Olympus PEN E-P3 in-depth review
With its adoption of a high resolution OLED screen on the E-P3, Olympus has taken the opportunity to give many of the camera's displays a much-needed face-lift. The actual operating behaviour hasn't changed much - EP-1/2 owners will still be completely at home - but the makeover means it's just that much more pleasant to work with. The Custom D menu lets you choose exactly which of the many screens on offer you want to use.
Record mode displays
As usual Olympus allows you the option of seeing lots of information on the screen while you're in the process of shooting. Sadly, though, the E-P3 still forces you to cycle through multiple screens using the Info button, and you simply can't combine options even when it makes perfect sense to have them shown at the same time (for example the highlight/shadow warning with the histogram, or gridlines with the electronic level). This type of behaviour dates back to Olympus's early live view DSLRs, and is now looking distinctly dated in the face of increasingly-slick interfaces from the likes of Panasonic. Luckily the various screens can all be enabled or disabled via the Custom menu, so you only have to cycle through the ones you actually use.
|The simplest view shows the image only.||You can also enable electronic levels to help you avoid tilted horizons and converging verticals.|
|Another press of 'INFO' shows this detailed view with full exposure details and a range of optional gridlines.||There's also the option of showing an overlaid luminance histogram; the white version represents the whole image, with the area under the AF point shown in green.|
|There's also a shadow/highlight exposure warning screen. Blown highlights are displayed in red, and blocked shadows in blue, which gives a useful visual check for correct exposure. You can even customise the brightness levels the camera will use as the cutoff (0-10 for shadows, 245-255 for highlights).||The 'Multi-View' screen allows live on-screen comparison between a range of exposure or white balance variants, so you can pick the one you like best.|
|Pressing the 'Magnify' key enters a whole new display mode for zooming-in to check a selected region of the image. You can move the highlighted area freely around the screen with the arrow keys...||...then press Magnify again to zoom in. The rear dials are used to change the magnification, and with the E-P3's high resolution screen it's easy to check critical focus. You can AF on the selected area in this mode too.|
AF point selection and Touch Focus / Touch Shutter
The E-P3 has a vastly-improved AF system over previous models - there are now 35 zones in a 7x5 grid. Not only do they cover more of the image area, they are also each smaller than before, enabling better precision.
|This is the full 7x5 AF area grid, with all points highlights in auto-area selection mode.||You can also select a single point and move it around the screen.|
The E-P3 also gets a brand new Touch Focus system, but strangely it doesn't key into the AF area grid, and instead is implemented as a short-cut into the 'magnify' display mode. Unfortunately, though, the AF area resets to its previous position on the grid when you exit magnify mode, which effectively means you can't use a touch-selected AF point in concert with other screens such as the electronic levels. Because magnify mode repurposes the the 4-way controller and 'OK' button, you also can't change functions that are normally accessed via these controls (either directly or through the Super Control Panel / Live Control), while a touch-selected focus point is active; instead you have to access touch focus, make your changes, then tap the screen again to reselect your focus point. This makes the mode more annoying to use than it should be.
|When Touch Focus is enabled, touching the screen switches into 'Magnify' view mode and designates the focus area. You still have to half-press to focus, but this isn't exactly a hardship.||The slider down the right hand side of the screen can be used to change the size of the AF point.|
The E-P3 also has the obligatory Touch Shutter mode, in which it focuses and take a picture when you touch the screen. On other cameras we've found this to be not only a great way of filling your memory card with accidentally-taken pictures you don't want, but also of adding camera shake to pictures you do want, so we generally don't recommend it. A small touch button on the left of the screen is used to cycle through touchscreen modes, Touch Focus / Touch Shutter / Touch Focus and Shutter Off.
|Touch AF||Touch Shutter||Touch Off|
You can also turn all touchscreen functions off completely, using the Custom J menu.
Live Guide control
Olympus's Live Guide is a beginner-friendly, results-orientated approach to changing image parameters. Instead of having to deal with technical stuff like shutter speeds, apertures and exposure compensation, the user changes parameters such as 'blurred motion','background blur' and 'brightness'. This is the default mode of operation in iAuto mode, and on the E-P3 can it be controlled using the touchscreen. Sadly you can only set one change at a time: they can't be combined, so if you want a slightly darker image with a less-blurred background, too bad.
|Live Guide offers a results-orientated approach to changing basic image parameters:
• Change Color Saturation
• Change Color Image (warm /cool)
• Change Brightness
• Blur Background
• Express Motions
It also offers a range of Shooting Tips for different photographic situations
|Within any given parameter setting there's a decent range of control on offer, with a touch-controlled slider on the right of the screen (if you prefer you can change everything using the 4-way controller instead).|
Super Control Panel and Live Control
In typical Olympus fashion the E-P3 has not just one, but two methods of providing quick access to commonly-used functions that don't have their own direct-access buttons. The Super Control Panel gives you a comprehensive overview of camera settings in a single screen, overlaid semi-transparently onto the live view display. You can navigate through the parameters using the 4-way controller, and change them quickly using the dials. The 'Live Control' offers an alternative approach for doing much the same thing, with a more compact-camera-like interface.
|The Super Control Panel gives an at-a-glance display of current camera settings, and allows you to navigate around and change them.||The Live Control offers an alternative way of doing much the same thing - the various settings are displayed down the right side of the screen, and when you have one selected its options are displayed along the base.|
In practice both provide an excellent interface for changing those less-accessible options, and once you've decided which you prefer, you can turn the other one off in the Setup menu if you like.
Independent Shadow /Highlight Tone Control
Another feature the E-P3 inherits from the E-PL2 is the ability to tweak independently the shadow and highlight tone curves used by the camera's JPEG processing, with the result previewed live on screen. It's a remarkably well-hidden feature, but one we could see being useful for dedicated JPEG shooters. Shadow and highlight adjustments can be freely combined, which can result in some odd combinations if you're not careful.
|To access the tone curve adjustment controls, you first have to press the Exposure Compensation button (which highlights EC and changes the mode of the 4-way controller).||Pressing 'Info' then brings up this tiny tone curve adjustment icon. Initially the control changes shadow tone.|
|You can change the tone curve to either open or deepen the shadows, with a wide range of adjustment from +7 to 7. Your chosen adjustment value is displayed below the icon.||Press 'Info' again and you can tweak the highlight tone curve in the same way, with the adjustment value now displayed above the icon.|
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