Olympus hosted an event last week in Vienna called the PEN Experience, presenting the world premier of three new PEN cameras. The already well known "third" PEN model was present, called E-P3, which we have had the opportunity of testing on attractive locations of the Austrian capital. Furthermore, PEN Lite (E-PL3) cameras were also on hand, as well as the diminutive PEN Mini (E-PM1).
The main representative of the third PEN generation, the E-P3, hardly differs from its predecessors at first glance. However, those who have fallen in love with these devices based on Micro Four Thirds technology over the past two years - which is how long digital PEN cameras have existed - this one includes improvements that they will care about most.
Above all, the autofocus is significantly faster, which is credited to the TruePic VI processor and faster and more sensitive 12.3-megapixel sensor. During the test in Vienna, we could really see the difference in the autofocus compared to PEN predecessors.
While using art filters, the chosen effect is visible on the LCD display even before clicking, thus it could be expected that this "live" image editing process would slow down the focus. However, this was not the case - the image appeared on the LCD display without the applied filter only at the moment that the actual shot was taken. This was a bit confusing at first, but one soon gets used to it.
When it comes to filters, the gathered crowd in Vienna was mostly impressed with the new effect Olympus has added, called "Dramatic". Shots taken in "Dramatic mode" are not quite dramatic, but rather look like HDR photographs. Thus many at the premier started taking photos with this filter turned on after a while.
It is not difficult to find motifs which would be photographed in this fashion in one of the most spectacular capitals of Europe, architecturally and historically. This is additional proof that PEN E-P3's clientele will largely be dedicated, amateur photography enthusiasts, who shoot and travel often.
This camera's build also favors this fact - being its second biggest difference compared to its predecessors. It is smaller and lighter, although more solid as well. Now, it comes with a built-in flash and a 3.0-inch touchscreen. PEN E-P3 can easily be carried around one's neck all day long (of course, this also depends on the lenses the user is carrying), and its interface is intuitive, especially while viewing photographs you've already taken by sliding through the images with a finger on the touchscreen.
Another novelty is the interchangeable grip - two sizes are included with the camera and it is also possible to use the camera without the grip. Thus, the new PEN becomes adjustable to palms of different sizes and preferences. This did not seem that important since this device is not that particularly large, therefore the grip shape is not a deciding factor regarding its comfort during usage.
PEN Lite (E-PL3) is even more compact than E-P3 - it includes an aluminum casing and a decorative ring on the lens. It comes in black, white, silver and red. It also features the Fast AF technology, as Olympus calls the new, accelerated focus and comes with all art filters as E-P3. The articulating LCD screen is quite practical, however it is not touch sensitive.
What seems like the most interesting novelty is PEN Mini (E-PM1), which is in fact envisioned as the first camera with interchangeable lenses for the broadest circles of photography amateurs. PEN Mini comes in six colors and has an interchangeable decorative ring on the lens. It is exceptionally small and compact, despite the fact that it comes with a 3.0-inch screen (it is neither articulated nor touch sensitive) and all the most important features that E-P3 and PEN Lite include.
Thus, PEN Mini also comes with a TruPic VI processor which enables it to use the Fast AF technology for autofocus and it has the same sensor as the remaining two PEN cameras of the third generation. It is also possible to take photographs with manual settings.
PEN Lite and PEN Mini were not available for a test in Vienna, however, one can conclude, based on these features, that this device can create photographs of the same quality as its bigger brothers. Still, there are some software differences - PEN Mini has "just" six art filters, however, it does include the most attractive one, the "Dramatic" filter.
Olympus E-P3 will be on the market at the start of July, while PEN Lite and PEN Mini should be available in shops world-wide at the start of fall. And in case you missed it, check out our full review of the Olympus E-P3.