Scene modes allow you to use choose the appropriate shooting option for your environment – portrait, landscape, macro, fireworks, etc – and if you’re feeling playful, there’s the “Art” mode. This allows you to apply various filter affects to images, and includes: sepia, high contrast black-and-white, cross-processed vintage looks, and even a miniature “diorama” mode.
More experienced photographers may want to will switch between the four manual modes: Program (P), Shutter priority (S), Aperture priority (A), and of course, Manual (M). The rear scrollwheel and silver wheel will let you change aperture and shutter speed quickly, while the “OK” button in the middle of the directional pad will give you quick access to white balance, ISO, auto-focus type, face priority, colour balance, and more. Essentially this provides you with a faster icon-based version of the menu, and is always available under the menu options.
Touchscreen focus is also there, allowing you to literally touch and fire a shot. This is quite handy, as you can track what you want to shoot by touching a point on the screen. The autofocus is very quick, focusing and firing almost immediately after tapping on the screen.
When using the regular shutter button, autofocus was quick and responsive, only stopping when we got too close for the lenses to actually detect anything. In fact, when switching from the 14-42mm to the longer 40-150mm lens, we found the focus very quick, enabling us to capture scenes with ease.
As for the question of image quality, we found the images often to be sharp with strong colours. We’re not sure if you can say the smaller sensor found in the Micro Four-Thirds system won’t produce images as strong as another camera, but we were mostly satisfied with what we were seeing.
Low-light performance isn’t as strong as we’d like, however, often yielding lots of noise in images above 6400. White balance is hit-and-miss, with colours often warmer than they should be.
Video performance can also be choppy if you capture movies in any of the arty modes. It’s not just a problem with capture, either, with playback showing any video shot under an “Art” mode running at a much slower frame rate than a regular video.
There are some annoying bugs too. While we don’t have a problem with custom colour settings being applied to every mode, there should be an option to switch these off from the controls whenever you like. This means you could set the camera to shoot in black and white while on manual, and find the same black and white settings in one of the scene modes – such as fireworks – with no way of switching back to colour quickly.
The lithium-ion battery isn’t the best we’ve experienced, lasting through only 30 minutes of night shooting (around 200 images) and some video capture. We’d recommend buying an extra battery or two for your kit.
The E-P3 is an appealing camera in looks and functionality. The built-in flash is a welcome addition, and the bright touchscreen is nicely responsive. We especially liked the range of creative modes on offer, but were disappointed by battery life and the camera’s low-light performance.
We’re not quite sure if it’s the best Olympus ever, but the E-P3 definitely manages to be a strong product that competes well with digital SLRs.