updated 01:00 am EDT, Thu June 30, 2011
Olympus E-P3 official with new sensor, dual-core
Olympus early Thursday remade its entire PEN camera line and headlined it with the E-P3. The camera uses a genuinely new 12.3-megapixel CMOS sensor and the first dual-core TruePic VI processor to reach much faster autofocus performance than not just other Micro Four Thirds cameras but most interchangeable lens cameras. It can supposedly outperform its higher-end rival, the Panasonic GH2, as well as full-fledged DSLRs like the Nikon D3100 and even the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV.
The updated combination also leads to a much more precise autofocusing system with 35 actual points, 11 of which are selectable, where the E-P2 was limited to 11 real points. Photographers can now use full-time autofocus that doesn't even require a shutter half-press, and the PEN line is finally getting an autofocus illuminator light to help focus in dark but close scenes. Better routines improve the ability to track faces and adapt to different colors.
By itself, the new sensor now has better low-light sensitivity and has had its maximum range extended to ISO 12,800. AVCHD (H.264) video recording now scales up to 1080i at 60FPS and, instead of simply grabbing a portion of the sensor's input to reach the video resolution, combines pixels to capture more light and improve performance in the dark. Color reproduction and detail have been improved for green, magenta, and yellow, and it's better at showing detail in highlights and shadows with tone control an option.
Going dual-core still leaves the camera shooting at a maximum 3FPS but leaves the camera ready almost instantly to take the next shot. Likewise, it leads to software tricks that were impractical on earlier PENs, Olympus says. Art filter bracketing is now an option and will process five different effects and the raw image in 2.5 seconds. Art filters now have sub-variants and adjustments such as Pale & Light Color II, White Edge, and Star Light. A 3D mode is a first for the range and uses a sequential two-shot mode to make an industry-standard MPO 3D photo.
The interface is a distinct break for Olympus. It represents the first instance of a touchscreen on a PEN and can be used for nearly as much or as little as the photographer likes. The three-inch, 610,000-pixel OLED can be used for tap-to-focus or even for the shutter release but still has a full range of hardware buttons nearby and can have touch disabled entirely. Software on the camera has been cleaned up to be easier to use and includes a level gauge.
Externally, the E-P3 is Olympus' first PEN with a built-in flash and has a pop-up design that uniquely doesn't break the flow of the camera's shape. A rotational dial, a sub-dial and two function buttons give quicker access to common tweaks such as aperture. The camera maker has gone so far as to make the grip removable and customizable: it can be swapped out for a deeper, SLR-style grip or left off altogether for a 'naked' feel.
Versions of the E-P3 will, like its ancestor, come in black, silver, or white. No mention has been made of a body-only kit, but buyers will have the option of a kit with the upgraded 14-42mm, f3.5-5.6 II R lens or else a 17mm, f2.8 prime lens. Either kit costs $900 and will ship in August.