Olympus Unleashes E-P3, E-PL3 and E-PM1 Pen Mini

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Updating its Micro Four Thirds Pen series today, Olympus announces three new ILCs. The E-P3, E-PL3 and Pen Mini boast dramatically faster auto focus and the creative flexibility that we’ve come to expect from the Pen.

Olympus E-P3

For a full analysis of the E-P3, head on over to our fresh-off-the-presses Olympus E-P3 Review.

The Olympus E-P3 replaces the E-P2 as the flagship Pen. It offers the same premium build quality as its predecessor and adds a 3.0-inch touch screen. The E-PL3 shares many features with the E-P3 including a 12.3 megapixel Live MOS sensor though it lacks touch functionality and the durable build of its counterpart. It replaces the E-PL2 as a step-down alternative.

The Olympus Pen Mini E-PM1 represents a new product altogether, smaller than the E-P3 and E-PL3 with an appearance and interface designed to appeal to the beginner and casual shooter. Also debuting are two new Zuiko prime lenses for Micro Four Thirds – a 12mm f/2 and a 45mm f/1.8.

Need for Speed
Critics have long complained of the Pen series’ sluggish AF system since the introduction of the E-P1 two years ago. Olympus introduces the E-P3, E-PL3 and E-PM1 with a new, cleverly named FAST (Frequency Acceleration Sensor Technology) auto focus system. According to Olympus, the sensor readout speed has been doubled thanks to the new TruePic VI processing engine. This new system uses 35 focus points spread across the sensor.

Aside from a speed enhancement, the new sensor and processor combo offers new Real Color Technology. It’s a tweaked formula for color reproduction that Olympus claims is more faithful to real world color, reduces a loss of detail in highly saturated color blocks and handles typically troublesome colors better. The processor is also responsible for a faster start-up time and uses pixel binning to produce a more crisp image on the camera’s display.

Olympus E-P3
The E-P3 is the first Olympus camera to offer a touch screen, a 3.0-inch 614k-dot OLED panel with a fingerprint-resistant coating. ISO range extends up to 12800, an improvement over the E-P2’s limit of ISO 6400. Thanks to the new processing technology, shot-to-shot LCD blackout time has been reduced, helpful for rapid-fire shooting and composing. Video resolution jumps from the E-P2’s 720p up to 1080 60i AVCHD.

Cosmetically, the E-P3 takes only a few departures from its predecessors. The right hand grip is now detachable, held in place by a small screw. The E-P3 offers a built-in flash unit spring-loaded into the camera’s top panel. Menu screens have been given a much overdue facelift, and more space on the back panel has been devoted to the OLED monitor, resulting in a slight redesign of the control layout.

No less than 10 in-camera Art Filters are available to the E-P3 shooter along with new Art Filter Effects including Star Light and White Edge. Users can now combine certain effects with the art filters, and all art filters can be applied to still and video images.

Olympus E-PL3
The E-PL3 offers the same processor and sensor as its E-P3. It loses the touch screen and instead offers a tilting 3.0-inch LCD. While it retains 1080 HD video recording and all manual and automatic exposure modes, it offers a reduced six art filters. The pop-up flash that graced the top of the E-PL2 is gone from the E-PL3. Instead, it will ship with a new FL-300R flash. This unit slides into the camera’s hot shoe/accessory port and offers wireless compatibility with Olympus lighting accessories.

This Pen Lite camera features a metal frame and an overall size reduction of 25% as compared to the E-PL2. A new shutter mechanism was designed, resulting in a burst shooting rate boost up to 5 fps with image stabilization disabled. Overall, the E-PL3 has a slimmer, sleeker appearance than the chunkier E-PL2.

Olympus E-PM1
Olympus debuts a new class of Pen with this round of updates, the Pen Mini. The E-PM1 leads the way, shipping in six different colors: purple, pink, brown, white, silver and black. It lacks the articulating LCD of the E-PL3, offering instead a fixed 3.0-inch 460k-dot monitor.

The physical controls have been simplified, removing the mode dial from the top panel and most of the buttons on the back panel. A control dial on the back panel can be used to scroll through a new “stripe” screen interface with options appearing on a vertical stripe to the left of the screen. A dedicated video record button is retained, offering easy access to the camera’s 1080 HD video mode.

Much of the E-PL3’s functionality is available in the Mini – it’s the packaging that’s slightly different. Live Guide modes are available to make adjustments to bokeh and color temperature easier for beginners. The whole look and feel is designed to be more approachable for a first-time interchangeable lens customer.

New Zuiko Lenses
Olympus announces two more Micro Four Thirds lenses, the M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2 prime with an all-metal construction and a M.Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.8 portrait prime. The 12mm lens construction includes a snap focus ring, a sliding mechanism that reveals a distance indicator.

The 45mm features Olympus’s MSC Movie & Still Compatibility for quiet auto focus operation during video capture. Additionally, the exisiting M.Zuiko Digital 14-42mm II f/3.5-5.6 lens included in kit options for each Pen camera has been cosmetically redesigned.

Pricing and availability
The Olympus E-P3 will be available in black, white or silver with either the 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 or 17mm f/2.8 lens for $899.99. It’s expected to be available in August 2011. Olympus has not disclosed pricing for the E-PL3 or E-PM1 Micro Four Thirds cameras, estimating that both cameras will be available to consumers within the year.

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