Compared to E-P2 new E-P3 has also a new sensor and new image processor. According to Olympus image quality has improved by one stop.
Above: E-P2, ISO 800, Camera JPG Standard, NR Normal, Extra sharpening in LR3. Below: E-P3, same settings, No extra sharpening. (100% crop, Zuiko D. 50mm 1:2 Macro @ F4.0).
I shot a series of JPG test images with both camera´s ”even” ISO settings. At base sensitivity there is naturally no difference in resolution. When sensitivity goes up, E-P3 becomes gradually better so that at ISO 1600 it corresponds to E-P2 ISO 800 or is slightly better. Actually E-P2 image had to be helped with an extra sharpening to bring it closer to E-P3. Noise or graininess is stronger in dark grays in E-P3 image. From this point of view Olympus claim is true.
As can be seen in these frames E-P3 image shows a watercolor-like smearing where structure or definition runs out. E-P2 has graininess in those areas. This difference in character is evident through out all ISO settings. Depending on subject smearing may not be seen at all at low settings and E-P3´s images can be very brilliant. Obviously it is sort of brilliance, that´s the best description I know, that Olympus seems to be after here. At higher ISO settings smearing can become disturbing if also reds spread and shadows have blotchiness.
Anyway, personally I do not like this kind of way to render as I already mentioned while writing about M.Zuiko 12mm images. I think also that this effect removes E-P3´s superiority starting from ISO 3200. I hope Olympus will change rendering to be more like before. Now Olympus has been too much after clean, smooth and sharp look. A prompt firmware update, please!
My result and opinions here are strictly true only for camera JPGs at default settings. You can tweak the settings but still the same trend stays. Resuts could have been very different for E-P3 if I had swithced NR off and sharpening to minimum and tweaked those in post processing. But doing so would only make JPG shooting pointless. JPG´s whole idea is to produce as ready images as possible.
There was no RAW converter profiled for E-P3 and that prevents us from going any closer to the real capabilities of E-P3 sensor. Below, as an example, the same E-P2 exposure as camera JPG and converted from RAW in Lightroom 3. It is possible to squeeze out even some more resolution with Lightroom. And then you can get more out of tonality, dynamic range and colors, which I have left out of this blog. I will come back to this subject when I get an E-P3 profiled RAW converter
Above: E-P2, ISO 800, Camera JPG Standard, NR normal. Below: Same picture, RAW conversion in Lightroom 3. (100% crop, Zuiko D. 50mm 1:2.0 Macro @ F4.0)