Even faster than the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV (with 24-70mm lens): that's what Olympus claims of not only its latest flagship PEN camera, the E-P3, but also of the mid-range PEN Lite E-PL3 and also the baby of the bunch, the PEN Mini E-PM1.
In a launch in Sydney yesterday, Olympus showed graphs pitting the Micro Four Thirds-based PEN focusing performance against Panasonic's Micro Four Thirds-based LUMIX DMC-GH2 (and GF3), as well as high-end digital SLRs such as Canon's flagship EOS, and winning. However, testing conditions were reportedly only in daylight situations and from a distance of 1m. Olympus says that the enhanced focusing performance is due not only to fast lens driving technology, but also due to improvements in the Live MOS sensor itself.
The new 12.3-megapixel Live MOS sensor is capable of capturing up to 120 frames per second of focusing information; this information all feeds into the processor, which is generation six of Olympus' TruePic image processor and features dedicated processing time for auto-focusing. The shutter button half-press performance has also been improved. All this technology combined is what Olympus now calls Frequency Acceleration Sensor Technology AF, or FAST AF for short.
The new cameras also have 35-zone focusing, which means that focus operations can be tighter and more accurate, and focus tracking is said to also have been improved compared to the previous PEN generation. The high-end PEN E-P3 has a touchscreen that allows you to focus practically anywhere on the screen and take a photo by tapping. This isn't entirely new technology, and we have seen it before in cameras such as Panasonic's LUMIX DMC-GH2.
Other improvements in the latest PEN cameras include better speed and responsiveness due to using two processors (one for recording and one for LiveView); better dynamic range, 1080i AVCHD video support, higher ISO support (up to 12800 up from ISO 6400), better colour saturation and much improved Art filter capabilities. The processor is powerful enough to implement all available Art filters on a single scene — with this feature you don't even have to decide which filter you want to use, as it will just use all of them.
Video recording is also improved on the new PEN cameras thanks mainly to shutter control and new algorithms that help stabilise motion. Olympus claims that the performance of the PENs when capturing video will be as good as a dedicated camcorder.
All PEN bodies are made out of metal and the PEN E-P3 that we played with felt very sturdy (similar to the PEN E-P2 before it). The E-P3 features a brilliant, capacitive OLED touchscreen; it has accurate colour, high brightness and wide viewing angles. It is perhaps the best screen we have seen on a digital camera to date.
The PEN E-P3 comes with a built-in flash; the PEN Lite E-PL3 and the PEN Mini E-PM1 have a clip-on flash. All flashes have a wireless control capability. The PEN Lite E-PL3 has a tilting LCD screen, while the PEN Mini E-PM1 only has a fixed LCD screen.