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Preview: Olympus E-P3 Camera

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The only thing better than having an amazing adventure outdoors is also having footage to help you remember it. This last week, I had the opportunity to try out the just-announced Olympus Pen E-P3, a new flagship model for the company’s sophisticated Pen line of cameras. From my preview, I think this camera has the potential to change, if only a little, the way we capture images and video.

The Olympus E-P3 digital camera

It has classic camera looks as well as cutting-edge performance. The cleanly-designed Pen E-P3 offers some never-before-seen features sure to excite camera geeks. There’s a touch-screen that gives you the ability to choose AF points, release the shutter, and navigate the camera’s menus with the touch of a finger. Olympus also touts “the world’s fastest auto focus” with the E-P3.

This little rangefinder-style (meaning no eye viewfinder) digital camera neatly fills the gap between “point-and-shoot” and digital SLR with its small size and ability to swap lenses. The $899 msrp buys you a “kit” with an E-P3 body and a 14-42mm lens (28-84mm equivalent) or 17mm f/2.8 lens (34mm equivalent). Camera weight with the kit lens is roughly one pound.

Top view of E-P3

A 12.3-megapixel sensor, ISO sensitivity that ranges up to 12,800, full 1080HD video capture (though full HD is only available in the somewhat obscure AVCHD format) and a range of lens options from 9-300mm (18-600mm equivalent) make this camera a viable option for those wanting nice photos, but not a bulky SLR. Control of a host of manual functions and some of the best “art filters” in the business make the E-P3 a lot of fun to use.

I’ve been playing with the E-P3 for the last week and am impressed so far. In a variety of outdoor conditions, it has allowed me to take great images and video. Its metal body has a solid feel to it that says “well made” without ever feeling heavy. And the touch screen is not some gimmick — it works great. Do note that most menu items are still button-access though. Extra lenses are small, relatively lightweight and fit easily in a jacket pocket.

Back view of the E-P3

I think the size and weight of this camera make it nearly perfect for taking along on sight-seeing outings and even some strenuous hiking if you felt so inclined. I thought nothing of taking it and three lenses with me on a three-hour glacier hike this week.

A real, working shutter is a welcome comfort sound and Pen lenses are made with quality glass. The newly-released — and off-the-charts-cool! — 12mm f/2.0 Pen prime lens is a thing of beauty in all respects. I am genuinely impressed with the clarity of the images from this little camera. And, of course, as a working photographer, I love the option of shooting a RAW file.

While the Olympus Pen E-P3 camera system is not weather-proof or drop-proof like some of the company’s other cameras, it is a high-quality camera that is sized well for those of us that prefer foot travel to get to scenic spots. Offered in three colors (silver, black or white), the E-P3 is a handsome camera. Smart design, advanced features, portability and an ever-expanding list of accessories make this camera a true object of desire.

T.C. Worley is a professional freelance photographer and a regular contributor to the New York Times.

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