Testing the New Olympus E-P3

First of all, thank you Olympus Singapore for loaning me their new Micro Four Thirds camera, Olympus PEN E-P3 for my testing. This review of the Olympus PEN E-P3 is not a technical review. I will not be talking about those MTF charts to review the performance of their lenses, etc, but more about how I would use the camera for my shooting style. So, it’s really a practical review.

If you follow my blog, you would have known that I am a fan of Micro Four Thirds camera. I own one which is the Panasonic Lumix GF1 and I love it. It has faster auto-focus and better LCD screen than the previous Olympus E-P1 and E-P2. That’s why I did not get the Olympus initially. But, the new Olympus PEN E-P3 promises a much better Auto Focus performance, better LCD screen and an improved image quality up to even ISO 12800 (that’s what its specs claims). Hence, my curiosity to test it out.

Now,  this IS NOT a paid review of Olympus camera, in case you think I will be biased. I will be testing the camera in a way just like how I would use the camera for my daily shooting. That’s why I will probably not test the kit lenses 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 and 40-150mm f/4-5.6 that Olympus also sent me for few reasons:

  • I like to control my aperture when shooting. Hence, I don’t want the lens to change the aperture by itself when zooming in, which is always the case for any kit lenses (not only Olympus’).
  • I like to shoot using available light. I don’t mind bumping up the ISO and shoot wide open if that gives me a fast enough shutter speed. Hence I prefer lenses with big aperture.
  • I am a bokeh freak, hence I prefer big aperture lenses.

Olympus first sent me the silver body of E-P3 and their kit lenses : 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 and 40-150mm f/4-5.6. But instead of using these two lenses for my testing, I asked if they could send me their new prime lens instead, the new 12mm f/2. Fortunately, they had one, just in time before I left for Jakarta last weekend where I shot all these photos. All the photos here were shot with the new Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2 lens (24mm on 35mm camera equivalent). But I still have time until 12th August, so I may shoot some images using the two kit lenses.

ALL the photos here are from the JPEG files straight out of the camera. NO post processing at all. I only resized them for web viewing. I shot RAW and JPEG (Fine Large) at the same time, but since the Adobe Lightroom cannot read the E-P3 RAW files yet, I will save that for later. I would be interested to know what their RAW files can offer.

Faster Auto Focus

Woo Hoo! It is faster. Confirmed and double confirmed! The focus locks instantaneously. This is very useful when I need to react fast to shoot especially when shooting children playing and street photography as the scenes unfold. It has 35 focusing points to choose from, hence for me who like to choose the focusing point myself, this is great.

Settings: ISO 200, f/2, 1/3200 sec, Auto White Balance, Contrast bumped to +2 in the camera.

 

Settings: ISO 200, f/2, 1/500 sec, Auto White Balance.

High ISO Capability

This one matters a lot to me, because I like shooting using available light. I would like to go up to ISO 2000 or higher without being worried that I won’t see enough details anymore. Again, this is not a technical review, so I won’t bother too much about loosing some details at high ISO. Nothing will crash if the file loses some details when shot at ISO 3200. So, relax. This is not a technology for aircraft. I love grainy pictures anyway. I would rather have grainy images but sharp than clean images but blurred because the shutter speed is too slow.

Now, let me say this, I love how their grains look like in the high ISO images.

Settings: ISO 2000, f/2.8, 1/20 sec, Auto White Balance, Contrast bumped to +2 in the camera.

Now, look at the 100% crop of the image to see how the grains look like. See below. That is still a usable file at ISO 2000.

Another 100% crop in the shadow area. Grainier than the above 100% crop, but that’s expected for the shadow area.

Let’s see two more images from the same location.

 

Now, let’s check out how the ISO 10000 (!) will look like. The actual scene is very dark. These street musicians were under the tree with no light at all. Their faces were only very dimly lit by the street lighting located a bit far from them. The background was much brighter due to street lighting. The camera has no problem locking the focus on the face of the guitarist on the right. Look at how the camera absorb all the available lights at ISO 10000 to make this image brighter.

Settings: ISO 10000, f/2, 1/60 sec, Auto White Balance.

And now, let’s see the 100% crop of the image.

Yes, very very noisy image and lots of details have lost. But, when I print this file, even to 8×12 inch, I would bet that the print would still look nice.

At f/2 and ISO 10000, the camera gave me a shutter speed of 1/60 sec. Very good speed for this kind of image which is good enough to freeze some movement of the subjects and to compensate handshake. Yes, it’s very noisy image, but the camera gives you the option to shoot under this very dark lighting to capture the moment. I would capture the moment any time, even though it’s grainy and noisy image.

Two more photos shot under low light.

Camera Handling

OK, this one is a bit of love and hate relationship. I love the handling of my Panasonic GF1. The thumb rest at the back of the GF1 is great, while the place where you place your thumb at the back of E-P3 is very close to the dial you would use to change the aperture or exposure compensation. I have noticed that I accidentally changed the aperture while shooting because my thumb was very close to that dial. The silver finishing of the E-P3 also seems to make it a bit ‘slippery’. I wish I could try the black version to check out its finishing. But I am sure adding a half-case will make the overall handling better.

Big kudos to Olympus too for not making the E-P3 thinner and smaller. It’s already small enough for me. Making it smaller and thinner does not make it better, at least for me. But, if you like a thinner and smaller version of the E-P3, you can opt for its sibling, E-PL3 or E-PM1.

E-P3 for Street Photography

Just like my Panasonic GF1, the Olympus PEN E-P3 is great for street photography. It’s small, un-intimidating and powerful enough to create great images. And I love its combination with the new Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2 lens. Great wide angle lens. You just need to move closer, make friend with your subjects and shoot. But, I would love to test the camera with a 20mm or 25mm Micro Four Thirds lens.

See series of photos below that I shot in Jakarta.

And these are the photos I shot while riding the ‘bajaj’ home. I purposely set the aperture to f/22 and the lowest ISO (200), so the shutter speed became slow enough to create the movement effect. For those of you who have experienced riding a bajaj in Jakarta, the swerving, the bumping when it hits a hole on the road and the speed, can be ‘fun’, especially when seat-belt ‘is not allowed’.  :)

 

E-P3 for Family Event Photography

I shot these photos during the family gathering last weekend. I have lots of them, but I am running out of time now, let me post few first. Good enough to shoot your own family event?

Art Filters

I normally don’t fancy those built-in art filters or special effects in a camera. But, Olympus PEN E-P3 (just like its previous E-P1 and E-P2) has some cool art filters. I will not use all of them, but one that I really like is the Grainy Film filter. It turns your images into grainy black and white and it can add a cool frame too, mimicking the sloppy border that people used when printing black and white photo in the dark room in the old days. See some photos shot using this Grainy Film art filter.

 

Alright, that’s all for now. I will continue to shoot with this camera before Olympus takes it back on the 12th August. Will share more photos. And oh yes, for those of you who have asked about the August wallpaper, that’s coming. Sorry for the delay again. I gotta go now.

Comments

  1. says

    Yes! Good interesting photos. it is like being there in person with you. You were able to be “others” unaware. Nice when you can coax kids in photos to jump for joy, Come and visit Vancouver Canada “my town” one day. , again, nice photos, good eye, and nice layout, and short story. wonderful really, Cheers from Thomas Gx. way over here in Canada

  2. Marlon Plazo says

    Love the review. I used to live in Singapore, and your photos made me miss the city,

    Need some advice from you – I’m looking for a macro lens (I also own the olympus EP3) -would you advice to get within the olympus family- or is it better to get from the panasonic offers?

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