Beyond the body: new lenses

Alongside the EP3, Olympus has announced two lenses - one of them available immediately, the other to follow. Having done plenty to make sure there is a decent range of zooms available (and let's not forget that an awful lot of people only ever shoot with zooms), Olympus has announced two fixed focal length lenses of the type keen photographers have almost given up hoping for. The kit zooms have also been restyled to provide a better match to the E-P3's classic looks.

Olympus M. Zuiko Digital 12mm 1:2 and M. ZD 45mm 1:1.8

Olympus M. Zuiko Digital 12mm 1:2.0 Olympus M. Zuiko Digital 45mm 1:1.8

The first of the new primes is a 12mm F2.0 wideangle. There are precious few 24mm-equivalent lenses available on mainstream systems (Sony's NEX system being one honorable exception), despite it being a popular focal length for prime lenses in the film era. Olympus's take on the concept is to deliver a premium quality, large maximum aperture lens that becomes the first in the system to feature 'snap focus', a system by which the focus ring can be pulled back, engaging a modified manual focus mode. In this mode the lens is designed to feel much more like a conventional mechanically-operated manual focus lens, rather than the usual focus-by-wire behavior.

There are four major differences between 'snap focus' and conventional manual focus mode. Firstly, the relationship between the focus ring movement and the movement of the focusing elements is fixed - rather than being speed-sensitive. This direct relationship allows the focusing ring's movement to be stopped at either end of the focus travel which, in turn, has allowed Olympus to add proper distance and depth-of-field scales to the lens. The final difference you'll notice in snap focus mode is that the damping of the ring's movement has been modified to provide a little more resistance and more 'feel.' Such engineering touches don't come cheap, of course, but really do help make the lens feel like a high-end manual focus optic. Right up until you decide you want to re-engage the super-fast autofocus.

The other lens, which will follow in September, is one that we've been asking manufacturers to make for some time - a genuine short telephoto, large aperture 'portrait' lens. If the price proves to be realistic, we can easily see the 45mm F1.8 becoming as compelling a reason to adopt the Micro Four Thirds system as Panasonic's 20mm F1.7 was before it. In short, we're very pleased to see it indeed.

The company says it expects the 12mm F2.0 to sell for around $799.99/£700, while the 45mm F1.8 will be around $399/under £300.

Revamped 'R' kit lenses

Olympus M. Zuiko Digital 14-42mm 1:3.5-5.6 II R vs. M.ZD 14-42mm 1:3.5-5.6 II
Retracted to carrying position Extended, cosmetic bayonet cover removed

The E-P3 also gets cosmetically-redesigned versions of the kit zooms, now with an 'R' suffix. The 14-42mm R is shown above alongside the older version: it has a revised finish that looks a bit more metallic (rather than plastic), along with more finely-textured grips to the zoom and focus ring. There's also a cosmetic ring to cover the bayonet mount on the front (that's used to attach the lens hood and wideangle / fisheye / close-up converters). These are small changes, but overall add up give a more elegant look that's quite an attractive match for the E-P3.

There's also a similarly-restyled version of the M. Zuiko Digital 40-150mm 1:4-5.6 telephoto zoom, although without the bayonet-cover ring. Internally both 'R' lenses get new firmware for improved communication with the camera and faster AF, however older MSC lenses will be upgradable to the same standard. Both will be available in either silver or black to match your camera body.