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Olympus PEN E-P3 photo samples

The E-P3 renders excellent colors, but it could use some tweaking in its JPEG settings for optimal noise reduction and sharpening.

Lori Grunin
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
Lori Grunin
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1 of 7 Matthew Fitzgerald/CNET

Noise

Without the ability to view the raw files, it's hard to make a judgment about the camera's best noise level, and the E-P3 complicates it by defaulting to what I think is an overly aggressive setting in the JPEGs. The midrange ISO sensitivities here look a little better than in shots taken in the field (see subsequent slides), but I generally wouldn't shoot JPEG beyond ISO 200 with this camera in standard noise reduction, and guesstimate not beyond ISO 800 for raw. On these shots, you can see the detail start to degrade between ISO 400 and 800, and spot the color noise at ISO 1,600.
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2 of 7 Lori Grunin/CNET

Noise reduction, ISO 400

You can imagine how disappointing it was to see this point-and-shoot-quality JPEG noise reduction at ISO 400, especially given that it was shot with the expensive new 12mm lens.

(1/100 sec, f3.5, ESP metering, AWB, ISO 400, standard NR, 12mm lens)

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3 of 7 Lori Grunin/CNET

Noise reduction compared, ISO 800

Here you can see how aggressive the noise suppression is at the camera's default (standard) setting. The low setting displays more grain, but it retains far more detail. I suspect that shooting raw and processing with better noise-reduction software will gain you at least a stop of latitude of grain.

(1/30 sec, f2.0, center-weighted metering, AWB, ISO 800, 12mm lens)

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4 of 7 Lori Grunin/CNET

ISO 800, no noise reduction

Turning off in-camera noise reduction entirely for the JPEGs produces better results than you'd expect--another reason why I think this is a raw-shooter's camera.

(1/30 sec, f2.0, center-weighted metering, AWB, ISO 800, 12mm lens)

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5 of 7 Lori Grunin/CNET

Flash

A combination of its tendency to underexpose and a flash without a lot of throw (despite a guide number typical for its class) results in very nicely exposed close-up flash shots. Olympus includes a couple of useful flash options: you can opt to keep a warm white balance when shooting with flash in auto WB, and you can set it specifically to change to flash WB when using flash.

(1/60 sec, f3.5, center-weighted metering, AWB, ISO 200, 14-42mm II lens at 14mm)

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6 of 7 Lori Grunin/CNET

Sharpness, 14-42mm lens

Like the noise reduction, the default sharpening seems a bit aggressive to me; this is sharper than I'd like unless I were going straight to print. It's a very consumer look that doesn't belong in a camera of this class.

(1/160 sec, f7.1, +0.3 exposure, spot metering, AWB, ISO 200, standard NR, 14-42mm lens at 30mm)

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7 of 7 Lori Grunin/CNET

Color

The E-P3's color rendering looks quite accurate and pleasantly saturated. It helps that the camera defaults to a neutral image style.

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