Updated: We've obtained a retail retail version of the Olympus PEN E-P3, and have upgraded our former preview article (on 30th June) to a full fledged review. Building on our earlier article, we've added an Image Performance review page, as well as Sample Photographs and a brand new Conclusion.
The Panasonic Lumix G1 may have been the first Micro Four Thirds (MFT) camera to launch, but there's no doubt Olympus' first MFT camera, the PEN E-P1, was the one which caused a huge sensation when it was released in mid-2009. With its gorgeous, retrospective silver metal body, it had many aspiring owners at hello - and who could forget the stunning slow-motion commercial which accompanied its launch?
The E-P1 was quickly followed by its successor the E-P2, a scant five months later in late 2009. It offered minimal upgrades at a higher price, so wasn't likely to give E-P1 early adopters buyers' remorse, but it was a curious decision Olympus made to update a flagship camera that quickly. Even curiouser, after the E-P2 was launched, the PEN E-P series then went completely dark for more than an entire year.
The PEN Goes Dark in 2010
To be sure, there was one new PEN model in 2010, the PEN E-PL1 which was released early in the year. It was a toned down, more affordable version of the E-P cameras (the E-PL1 did come with something the E-P cameras didn't; an in-built flash), and it was the only PEN highlight of the year. An E-PL1s was released in late 2010, but it was basically an E-PL1 with a new lens and higher capacity battery. Then there was the E-P2 Special Black Flash limited edition, also released in late 2010, but that was just a black E-P2 with a black FL-14 flash attachment, and a lens cap embossed with the F logo from the 1963 Olympus Pen F.
While Olympus was rehashing its old MFT cameras, the same year saw Panasonic launch four brand new Micro Four Thirds camera bodies, Samsung release four NX camera bodies and Sony introduce the NEX E-mount with two camera bodies. We heard from a local representative that Olympus was doubling down their efforts on Micro Four Thirds, but we had our doubts when 2010 came and went with hardly any news about any new PEN models.
Making a Comeback in 2011
After a year and a half, it looks like 2011 is the year the PEN makes its comeback. The E-PL2 was released earlier this year, and now Olympus has announced three brand new models scheduled for the later half of 2011. They've created not just a successor to the E-PL2 with the E-PL3, now called the PEN Lite, they've also created an even smaller Micro Four Thirds camera - the smallest MFT camera we've seen yet - the PEN E-PM1, or the PEN Mini.
The EP series also gets an upgrade after one and a half years. The Olympus PEN E-P3 looks similar to its predecessors, but there are some changes to the controls layout and more changes under the hood, including a faster AF system, new TruePic VI image engine and sensitivity up to ISO12800. We've managed to score an early look with a pre-production E-P3, enough to gain some early first thoughts on Olympus' new flagship Micro Four Thirds model.