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Olympus E-P3

The next-generation PEN camera makes a huge leap forward

by Josh Rubin in Tech on 29 June 2011

As a long-time fan of Olympus' PEN series of micro-four-thirds cameras, I was ecstatic to have a chance to spend the last week testing their brand new E-P3. The new shooter, at the top of the line of their just-expanded family of cameras, is loaded up with incredible new features and has an updated body that maintains its classic compact design. Maintaining the lines of the original design was so important that the flash was intentionally nested below the surface of the camera.

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The micro four-thirds format is a combination of a large sensor (for a relatively small camera), compact mirrorless body and interchangeable lens system. For the E-P3, that sensor maintains its 12.3-megapixel capacity while upgrading image processing to capture a better light and color range. The processor upgrade also affords extremely fast image playback without compromising the camera's lightning fast shutter response or ability to focus—faster than ever.

On the back of the camera, the screen has been upgraded to a crisp, bright, three-inch OLED touch display which goes beyond simply accessing the (also refreshed) menus and swiping between photos during playback. One shooting mode allows you to touch anywhere on the screen to set that as the point to focus on, much like the familiar iPhone camera; another mode allows you to touch anywhere on the screen to snap a picture—convenient for shooting from the hip or at awkward angles.

Manipulating settings for taking pictures is a fluid combination of on-screen menu items and conveniently placed dials. Beyond the freedom of setting your own aperture, shutter speed, ISO and much more, PEN cameras incorporate a variety of art filters to render images in even more creative ways. New to the E-P3 is the ability to bracket these filters so that all options are presented at once.

Beyond this new top-of-the-line model, Olympus expanded the family to include the E-PL3 "lite" and the E-PM1 "mini" bodies to offer greater portability options and a broader range of features for different levels of photographers. Of course, they're all still PENs so they use the same lenses and have the same oversized sensor.

Rounding out a huge day of new product, Olympus also just announced two new single focal length M. Zuiko lenses— a 12mm f2.0 (24mm equivalent) and 45mm f1.8 (90mm equivalent). I tested the 12mm, a perfect street shooter. The bright, bold wide-angle is complimented by a subtle focal ring that pulls back to switch from automatic to manual mode.

The E-P3 will be available in black, white or silver starting this August for $900 as a kit with either a 14-24mm zoom loens or a 17mm fast prime lens. Check out some sample photos taken this week on The High Line in the gallery after the jump.

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