One of the recent developments in the digital camera space has been the introduction of the mirror less, micro four-third sensor cameras. Some of the companies that are really pushing the envelope have been Olympus and Panasonic. There are a bunch of things that make these sort of cameras interesting. They are compact, although not as compact as the smallest point and shoot cameras and yet have the ability to produce SLR quality images. The reason for that is they have larger sensor sizes than point and shoot cameras, which means they have superior image quality.

14-42 mm lens bundled up

14-42 mm lens bundled up

Olympus used to sell the PEN line of cameras during the film camera era. A few years back, they re-introduced the PEN line of cameras again, this time in the form of digital cameras. Now, there’s a new model. It’s called the E-P3 and it’s the flagship model of the PEN range. Two cheaper models, the E-PM1 and the E-PL3 are yet to follow. The E-P3, like the older E-P1 and E-P2 are targeted at those who are looking to upgrade from a point and shoot camera to a camera with better performance, minus the complexities of a full-fledged DSLR. We first looked at these cameras at an Olympus briefing held in Mumbai, a few weeks back.

Design and Build Quality
The PEN E-P3 has not changed much in design since its predecessors. The PEN E-P3 we received in our labs was a stylish matte black camera with hints of chrome highlights along the edges. Like other PEN cameras, it is compact in design and can fit easily in the hand. It is slightly larger than a standard point and shoot.

40 - 150 mm lens option also available

40 – 150 mm lens option also available

Unlike the E-P1 and E-P2, this camera comes with a built-in flash that is concealed in the frame of the camera. A simple press of a button next to it is all it takes to deploy the flash that is held inside the body by a set of springs and hinges. These buttons include a dedicated video recording button for shooting videos at 1080i and a Fn1 key  for setting various functions of this camera. Other controls found on the rear of the camera are standard buttons, which are seen on most cameras such as a four way navigational button for flash, aperture priority, auto focus and a timer. The navigational pad also doubles as a scroll for adjusting various camera settings. Besides these the other buttons found are playback, info, menu and erase. A silver jog dial is also located on the back and this is used for adjusting wide-angle and telephoto.

Mode dial on the top

Mode dial on the top

On the top of the camera is a mode dial for changing between the different modes of the PEN E-P3. Other buttons found here are a camera shutter-release button, on/off switch and a secondary function button called Fn2, which can be used to change ISO sensitivity in the manual mode. It has different functions in the different shooting modes.

The camera being slightly smaller than a DSLR isn’t the easiest to grip with one hand. The handgrip on the camera is interchangeable with additional options being made available to users. These can be installed by merely screwing them on to the body. Olympus has bundled a 1150 mAh battery along with the camera and the battery bay is located underneath.

Mini HDMI port available

Mini HDMI port available

Features
The Olympus E-P3 uses a micro four-third, 12.3 MP sensor. Its distinct design means there’s no folding mirror mechanism. The screen at the rear is a 3-inch, 6,14,000 dots one. Olympus specifies that the screen used is an OLED. Unlike most other cameras, the E-P3 comes with a touchscreen interface, which is used primarily for selecting focus areas on the screen and also for altering settings.

Spring loaded flash

Spring loaded flash

Olympus provides lens options with the E-P3. The standard kit includes only the stock 14-42mm (3.5-5.6) lens. We received the dual-kit lens kit, which includes an additional 40-150mm (4-5.6) lens. Other than the proprietary USB port, there’s also a mini-HDMI port so you can output videos to a large TV or projector.
Features (Continued)
The last major product update, the E-P2 did not include a built-in flash, this one does. HD video recording capabilities are also present. It can shoot videos at HD 1080i using AVCHD and the AVI format.

Full zoom on

Full zoom on

Olympus has taken a slightly different approach with the PEN E-P3. Some of the features include a special art feature, which is basically a set of filters that give you instant results. Olympus has also updated the interface on the PEN series of cameras. The E-P3 specifically has a very minimalistic interface with not too much happening on the screen at any given time. Icons and artwork used on the interface are dense and compact. Olympus has bumped up the amount of filters from six to ten. Hidden in the Scene mode is a 3D feature where it can click 3D pictures and can be viewed on a 3D compatible television.

Performance
The Olympus PEN E-P3 is bundled with various features and different shooting modes. Images shot outdoors seemed a bit dull in the iAuto mode, though focusing was accurate. Images appeared detailed and no color fringing was noticed. However, those images that were shot at low ISO sensitivities appeared very bright and the color looked off in most respects.

Low ISO sensitivity saw colour fringing

Low ISO sensitivity saw color fringing

The Olympus PEN E-P3 performed shoddily in images that were shot indoors, with a lot of colour supplementation being noticed. Images shot in iAuto mode appeared crisp and clear but, the colour supplementation was a turn off. Both the 14-42mm and the 40-150mm lens lend themselves well to macro photography. This was a major plus point of this camera. The flash lit up approximately ten feet of a well lit area, which is impressive for any camera flash. The camera allows users to accurately limit the amount of light that leaves the flash.

Macro image shot well

Macro image shot well

Focusing isn’t consistent. The camera manages to click photos quickly when there’s sufficient light and the objects are prominent. While focusing on walls or plain surfaces, focusing is slower and sometimes the auto focus system refuses to focus.

Olympus bundles a 1150 mAh lithium ion battery along with this camera and they rate the battery at approximately 330 shots, which is quite impressive for a camera with all these features.

Flagship model of Olympus

Flagship model of Olympus

Verdict
The PEN E-P3 sells at a maximum retail price of Rs. 39,999 for a single lens kit (14-42mm) and a maximum retail price of Rs. 46,999 for a dual lens (14-42mm lens and 40-150mm). While this may be a step up from point and shoot cameras, the PEN E-P3 has its fair amount of quirks for a camera looking to break into the DSLR market share. While it may have a ton of interesting features and packs a ton of concepts into a compact body; this camera is still not competent enough to match up to DSLR when it comes to quality.

Looks and flamboyance are this camera’s forte and it does well in the features department too. However, for a price of almost Rs. 47,000, one would rather opt for a lower price ranging DSLR camera and achieve better image results.

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