Updated: The following pages were newly added in this updated article based on the retail edition of the Olympus PEN E-P3 that we spent time testing recently.
When Olympus said it overhauled its AF system for the E-P3 they weren't kidding. Olympus claims that the E-P3's AF focuses nearly three times faster than before, and we can confirm that it's a lot more accurate than it used to be as well. Out of the box, this is a camera you can trust to focus quickly and help you get the shot.
Face detection has been added, and to a finer degree you can even set the AF to focus specifically on the eyes (both, left or right), an important distinction when you shoot at wide apertures. But its accuracy still needs a little work, as it seems to have some trouble finding faces at times.
While the improved AF system is enough reason for us to recommend the E-P3 over the older E-P models, there are certain caveats when it comes to image quality. The E-P3 gets a good resolution of 1800 x 1600LPH (vertical and horizontal) on our resolution charts, and images look beautifully clear and defined. Colors are reproduced beautifully, and the dynamic range looks like it's been boosted. Images stay clean until ISO800, but noise and smudging of detail is visible at ISO1600, and shooting at settings above ISO3200 can't be recommended.
It's unfortunate that while Olympus has made leaps and bounds in their AF technology, they haven't managed to break the same barriers in image noise that we saw happen with the Panasonic G3. If it matters to you, the E-P3 shoots 'only' at 12MP, but we're glad that Olympus hasn't joined in on the megapixel war and 12MP is just fine with us.
A second caveat comes in when shooting on iAuto mode; the E-P3 sure likes those colors bright and vivid. When in other manual modes, you can set the color mode to Natural for a more neutral look, but in iAuto the camera likes to punch up the colors using Vivid or i-Enhance mode to shoot. You can change color saturation using an overlay menu but it's just a quirk we couldn't get used to. The camera also tends to underexpose, favoring the highlights in high contrast lighting situations.