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DxOMark test results for the Olympus Pen E-P3

DxOMark reveals that the Pen E-P3's LiveMOS sensor is not as new as it would seem

 

There has been much speculation about the new 12 megapixel LiveMOS sensor used by Olympus in the new Pens that were revealed late last month. It's definitely new - it has a doubled frame read out speed (from 60 frames per second to 120 fps), which enables smoother live view and faster autofocus. Indeed, the new sensor has enabled Olympus to claim that the new Pens can focus faster than any other camera, including DSLRs, at the time of writing. And we have seen from actual image comparisons that there is a significant improvement in visual image quality from camera JPEGs compared to previous generations of Micro Four Thirds cameras. With news that Panasonic, with the new Lumix DMC-G3, has demonstrated that the LiveMOS Four Thirds format sensor can be scaled from 12 to 16 megapixels without sacrificing noise and dynamic range, there was hope and expectation that the same sensor hardware improvements could be applied to a new 12 megapixel LiveMOS sensor that would result in a measurable improvement in RAW-level performance. So, do the new Pens have such a new next-generation LiveMOS sensor? That question will be answered a little further down the page, but first, let's look at how the E-P3 compares to the old E-P2 and the even older Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1, which launched Micro Four Thirds back in September 2008:

The charts below measure luminance noise (image grain) throughout the camera's ISO range. The test images are machine-read and results calculated using DxO Analyzer 4.0, the image quality test suite we use in-house. As none of the RAW converters we use are yet tuned to work with E-P3 RAW files, the noise evaluations were made using in-camera JPEG images. We used two settings, the first chart shows the results when the cameras' noise filters and sharpening settings were set to minimum or off. This effectively minimises the effect of in-camera image processing. The second chart shows the results when the camera settings are set to standard. The measured result is in dB and the higher the number the better.

Across the board the E-P3 shows a healthy advantage over the older cameras. In fact its advantage is even higher than the charts suggest because, with the G1 especially, chroma noise and other artefacts at high ISO like pixel clumping and colour blotching is much more evident on the older cameras. Our image noise comparison article featuring the same set of cameras suggests that at ISO 3200 the E-P3 has about a two thirds EV advantage over the old E-P2 and at least 1 EV advantage over the G1.

But is this enough evidence to confirm that the E-P3 has a sensor with better basic image quality? Unfortunately, the first authoritative evidence based on measurements of RAW sensor data from the E-P3 firmly points the the E-P3 sensor being exactly the same as previous Pens and other 12MP Lumix Micro Four Thirds models. This data comes from DxOMark, the same people that produce the DxO Analyzer software we use here for testing at Four Thirds User, and the excellent commercial DxO Optics Pro image processing software. See for yourself.

So where is the distinct improvement in E-P3 JPEG image quality coming from? It's all down to the latest Olympus TruePic VI image processing engine, which is responsible for creating in-camera JPEG images, among other things. TruePic VI now has two processor cores so the live view processing and other functions not related to image quality don't drain processing power. With more horse power for image processing, plus the inclusion of detail retention technology first seen in the Olympus E-5 DSLR, E-P3 in-camera JPEGs are better than ever.

So where does that leave those of us, me included, who prefer to use RAW images? Sadly, if you are looking for improved dynamic range or noise performance, it's unlikely you will get any once your favoured RAW processor supports E-P3 RAW files. Compared to older cameras you will hopefully see a boost in detail resolution thanks to am E-5 style weaker anti-aliasing filter, but that may be all the improvement you can expect. An update to Olympus' Viewer 2 software, which includes RAW processing, is due very shortly, and the big names in RAW conversion, like Adobe, should be adding E-P2 RAW compatibility in due course.

 

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DxOMark test results for the Olympus Pen E-P3

Four Thirds User editorial team DxOMark test results for the Olympus Pen E-P3
Do the new Pens have a new and superior LiveMOS sensor? Well, the answer is sort of yes, and no. Fin... (more)

hschnee Re: DxOMark test results for the Olympus Pen E-P3
Based on the charts on the DxOMark site, the E-P3 is no better than the E-5 in terms of noise, dynam... (more)

Ian Re: DxOMark test results for the Olympus Pen E-P3
I feel disappointed too. I had been told the sensor was improved in terms of RAW-level image qual... (more)

John Perriment Re: DxOMark test results for the Olympus Pen E-P3
By making the JPEG files effectively superior to raws it seems Olympus are channelling users (of the... (more)

crimbo Re: DxOMark test results for the Olympus Pen E-P3
...why not consider the Foveon sensor?...now that with Olympus optics... But hey ho, the new PENS ar... (more)

Ian Re: DxOMark test results for the Olympus Pen E-P3
As usual, John - your thinking is very interesting. It has been pointed out to me that the maj... (more)

beomagi Re: DxOMark test results for the Olympus Pen E-P3
I agree with you about the foveon. At low ISO, it's does very well for the resolution. At moderat... (more)

Ian Re: DxOMark test results for the Olympus Pen E-P3
Statistically, the DxOMark chart you have shown is practically identical (within acceptable margi... (more)

beomagi Re: DxOMark test results for the Olympus Pen E-P3
I get that - what I wanted to point out was the ISO3200 of one camera doesn't equate to ISO3200 o... (more)

Ian Re: DxOMark test results for the Olympus Pen E-P3
I don't think that's correct. The Pens consistently over-estimate ISO sensitivity and the G2 unde... (more)

John Perriment Re: DxOMark test results for the Olympus Pen E-P3
In the past Panasonic have traditionally understated ISO values whereas Canon and Nikon tend to over... (more)

beomagi Re: DxOMark test results for the Olympus Pen E-P3
Exactly my point. The graphs here [url]http://fourthirds-user.com/2011/07/dxomark_test_resu... (more)

Ian Re: DxOMark test results for the Olympus Pen E-P3
Our noise graphs on that page rely on the camera being accurate. But as camera manufacturers do s... (more)

beomagi Re: DxOMark test results for the Olympus Pen E-P3
That means the graphs in that article actually are painting a rosier picture than there really is... (more)

Dan in NC Re: DxOMark test results for the Olympus Pen E-P3
My impression has been that the 10 MP sensors in the E-3, E-4XX and E-5XX cameras are pretty close w... (more)

Ian Re: DxOMark test results for the Olympus Pen E-P3
It all gets a bit complicated - are the shutter mechanisms biased as well? :) You can see E-P3... (more)

knikki Re: DxOMark test results for the Olympus Pen E-P3
Hmm well I have just had a mooch at the DxO site and well I haven't a bloody clue what the heck it i... (more)

Ian Re: DxOMark test results for the Olympus Pen E-P3
Another way of looking at it is that practically all modern system cameras produce really good im... (more)

Robert Watcher Re: DxOMark test results for the Olympus Pen E-P3
egardless of what the expectations were on the technical side of the E-P3 - - - I personally would b... (more)

smartwombat Re: DxOMark test results for the Olympus Pen E-P3
So how is the focussing speed when I have a whole bag of Panasonic lenses? Do the E-P3 and E-PL3 onl... (more)

Robert Watcher Re: DxOMark test results for the Olympus Pen E-P3
If you are happy with the Panasonic, then why buy one of the Pens - you're right. Anyway here is a ... (more)

knikki Re: DxOMark test results for the Olympus Pen E-P3
Ok fair enough that has certainly enlightened me to what DxO is and can do, I must confess I did ... (more)

John Perriment Re: DxOMark test results for the Olympus Pen E-P3
I think that, in terms of actual photographic results, what we have seen so far is a fairly margi... (more)