As I'm sure Micro 4/3 fans are well aware, Olympus yesterday introduced no fewer than three new Micro 4/3 cameras—including the E-P3, a replacement for the top of the line Pen E-P2—and two beautiful new prime lens gems. Two zoom lenses also have gotten new cosmetics.
Sometime TOP contributior and e-friend Eamon Hickey sent us some "brief notes from a briefing" with Olympus:
A week and a half ago, I got a short introduction to the new Olympus Pen system products from Toshi Terada, Manager of Digital SLR Product Planning for Olympus Corp. (Japan) and Sally Smith Clemens, Product Manager for Olympus Imaging America. I had only a few minutes of PRFCRP (public relations firm conference room play) with a few of the products, but here are some quick impressions:
• Olympus is emphasizing the new autofocus system on these cameras, calling it the world's fastest. Based on my short hands-on with the E-P3, I'm comfortable saying that for stationary subjects in good light it is indeed much, much faster than the E-P1 that I used many moons ago. Mr. Terada noted that his company's speed claims do not extend to low light or continuous focusing of moving subjects, and I have no worthwhile comment on those important areas of autofocus performance, since I couldn't test them. But this is a definite leap forward for Olympus contrast-detect autofocus.
• The Pen Lite (E-PL3) definitely caught my eye. It's about 25% smaller than the E-PL2, but possesses a great deal of the E-P3's advanced design and functionality. It does give up one control wheel, a loss that I—and many others, I'm sure—will lament, but it may (jury is still out) come closest to the ideal (or at least my ideal) of a really small camera that's still suitable for enthusiast photographers. I'll be pestering Olympus to let me test this camera when it's available.
• The 12mm ƒ/2 (24mm-equivalent) is nifty—I have little doubt this will become an aficionado's favorite. It's no pancake, but it's definitely compact—roughly the size of a medium-speed rangefinder lens, but probably a bit lighter than most (can't remember exactly). Feels well made, operates smoothly.
Its "snapshot focus" mechanism is very nice. You just slide the focus ring back (towards the camera) and the lens instantly switches to manual focus mode. When it does, it reverts to the focus distance it was set for the last time it was in manual focus mode (that is, it's an instantly accessible preset manual focus distance). This permits an easy combination of autofocusing and classic zone focusing. The lens has both a depth of field scale and a focus distance scale. In manual focus mode, the focus ring feels decently damped, and it has hard stops at nearest focus and at infinity (it doesn't freewheel). I really like what Olympus has done with this manual focus clutch mechanism and would love to see them do it with one or two more focal lengths (a 28mm or 35mm equivalent and a 50mm equivalent, maybe).
• The 45mm ƒ/1.8 is also nice at first touch—again, no pancake but roughly similar in size to a medium-speed rangefinder lens. It's a portait lens, plain and simple, and as such, highly welcome. Almost everything else that's worth saying about a portrait lens requires shooting with it, which I did not do, so I have nothing more to add at this time except that I'll be looking to cadge one of these off the nice Olympus folks, too, when it's available.
• Finally, I liked the little FL-300R flash—it's not only quite compact but also wireless-TTL capable. Carrying a couple or three of them would no problem. Add an E-P3 or a Pen Lite, your favorite Micro Four Thirds prime lens or two, and some gaffer's tape, and you could put together a very compact system with a fair degree of lighting versatility.
What with the new Leica/Panasonic 50mm Summilux announced recently, the options for Micro 4/3 users are getting richer all the time. For more on the new Olympus equipment and many more pictures, jump to Eamon's full report over at Rob Galbraith DPI.
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by ILTim: "I love my GF1/20mm—for me its absolutely the Goldilocks camera system. I have been disappointed by the direction the GF2 and especially the GF3 are taking, but Olympus has revitalized my hope. I love their ambition to make this system king, snapping and snarling at the heels of the DSLR market like a furious little dog. They're making a really good go of it! This is what Olympus must have had in mind all those years ago when 4/3rds was introduced; good thing they kept at it."
Featured Comment by Kirk: "I think the lenses are the real news. While the E-P3 might be marginally better in the image quality department than the existing cameras it won't be by much for my kind of shooting. I'm happy with the focus on my E-P2. The reason I would consider an E-P3 is strictly for the the styling and the improved video capabilities. I know many reader of TOP don't want to think about video, but in my business clients are falling all over themselves to get short videos up on the web. The new E-P3 looks like a good production tool for a one-man video production team....
"But the 45mm ƒ/1.8 is the one most of us have been waiting for. Good for Olympus for having the cojones to flesh out this system."
Featured Comment by Ctein: "I find the body only mildly interesting, unless there's a palpable jump in RAW image quality over my E-P1. The bigger, better screen is nice. But I'm OK with what I've got. Also the wider range on exposure bracketing is nice. But on the E-P1, so far as I've been able to figure out, there's no way to get it to do real auto-bracketing (expose a burst of frames automatically, not just increment the exposure settings). Without that, I find I usually don't use the exposure bracketing feature because too often I forget to turn it off or need to restart in midstream.
"So, probable pass on the camera.
"But those prime lenses? Oh yeah. The 12 and 45 are just what I've been looking for to complement my 20mm Panasonic. I can pretty much dispense with my 14–42 zoom with those. Hardly use it anywhere except at the extrema.
"If the reports on those lenses are good, this could keep me with Olympus for several more years."
Mike replies: I agree about the lenses. Assuming pleasing image quality, both are ideal to augment either the 20mm ƒ/1.7 or the new 25mm ƒ/1.4 in a three-lens prime set.
Years ago I figured my own lens use as: normal 35–40mm, 80% of my shooting; 85–90mm portrait lens, 15%; and 5% WA. Which meant that I usually forewent the WA, as it was often the most expensive lens and got the least use...although, when you need a WA, you tend to really need it.
These two lenses really improve the look of the whole Micro 4/3 universe to my way of thinking—no small thing considering that the lovely Lumix G 20/1.7 is already the ideal lens for my taste. I like everything about that lens, and I'm such a nut case about optics that that's a very rare occurrence indeed.
Featured Comment by Dave Kee: "Whew, I am glad we are back to talking about expensive new gear. All those posts about actually taking pictures with basic equipment were sooo boring."