camcorders

Olympus E-PM1 Digital Camera Review

Video performance was surprisingly good for a camera that comes in such a small body.

$349.97 at Amazon
5.8 score Tested by Experts
  • The Olympus PEN E-PM1 is better than 10% of the interchangeable lens cameras we tested.
  • It is better than 12% of the interchangeable lens cameras we have tested under $500.
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Introduction

The E-PM1 is the smallest interchangeable lens camera from Olympus, and its video performance was surprisingly good for a camera that comes in such a small body. The PM1 recorded sharp Full HD video in our testing, although it struggled at times in our low light tests.

Color & Noise

We found the video to be generally undersaturated when recording in bright light, registering at 89.48% of the ideal with a color error of 5.0. Colors tended to trend toward magenta and blue, with greens in particular registering at saturation levels far lower than the ideal. See our full "color performance review":http://www.digitalcamerainfo.com/content/Olympus-E-PM1-Digital-Camera-Review/Video.htm, including color swatches and crops.

3000 Lux Color Error Map

The E-PM1 produced a stellar result in our bright light noise test, keeping noise to less than 0.25% of the total image by our tests. This put it just above the also-stellar E-P3, largely due to the margin of error in testing inherently random noise. The Nikon J1 brought up the rear in this particular portion of our bright light testing while the GF3 split the difference. See our full noise performance review, including crops and comparative analysis.

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Motion & Sharpness

Motion was rendered quite smoothly on the E-PM1, though ghosting and signal interference was apparent on the RGB and monochrome pinwheels in our motion test. We did not notice a great difference in the motion results between the E-PM1 and the E-P3, so those looking for video functionality only may want to opt for the cheaper E-PM1. See our full motion performance review, including video clips.

The E-PM1 produced video that was quite sharp for an interchangeable lens camera, registering a sharpness of 625 lw/ph horizontally, and 675 lw/ph vertically. For the price of the E-PM1 you can certainly find better options purely for video, but as an added benefit, it’s quite useful. Read our full sharpness performance review.

Comparable Products

Before you buy the Olympus PEN E-PM1, take a look at these other interchangeable lens cameras.

Low Light

We found the E-PM1 struggled in low light using the 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens at its maximum aperture, as it required 31 lux of light to produce an image that registered 50 IRE on a waveform monitor. This is pretty poor compared to most midrange camcorders, many of which need only around 10 lux of light to produce an image of similar brightness. Read our full low light sensitivity performance review.

We found that in videos shot at a light level of 60 lux the E-PM1 produces a color error of 6.04, slightly worse than the 5.00 is registered in videos at bright light. The camera’s saturation level dropped to 84.44% of the ideal, as well. We found the most drastic errors came in greens and light magentas, with blues and skin tones well controlled overall. See our full low light color performance review, including comparative images and analysis.

60 Lux Color Error Map

While the E-PM1 proved stellar in controlling noise in bright light video testing, we found noise increased somewhat when the light was dimmed to just 60 lux. In that environment noise rose to 0.8425% of the image, though noise is more apparent in shadow regions, so it’s possible the camera’s lack of sensitivity may have contributed to the higher noise totals. See our full low light noise performance review, including crops and comparative images.

Conclusion

Like most compact interchangeable lens cameras, the Olympus E-PM1 records good, but not fantastic, HD video. If you're purchasing the camera that you're primarily planning to use to record video, the E-PM1 is not the model for you. But, if you are simply looking for a camera and you want one with a high-quality video mode that will be fun to play around with, the Olympus E-PM1 may be a good fit.

The E-PM1 has a slim, compact body, that is likely to go over well with some videographers... at least at first. The camera lacks a good grip, so doing hand held video shooting is a problem with the E-PM1, although this is a problem we see on nearly all video-capable cameras. As far as video handling goes, we'd gladly sacrifice some of the PM1's slim design in favor of a better grip or ergonomic shape.

The camera did very well in our bright light video testing, and it even surprised us with some good sharpness results. You'll get sharper video from a high-end camcorder or a more expensive video-DSLR, but for a compact model the E-PM1 was quite good. It didn't do quite as well in low light, particularly our low light sensitivity test, but the E-PM1 still managed to capture sharp video when the lights were dim.

The E-PM1 doesn't have a full stock of manual controls in video mode, but it has more than the average for a camera of its class. Aperture and shutter speed can both be set for shooting video clips, which is more than you get on comparable cameras from Panasonic and Sony. Still, the manual controls and quality of the video on the E-PM1 isn't quite good enough for us to recommend the camera as a good choice for student filmmakers or shooting b-roll.

To read our full conclusions for the Olympus PEN E-PM1 including analysis of the camera's video handling and audio options, plus see sample videos and photos, visit the full review at DigitalCameraInfo.com.

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