Review: Is The Olympus EP3 The Micro Four Thirds To Beat?

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The EP-3 tops the latest PEN series from Olympus with high image quality and enough features to lure in the enthusiast while being simple and creative enough for the artistically keen amateurs.

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The EP-3 houses a 17.3 x 13 mm Micro Four Thirds chip that sits it somewhere between the sensors found in DSLRs and compact cams. The large sensor ramps up low-light imaging performance, though still doesn’t perform on par with bigger DSLRs. Coupled with its simple controls and visual aesthetics though, and you’ve got a camera with enough grunt to pull in enthusiasts but still enough usability for novices.

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This expensive unit, sitting at $999, has to compete with Panasonic’s recent Lumix Micro Four Thirds offerings which have their own perks, as well as similarly-priced DSLRs on the market like Nikon’s entry-level D5100. The Live MOS sensor comes in at 12 megapixels, backed up by an imaging engine that produces the fastest autofocus on the market, beating the latest Lumix models, but with a lower megapixel count.

The typical programmable shooting modes come neatly aligned onto the physical settings wheel that sits next to the shutter release, including Aperture, Shutter, Manual and Program modes as well as an Automatic mode.

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The art filters get their own section on the wheel as a prime feature that Olympus is trying to push as a creative element on their new PEN series cameras. The 10 filters include Sepia, Dramatic Tone, Film Grain, Cross-Process, Pin Hole Cam, Mini, Light Tone, Pale & Light, Soft Focus and Pop Art. Unlike most new cameras that offer art filters as just an obligatory additive, Olympus has made these filters customisable and functional beyond the norm so that novices and experts alike can take beautiful shots without worrying about post-production.

The camera can shoot at up to ISO 12,800 sensitivity for the darker shots and can shoot at up to 3 frames per second continuously. It’ll brave dark scenarios, but the fast autofocus starts to falter in darker environments when trying to latch onto a subject. The max resolution comes to 4032×3024, though recording comes in a range of aspect ratios and smaller resolutions. Video specifically records at a max of 1920 x 1080p at either 60i/20Mbps or 60i/17Mbps and saved in AVCHD format. Pictures can be taken in JPEG and RAW format at the same time.

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The EP-3 produces sharp images with realistic colour reproduction under most circumstances, and controls itself well in the dark. Beyond ISO 6400, images become crumby and dark indoor shots tend to push into the grainier red zone here, so pushing all the way to beyond 12000 isn’t recommended. Below 6400 produces usable images though optimum picture peaks at around the 3200 mark.

 

As a slightly more ‘pro’ feature of this camera, the EP-3 supports off-camera flashes that can work in conjunction with the pop-out flash that sits on the left shoulder of the body. There’s also a hot-shoe for add-ons like other flashes, mics, etc.

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The ease of use is helped by the 3-inch touch screen that sits in fixed position on the back of the unit. The 610k-dot OLED screen allows users to tap-to-shoot or tap-to-focus, where an focal point can be chosen anywhere on the shot to instantly snap a clear photo of any subject, far or near. Focus and aperture are automatically adjusted and the rapid autofocus kicks into gear instantaneously. While there’s a touch screen, there are still ordinary buttons and scroll wheels to be found, but clutter is minimised without overloading the screen real estate.

Flicking through images and menus has a fresh tablet feel to it as swipe gestures are recognised, making the user experience a lot smoother.

This enthusiast cam bundles in high performance imaging with user-friendly features that make the EP-3 an effective and fun creative tool for trained hands and amateurs alike. The lenses thrown into the package are light and functional, working with the high quality imaging sensor and processor to produce sharp images. The asking price is high considering you can start moving into DSLR territory here, but the polish on this admittedly sexy unit almost warrant the premium.

 

Art Filter Test Shots:

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