Olympus E P-3 Complete Review: Fastest Focus MFT

This is the third generation of Olympus MFT or CSC and it is one really cool piece of photography equipment. It has got class leading lens which is also being called as fastest lens with in its peer group. It got its look inspired from it forefathers i.e. film era Pen F cameras. But the appearance is similar to its older siblings EP-1 and EP-2 hence changes in this one is subtle. It has generated a lot of excitement when it was generated in 2011, because of its elegant design and under the hood upgrades like a built in flash and a removable grip which is certainly new concept in MFT or CSCs, in fact this was a subtle feature of Olympus OM-4 (film camera).

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But what’s really upgraded is the processor with TruePic VI, and faster AF system which check AF 120 times per second for a really accurate and fast auto focus. So many times I have mentioned in my reviews about missing touch screen at the back panel, Olympus has finally launched this one with 614K dot OLED touch screen which really cuts off the time in navigating the menus.

While Pen EP-3 can be used by the novices because it is so easy to use but under the hood it is quite powerful and advanced. There are enough advanced features that will appeal to enthusiasts who are working with midlevel dSLR. Things like AE-AL lock button, Remote control of flash are the things which will keep enthusiast busy.

While all these features are nice , cost has escalated as well it was just a dollar short of $800, when it was launched and now it’s been sold at INR 38599 at major E-traders in India.

There is stiff competition from Panasonic Lumix G3 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 which are being sold at 530 euros and 750 euros respectively in market which are giving it a good competition when compared bang for the buck. Also dSLRs like Canon 55oD is being sold at around 700 euros which is also giving it competition.

Specifications:

  • Updated 12MP Live MOS sensor
  • 120 Hz ‘Fast AF’ focus system
  • Built-in pop-up flash
  • Built-in autofocus illuminator light (orange LED)
  • Touch-sensitive VGA-equivalent 614,000 dot OLED screen (3:2 aspect ratio)
  • Dual-core TruePic VI processor
  • 1080i60 movies in AVCHD format
  • Independent Shadow and Highlight tone adjustment controls
  • Interchangeable hand grips
  • In-body image stabilization (works with all lenses)

Following are the upgrades from EP-2

  • 35-area AF system
  • Touch AF and Touch shutter
  • Direct movie record and display magnification buttons
  • E-PL2-style control layout, 5 customizable buttons
  • Live guide control in iAuto
  • iEnhance colour mode
  • Revised and expanded Art Filters (with quick preview option)

Lens and sensor:

Typically EP-3 comes with a 14-42 mm zoom kit with a multiplying factor of 2 the real focal length comes about 28-84 mm. Though there are two new lenses announced for EP-3 which in fact can be mounted on any Olympus device. The lenses are revamped to match or the look Ep-3 has. Now they comes with a suffix “R”. Olympus had launched two new lenses with this camera out of which one is Olympus M. Zuiko Digital 12mm 1:2 and other is M. ZD 45mm 1:1.8. Both are available now in the market while later one is at $399, which is costly in terms of equipment. The former one is a lens equivalent to 24mm wide angle, which was popular focal length in film era. The concept behind is to offer a premium optic system with snap focus and big aperture.

It Also boasts of 12.3 MP Fast Live MOS sensor which is if not class leading, is at par with the current set of the sensors in the CSCs. So called TruePIc VI image engine is dual core can churn data pretty fast and in house image stabilization, which work with every lens type helps you to keep the ISO low and shutter speed slow which is a good trait provided high ISO means High noise. A Better Ant aliasing filter on board is also help to get better image.

Physical:

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Olympus EP-3 is pretty camera having that retro look makes it stand out in the CSC crowd. Canon and Panasonic both has set the standard of MFT system but it was believed that Olympus will lose the race to Panasonic’s technical capabilities but beautiful design along with innovation has given Olympus its fair share in the market.

EP-3 is like its predecessor, control button line up has been revamped and now more resembles to EPL-3 but the good thumb dial and the Fn2 button on the top plate is what makes it different from others models in the line. A dedicated movie and ‘magnify’ button taken from EPL- line is well welcomed. But direct ISO and white balance button has been removed. The Top plate is being reshuffled to have the exposure mode dial along with shutter release button. The whole setup looks pretty clean

OLED screen with 614K dots is leaps and bound ahead of what others are offering on the shelf. In fact it is touch screen which fills a large gap in the user experience. Also it is bright enough to endure full sun and outdoors.

A new AF illuminator is added to improve the performance in Low light conditions. Their is a new upgraded accessory port which can be used with many things including the electronic view finder which can be bulky but excellent in bright sunlight. Also this can be used PEN pal Bluetooth image sharing system.

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Battery and Memory:

The E-P3 comes with BLS-5 battery which is used in all the coming PEN models, which is in fact compatible with older BLS-1 type as used by the E-P1/2.
The camera supports all the standards of SD card system which are SD, SDHC and SDXC types with speeds as UHS-1 and below.

Performance

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It has the world fastest Auto Focus system made by company. It scans the whole sensor 120 times on the focus points which is pretty fast and really accurate in terms of focusing.

While the camera comes into live well under second, it takes another second after unlocking the Lens to become fully active. The shot to shot time is 1 second which is okay if not the best in the class. Also in the single shooting mode and if you are having a good class 10 card you will never run out of buffer, In continuous mode it take 17 frames for buffer to completely fill up.

In low light condition the AF system struggle a bit, a little help is given by the AF illuminator lamp, but only to the close range subjects.

Camera Offer ISO up to 12800 which is one stop higher than many cameras but the fact is it produces lots of noise in low light which makes is not very much usable. Camera perform good till ISO 800 and acceptable till ISO 1600 which is usual in MFT

Optics is of fine class and over all sharp image from corner to corner is delivered by the camera. The camera is equipped with a nice iAuto mode which produces nice colors and crisp focus but the AWB can be fooled in artificial light.

All said and done camera does not offer much improvement over the EP-2, but it fine tunes the result by giving a better working JPEG engine and some good art filters are also in house.

A new tonal control allows you to adjust the shadow brightness independent of overall exposure which is really fun to have feature for enthusiasts. Video is okay and can be taken with the push of a button but the screen does not display full frame when taking video. It captures Full HD video which is god, and as usual focus is sharp and good. Menu Options are also better, if you consider the earlier EPxs in the line.

Conclusion

It is beautifully-styled and built, with lots of external controls with excellent JPEG output: warm, saturated colors and a reliable metering and white balance but what steals the show is extremely fast, accurate and near-silent autofocus with MSC lenses (including kit zooms). A good bright OLED screen with touch screen adds the value. Built-in image stabilization works with all lenses. But it has its down sides as well. Sensor is not new, also no dedicated ISO or WB buttons. No Live View during continuous shooting. A good thing would be a better touch system.

Price is also rather steep with Rs 38400 in India and $799 in us markets. In this price range you can get a better sensor dSLR id you are enthusiast. But if you are looking for great picture quality in smaller form this is really good camera to invest.