"To deliver the happiness of photography all around the world, without the knowledge of a camera standing in the way. This is the purpose of the PEN." That's what Olympus said at the start of its PEN cameras' launch event, and it sounds like an apt mission statement for the design and aspiration of the three new models unveiled today.
The Olympus flagship PEN E-P3 succeeds the one and a half year old E-P2, while the E-PL3 - now known as the PEN Lite - replaces the half-year old E-PL2. The E-PL cameras have been the more affordable, simplified versions of the E-P cameras, but the PEN line is now joined by an even simpler and smaller series, the E-PM1, or PEN Mini. While externally the cameras may look quite different, internally they sport the same new 12.1MP High Speed Live MOS sensor, TruePic VI image processing engine and faster AF system.
Besides launching three new cameras, Olympus is also introducing four new lenses, a 14-42mm F3.5-5.6, a 40-150mm F4.0-5.6, and two fixed focal length primes, a 12mm F2.0 and a 45mm F1.8. The two primes have a metal finish which look exceptionally stunning when paired with the metallic E-P3. A new compact flash attachment, the FL-300R, was also announced, and it is compatible with the new PEN cameras' wireless off-camera flash capabilities.
Check out our early preview of the Olympus PEN E-P3, and go here for more details of all three new cameras, as well as news about the new lenses. Read on for our exclusive interview with Olympus representatives Hirofumi Imano, General Manager, Design Center, and Toshiyuki Terada, Manager & Group Leader.
We sat down with Olympus representatives, Hirofumi Imano, General Manager, Design Center, and Toshiyuki Terada, Manager & Group Leader, Product and Marketing Planning Group, Product and Marketing Planning Department, to talk about the new Olympus Micro Four Thirds cameras, and the future of Micro Four Thirds.
Terada: You know Olympus has a good reputation for color reproduction, but we still had trouble with specific colors; the highly saturated yellow of flowers or the emerald green of the sea are really difficult to reproduce. But those colors can now be reproduced very well with the new TruePic VI engine, without affecting the other colors in the scene.
Another new feature is the Advanced Shadow Adjustment Technology (ASAT). ASAT isn't exposure compensation, instead only the dark parts of the image are boosted to adjust for things like backlight, we do this by adjusting the tone curve of the image. But that's not all ASAT does, because when we boost the dark areas you may find the noise in those areas increase as well. The new TruePic VI engine manages the noise in those areas and keeps it noise-free.
Terada: The wireless flash only works with the Olympus system as a full auto, TTL system. But it may work with third-party slave flashes if they're set to manual.
Terada: Once we introduced the E-P2 we started working on the E-P3, but we needed time to develop the new technologies, like TruePic VI and the new image sensor with high sensitivity and high speed AF. The E-P camera is our PEN flagship, and we felt that without any technical improvement we shouldn't release another one.
Terada: We were planning to release it one year after the E-P1, but after we launched the E-P1 most of our users asked for an electronic viewfinder (EVF) for the camera. We were already developing the E-P2 at the time, and we decided to bring it to market earlier than our original schedule with the port for an EVF, because of our users' demand.
Terada: We think the Lite will appeal to gadget lovers, because of the articulating screen and many physical controls. The Mini looks similar to the Lite, but it's completely different in terms of its simplicity. One reason that step-up users hesitate to upgrade to a DSLR camera is because there are too many buttons on those cameras that look difficult to use. We're convinced that the simple, easy to use design of the Mini will appeal to this group of step-up users.
Our philosophy is to provide the same performance, same image quality and same quick AF in all our cameras, but our users can choose a camera body depending on their lifestyle or shooting style.
Terada: As you know, we introduced our flagship E-5 Four Thirds DSLR camera last year. Our E-5 users are our core customers, our most important customers. They're enjoying the E-5 today, but one day they too would like to have a next generation product to enjoy using their lenses with. Now I don't know if we'll create the successor to the E-5 as a mirror-less or mirror camera, it's something we haven't decided yet. What we want to promise is we want to keep supplying a camera body to our core customers.
You know traditional DSLR cameras use phase detection for auto-focus, whereas the Micro Four Thirds system uses contrast detection AF. But Fujifilm has introduced a new image sensor for compact cameras which is equipped with hybrid AF – it sometimes uses contrast AF and sometimes uses phase AF. If we can create a hybrid system like this, then the possibility is there to create a system with Micro Four Thirds bodies and Four Thirds lenses. It's just a possibility, but if the technology becomes sufficiently advanced then maybe a joint system can be possible.
Terada: If we look at the current existing systems, their combination of image sensor and mount size is not so perfect. For example, their image sensor is much bigger than ours, and I think it's really hard to make a wide-angle lens with that mount size. If you look at the images shot with their pancake lens, the image quality in the corner parts is somehow not acceptable. It's the result of the not-so-good balance between the image, sensor size and mount size.
Imano: One of the reasons is that the design is inspired from the crown of the watch. When you use it, you feel the same way as if you were winding your watch.
Imano: When we introduced the E-P1, some of the users asked for a bigger grip, and some asked to remove the grip. We like to let our users be able to customize the camera for themselves. It also depends on which lens is being used, with pancake lenses the camera feels fine without a grip, but when you use a larger telephoto lens you can change to a bigger grip for a more comfortable hold.