Olympus E-PM2 Review

 
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Olympus E-PM2 Video Recording

Most digital cameras these days offer some form of high-definition video recording features, and as expected the Olympus PEN E-PM2 compact system camera offers just that. The E-PM2's technical specification match almost identically with its sister camera, the E-PL5, and as such the video pages for the two models will be quite similar. Unfortunately for the E-PM2 and E-PL5, video features seem a bit tacked on, with a somewhat limited feature set and only mediocre video quality.

Both cameras offer up to Full HD 1080p video recording at 29.97 frames per second (30p) with full-time autofocus. There is a choice of video file format, with only the MPEG-4 format (saved in an MOV file wrapper) going up to 1,920 x 1,080 resolution. Motion JPEG format (saved as AVI files) is limited to a maximum of 1,280 x 720. There is no choice of frame rate other than 30 fps (or 29.97 in MPEG-4). There are Program Auto, Shutter/Aperture-priority or full Manual exposure modes available for movie mode, but exposure settings cannot be changed during recording. Stereo audio is available in movie mode, with an optional wind-cut filter as well as 3-level volume adjustment. However there is no built-in microphone jack for a standard third-party mic, but Olympus does sell an optional hot-shoe adapter that allows the attachment of a mic with a 3.5mm plug.

At first glance, the E-PM2 (and E-PL5) looks to have a pretty standard fare for consumer-grade video features giving those users the ability to shoot quick HD videos with both full automatic or manual exposure settings. Where the camera falters is with image quality. Heavy compression artifacts can be seen at all video resolutions, especially in 1080p whenever there are moving subjects or the camera moves. It's not as bad in Motion JPEG format, but it's still noticeable. Moiré patterns are also prevalent.

Overall, the E-PM2 is clearly designed with still photography in mind, first and foremost. And while many users will appreciate the option of recording HD video, the video image quality out of the camera leaves a lot to be desired.

Olympus E-PM2 Basic Video Specs

  • 1,920 x 1,080 (Full HD / 1080p), 1,280 x 720 (720p), and 640 x 480 (VGA) recording
  • H.264 compression at Full HD and 720p resolutions, or Motion JPEG compression at 720p or below
  • MOV file format for MPEG-4 AVC/H.264, AVI for Motion JPEG
  • 29.97 progressive frames per second at Full HD and 720p, or 30 frames per second for Motion JPEG
  • Autofocus functions during movie recording, includes tracking function, and is essentially silent with MSC-badged lenses
  • Touch AF allows you tap the touchscreen to select a new focus point during video capture
  • Auto, Shutter/Aperture-priority or full Manual exposure, set before recording
  • EV adjustment is available in Program, Shutter and Aperture Priority AE prior to recording, but not during
  • EV adjustment is available in all auto and semi-auto recording modes
  • Digital image stabilization is used for video recording; sensor-shift stabilizer mechanism is disabled for movies
  • Stereo audio recording via built-in microphones or standard external mics via an optional, hot-shoe-mounted accessory connector
  • "Art Filters" can be applied to video, but most adversely affect framerate, sometimes drastically
  • Video recorded with Diorama filter plays back at ~15x normal speed and has audio disabled
  • Stereo audio recording via built-in microphones, plus external input via optional accessory port adapter
  • Digital tele-converter function adds 2x digital zoom; can be toggled during recording
  • Still + Video mode: movie recording pauses to take a still image. Movie recording restarts after the picture is taken.

Olympus E-PM2 Video: Image Size, Frame Rate, and Encoding

The Olympus E-PM2 records at three different video resolutions in two compression formats, with each combination having a fixed frame rate. Both Full HD (1080p; 1,920 x 1,080 pixel) and 720p (1,280 x 720 pixel) videos are recorded at 29.97 progressive frames per second. In Motion JPEG format, which is available for 720p or VGA (640 x 480 pixel) resolution, the frame rate is fixed at 30 frames per second. In MOV format, users have a choice of two bit rates for each resolution. Regardless of the compression and frame rate, the actual data is clocked off the image sensor at 30 frames per second, and some art filters reduce the captured frame rate significantly.

Unless audio capture is disabled, all movies include Wave Format (Stereo linear PCM/16-bit) stereo audio, with a sampling frequency of 48kHz.

The table below shows the specs for various video recording options.

Olympus E-PL5 Video Options
MPEG-4 Format (H.264, .MOV files)
Resolution
Aspect Ratio
Frame Rate
Average Bit Rate

1,920 x 1,080

16:9

29.97 frames per second
(progressive)

20 Mbps (Fine)
17 Mbps (Normal)

1,280 x 720

16:9

29.97 frames per second
(progressive)

13 Mbps (Fine)
10 Mbps (Normal)
M-JPEG Format (Motion JPEG, .AVI files)
Resolution
Aspect Ratio
Frame Rate
Compression Ratio

1,280 x 720

16:9

30 frames per second
(progressive)

1:12

640 x 480

4:3

1:8

As noted above, the Olympus E-PM2 offers two video recording formats, although if you want Full HD, the choice of format is made for you. The E-PM2's Full HD video is recorded using the MOV format, which is based upon H.264 compression. For VGA resolution and a 720p option, the E-PM2 uses the older, less efficient (but easier to decode) Motion JPEG compression type. At 720p resolution, you can choose between the two formats.

The continuous movie recording duration limit changes depending on file format and bit rate setting. For both 1080p and 720p HD video, recording is limited to approximately 29 minutes for Normal bit rate and 22 minutes for Fine bit rate. For M-JPEG format, the recording time is limited to 7 minutes for HD and 14 minutes for VGA. The maximum movie file size is 4GB for MOV format videos and 2GB for M-JPEG. Olympus recommends use of at least a Class 6 Secure Digital card to avoid issues with write speeds during video capture.

Here are some examples of video shot with our sample of the Olympus E-PM2:

Olympus E-PM2: Video Samples
1,920 x 1,080
29.97fps, H.264 (MOV), Progressive, Fine quality
Download Original
1,280 x 720
29.97fps, H.264 (MOV), Progressive, Fine quality
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
29.97fps, H.264 (MOV), Progressive, Fine quality, Night video
Download Original
1,280 x 720
29.97fps, H.264 (MOV), Progressive, Fine quality, Night video
Download Original
1,280 x 720
30fps, M-JPEG (AVI), Progressive, Night video
Download Original

Olympus E-PM2 Video: Image Quality

The video image quality of the E-PM2 is highly variable depending both on how the video is shot and what file format you use. Despite the great image quality in still images, the same can't be said for video, particularly with 1080p H.264 video. In stationary shots there is an overall lack of crisp, fine details as well as visible compression artifacts over the entire frame. In fast-moving shots where the camera pans quickly to follow a subject, such as in our frisbee video, the compression artifacts increase, severely distorting the image. In the 720p H.264 video, the compression artifacts are slightly less noticeable, but they are still there to a pretty significant degree. When using the Motion JPEG format, compression artifacts are significantly reduced, but Moiré patterns are quite pronounced.

Olympus E-PM2: Compression Artifacts
Frame grabs from rolling shutter sample videos
1080p
Notice the heavy compression artifacts on the 1080p H.264 video.
Click to view the large 1,920 x 1,080 image.
720p h.264
Compression artifacts are still noticeable, but less severe on the 720p H.264 video
compared to 1080p. Click to view the larger 1,280 x 720 image.
720p MotionJPEG
Motion JPEG video is much cleaner in terms of compression artifacts, but Moiré pattern
interference is very apparent. Click to view the larger 1,280 x 720 image.

In our night videos, noise is pretty well-controlled at high ISO levels, and the shadow areas still retain a decent amount of detail. As we saw in the daytime videos, there still seems to be a lot of compression noise/artifacts in the H.264 videos, but not in the Motion JPEG format.

Olympus E-PM2 Video: Focusing

Like many other video-capable compact system cameras, the E-PM2 provides full-time autofocus during video recording. The E-PM2 offers all the same focusing settings in video mode as in still image mode. In Single-Point AF mode, the shooter can autofocus using a half-press of the shutter button. This can be done both before and during recording. And thanks to its new touchpanel LCD, the E-PM2 also supports Touch AF, allowing you to change focus while recording just by tapping on a new focus point, though we did find that Touch AF didn't seem to work when movie effects were enabled.

In the standard S-AF mode, there is no option of manual focus, for that the user must chose a separate "S-AF+MF" setting to enable manual focusing abilities. There is also a full "MF" mode for complete manual focusing. In addition to the regular Continuous AF mode (C-AF) there is also a subject tracking continuous autofocus mode that will adjust the focus to follow the subject through the entire frame. The camera does feature face tracking as well as face and eye tracking priority settings for fine-tuning the AF tracking system. The facial tracking feature is also available in Manual Focus to identity faces, but as expected will not autofocus on them.

It's interesting to note that in manual focus mode, there is still the ability to autofocus, and autofocus continuously, by pressing the "Fn" button. Note: this only works if you have Movie Effect disabled in the Movie menu. Simply press the Fn button to autofocus similar to a half-press of the shutter button in S-AF mode.

Unlike some other cameras, there is no ability to to magnify the Live View screen to assist in manual focus when in movie mode nor are there more advanced focus features such as focus peaking.

Olympus E-PM2 Video: Exposure Control

Photographers out taking still images have the option to immediately start shooting video thanks to the dedicated record button located right near the thumb rest on the E-PM2. Recording this way, video exposure is completely automated, regardless of what still image mode the camera is in. Users looking to have full exposure control must switch over to Movie Mode, which includes its own set of Program Auto, Aperture-/Shutter-Priority and Manual exposure modes.

These modes work just like they would in still image mode in regards to setting the aperture or shutter speed, however once recording has begun exposure settings cannot be changed. In both Shutter-Priority and Manual mode, the shutter speed is limited to no slower than 1/30th of a second. The ISO level is set to Auto in all exposure modes other than Manual. Auto ISO is not available in Manual mode, and the ISO value cannot be changed during video recording, only prior.

Art Filters. A selection of various creative effects that can be applied to stills as well as video.

The E-PM2 features a plethora of Art Filters and Scene modes, such as Pin Hole, Cross Process, Watercolor and Grainy Film, that users can enable to add some creative special effects to their videos. However, we found that some of these filters severely slow down the video framerate to make movies very stuttery. Also, audio is disabled when using the "Diorama" art filter. Users also have the option of toggling a set of Movie Effects shortcuts that let you quickly bring up an Art Filters menu (which fade between scenes), an odd "persistence of vision" ghosting effect, as well as a one-time or continuous "Echo" effect that displays an after-image.

Exposure compensation is available in all exposure modes except Manual mode, and is only adjustable prior to recording. White Balance is fully adjustable in all Movie exposure modes prior to recording.

Olympus E-PM2 Video: Image Stabilization

The E-PM2 does feature a form of image stabilization for Movie Mode, but it's different than the IS mode used for still images. In still image modes, the E-PM2 uses Sensor Shift Technology to physically move the sensor to compensate for minor camera movements and shakes. In movie modes or while recording any video, the camera uses a digital image stabilization that crops in on the image and digitally moves the "crop" around the sensor surface to counteract camera movements. There are two settings for I.S. in movie mode, "Movie I.S.," which compensates for camera movements in all directions as well as reducing shakes that occur while walking, and "Auto," which just affects directional camera movements. Furthermore, there are manual focal length settings for I.S. with non-Olympus lenses. These have a range of 8mm to 1000mm, and users simply choose the focal length that matches the lens. Users also have the option to disable IS completely.

There's a strange distortion that can occur when using Movie IS "Mode 1" (listed as M-IS 1 in the menu system). If you move or tilt the camera up and down quickly the image can become oddly distorted with wobbly, Jello-like effect. However, if you are careful and pan slowly or use side-to-side movement, this I.S. mode works great to smooth out vibrations and shakiness.

Olympus E-PM2 Video: Audio Recording

The E-PM2 offers fairly limited audio recording capabilities right out of the box. Stereo audio is recorded in Wave Format (Stereo linear PCM/16-bit) with a sampling frequency of 48kHz through separate left and right channel microphones on either side of the hot shoe. In theory, this greater separation between the left and right channels of the audio should provide a better stereo effect, although we have no way of objectively testing this.

mic

External Mic. Sold separately, the Olympus SEMA-1 mic kit includes an external mic and accepts 3.5mm inputs.

Other audio options include a 3-level adjustments for both the wind noise filter and recording volume -- Low, Standard and High. Unfortunately, there is no option to adjust the recording volume during recording, nor is a more fine-grained control for the recording volume. Therefore users wishing to have more control over their audio should resort to using an external audio recorder and sync audio in post-production.

There is no microphone jack built-in to the camera body, but Olympus does sell an external hot-shoe adapter that adds the familiar 3.5mm mic jack. Users should be careful about any handling noises while recording video as the internal mic is very prone to picking up these sounds. Users have the option to disable sound recording altogether, which is easy to toggle with a quick press of the OK button and scrolling to the mic symbol.

Olympus E-PM2 Video: Movie Recording / Playback User Interface

As mentioned earlier, the E-PM2 has the ability to start recording video in any still shooting mode. Simply press the red Movie Record button near the thumb rest area, and the camera will start recording video. The E-PM2 does have a dedicated Movie Mode that includes its own set of quick menu settings, as well as its own set of exposure modes that are not the same as the P, A, S, and M modes used for still capture.

Tap the Shooting Mode icon and then tap the movie camera icon to switch to Movie Mode. Press the "OK" button and the Movie Mode menu will slide into view, providing quick access to most of the settings necessary in customizing your video shooting. From this menu, users can access everything from file format and resolution, ISO and Image Stabilization to Autofocus modes, AF tracking and exposure modes.

Some movie functions, such as enabling or disabling Movie Effects or adjusting the Wind Noise Reduction or Recording Volume, must be accessed in the primary camera menus, as shown at right.

The playback system on the E-PM2 is very straightforward, there's no hopping through various media folders to access stills or videos. On the E-PM2, everything is all in one place and is quickly viewed by pressing the Playback button near the top left corner. Users can scroll through all media quickly and play back videos by pressing the OK button and selecting "Movie Play."

Rolling Shutter Artifacts ("Jello Effect")

Olympus E-PM2: Rolling Shutter Artifacts
1,920 x 1,080
29.97fps, H.264 (MOV), Progressive, Fine quality
Download Original
1,280 x 720
29.97fps, H.264 (MOV), Progressive, Fine quality
Download Original
1,280 x 720
30fps, M-JPEG (AVI), Progressive
Download Original

Almost every video-capable digital SLR and compact system camera currently available experience some amount of motion-related distortion called rolling shutter artifacts, also known as the "Jello Effect." This results from the way the information is read from the cameras' sensors; data from the image sensor is read in rows rather than from the entire sensor all at once. This causes the image, particularly vertical lines like edges of buildings or trees, to appear to bend left or right in a Jello-like manner if you pan or spin the camera quickly.

As you can see from the videos above, the E-PM2 does not do a very good job of handling rolling shutter artifacts. In both H.264 and Motion JPEG and at both video resolutions, the rolling shutter effect is pretty pronounced with vertical lines like the tall trees and the edges of the house becoming heavily distorted and "wobbly" -- hence the name "Jello Effect."

Typically there is not much a shooter can do about rolling shutter effects other than to be aware of them and shoot his or her videos accordingly. There are plug-ins for video editing and motion graphics software that attempt to reduce the effect on your footage, but it's not a 100% surefire solution and some plug-ins can be quite expensive.

Computer Requirements for Viewing HD Video

A typical computer these days has little trouble dealing with still images, but high-definition video can be another matter. Depending on the file format involved, it can take a pretty beefy computer to handle HD-resolution video playback without stuttering or dropping frames. The H.264 image compression used by the Olympus E-PM2 is one of the more computer-intensive formats, and its high maximum resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels resolution means there's a lot of data in each frame to deal with. The net result is that you'll need a reasonably recent computer to play the E-PM2's Full HD video files smoothly, and will want a pretty powerful machine for Full HD video editing. When recording at 720p resolution or below, you can opt for Motion JPEG compression, though, which is one of the less compute-intensive formats and should prove easier to edit (albeit less efficient to store.)

You can of course view your movies on a high definition TV via the HDMI output, or a standard-def TV via the combined USB/AV output.

 

Olympus E-PM2

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