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Olympus announces three PEN Micro Four Thirds cameras, two new lenses  
Wednesday, June 29, 2011 | by Eamon Hickey
Olympus has announced three new 12.19 million image pixel models in the company's PEN lineup of Micro Four Thirds system cameras, as well as new prime lenses and a small accessory wireless flash. The company is also refreshing its M. Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 and M. Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm f4-5.6 zoom lenses with new exterior styling.

The new E-P3 is clearly a replacement for the E-P2, the upper-level enthusiast model. The PEN E-PL3 looks sure to replace the E-PL2 and is about 25% smaller than its predecessor. The PEN E-PM1, smallest of them all by a modest margin, is a simplified entry-level model.

All three cameras use the same Live MOS image sensor and the latest generation of the Olympus image processing engine, called TruePic VI. Olympus says that all three produce equal image quality.

Two prime lenses also figure prominently in the newly announced products. They are the M. Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f2.0 (24mm equivalent in 35mm format terms) wide-angle lens with a "snapshot" manual focus feature and the M. Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f1.8 short telephoto (90mm equivalent).

PEN E-P3

The PEN E-P3 bears a close resemblance to the E-P2 but includes several significant changes, both inside and out. First and foremost is much faster autofocus: Olympus says it is the world's fastest autofocus system when used with the latest MSC (Movie and Still Compatible) Olympus lenses under the company's in-house test conditions, which were not specified.

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Enthusiast: Views of the EP-3, including with the M. Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f2.0 attached. Click photos to enlarge (Photos courtesy Olympus)

In a briefing, Toshi Terada, Manager of Digital SLR Product Planning for Olympus Corporation (Japan), noted that the company's speed claims do not extend to low light and continuous focus of moving subjects. A low-light AF illuminator has been added to the camera, however. The number of focus points has been increased to 35, and tracking of the subject within the frame from focus point to focus point (as distinct from follow-focusing a moving subject) has been improved.

Overall speed of operation, including blackout, shot-to-shot time, and shutter lag (now less than 60 milliseconds), is also better, says Olympus. Top ISO speed is now 12,800, partly as a result of "improvements in the sensitivity" of the sensor compared to its previous 12-megapixel Live MOS sensors, says the company.

Other significant changes include the addition of a built-in flash, a new 3-inch (diagonal), 614,000-pixel OLED touch screen monitor, and 1080p/60i HD video recording in AVCHD or AVI formats. The camera's grip is also now removable and a larger, ridged grip is available as an accessory. Some changes have also been made to body contours and control placement.

The PEN E-P3 will be available in the U.S. starting in August 2011. It will sell in kits with either the M. Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 zoom lens or with the M. Zuiko Digital ED 17mm f2.8 prime lens for an estimated street price of US$899.99. No pricing or availability is given for a body-only configuration.

PEN E-PL3

Olympus bills the PEN E-PL3 as a smaller camera for the photo enthusiast. The company has shrunk it by about 25% compared to its predecessor, the E-PL2, and cut weight down to 9.35oz/265g without lens. Its overall performance, including the new autofocus system, is the same, or nearly the same, as the E-P3, according to Olympus, and it has a tilting, 3-inch (diagonal) LCD monitor. It has no built-in flash but will ship with a removable accessory flash.

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Middle Child: Views of the E-PL3, including with the M. Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 attached. Click photos to enlarge (Photos courtesy Olympus)

Olympus has given no information on pricing or availability for the PEN E-PL3.

PEN E-PM1


The PEN E-PM1 has a body shape similar to the PEN E-PL3 but a much simplified control interface and button configuration designed for entry-level users, especially those moving up from a point-and-shoot camera. Its monitor does not tilt, and it's a little bit smaller still than the PEN E-PL3. The PEN E-PM1 also ships with an accessory removable flash.

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New Guy: Views of the E-PM1, including with the M. Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 attached. Click photos to enlarge (Photos courtesy Olympus)

Olympus has not given any pricing or availability information on the PEN E-PM1 either, other than to say it will be available in six colors (including the white and black shown above).

M. Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f2.0

Roughly similar in size to a medium-speed rangefinder lens, the 12mm f/2.0 is an MSC lens, meaning it achieves the highest AF speed and produces very little noise that might be picked up by the camera's microphone when recording video. It boasts several aspherical and ED lens elements.

It also features an interesting "snapshot" manual focus clutch mechanism. When you slide the focus ring towards the camera, the lens switches instantly to manual focus, and when it does, the focus distance reverts to wherever you last had it set when in manual focus mode. This is designed to facilitate classic zone focused grab shots (hence the "snapshot" terminology). In manual focus mode, the focus ring also has hard stops at nearest focus and infinity (i.e. it doesn't freewheel like some modern AF lenses), and there is a focus distance and depth-of-field scale.

The M. Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f2.0 is to ship in July and will sell for an estimated street price of US$799.99 in the U.S.

M. Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f1.8


Also roughly similar in size to a medium-speed rangefinder lens, the 45mm f/1.8 fits the bill as a classic portrait lens. It, too, carries the faster-focusing MSC designation.

The M. Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f1.8 will be available in the U.S. in September 2011 and will sell for an estimated street price of US$399.99.

Glass Eyes: M. Zuiko Digital lenses, including the new 45mm f/1.8 and 12mm f/2.0. Click photo to enlarge (Photo courtesy Olympus)

Other Accessories

Olympus also announced the FL-300R, a small wireless TTL-capable flash with a guide number of 91 ft./28m (at ISO 200). The flash swivels from its foot, allowing it to be positioned for bounce or macro lighting. It's available soon for an estimated price of US$169.99 in the U.S.

For the E-P3 there is also an accessory, ridged grip, called the MCG-2. It's available soon for US$19.99 in the U.S.

All In: The Olympus PEN family of cameras, lenses and accessories. Click photo to enlarge (Photo courtesy Olympus)

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