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CNET First Look
Olympus PEN E-P3While the Olympus PEN E-P3 shoots out in front of its class for performance and holds its own on features and design, it's a bit expensive and you'll need to tweak its JPEG settings to get the most out of its images.
Hi, I'm Lori Grunin, senior editor for CNET and this is the Olympus PEN-EP3. I really want the look of this camera, I mean really. Olympus's Pen line has frequently delivered great photo quality and well designed cameras albeit with poor performance. The company delivers great performance in this model, while maintaining its design and feature strains. It seems to have taken a step back on photo and video quality. I don't think there's anything wrong with camera that can't be fixed for more update, but for its high price, I expect better photo quality out of the box. The camera body is about the same size as the EPL2. Though it's still attractive sturdy on metal body, the black model at least feels and looks a bit more plasticky than its predecessor and then the other colors. In the box, the Olympus includes on optional shallow grip that screws in if you don't like the feel of the flat front, and you'll be able to buy a deeper as well. That should make it easier with longer original four thirds lenses. Olympus updates the camera with a 3-inch OLED touchscreen display. It's a really nice LCD. It's bright and saturated. It's fingerprint proof and you can choose whether the display color is natural or vivid. Though it's a touchscreen, only part of the interface takes advantage of it. That includes touch shutter and the live guide. The camera retains the solid control out of its predecessor. There's no movie record button on the back. It's in a good place for thumb based operation, but in order to prevent accidental presses there's a loop around it which makes it hard to press even intentionally. The are now 2 customizable function buttons, but I think that carry a little too much of the interface burden. For instance, in order to use custom settings, you've to assign them to a function button, and you have to hold the button down while shooting. So, in order to shoot with the custom burst see, which is on 1 function button plus the JPEG override for JPEG plus Raw, which is on the other button. I ran out of fingers. The camera also has its typical really nice creative feature set. Without the ability to view the raw the files, it's hard to make a judgement about the camera's optimum noise level and the EP2 complicates it by defaulting to it; I think are overly aggressive noise reduction settings for JPEG. You can see the details start to grade between ISO 400 and 800 and spot color noise at 1600. My out of the box shots at ISO 400 were kind of disappointing especially given that I shot them with expensive new 12-mm lens. Scaling back to noise reduction to low or even turning it off entirely produces much better results. Photos are grainier, but it's not an attractive look and it preservers a lot more detail. I suspect that shooting room processing with better noise reduction software will gain you at least the stop of latitude of gray. The EP3's color rendering looks quite accurate and pleasantly saturated. It helps that the camera defaults to neutral image style. It also seems to underexpose a bit by default. However, Olympus takes a serious miss step when it comes to video. While it ups to full HD and offers a full set of manual exposure capabilities, the quality is terrible. There's outrageous rolling shutter, you know, that jello wobbling that appears with the slightest camera movement. It think it might be fixable in some way though. One way in which the EP3 unambiguously outdoes its predecessors is its standard shooting performance. As a result, pincer has just gone from sluggish to one of the fastest in its competitive class. Faster overall than all the mirrorless ILCs, about the same as the Sony's fixed mirror SLT models and just a bit slower than comparably priced DSLR. But what it delivers, the EP3 is quite expensive especially since the new model is expected in the fall. They are supposed to have the same performance and sensor. Even if they are not as fast, they're probably be fast enough. Once I get raw software and if you want this possibly tweaks the defaults, I may boost the image rating and the camera might rise on by estimation. But you're looking for a sleek model that deliver superb image quality, spend the extra 200 bucks on the Fujifilm X100. If you instead wanna solid step from a point-and-shoot, I'd wait and see what arrives in the second half of the year. I'm Lori Grunin and this is the Olympus PEN-EP3