Olympus Pen E-P3

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/ Updated: 30 June 2011 7:00 am BST

The Olympus Pen E-P3 is the third version of the retro-styled camera that kicked off the lens-swapping Pen range. It still has the kitsch appeal of its predecessors but adds thoroughly modern marvels, including a touchscreen and super-speedy autofocus.

The Pen E-P3 with a versatile 14-42mm lens kit will be available in August for £800.

Snappy snapper

Olympus reckons the E-P3 has "the fastest autofocus of any camera with interchangeable lenses". That's thanks to the TruePic VI image-processing engine inside the camera. The camera's brain thinks fast enough to keep focusing constantly, so it's always in focus and ready to snap a picture the very moment you press the shutter button.

There are 35 focus points, so the camera can automatically focus wherever you want it to, or you can take charge of focus yourself. The processor is also fast enough to apply your choice of special effects to your images before you take them, so you can see how they'll turn out. Special effects include pop art, soft focus and vintage sepia tones. Effects can be added to both stills and video.

Video is recorded in 1080i high definition at 60 frames per second. There's a dedicated video button and HDMI output so you can watch your movies on your high-def television too.

There are plenty of buttons on the back of the camera, even though it has a touchscreen.

All these features are contained in a retro-style body. The brushed-aluminium frame has a textured leather-effect grip for that vintage look. The version with the off-white grip looks especially kitsch. The camera also comes in black and silver versions.

Like a dinky dSLR

The body is smaller than that of a traditional digital SLR, even with all those features included. At the top of the camera is a hotshoe to which you can attach a flash, viewfinder or other accessories. A pop-up flash is also present, so you won't be without a flash if you slap a viewfinder on the hotshoe.

The E-P3 is based on the Micro Four Thirds format, so it uses Micro Four Thirds lenses. A number of standard-sized lenses are available, giving you different effects for different situations. Panasonic also makes cameras and lenses that use the Micro Four Thirds format, so there's plenty of choice when it comes to glassware.

Micro Four Thirds cameras can swap lenses, but aren't as big as traditional lens-swapping dSLRs. They miss out the mirror mechanism inside but don't give up any of the features or flexibility, so they're suited to use both as a versatile back-up for seasoned photographers and a lightweight option for amateurs looking to get serious. Amateurs can start off with everything in automatic mode and hopefully learn more about photography as they explore the settings and features on offer.

The E-P3 is the first of the Pen range to sport a touchscreen. The 3-inch OLED touchscreen lets you scroll through pictures, zoom in on snaps and even take a picture by tapping on the screen. Simply tap on the screen where you want to focus and the camera will make all the automatic adjustments to keep your subject crisp, clear and properly exposed. Tapping the screen again snaps a picture, which could cut down on the tiny amount of shake from pressing the shutter button on the top of the camera.

You can also tap on the screen to call up the 'live guide', which helps you to take pictures. For example, when you want a blurry background to make your subject stand out, you need to adjust the aperture and depth of field. The live guide makes this easy by bringing up a simple slider on the screen that you adjust with a dial on the camera.

As well as the controls on the touchscreen, the two dials on the back of the camera allow you to make quick adjustments to exposure and aperture without having to delve into menus or settings. You can also assign your own settings to three customisable buttons, so the settings you regularly need to adjust are right at your fingertips.

The E-P3 is the follow up to the Olympus Pen E-P2 and the Olympus Pen E-P1. The addition of the touchscreen is the biggest change, followed by the inclusion of a pop-up flash, replacing the dial on the left shoulder.

Outlook

The Olympus Pen E-P3 retains the vintage charm of its predecessors, but adds some features sorely missed from earlier models, alongside a touchscreen and access to a much improved range of lenses. We're looking forward to taking it for a spin.

Edited by Charles Kloet

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Where to Buy

Olympus Pen E-P3

Part Number: CNETOlympus Pen E-P3

Typical Price: £800.00

See manufacturer website for availability.