Olympus E-P2 Review
Olympus E-P2 Image Quality
Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Good color and hue accuracy overall, with minor oversaturation of strong reds and blues.
Skin tones. Here, the Olympus E-P2 also did well, producing natural-looking skin tones, just slightly on the pinkish side. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc.
Hue. The Olympus E-P2 did push cyan toward blue, red toward orange and yellow toward green, but shifts were relatively minor to moderate. Overall accuracy was still very good. (The cyan to blue shift is very common among the digital cameras we test; we think it's a deliberate choice by camera engineers to produce better-looking sky colors.) Hue is "what color" the color is.
The Olympus E-P2 lets you adjust the image saturation, contrast, and sharpness in five steps each. As can be seen below, the saturation adjustment was quite effective, covers a useful range, and does a good job of not impacting contrast.
|Saturation Adjustment Examples|
The table above shows results with the default as well as the two extreme saturation settings. Click on any thumbnail above, then click again to see the full-sized image.
|See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images
Exposure and White Balance
Indoors, incandescent lighting
Very warm cast with Auto, but good color with the Incandescent and Manual settings. Average positive exposure compensation required.
|Auto White Balance
|Incandescent White Balance
|Manual White Balance
Indoors, under normal incandescent lighting, color balance was very warm with the Auto white balance setting. Results with the Incandescent setting were quite good, very similar to the Manual setting, which was the most accurate. The 2,600 Kelvin setting was quite cool with a blue-green tint. The Olympus E-P2 required an average amount of positive exposure compensation here, at +0.3 EV. Overall color looks good, though the blue flowers look slightly purplish, probably due to the E-P2's tendency to punch up reds a little. ((Many digital cameras reproduce the blue flowers here with more of a purplish tint, so the Olympus E-P2 actually performs a bit better than average here.) Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.)
Bright colors overall, though a tendency toward high contrast under harsh lighting. About average exposure accuracy.
|Auto White Balance,
|Auto White Balance,
Outdoors, the Olympus E-P2 performed pretty well, with good color but slight overexposure in the outdoor far-field house shot. The Olympus E-P2 required an average amount of positive exposure compensation (+0.7 EV) to keep facial tones bright on the "sunlit" portrait test. That left the model's face a little dark, but there were still a lot of blown highlights in her shirt. Default contrast is on the high side, but fortunately, there's a contrast adjustment to help compensate. Overall, good results here, especially when the contrast setting is turned down (see Extremes section below).
Very high resolution, 1,700 ~ 1,800 lines of strong detail.
|Strong detail to
1,800 lines horizontal
|Strong detail to
1,700 lines vertical
|Strong detail to
1,800 lines horizontal
ACR processed ORF
|Strong detail to
1,700 lines vertical
ACR processed ORF
In camera JPEGs our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,800 lines per picture height horizontally, and about 1,700 lines in the vertical direction. Extinction didn't occur until about 2,600 to 2,700 lines horizontally and vertically. We weren't able to extract much more resolution by processing the E-P2's ORF files using Adobe Camera Raw. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail.
Sharpness & Detail
Good sharpness overall, though edge-enhancement artifacts on high-contrast subjects are visible. Moderate noise suppression visible in the shadows.
|Good definition of high-contrast
elements with some visible
|Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur
detail in areas of subtle contrast.
Sharpness. The Olympus E-P2 captures fairly sharp images overall, though quite a few edge enhancement artifacts are visible on high-contrast subjects such as the branches, roof and trim in the crop above left. Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.
Detail. The crop above right shows some moderate noise suppression artifacts in the darkest areas of the model's hair, smudging individual strands together, though quite a few strands are visible. Overall detail is better than average for a Four-Thirds sensor, and better than quite a few APS-C sensors as well. Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears.
RAW vs In-Camera JPEGs
As noted above, the Olympus E-P2 produces fairly sharp in-camera JPEGs. As is almost always the case, though, quite a bit more detail can be obtained from carefully processing RAW files than can be seen in the in-camera JPEGs. The Olympus E-P2's JPEGs are good straight from the camera, but it's surprising how much more detail is visible after processing in a good RAW converter. Take a look below, to see what we mean:
In the table above, mousing over a link at the bottom will load the corresponding crop in the area above, and clicking on the link will load the full resolution image.
As you can see, the Olympus Master 2 conversion resulted in an image very similar to the in-camera JPEG in terms of detail. The Adobe Camera Raw conversion however contains more fine detail than the camera JPEG, while at the same time showing fewer sharpening artifacts: Like the Olympus E-P1, the E-P2 rewards RAW shooters with really excellent detail.
ISO & Noise Performance
Low noise up to ISO 400, moderate to high at higher ISOs. Very good performance for a Four-Thirds sensor.
Default High ISO Noise Reduction
|ISO 100||ISO 200||ISO 400|
|ISO 800||ISO 1,600||ISO 3,200|
The Olympus E-P2's images are quite clean at ISO 100, and ISO 200 is almost as good. We start to see some bright as well as dark noise pixels at ISO 400, but detail is still very good, with just a hint of chroma noise creeping into the shadows. ISO 800 is quite a bit softer due to more aggressive noise reduction, but detail is not too bad. At ISO 1,600, we see additional detail loss, as well as more obvious purple and yellow blotches in shadow areas. At ISO 3,200, noise grain is coarser and blurring is stronger still, as you'd expect. The yellow and purple chroma noise is also a lot stronger. ISO 6,400 is very noisy, having very little fine detail and also a strong purplish color cast, especially in darker areas. All things considered, the Olympus E-P2's high-ISO images are quite good for a Four-Thirds sensor camera, and very similar to the E-P1's. As always, see the Print Quality section below for maximum recommended print sizes at each ISO.
A note about focus for this shot: We shoot this image at f/4, using one of three very sharp reference lenses (70mm Sigma f/2.8 macro for most cameras, 60mm f/2.8 Nikkor macro for Nikon bodies without a drive motor, and Olympus Zuiko 50mm f/2.0 for Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds bodies). To insure that the hair detail we use for making critical judgements about camera noise processing and detail rendering is in sharp focus at the relatively wide aperture we're shooting at, the focus target at the center of the scene is on a movable stand. This lets us compensate for front- or back-focus by different camera bodies, even those that lack micro-focus adjustments. This does mean, though, that the focus target itself may appear soft or slightly out of focus for bodies that front- or back-focused with the reference lens. If you click to view the full-size image for one of these shots and notice that the focus target is fuzzy, you don't need to email and tell us about it; we already know it. :-) The focus target position will simply have been adjusted to insure that the rest of the scene is focused properly.
Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
High resolution with good overall detail, but somewhat high default contrast and limited dynamic range. Good low-light performance, but metering struggled quite a bit at lower light levels.
|+0.3 EV||+0.7 EV||+1.0 EV|
Sunlight. The Olympus E-P2 struggled a bit with the deliberately harsh lighting of this test, as its contrast was a little high at its default setting, and the dynamic range was somewhat limited. Shadow detail is pretty good though, albeit a bit noisy. (Compared some other cameras, including earlier Olympus models, we prefer seeing a bit of noise in the shadows to the alternative of lots of detail lost due to noise suppression.) Although we liked the detail in the shirt better at +0.3 EV with the default contrast, we preferred the +0.7 EV exposure overall, because the exposure of the skin tone in the face was better, without blowing out as many highlights as with +1.0 EV. Depending on the photographer, you could lean one way or the other. Pros and advanced users will want to shoot darker, to hold highlight detail. For those E-P2 owners that are going to want to just print an image, the +0.7 image would probably produce the best-looking print with little or no tweaking. The bottom line though, is that the E-P2 had difficulty with the wide dynamic range of this shot, at least with its default settings at ISO 100.
Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here. In actual shooting conditions, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown here; it's better to shoot in open shade whenever possible.)
As mentioned previously, the camera's contrast adjustment was at least some help in handling the harsh lighting.
|Contrast set to lowest,
|Contrast set to lowest,
At its lowest contrast setting, the Olympus E-P2 did a better job of preserving highlight detail, maintaining fairly natural-looking skin tones, and holding more in the shadows, but the limited dynamic range makes it perform a bit below average in this regard. These shots were taken at ISO 100. ISO 200 improves dynamic range a bit.
|Contrast Adjustment Examples|
The shots above show the results of the minimum, default and maximum contrast settings. While you can see the extremes, it's pretty hard to evaluate small differences in contrast on small thumbnails like these, click on any thumbnail to go to the full-size image. The Olympus E-P2's contrast adjustment helps a little with the strong highlights here, but we'd really like to see slightly greater range, at the low end. Even with the lowest contrast setting, the dynamic range isn't terribly impressive: While dropping the exposure slightly helps the highlights, and the contrast adjustment opened up the shadows somewhat, the camera still struggles with the deliberately harsh lighting of this test. (Which means it will also have issues with strong, direct sunlight.)
|Dynamic Range vs ISO Sensitivity|
|ISO 100, f/8, 1/250s||ISO 200, f/8, 1/500s|
As was true for the E-P1, it's important to note that for maximum dynamic range, you should select ISO 200 when shooting with the Olympus E-P2. Although Olympus doesn't say, we think this is the E-P2's native ISO and why Auto ISO starts at ISO 200. While there is a bit more noise at ISO 200 versus 100, dynamic range is better, as can be seen in the highlights and shadows of Far Field shots above. The E-P2 also offers four Gradation options (Normal, Auto, High and Low Key). The above shots were taken with Gradation set to Normal.
|Off at 0 EV||On at 0 EV|
Like most Point & Shoot cameras these days (and some DSLRs in Live View mode), the Olympus E-P2 has the ability to detect faces, and adjust exposure and focus accordingly. The E-P2 does it automatically in iAuto mode, when a Portrait scene mode is selected, or when Face Detection AF mode is selected. As you can see from the examples above, it really works, as the image with face detection enabled is much better exposed for the face, an excellent performance under very difficult lighting such as this.
Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here.)
Low light. The Olympus E-P2 exposure metering struggled in our low light test, causing severe underexposure at the lowest light level when using aperture priority autoexposure. We had to resort to trial and error in manual mode to get the exposure right at the dimmest light level, then adjusted shutter speed to match the increase in light at successively higher levels. Noise is low up to ISO 400, though there are a few hot pixels visible at lower light levels. White balance is quite neutral, and there doesn't appear to be any sign of banding at any ISO, an increasingly common issue lately.
The camera's autofocus system was able to focus on the subject down to almost the 1/8 foot-candle light level unassisted with the 14-42mm kit lens. That isn't as good as most DSLRs, but very good for a camera using contrast-detect autofocus. We did however notice the camera sometimes gave false focus confirmation at lower light levels. The E-P2 unfortunately does not have a built-in focus assist lamp.
How bright is this? The one foot-candle light level that this test begins at roughly corresponds to the brightness of typical city street-lighting at night. Cameras performing well at that level should be able to snap good-looking photos of street-lit scenes.
NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) Thanks to their phase-detect AF systems, digital SLRs tend to do much better than point & shoots, but you still shouldn't expect a quick autofocus lock with moving subjects. The E-P2 uses contrast-detect autofocus, as is found in most point & shoot cameras, so its low-light focusing ability is less than that of most SLRs with phase-detect systems. That said, though, the larger, more sensitive pixels of the E-P2's sensor do better under dim lighting than do the tiny pixels of most point & shoots, (A useful trick is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. This avoids any jiggling from your finger pressing the shutter button, and can work quite well when you don't have a tripod handy.)
Excellent print quality, good color, good-looking 16x20-inch prints from camera JPEGs, quite usable 20x30-inch prints. RAW files can access even more detail.
ISO 200 and 400 shots are also usable at 20x30 inches, but ISO 400 shots tighten up a bit more to what we'd call tack sharp at 16x20.
ISO 800 shots are still reasonably good at 16x20, with only minor luminance noise.
ISO 1,600 shots are usable at 13x19 inches, but come back to what we'd call sharp at 11x14 inches.
ISO 3,200 shots are grainy at 11x14, though still usable for wall display; for greater sharpness, though, stick to letter size or 8x10. Color does fade a bit at this size as well.
ISO 6,400 shots are a little too soft for 8x10, but look quite good at 5x7.
Overall, a very impressive performance from the Olympus E-P2.
Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon Pro9000 Mark II studio printer, and the Canon Pixma MP610 here in the office. (See the Canon Pixma Pro9000 Mark II review for details on that model.)
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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.