Who you calling Micro?

In-Depth: Olympus E-P3

Tech : Cameras By Photo by JG

In the last few years a new breed of camera has stormed the digital photography world. Known as mirrorless or interchangeable lens cameras, they forgo the mirror of a DSLR (or SLR) for a smaller, lighter, and more portable package. They’ve grown in leaps and bounds by providing amateurs an opportunity to upgrade from a point-and-shoot and enthusiasts a way to lighten the load of a DSLR kit. A winning proposition for all involved.

One of the forerunners in this category is Olympus. In 2009 they launched their PEN line of cameras based on the Micro 4/3’s standard, paying homage to an innovative Olympus film camera from the 1950’s. We recently got the opportunity to spend a month shooting with the top camera in the PEN line, the E-P3.

As staunch DSLR enthusiasts we weren’t sure how we’d feel about a smaller camera and a smaller sensor. In the end we’ve come away truly impressed. For the $900 price tag, the EP3 delivers the stats you expect — 12.3 megapixel Live MOS sensor, ISO200- ISO12,800, 1080i video at 60fps, 120 HZ fast auto-focus, auto-focus illuminator, and built in pop up flash. All of this is packaged into a stunning vintage styled metal body shell with enough manual controls to satisfy the camera geek.

While stats are great, the EP3 shines where it matters, shooting. Light but solid in the hand, the E-P3 touts easily customized manual controls. In-camera image stabilization allowed us to get superior shots in low light with a relatively slow lens. We can’t imagine how nice a fast f1.4 prime lens would be on it. The two things that really blew us away were the blazing fast auto-focus and OLED touch screen. The “Fast Auto Focus” uses 35 zones for speed and accuracy easily rivaling any other camera we’ve shot. In casual settings it was spot on. The touch screen takes cues from our favorite smart phones, allowing you to select your focus point or instantly take a shot, great for frame composition control. You can also change settings or swipe scroll through pics. While it’s true that the Micro 4/3’s sensor is smaller than that of a DSLR, the camera still produced crisp, vibrant photos right out of the camera that will provide great prints and tumblr fodder alike.

The old adage of the best camera is the one you have with you fits the EP3 perfectly. Its portability lent itself to easily fitting in our bag everyday for impromptu snap shots and lunch time wanderings. It does everything a photo enthusiast would want, in a package that you always want to bring along.

Author’s Note: For a truly vintage look (and a better grip) we highly recommend heading over to Aki-Ashai to get a laser cut leatherette kit for the E-P3. For under $20 these kits make your camera look Leica cool.

Buy Now: $900

Olympus E-P3 Test Shots

Photos by Jon Gaffney