The Olympus Pen E-P3 was launched worldwide on 30th June 2011. In India, it was launched at a glittering function at the ITC Grand Central, at Parel, Mumbai.
The PEN E-P3 boasts of having the world’s fastest autofocus (with a 3x zoom, as on June 30, 2011). With a new image processing engine and creative Art Filters, it appears that the E-P3 is now set to challenge the competition. The E-P3 is available as a single lens kit (with the 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R lens) or as a two-lens kit, which includes the 40-150mm f/4-5.6 lens. The body is available in black, white, and silver. We received the two-lens kit for review.
Design and Build Quality
The Olympus PEN E-P3 is an Interchangeable Lens Compact Camera (ILCC) designed on the Micro Four Thirds System. The body, made of metal and engineering plastic, looks elegant and appears robust. An interchangeable-hand grip adorns the right side of the camera. Buttons and dials appear to be in the right places and give a positive feel to the camera.
The Olympus PEN E-P3 is a 12.3-megapixel ILCC. It uses a newly designed 17.3 x 13mm Live MOS sensor, backed by a new Dual Core True Pic VI image processor. The lens mount is Micro Four Thirds. A Super Sonic Wave Filter vibrates at high speed to knock off any dust that may settle on the imaging sensor. A sensor-shift image stabilizer is built in, hence any lens fitted to the camera becomes an image stabilized lens.
The E-P3 is a feature-filled camera; actually, it offers more features than you may care to have but is thoughtfully designed for advanced users as well as beginners. The mode dial on the top offers Program (P; Program Shift is available), Aperture Priority (A), Shutter Priority (S), and Manual (M) exposure modes for advanced users, and iAUTO (Intelligent Auto), Scene modes (SCN) and Art Filters (ART) for beginners. Exposures can be compensated up to +/- 3EVin 1/3, 1/2 or 1 EV step, while exposures can be bracketed for 2, 3, 5 frames in 0.3, 0.5, 0.7, and 1 EV step. Movie mode (using AVCHD/AVI Motion JPG) is also on offer. Recording movies is very simple. Turn the mode dial to the movie icon and press the dedicated movie button (marked with a red dot) on the camera back to start recording. Press it again to stop recording. The E-P3 autofocuses during the movie recording to provide crisp, sharp movies.
As mentioned in the intro, Olympus claim that the E-P3 has the world’s fastest autofocus (as of June 30, 2011, with the standard ‘14-42mm II R’ zoom lens). According to them, this is possible due to a new advanced AF system, called FAST AF (Frequency Accelerated Sensor Technology), combined with MSC (Movie and Still Compatible) lenses. They further claim that “image quality can be enjoyed even at sensitivity levels equivalent to 12,800 and during full HD video recording”. We’ll check this claim and let you know later on in this review.
Images can be recorded in RAW, JPEG, RAW+JPEG, and MPO (3D Still). The PEN E-P3 uses a 3-inch OLED monitor (approx. 614,000 dots) with a new GUI (Graphic User Interface) providing touch-panel functions. OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) can achieve a higher contrast ratio, thus enabling a crisper view of the images. The touch panel has an anti-fingerprint coating.
The E-P3 uses a contrast-detection AF system with 35 AF points. Focus can be set to Single (S-AF), Continuous (C-AF), Manual focus (MF), S-AF+MF/C-AF+TR (AF Tracking). Face Priority AF and Eye-Detect AF are available. When shooting under S-AF+MF or MF mode, manual Focus Assist is available when rotation of the focusing ring is detected by the camera. Metering is TTL (Through The Lens) using Digital ESP (324-area multi-pattern metering), Center-weighted, and Spot.
ISO sensitivity can be set to Auto, or manually set from 200-12,800 and can be set in 1/3, or 1 EV steps. The E-P3 can be set to Adobe RGB or sRGB colour space. White Balance can be set to Auto, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Daylight, Flash, Cloudy, Shade, or set to a Kelvin temperature setting. WB can also be bracketed (3 frames), while 2 custom settings of WB can be registered for one-touch operation. Using Picture Modes, contrast, sharpness, and saturation levels can be user selected. At the same time, Picture Modes let you select from i-Enhance, Vivid, Natural, Muted, Portrait, or Monotone (B&W). Long exposure noise reduction and high ISO noise reduction (Olympus labels it as Noise Filter) are available.
Shutter speeds on the E-P3 range from 60 seconds to 1/4000 sec, plus Bulb (up to 30 minutes). An optional remote cable release (RM-UC1) can be purchased. The camera can be set to single-frame shooting, sequential shooting (approx. 3 fps), or to self-timer. In RAW mode, the maximum frames before the buffer fills up is 17 (using a Toshiba SDHC UHS-1 card R95 W80 model Premiugate series “Class 10” 8 GB; unlimited for JPEG (using the same make/model card).
For those wanting to try something ‘arty’, the Olympus E-P3 offers easy-to-use Art Filters (Pop Art, Soft Focus, Pale & Colour, Light Tone, Grainy Film, Pin Hole, Diorama, Gentle Sepia, Cross Process, and Dramatic Tone). Advanced users may or may not find the Art Filters useful, but the E-P3 can, at one press of the shutter release button, create all the art filter effects, which makes it very convenient to select the best effect later on.
A built-in flash (Guide Number 10m at ISO 200) offers TTL Auto, and manual exposure modes with fractional power. Wireless flash control is possible using the built-in plus external Olympus dedicated flashguns. The compatible external flashguns are FL-50R, FL 36R, FL-50, FL-36, FL-20, FL-14 and FL-300R. X-sync speed with flash is up to 1/180 sec.
Images can be recorded on SD, SDHC and SDXC (UHS-1 compatible), and Eye-fi card. Class 6 is recommended for movie shooting. The camera body dimensions are 122 x 69.1 x 34.3mm and weighs 369 g including battery and memory card.
We tested the E-P3 with its 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R lens. The balance was perfect, and the camera was fairly easy to use, though the user interface can be intimidating to new-comers. I was particularly impressed with the ease with which the manual exposure mode could be used. The interchangeable finger grip on the E-P3 does its job well, making the camera is easy to hold and use even with one hand (not a recommended practice though). The buttons and dials feel positive except for the rotating ring around the OK button, which could turn inadvertently if you are not careful.
We mentioned earlier that we shall test Olympus’ claim that “image quality can be enjoyed even at sensitivity levels equivalent to 12,800 and during full HD video recording”. So here’s our say:Olympus deserve a pat on the back, because they have definitely made strides in digital noise control. The Dual Core True Pic VI image processor has definitely gone a long way in attaining this performance. The native image size from the E-P3 is 10.08 x 13.44-inches at 300ppi. At 16.7 percent and 25 percent screen size, images were free from noise throughout the ISO range (though at higher ISOs, we observed some change in colour rendition). At 50 percent screen size, no disturbing noise was detected up to ISO 3200, while ISO 6400 and 12,800 did show traces of noise. At 100 percent screen size, noise could be seen at ISO 3200, but was acceptable. ISO 12,800 was noisy at this image magnification.
Olympus’ 324-area multi-pattern metering proved okay in most lighting situations. Manual metering (to me at least) was easy to use and the fact that you can see the changes in the image as the shutter speeds/apertures are changed, was a bonus. Autofocus was swift but for want of scientific testing rig (regarding AF speed), we cannot certify Olympus’ claim about “the world’s fastest autofocus with the 14-42mm II R lens”. (If we had the Panasonic G3 with us during this time, it might have been a good comparative test). Flare was seen in strong against-the-light shots, but chromatic aberration was well controlled. In terms of sharpness, while overall sharpness was acceptable, center sharpness was better than corners at all marked focal lengths. We would say that the ‘sweet spot’ was between f/8 and f/11. On the White Balance front, we had mixed feelings, with slight colour cast being observed under varying light conditions. It should be noted that getting rid of such colour casts is a simple affair with all image editing software.
Value For Money
The Olympus PEN E-P3 is available at an MRP of Rs.39,999 with its 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R lens (the price remains the same whether it’s a ‘II R’ or non ‘II R’ lens). The two-lens kit (14-42mm + 40-150mm f/4-5.6) is available at Rs.46,999. At this price and performance, we say that the Olympus E-P3 is good value for money.
+ Very good noise control
+ Super Sonic Wave Filter
+ In-built image stabilisation
– User interface can be difficult for beginners
– No direct access to ISO and White Balance
Design and Build Quality 17/20
Key Features 18/20
Noise Control 4/5
Extra Features 4/5
Value for Money 8/10
Grand Total 85.5/100
Though market segment for ILCCs and D-SLRs are different, there will be many who’ll opt for the ILCC due to their lower weight, lower costs, and almost-as-good-as D-SLR image quality. At this rate, ILCCs will soon eat their way in D-SLR profits (unless D-SLRs come out with some radical improvements). The E-P3, with its lower cost and good performance should be a force to reckon with.