Olympus E-P3 Review

This review has long been overdue and I think it may no longer be relevant especially that the E-M5/OM-D has been released. I mean what’s the point of reviewing old technology? Nevertheless, I’ll try to write about this camera in terms of my own experiences.

Just a bit of background about my other cameras. I have a Nikon D700 which I use for portraiture and event photography. I also have a Pentax K5 which I use for landscape and travel. I still shoot film and I absolutely love my Nikon FM3A and FE2 cameras. My iPhone 4G is for almost everything: events, candids, landscape, travel, basically anything that interests me.

So where does the E-P3 fit in considering that my other cameras have got everything covered? It’s the camera that replaces the iPhone when I expect to capture something worth keeping/printing where the DSLRs might seem awkward. So just like my iPhone the E-P3 is for everything.

The E-P3 is the camera I bring to work everyday, to birthday parties, to gigs/concerts, to everywhere. What I like about the camera, and m43 cameras in general, is their size. Big enough sensor to rival the image quality of DSLRs while small enough to carry everywhere without being awkward or intimidating. The camera can literally fit in my jacket’s pocket.

Last night we had dinner in a restaurant and it was very dim; just enough light to set an intimate mood. The E-P3 had no problems capturing the moment at all:


These are all unedited JPEGs shot at ISO 1600 with the kit 17mm/2.8 lens. The in-body stabilization is very effective in allowing me to shoot handheld even at 1/8s. The highlights and shadows are kept at acceptable levels. The grain doesn’t look bad at all. It actually looks like film grain which to me is pleasing. With a better set of lens such as the Panasonic 20mm/1.7, handheld shots should not be a problem in similar conditions. I could have used the pop-up flash but that would totally ruin the mood of the photo. I can’t imagine bringing my Nikon D700 in this occasion.

In good light, the E-P3 is superb. Here’s a shot of Adelaide Street in Brisbane using the plastic 40-150mm kit lens taken during mid day:


I opened the lens to f5.6. Again this is a JPG image processed in Photoshop. I like how smooth the E-P3 handles the highlights while maintaining details in the shadow areas. Some cameras are really bad at handling high contrast situations but the E-P3 managed to capture the scene quite well.

Another shot captured by the plastic 40-150mm lens at full zoom, ISO 800 at f5.6:


Camera in one hand while my other hand was trying to hold my umbrella against gusty winds. My D700 and 70-300mm lens would be almost impossible to use in this situation. Notice how the film-like grain adds character to the shot.

Here’s a different shot taken at dusk on the way home from work:


Here I used a flimsy tripod and captured multiple JPG frames for the stitched panograph. I really wished I had a wider lens. The 17mm (35mm in full frame) wasn’t wide enough even in portrait orientation and my back was already leaning against the wall.

I would say that the E-P3 is capable of handling just about any situation you throw at it.

Other features that I like in the E-P3 are the preset banks (none in my D700), fully customizable AEB (again, better than my D700), black frame subtraction to minimize hot pixels during long exposures, in-body stabilization that works, dust reduction that works and arguably THE best JPEG rendition in the industry. Autofocus with the 17mm kit lens is still hit or miss though but newer lenses are really quick. The kit lenses are really good. I have only used the 17mm, the new 14-42mm and 40-150mm plastic fantastic and they all produce very acceptable images even at their widest apertures.

Why did I choose a micro 43rds camera? I purchased the E-P1 with 17mm kit when it went on sale at 50% off. I gave it to my brother together with the 14-42mm when I won the E-P3 in a proper photography contest (proper meaning my friends didn’t vote for my photo). For me, Olympus’ implementation of the m43 format is the most logical carry everywhere camera that you could buy now. Other “compact” systems don’t make sense to me. The Sony NEX series have gigantic mediocre lenses, the Nikon 1 and Pentax Q really are just glorified point-and-shoot cameras. Of course there’s the Fuji X series but without proper zoom lenses, you could hardly call them walkabout cameras. They are also expensive, huge and have really buggy implementations. The Canon G1X looks really nice but I think it arrived too late. I won’t mind the fixed zoom lens of the G1X because I rarely change lenses even with my DSLRs. When I go out, I usually carry just one camera and one lens and concentrate on taking photographs.

With the release of the E-P3 (and the new E-M5/OM-D) together with superior lenses, Olympus has finally proven to the world that the 43rds format is here to stay. They have managed to build a stronghold in a unique position in the industry. I’m wishing them all the best.

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