Olympus' New PEN E-P3: A 'FUN' Camera?

Posted by Justin Case — 22 Jul 2011

Fun? What do you mean, fun?


So, I don't have first-hand experience with this new Olympus. But perusing John Biggs' review of this new 'hot-shot' on TechCrunch this morning, I was struck by his notion that this device makes 'cameras fun again...'. So I had to dig in.

Here's the punch:

The camera's features include:

  • Three body color choices: Silver, Black and White
  • Removable Grip
  • 12.3-Megapixel Live MOS image sensor 
  • Micro Four-Thirds lens mount system
  • TruePic VI Image Processing Engine
  • FAST (Frequency Acceleration Sensor Technology) Autofocus System
  • Olympus System Supersonic Wave Filter Dust Reduction System
  • iAuto (intelligent), Program AE, Aperture/Shutter Priority, Full Manual, and Custom exposure control
  • In-Camera Art Filters (applicable to both still and HD video)
  • Art Filter Bracketing
  • Customizable Aspect Ratios
  • In-camera image editing options
  • 3.0 inch (460K) OLED Touchscreen display
  • 1080/60i AVCHD or AVI with Dolby Digital Sound Recording
  • 3D Photo Mode (saved as a .MPO file)
  • Auto ISO sensitivity from 200 - 12800
  • SDHC/SDXC (UHS-1 complaint) card slot
  • Newly designed Graphical User Interface
  • 2 custom buttons for assignment of favorite functions
  • Compatible with MSC (Movie & Still Compatibility) lenses
  • Li-ion battery pack (up to 330 photos)


The Pros (according to Biggs):

  • Small

  • Light

  • Solid

  • Touchscreen and built-in flash make things easier for beginners

  • Excellent photo quality

The Cons (again, Biggs' list, not mine):

  • Slightly complex interface

  • Some minor color aberrations (huh?)

  • Some minor auto-focus problems

In his capsule, Biggs states:

As a long-time fan of Olympus' Micro 4/3s series of cameras, I came to the E-P3 expecting good things. I was not disappointed. The camera is like Mini Cooper or a Smart car: it gets you where you need to go, you have fun on the way, and the resulting savings in size, bulk, and, in some ways, price makes it a great second camera for a DSLR buff or a great first camera for someone just getting started in the world of removable lens shooters.

He goes on, in a very decent, detailed review to highlight

The E-P3 is Olympus' most expensive and largest M4/3 camera. Their current line-up includes the E-PL and E-PM (Lite and Micro, respectively) cameras, each designed to be a little smaller and lighter than the last. To put it in Apple fanboi terms, the E-P3 is, then, the iPod Touch while the E-PL is the Nano and the E-PM is the Shuffle. Each of these cameras can mount any of the M4/3 lenses Olympus manufactures.

The E-P3, then, is the granddaddy of Olympus' M4/3 line. The MSRP of $899 gets you the camera and a M. Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm II R f3.5/5.6 Zoom lens (or a 17mm prime lens, but that's may be a little less useful for beginning shooters) and the camera comes in silver, black, and white. It weighs 13 ounces and is five inches wide. It has a 3-inch touchscreen that allows you to instantly focus on any part of the image with a single tap. A mode wheel on the top offers various shooting modes while a separate Function button allows for quick access to the camera's various settings. There is a dedicated video button on the back of the camera and the on/off switch is carefully recessed, unlike the buttons on previous Olympus M4/3 cameras.

There is no optical viewfinder although you can purchase an after-market viewfinder that fits into the camera's hot shoe. A pop-up flash button hides on the left rear edge while a number of quick-set buttons and dials grace the rear for manual control of aperture and speed. The front is featureless except for the lens release button.

In the end, he says that:

This camera isn't for everyone, but it offers enough value and performance that it could easily replace the standard, entry-level DSLR and, thanks to the compact body and fairly reasonable pricing (considering the build quality and performance) you're looking at a nice camera for an acceptable price.

While I cannot, in good faith, recommend this to someone who may or may not want to invest in at least one lens to go with it, I would recommend it as a second, portable camera for travelers and as a nice around-the-house camera for new parents and grandparents. It's strong enough for a nerd yet made for a beginner.

There are many arguments for and against supporting the MFT format and I look forward to a hearty back-and-forth in comments. However, as someone who has lugged a full DSLR kit around the world, being able to slip something as powerful and compact as the E-P3 into a small bag and still get great photos is a welcome feeling. It's an impressive piece of kit and well worth considering.

In addition to his gallery shot with the camera, he provides links to galleries from other lensers, Robin Wong and Koon Yik that are worth a look.

Olympus has really been touting their new autofocus (FAST: Frequency Acceleration Sensor Technology) that supposedly yields the worlds fastest autofocus. Seems strange, then, that Biggs notes 'minor autofocus problems' in his review, but I suppose you'll have to get 'hands-on' to decide for yourself.

Not sure about the new 3D Photo Mode and Art Bracketing (P/A/S/M modes), but along with Art filter "stacking", you can be sure to find features that only the most adventurous among us will venture into.

The E-P3 will initially come in two configurations, shipping August, 2011. Both lenses are part of Olympus' new MSC (Movie & Still
Compatibility) line:

  • Olympus PEN E-P3 Body with MSC M. Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm II R f3.5/5.6 Zoom lens: $899.99 US
  • Olympus PEN E-P3 Body with MSC M. Zuiko Digital ED 17mm f2.8 Prime Lens: $899.99 US

Olympus' full product page also gives a great overview of the camera (and the complete line-up of PEN System cameras).


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