Hands-on with Olympus’ Pen E-P3: A retro camera with a high-tech twist!

Earlier this week, Olympus officially revealed its awesome new Pen range of Micro Four thirds cameras – a trio of record-breaking cameras kitted out with “the world’s fastest autofocus” for snappers with interchangeable lenses. The Pen E-P3, Pen Lite E-PL3 and Pen Mini E-PM1 are part of Olympus’ grand plan to turn even the most pathetic amateur snapper into a master of the craft.

They’re ideal for those of you torn between a compact digital camera and a super-spec digital SLR. We’ve just been playing with the Pen E-P3, the flagship model, so come this way for our hands-on thoughts!

The gleaming new Pen range of Micro Four thirds cameras is what Olympus hopes could be a new SLR-walloping band of sharp shooters. Chief among them is the  E-P3.

Like the rest of the range it’s tailor-made for “people that like to have fun with photography.” The idea is that amateur photographers can say good riddance to hum-drum washed-out shots, and hello to photos professional-looking enough to give David Bailey cold sweats. And not the good kind.

For a start, autofocus has been kicked up a notch. More autofocus points (35 in total) have been added to lend more oomph and accuracy to autofocus. The result is having to stand still for much less time standing around like a lemon when taking photos.

‘Full-time autofocus’ means that the E-P3 is constantly beavering away to focus on subjects as you shoot, without a as much as a tickle on its impressive battery life. Half a day’s use snapping 123 photos and recording 1080i HD 60fps video still left us with more than enough juice to play paparazzi.

In terms of weight, the E-P3 feels lighter and more compact than an SLR, but its muscular outer feels solid. It’s not quite the puny featherweight, but rest assured, a full days use with this lugged around your neck won’t leave you looking like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Rounded off by hefty metal strips the E-P3 feels like the Chuck Norris of Micro Four Thirds cameras. That doesn’t mean you should drop-test the E-P3. You wouldn’t dare trip Chuck Norris up now, would you? Colours will include: black, white and silver.

The rear end features a three-inch 610,000 dot resolution OLED touchscreen to preview photos in crystal clarity, fiddle camera settings, ISO, aperture, and whirl through your snaps with your pinkie. Because it’s an OLED display, it drinks up less juice than the LCD panels you’ll see on many of its peers. We imagine the E-P3 will cope perfectly well snapping close to over 200 shots in a full day’s use, with the odd spot of HD video recording.

Spec fans will find the E-P3 has a 12.3-megapixel sensor, and an ISO of 12800. We found the EP-3 certainly performed well even in eye-watering sunlight. Video records in 1080i HD as AVCHD or Motion JPEG formats, so you should have no trouble sharing your creations with the YouTube fraternity.

Two scroll wheels are also used to tweak aperture and the ISO settings, while the one on top is used to dive into the menus to select from the array of arty effects on offer, of which there are plenty – certainly enough to satisfy the wannabe pro the E-P3 has in its iron sights. These include: Pop Art, Soft Focus, Pale & Light Colour, Light Tone, Grainy Film, Pinhole, Diorama, Cross Process, Gentle Sepia and Dramatic Tone Art Filters. All ten can be applied to both still shots and movies.

The Olympus E-P3 will launch in August, fetching around £799. We’ll be bringing you a review of the E-P3 in full soon. In the meantime, feast your peepers on some of our own sample shots using some of those art styles below…

[This preview has been reproduced from an article originally written by myself for Electricpig.co.uk in July 2011]