In an action-packed launch in the Austrian capital, Olympus officially unveiled the new trio of Pen cameras to members of the press from all over Europe. And what a trio! The Pen E-PL3 ‘Pen Lite’ and Pen E-PM1 ‘Pen Mini’ are coming in the autumn, but we were let loose with the flagship E-P3 for a day’s photo safari around the city, with a few surprises along the way. Click through for our first impressions and pictures – you won’t be disappointed.
In an action-packed launch in the Austrian capital, Olympus officially unveiled the new trio of Pen cameras to members of the press from all over Europe. And what a trio! The Pen E-PL3 ‘Pen Lite’ and Pen E-PM1 ‘Pen Mini’ are coming in the autumn, but we were let loose with the flagship E-P3 for a day’s photo safari around the city, with a few surprises along the way.
The launch of the new line of Pen cameras is a big deal. Olympus are pretty darn proud of them and the scale of the event hints at the extent to which they’re staking their future success on the Pen series. They needn’t worry, though, because if the range-topping E-P3 is anything to go by, the latest Pens are set to take the compact system camera punch-up to the next level. After a touch-and-try session the night before, I had been scheduled to pick up an E-P3 and stretch its legs for a sunny day in the city. After an impromptu lie-in thanks to forgetting to change the time on my phone/alarm clock, I collected ‘my’ camera for the day, enshrined in a special two-piece leather case that compliments the retro look perfectly. The case even has a tripod thread built in, so you can use a support without taking the case off. My E-P3 was fitted with the updated 14-42mm kit zoom that was announced earlier this year, and as it turns out it’s a corker!
A sense of solidity and prestige has always been a mainstay of the metal-bodied Pens – the older E-P1 and E-P2 being endowed with the same sort of build quality. Admittedly the lens is plastic but with a matt black finish it looks and feels quite smart. As a package it’s pleasantly weighty without being DSLR-heavy. The redesigned (and removable) grip is more comfortable than previous models, and throughout a whole day’s shooting I never felt like it was anything but comfortable – although the relatively thin leather strap attached to it isn’t the comfiest around your neck.
The buttons are solid, not wobbly, and everything feels really well screwed together. Shooting with the E-P3 gives you the impression you’re shooting with something a cut above the norm, and to be honest, you are.
Getting to grips with using the E-P3 is easy. There are all the shooting modes you need, including semi-auto and full manual modes. There are shortcut buttons for things like focus points (up from 11 to 35 – a big difference in practice) and exposure compensation, and you have access to all of these functions even when you’re in a scene mode or Art Filter mode. And on the subject of Art Filters, the E-P3 refines some of the classics from the E-P2 and adds a couple of new ones, like a sepia tone.
New technology called Fast AF sees the E-P3 (and Pen Lite) equipped with the fastest autofocus of any interchangeable lens camera in the world, or so the claim states. I don’t doubt the accuracy of that claim though, and in use you can take a photo as fast as you can think about taking a photo – the time it takes to move your arms is what slows you down! It’s brilliant for street photography or grabbed candid portraits, but only once in the whole day (and 300 photos) was focus accuracy anything but perfect.
The 14-42mm lens has been criticised by some people in the past, but this is the first time I’ve used the revised version and it’s as sharp as you like. Out-of-focus areas are smooth and attractive, and for such a small, light piece of kit the quality is outstanding. Very highly recommended.
Seen by many people as the key to the appeal of the Pen, the Art Filters give you the chance to create ‘the finished product’ right in the camera, with no need to use a computer to finish the job. I was absolutely blown away by a couple of them – namely Grainy Film, a high-contrast, grainy black & white mode, and Pinhole Camera, which slightly desaturates the colours and adds a heavy vignette. Both create absolutely beautiful effects, but Dramatic Tone and Pop Art are definitely worth their places in the line-up too. A couple of the modes seemed a bit superfluous, but different folks will find them more useful than I would. You can combine the effects, or add limited extras like frames or starburst effects. There are loads of options to try.
You can also take video in the Art Filter modes, but there’s a limit. The frame rate is very slow, simply because of the amount of processing the camera has to do, so it’s only two or three frames per second. You can use it creatively, but if you’re looking for flowing video you’ll need to use the standard full HD (1080p) mode.
The E-P3 in silver, with the new 12mm f/2 attached. Mmmmm, niiice.
Although not as much fun as the Art Filters, the scene modes are handy for those who don’t want to take control of the aperture or shutter speed directly. All the usual suspects are there, including portrait, landscape, landscape with people, three different macro modes, one for panoramas, a sunset mode and so on. There are loads, so even if you’re not too confident in taking full control, you can take great pictures.
That covers the key things about the new Pen E-P3. In short, I want one. It’s absolutely brilliant, and in many ways I’m sorry to be going back to a DSLR. The joy that comes with creating a finished – and stunning – end result in an instant is such a revelation to a seasoned DSLR user (and frustrated Photoshop novice), and since getting back from Vienna my mind has been filled with one thing – how to get the money together to buy an E-P3 when they come out in August! I wouldn’t hesitate to rate it at 5 out of 5. My advice is to get your name on the pre-order list.