Olympus E1 SLRThe first "Four Thirds" system (almost) sees the light of day!
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E1 Sample ImagesReview First Posted: 06/24/2003, Updated: 03/16/2004
Digital Cameras - Olympus E-1 Digital SLR Test Images
|I've begun including links in our reviews to a Thumber-generated index page for the test shots. The Thumber data includes a host of information on the images, including shutter speed, ISOsetting, compression setting, etc. Rather than clutter the page below with *all*that detail, we're posting the Thumber index so only those interested inthe information need wade through it!|
|Outdoor Portrait: |
The extreme tonal range of this image makes it a tough shot for many digicams, which is precisely why I set it up this way, and why I shoot it with no fill flash or reflector to open the shadows. The object is to hold both highlight and shadow detail without producing a "flat" picture with muddy colors, and the E-1 did a pretty good job here.
The shot at right was taken with a +1.0 EV exposure compensation adjustment, which captures pretty good midtone detail although the strongest highlights are a bit blown out. The midtones are just a little dark, but really not too bad. I chose the Daylight white balance setting as the most accurate overall, though the Auto setting also produced good results. The Manual white balance was a bit warm, and the 5,300 Kelvin setting just a hint reddish. (I also snapped sample images with the 4,500, 4,800, and 6,000 Kelvin white balance settings, so readers could see how the Kelvin-based white balance affected the images.)
Overall color looks good, with fairly accurate skin tones. (I would personally like just a bit less saturation in them though.) The blue flowers in the bouquet dead-on in terms of hue, but a little darker than in real life. (This is a very difficult blue for many digicams to get right.) The strong reds look about right, and saturation is pretty good overall (just slightly low), but the greens look a little dull relative to the original subject. Resolution is excellent, with a lot of fine detail visible throughout the frame, even in the shadows. Image noise in the shadows is low. Following are contrast and saturation series, and a side-by-side comparison of the default image and images with contrast and saturation adjustments.
To view the entire exposure series from zero to +2.0 EV, see files E-1OUTDP0.HTM through E-1OUTDP6.HTM on the thumbnail index page.
The series of images below show the interaction of the E-1's contrast and saturation settings. All were shot within a few minutes of each other, so light conditions are identical between them. (Note though, that all of these were shot at a different time than was the main shot above, so the sun angle is quite different. It's thus only valid to compare these three images with each other, not with the main shot above.) What I found was that the E-1's saturation setting also affected contrast a fair bit. On the flip side, the contrast adjustment had a slight effect on color saturation, but it was fairly minimal.
Increased resolution and detail, but once again high contrast, and a slight oversaturation of the skin tones.
Like the wider shot above, the E-1's default contrast is again rather high here. Midtones are dark, and the brightest highlights have practically no detail. The shot at right was taken with a +1.0 EV exposure compensation adjustment, more than what is typically required for this shot. Detail and resolution are much stronger in Marti's face and hair, with good definition.
To view the entire exposure series from zero to +1.7 EV, see files E-1FACAP0.HTM through E-1FACAP5.HTM on the thumbnail index page.
Indoor Portrait, Flash:
Very good performance with the external flash.
The E-1 doesn't offer a built-in flash unit, but does accommodate external flashes via a top-mounted hot shoe. I first shot with my ancient SunPak flash pointed directly at the subject, which did a pretty good job illuminating the subject fairly evenly. Color looks good, though just slightly pinkish on the back wall. Next, I bounced the flash off of the ceiling, which produced more even lighting. Overall color looks much better, with good saturation. (Even the difficult blue flowers in the bouquet are nearly right.) I didn't have one available while performing these tests, but past experience with Olympus' FL-50 dedicated flash on other cameras was very positive - I highly recommend it to prospective E-1 purchasers.
Indoor Portrait, No Flash:
Good color from the Manual white balance setting, though slightly warm. Higher than average positive exposure compensation needed.
This shot is always a very tough test of a camera's white balance capability, given the strong, yellowish color cast of the household incandescent bulbs used for the lighting. (This is such a common light source in the US that it's important for digicams to be able to handle it.) The E-1's white balance system had a little trouble here, producing warm color balances. The Auto setting produced the strongest cast, while the 3,000 Kelvin setting was a little better, but still a bit too highly colored for my tastes. (This light source is about 2500-2600K.) The Manual setting produced the best overall color, leaving just enough warmth in the image to suggest the mood of the original setting. The main shot required a +1.3 EV exposure compensation adjustment, which is a bit higher than average for this shot. Color is pretty good, though dark and muted, with purplish tints in the blue flowers. (Really to be expected, given the light source used.)
Slightly warm color balance with the Auto setting, but very high resolution and detail.
Though slightly warm and yellowish, I chose the E-1's Auto white balance setting for the main shot, as the Manual setting was too cool and blue. (The Daylight setting produced nearly identical results as the Auto setting.) Resolution is very high, with an excellent level of detail visible in the tree limbs above the roof and in the front shrubbery. (The E-1's five-megapixel CCD stretches the limits of this poster as a test target. Even though the poster was made from a 500MB scan of a 4x5 negative shot with a tack-sharp lens, the E-1 is close to extracting all the detail that's to be found here.) Details are just slightly soft, but still well-defined. Exposure is slightly dark, but overall results are still good.
Excellent resolution and detail, with a good dynamic range.
This image is shot at infinity to test far-field lens performance. NOTE that this image cannot be directly compared to the other "house" shot, which is a poster, shot in the studio. The rendering of detail in the poster will be very different than in this shot, and color values (and even the presence or absence of leaves on the trees!) will vary in this subject as the seasons progress. In general though, you can evaluate detail in the bricks, shingles and window detail, and in the tree branches against the sky. Compression artifacts are most likely to show in the trim along the edge of the roof, in the bricks, or in the relatively "flat" areas in the windows.
This is my ultimate "resolution shot," given the infinite range of detail in a natural scene like this, and the E-1 does an excellent job. The tree limbs over the roof and fine foliage in front of the house show strong detail, with great definition in the leaf patterns. In-camera sharpening does a good job here as well, as details are crisp throughout the frame. Exposure was slightly dim at the default setting, so I tried boosting the exposure to +0.3 EV. However, the exposure boost resulted in a loss of detail in the bright white paint surrounding the bay window, so I went with the default setting for the main example above. Detail is fairly strong in the shadow area above the front door, evidence of the E-1's good dynamic range, but there's quite a lot of noise in the shadows as well. Overall color looks good from the Auto white balance setting. The table below shows a standard resolution and quality series, followed by ISO, contrast, saturation, sharpness series, as well as one showing the effects of the E-1's four preset "color matrix" selective saturation adjustments.
To view the entire exposure series from -0.3 to +0.7 EV, see files E-1FARSHQM1.HTM through E-1FARSHQP2.HTM on the thumbnail index page.
Lens Zoom Range
Zoom range depends on lens used.
I routinely shoot this series of images to show the field of view for each camera, with the lens at full wide angle, at maximum telephoto, and at full telephoto with the digital zoom enabled. The E-1 accommodates a range of E-1-dedicated Zuiko lenses, so performance here will vary with the lens in use. The shots below were taken with the 14-54mm lens that's more or less the default optic in the E-1 system.
Reddish color cast in response to the large amount of blue in the composition, but excellent detail.
This shot is often a tough test for digicams, as the abundance of blue in the composition frequently tricks white balance systems into producing a warm color balance. The E-1's Auto and Daylight white balance settings produced nearly identical images, each with a slight reddish cast. The Manual setting resulted in a very cool image. Despite the red cast, I preferred the skin tones of the Auto setting over the pale, blue skin tones of the Manual white balance. The red cast also results in purplish tints in the blue background, as well as in the shadow areas of the blue robe. Resolution is excellent, as the E-1 is definitely capable of showing more detail than the poster has in it. (The original data file for this poster was only 20 megabytes.)
Coverage will depend entirely on the lens used. Good detail and resolution.
Macro performance on the E-1 will vary depending on the lens in use, but with its standard 14-54mm lens, the camera captured a slightly large macro area at 5.33 x 4.00 inches (135 x 102 millimeters). Resolution is very high, as the dollar bill, coins, and brooch show a lot of detail. Details are just slightly soft, but still well defined. Exposure is slightly dim, and flash performance will depend on the type of flash in use.
"Davebox" Test Target
Good overall exposure, but a warm color cast with auto and daylight settings. Default color is a little muted
Both the E-1's Auto and Daylight white balance settings produced warm images, while the Manual setting resulted in a nearly accurate white value. With its default settings, the E-1 underexposed the subject slightly, giving the large white color block a gray tint. (Like many pro-level cameras, the E-1's exposure system tries to make sure it doesn't lose highlight detail. This tends to result in images that look dark to an amateur's eye, but that pros will prefer because all the relevant detail is preserved, and the tonality can be adjusted on the computer later.) The E-1 distinguishes the subtle tonal variations of the Q60 target well, all the way to the "B" range. Though dark, the large color blocks are fairly accurate, although the saturation is a bit low on some of them, particularly the bright green block. The shadow area of the charcoal briquettes shows fairly strong detail, with low noise, and the last steps of both gray scales are just visible.
RGB "Color Matrix" Series:
Excellent low-light performance, with good color balance and reasonably low noise.
The E-1 offers full manual exposure control, a wide range of ISO equivalents, and a maximum exposure time of 60 seconds (plus a Bulb setting for longer exposures). Thus, the camera performed very well in my low-light testing. The E-1 produced clear, bright, usable images down to the 1/16 foot-candle (0.67 lux) limit of my test, with good color at all of the available ISO settings. Given the available Bulb shutter setting, there's no question that the E-1 could produce good images at even darker light levels as well. Noise is kept pretty well under control up to the 1,600 ISO setting, where it increases a great deal. The camera's Noise Reduction system is pretty good at reducing image noise, but at ISO 1,600 and 3,200, it only removes the brighter pixels of noise and leaves a fairly thick pattern. As noted earlier though, the E-1 generally has higher image noise at high ISO values than most of its competitors. The table below shows the best exposure I was able to obtain for each of a range of illumination levels. Images in this table (like all sample photos) are untouched, exactly as they came from the camera.
Flash Range Test
I normally test a camera's built-in flash capabilities over a distance from eight to 14 feet here, but the E-1 has no internal flash unit. Thus, flash performance will be entirely a function of the external strobe system you use with it.
Very high resolution, 1,300 lines of "strong detail."
The E-1 performed very well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 1,000 lines per picture height, in both horizontal and vertical directions. I found "strong detail" out to at least 1,300 lines. "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until about 1,600 lines. (Here's a sample image with Adobe Photoshop unsharp masking applied.)
Optical distortion on the E-1 will of course depend on the lens in use. Shooting with Olympus' 14-54 mm lens, however, I noticed very low distortion at both zoom settings. At wide angle, I only found about 0.2 percent of distortion, which was actually composed of a combination of pincushion and barrel distortion. (Both the very low distortion level and the unusual variation in the direction of the distortion across the image may be effects of Olympus' in-camera distortion correction, a key component of the E-1/Zuiko lens system.) The telephoto end showed only a half-pixel of barrel distortion. Chromatic aberration is very low, showing only about four pixels of coloration on either side of the target lines. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.)
Resolution Series, Wide Angle
The E-1 has a range of sharpness adjustments. Here, I shot a series at wide angle and at telephoto, at a range of lens apertures, each with no sharpening and high sharpening applied.
Viewfinder Accuracy/Flash Uniformity
Excellent accuracy from the TTL optical viewfinder.
The E-1 is a digital SLR, meaning that the optical viewfinder shows the actual view through the lens. (The camera's LCD monitor is reserved for image review and LCD menu display.) The TTL optical viewfinder proved very accurate, showing 99+ percent frame accuracy at both wide angle and telephoto zoom settings, and excellent performance. (You'd expect that SLRs would always show exactly 100% of the subject through their viewfinders, but this is far from the case. Many of them show only about 95% of the final image area in the viewfinder.)
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