of colours, and how E-P3 brought out the best in Olympus famous colors.

I agree that the overall color balance on stage was far from ideal off due to strange red and purple casts from the beaming spotlights. On the other hand, the natural feel of the image was still well maintained though there was presence of strong color cast, and the image turned out to look very “believable”, and the color cast forgivable. You will see layers and layers of color separation in the colourful traditional costumes of the dancers as well as the backdrop of the stage. Olympus claimed that the greatest improvements made were in the shades of magenta (shades of red/blue/purple) and emerald (shades of blue/green), both can be found throughout the stage performances.


Coming from an Olympus E-System user, I am very impressed with the E-P3’s fast autofocus. This can change how the world perceives PEN entirely. PEN basically has similar (actually better than some current DSLR) image quality as DSLR since they are practically using DSLR 4/3 sized sensor, and now the autofocus speed and reliability have surpassed what DSLR can offer. There really is nothing much to complain about the PEN system. Of course it is not perfect, and some improvements can be made, and I shall be discussing about that in my later entries.

Coming up in the next entry, I shall be pushing the ISO sensitivity, bringing the E-P3 out shooting in the dark.

If you have any questions or feedback, please feel free to say something in the comment section on this blog entry, or email me directly at hamish7ian@gmail.com

46 comments:

  1. your write up is impressive as i like size & weight vs performance. too many times ppl carry everything for 'just in case' and it spoils the adventure. i like the idea of minimal stuff to carry around to enjoy good decent pix and also the experience.

    cheers mate

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  2. Thanks anonymous!!
    Size and weight truly matters for long hour shooting!!

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  3. Dear Robin
    Many thanks for this insight. So the new Pens are very usable for "action" shooting. Is the new focus as good when tracking a subject (running children) when using continuous autofocus or (I now this is a photography blog) using the Movie mode? Just think the Pen must be great to capture family memories...
    Thanks Tobias

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hello Tobias,
    You are most welcome, it was my pleasure to share my experience.
    Unfortunately, I did not do any video test, the task was assignned to another videographer who knows what he is doing. I am a complete newbie when it comes to video.

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  5. wat are your opinions off the top of your head on the "mini" and the "lite" modesl?

    -Marcus

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  6. Thank you.If you please take the time and test the autofocus speed with 4\3rds and previews m4\3rd lenses.

    ReplyDelete
  7. hello Marcus,
    Is this the usual marcus that I know?
    I did not get the chance to use the other two PEN cameras at all, so I shall not make any comments. Will share my thoughts if I get my hands on them.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Anonymous,
    I have already returned the camera to olympus Malaysia.
    I did test my 11-22 and 50mm macro lenses, there was no noticeable improvements in terms of AF speed. It was still not fast and hunts a lot.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Hi Robin,

    I was kinda hoping your action shots would be like taking pictures of people playing sports, children running around the park, or better yet a car racing event to really test the fast AF speed Olympus is promoting with their latest EP3 cameras. As always, your pics does look great and sharp. Still not really really convinced in jumping from 4/3 to micro 4/3 with this camera especially if its not optimized in using their Super HG &HG lenses. Hopefully their PEN Pro would do just that and only then I'll make the switch. Thank you for sharing your thought and experience with the EP3 and I hope you get to review their PEN Pro series as well. Thank you!

    4/3 Oly user
    PS. I hope they make a 4/3 version of their new sensor.

    ReplyDelete
  10. hmmm..now i wonder should i upgrade my epl-1 to ep3 after reading your review.lol.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Hello anonymous,
    I was hoping there would be a sports event for me to test it out but I could not find any. Kids running in a park? You kidding me? Even my dying compact camera can do a good job provided the lighting was good enough. Trust me the stage was more challenging.

    Hafeezghani,
    I am sure you wont regret the upgrade!!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Hi there Robin! Thanks for sharing your experience with the EP-3 and Im thinking if I will get this model for the future, Im also an Oly user (E-30 and E-520) and from the Philippines.

    You can visit us here: http://www.olyclubph.com/portal/index.php

    The Olyclub of the Philippines posted one of your findings and I have been reading your user report carefully, I read your E-5 report too and am glad your back for another testing and this time for the EP-3. I love how you did the real world user testing with the E-5!

    Im still having 2nd thoughts on this model but am getting more and more convinced of really getting it thanks to your findings with the dynamic range - color improvement and AF speed! Though I wished this had the built in EVF ala Fuji X100 for a change.

    Going back to Oly, both the E-30 & E-520 has done wonders for me especially with RAW along side it's amazing ergonomics + fast legacy glass like the OM 50mm F1.4 but I just find the DSLR size too big for my taste now; thus am thinking of getting the smaller Pen model that has the most manual control while having very good image quality but not too pro looking like a DSLR.

    I shoot different kinds of genres and street photography is one I enjoy a lot too, most especially candid moments. Anyway here are some of what I do:

    http://s1198.photobucket.com/albums/aa450/jaime_cumagun/Olympus%20E-30%20and%20E-520%20collection/

    Thanks again for sharing us your field report! Pardon for typing such a long entry as Im really exited over this EP-3 and most especially your findings! I hope you can drop by the olyclubph website, I recently joined and am enjoying there!

    Keep up the good work and best regards from a fellow Oly user in Asia as well. :)

    ReplyDelete
  13. Hi Robin,

    Thanks for the review. I'm currently using E-PL1 and loving it since I'm shooting under available light.

    Now that I'm turning to sports photography at night (here in Singapore), do you think E-P3 would be able to handle the tough requirements of night sports photography (football in a flood-lit stadium) like how a 60D would (I wouldn't benchmark it against a 1D or even a 7D - I'll be more than happy if it can be as good as a 60D)?

    Any info would be much appreciated!

    Cheers!
    KG

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  14. hello Jamie,

    Thank you so much for writing your comments, I appreciate it a lot. I am very glad you find my review work useful, though it was a little unconventional.

    Thank you also for your support since my E-5 review, which was more than half a year ago !! I was lucky enough to be loaned the E-P3 for testing, and I am glad to be able to share my findings with everyone.

    Wow, you have both E-520 and E-30, those are amazing cameras !! I used E-520 extensively both for my hobby and my paid assignments and I love the camera to bits. It was so reliable and it produces very good results, for an entry level camera. E-520 will always have a special place in my heart. I am sure you will find the E-P3 to complement your current DSLR system very well. After all, it still belongs to the same family of great system.

    When I do have more time, I will drop by the forum and say hi. At the mean time I am swarmed with comments and emails to reply, I do hope you understand.

    Thanks again for your generous support.

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  15. hello Kar Gee Tan,
    I have not used the 60D before, certainly I cannot give you a fair comparison. However, the E-P3 AF is extremely fast. Do take note that I did not take the extreme to shoot sports, which is an entirely different genre altogether.
    My honest opinion, currently there is no lenses suitable for night sports. AF is an issue, but to achieve fast enough shutter speed you would need fast lenses (F2, or F2.8 telephoto zoom lenses) to properly freeze action.
    The tele lenses for micro 4/3 do not have such wide apertures. I am not saying you cannot shoot sports with it, but there will be challenges and struggles which I am sure you would be aware of.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Eric from Edmonton Alberta7/03/2011 03:22:00 AM

    I wonder how well would the EP3's AF capability adapts on a regular 4/3 SWD lenses like the 12-60mm, 50-200mm mark II, and the 14-35mm f2. since these lenses were optimized for the Olympus E5 when it first came out especially the first one. Too bad you already returned the camera. Maybe Olympus Malaysia can lend the EP3 to u again. I know there are alot of people out there like me who is very interested to see how well this new PEN can be used on a regular 4/3 lens.

    Otherwise another wonderful review about the Olympus new PEN. Looking forward to the low light capability of this camera.

    Thanks again Robin. Keep up the good work.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Hello Eric,
    Thanks for the compliments again.
    I strongly believe that only 4/3 lenses with CDAF capability such as 14-54mk2, 9-18mm, 25mm pancake would benefit from the new fast AF system on the PEN. the SWD lenses do NOT have CDAF support, hence there should not be nuch of a difference. If there was any improvement at all, I don't think it would be significant.
    I do not think I will be able to get the E-P3 from Olympus Malaysia anytime soon, at the moment they need the cameras for promotional uses. Nonetheless, if I do have the chance to try anything out I will come back to you directly through email.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Excellent report and great pictures. I really appreciate your real world reports. This camera looks like a winner.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Hi Robin

    Thanks for the E-P3 reviews so far.

    The JPEG settings you've been using, are they different from the camera's default settings?

    I'm sure you and others have been reading other E-P3 discussion and there seems to be a lot of 'mixed' reviews about the image quality so far.

    Mind you your shots look pretty good!

    Cheers

    ReplyDelete
  20. Thanks anonymous for the kind comments.
    For the camera settings please read the side note at the beginning/top of the entry. Thanks.or the camera settings please read the side note at the beginning/top of the entry. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Robin, thanks for your excellent reports and pictures.
    It would appear you tested autofocus with two lenses not optimized for the use with EP3. Or were they already updated with a soon to be released firmware?

    ReplyDelete
  22. Hello Peroni,
    Thanks for the compliments.
    Although those two lenses were not optimized for E-P3, but the AF performance was really fast and accurate. I am not sure if they will release any firmware soon, but an update to improve the AF further is always a welcome.

    ReplyDelete
  23. > If they keep improving this kind of technology one day there is no need to press the shutter button halfway to autofocus at all!!

    I think the time of cameras which can read minds is still quite far away. ;)

    ReplyDelete
  24. A great post. It has a cutting edge over many photography blogs that I know of.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Hello ihar,
    the day that the camera can read mind means the day that photographers are no longer needed.

    Hello sintaicharles,
    thanks for such kind words but this is just an ordinary humble blog.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Hardiono Pusponegoro7/03/2011 08:44:00 PM

    Hi Robin,

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I used all Olympus m43 since E-P1, and now using E-PL1 and E-PL2, already sold my E-P2. I also use Panasonic GH2, but never like it.
    I am really waiting for the fast autofocus in Olympus m43. Reading your review makes me very happy.
    Please share other experiences.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Hi Robin

    I read your settings from the article - what I wanted to know was if they were the default settings or not? (e.g. did you change them?)

    Thanks :)

    ReplyDelete
  28. Robin, if the camera focuses so fast even with the old mgr lenses then why would Olympus go through the trouble of releasing new versions of the 14-42 and 40-150?
    Something is not right here. What do you think?

    ReplyDelete
  29. Hardiono,
    thank you so much for your kind words and I am glad you found my blog review useful. I am also glad to see another person enjoying the pen system. The next review entry should be up soon, I am finalizing some details. Keep an eye out!

    Hi anonymous
    sorry I misread your first comment. I did not change anything except the noise filter setting to low. The default setting was standard.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Hello peroni,
    I was being informed by the olympus malaysia representatives that the new 1442 and 40150 lenses only have cosmetic upgrades. Optically and everything else within the exterior shell basically are identical. They are more image conscious now, they are upgrading the looks to match the new PEN camera designs. I hope this clears off some doubts.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Thanks Robin for this clarification.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Hello Peroni,
    No problem, thats the least I could do for many of you who came to visit and posted very nice comments.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Camera companies continue to improve their lcd or oled displays but I have yet to find one that does not wash out in direct sunshine making it impossible to compose a photo at times without an optical or at least an electronic viewfinder. It may be impossible to do so. Even my Sony a33 with its articulating screen does not get around this completely. I know that Olympus will have the optional accessory viewfinder but it must be cumbersome and detracts from the "compactness". What are your views? This is one of the reasons I moved from a point and shoot compact camera.

    ReplyDelete
  34. Camera companies continue to improve their lcd or oled displays but I have yet to find one that does not wash out in direct sunshine making it impossible to compose a photo at times without an optical or at least an electronic viewfinder. It may be impossible to do so. Even my Sony a33 with its articulating screen does not get around this completely. I know that Olympus will have the optional accessory viewfinder but it must be cumbersome and detracts from the "compactness". What are your views? This is one of the reasons I moved from a point and shoot compact camera.

    ReplyDelete
  35. You never cease to amaze me with your fantastic pictures, Robin! It seems that green colors are indeed rendered in a more realistic way now! Unfortunately Olympus has droped the ball with E-p3. The detail loss due to noise reduction in shadows even at Iso 200 is unacceptable to me. If this is their new sensor, than it is simply behind competition again. That's my take on this subject after watching a couple hundreds pictures coming from E-p3.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Hello Prairie boy,
    Thanks for your comments. I understand the frustration of using live view through the display on the OLED or LCD screen, especially under direct sunlight, or against strong source of light. The OLED screen actually helps a lot and is much more usable than the old LCD screen. the electronic viewfinder works, but the main concern is not so much of compactness, it is small and light. The main concern is how fast it drains the batteries off.

    Hey bartosz,
    Thanks for the compliments.
    The noise reduction is NOT due to the sensor. It is part of the JPEG engine, and it does seem that they are making things a little different this time. ISO 200 actually seems fine to me, provided you use noise filter low, or off.

    ReplyDelete
  37. Thanks you for your review and excellent picture series. The E-P3 really has me sitting up and taking notice. Believe it or not, I still have my Oly E1 and my original 14-54 and 50-200mm f2.8-3.5 lenses. I use a Panasonic lumix for a "pocket" camera. Until now, I really haven't felt an urge to upgrade. But the P3 has me drooling.

    I know I can't afford all new lenses though, so I'm happy that with with the addition of an adapter, my old lenses will work. Here's hoping that Oly will offer a body only unit for sale instead of just a body and lens kit. I know I'll be sacrificing focusing speed and adding a lot of bulk, but I've never had massive high speed focusing or m4/3 size anyway. So I doubt I'll miss 'em. Eventually, I could see myself saving up for the new smaller, faster lenses, but faster autofocus in the P3 sounds like it might breathe a bit of life into my "old" lenses.

    ReplyDelete
  38. Hello Ceci,
    Thanks for your kind compliments, I appreciate them.
    Wow, you have been using Olympus since the E1 !! That is one fantastic camera, super solid build and great feel, dont you think? Image quality at ISO100 amd 200 are still to be admired even on today's standards. And oh the colors !!!
    Indeed the smaller camera is the way to go, especially if you intend to bring your camera around much. My suggestion is to at least get the 14=42mm kit lens. It may not produce the best image quality like the DSLR 4/3 lenses but for its size, weight and budget, I do think its great to have around, in case you do need the AF speed.

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  39. sorry, im newbie here, sorry for my noob question.. since u r using 12mm, then to get bokeh in the potrait pictures, u might need to stand near to the object?

    ReplyDelete
  40. hello anonymous, yes if you need bokeh you have to be considerably near to your subject, you were right.

    ReplyDelete
  41. I really enjoy reading your review and viewing many great images.

    I'm very interested in this camera due to the AF performance. I'm considering getting one myself. It did seem to do a great job with the dance performance you took. Do you have an example of when the subject is moving to toward you, like a child running straight at you taken the longest focal length? Many times I have problems when the subject is moving in a different focus plane taken at a long focal length. Hope this camera might help me greatly with that.

    ReplyDelete
  42. Oppps, sorry I forgot to ask how is the AF when doing continue burst shot as well.

    Sorry for double post.

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  43. Hello Anonymous,
    Thanks for your kind compliments.
    For the situation you have described the subject coming to the photographer, you will need to use continous shooting with subject tracking. Sorry I did not test that out, because I am a single focusing shooter.
    I hope other reviews will provide you with the answer.

    ReplyDelete
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    ReplyDelete
  45. Hello Robin!
    This is coming in almost a year later, but I have am curious to know if you ever tried the kit lens of this E-P3 on your E-PL1? I am wondering if I would see the same increase in auto focussing speed if I bought that lens for my E-PL1??? What do you think?

    ReplyDelete