Olympus EP3 User Report

All photos by Ray Sachs

2 Guys Photo featured photographer Ray Sachs, a seasoned micro four-thirds shooter and talented street photographer, recently acquired the new Olympus EP3 digital camera.  This report is based on his first impressions and includes a number of images he recently captured during a trip to the Seattle area.  For more on Ray, see this post.  As a quick preview, please note that Ray is also testing the new (and substantially smaller) Olympus EPL3.  Some sample images and impressions to follow soon.

Take it away, Ray…

Ray Sachs: I returned to photography almost a year and a half ago and spent much of that time shooting with an Olympus EP2 – a camera I loved except for its slow operating speed (AF speed, blackout time between shots, shutter lag, etc), I’ve migrated mostly away from m43 cameras for the past several months.  Although I’d held onto my m43 lenses (being the optimistic sort) and always having SOME m43 camera available, I never really found one I loved or used very much after the EP2. As I developed a love of street photography, I kept experimenting with different tools for that fairly specific job. I tried a (Sony) NEX 5 for a while and loved shooting with the flip up screen and liked its low light capabilities, but never really got past the lack of decent small native lenses. I have a Fuji X100 that I love for its incredible IQ in both good light and low light, but it’s really a camera best held to the eye, a style that just doesn’t work that well for me for street shooting – I’ve done some street work with it and gotten good results, but its not the most comfortable camera for me to use on the street. I also have a Ricoh GRD3, which may be the best camera I’ve ever used for street shooting in good light – its small, silent, has a ‘snap focus’ mode that’s MADE for street shooters, a great 28mm equivalent field of view, and nearly infinite depth of field. It is an incredible “from the hip” street camera in decent light. But the same small sensor that gives it amazing depth of field and makes it great in good light also limits it’s capabilities in low light.

"Olympus EP3"

When I heard about the new Olympus models, I got very excited and was glad I held onto my m43 glass. The EP3 promised to be everything I loved about my EP2 but with the speed of a GH2 or DSLR. What’s not to like about THAT?? The EPL3 promises that same speed in a stripped down body with a flip up screen like the NEX – also very appealing! So, having sold a bunch of equipment to raise funds for this purchase, I was the first kid on my block to buy an EP3 when they became available, as well as the new 12mm f2 lens. In the past few weeks I’ve taken it on a family trip to Seattle and a last of summer few days at the Jersey Shore and I’ve put the camera through its paces, both as a general purpose camera and a street cam. And the bottom line is: I love it. If it had a silent shutter it might be the only camera I’d want. Its not as amazing in low light as the X100, but its quite good, about the same as the EP2, maybe a touch better when shooting jpegs (which I’ll stop doing as soon as Apple offers raw support for it). It has the same great feel and more or less the same controls as the EP2 (with one key exception). And the main thing is, this camera is BLINDINGLY FAST!!!

"EP3"

Shooting from the hip (or waist – just nowhere near my face) has become my preferred method of street photography. I’ve developed good enough instincts to frame well as long as I’m using a reasonably wide lens (35mm equivalent or wider field of view) and it allows me to get much closer to my subjects that I’d feel comfortable doing with a camera anywhere near my face. With the Ricoh GRD3, I’d use the camera in its zone, or “snap” focus mode and the shot would always be well enough in focus. Great camera for this.

With the EP3, I figured I’d always need to use the 12mm lens with its manual focus sleeve which allows you to switch between auto and zone focus very easily. I tried that and its quite effective, but like the Ricoh, you need pretty good light to keep the aperture small enough to get enough depth of field. Its very good at f11, and OK at f8, but not great much smaller than that.  So then I started just trusting the auto-focus (with face recognition turned on) and I started getting more consistently good results. The camera tends to find something useful to focus on while still maintaining its incredibly fast AF and shutter response – you push the button and if focuses and shoot NOW. I got some misses for sure, but LOTS of hits! This worked well with the 12, 14, and 17mm lenses. Even in somewhat low light with larger apertures and less depth of field.

With the camera’s orientation sensor, I found I could let the camera hang upside down at my waist (I use a sling strap, so it naturally hangs upside down from the tripod socket strap attachment) and fire photos from that position, with my left index finger on the shutter release, which nobody suspects you’re doing. Holding it upside down also muffles the sound of the shutter somewhat, the audible shutter being one of the few downsides of this camera. And with the orientation sensor, the photos are automatically turned right side up when you view them and upload them – a really nice feature/convenience.

"EP3"

The camera also did well with a variety of lenses for a variety of uses and is the great all around camera I knew it would be. But being a good street camera is a real challenge and the EP3, somewhat to my surprise, rises to that challenge. Its really sort of a great compromise/combination of the all conditions strengths of the X100 and the good light strengths of the GRD3. If only it had a silent shutter it would be nearly perfect. I’m planning to check out the EPL3 soon too in order to see if I still really benefit from the flip screen. I loved it on the NEX, but since then I’ve become MUCH more comfortable shooting blind, framing on instinct, and I’m not sure if its still going to matter as much to me. Regardless, these are exciting times for small camera enthusiasts. Except for the outer boundaries of image quality and low light shooting, these little cameras are getting to be very competitive with DSLRs and the size and convenience brings many benefits that a DSLR will never match.

"EP3"

Oh, an obligatory word about the touch screen. Its amazing. Very light touch required and you touch a spot on the screen and it focuses on that spot and shoots. And like with all other shooting modes, it does it FAST. Some people are going to love this for taking photos of family and friends and the like. I guess I’m just too set in my ways to adapt. I like it a lot, but I almost never find myself using it. I have some and may more in time, but the camera is so good with the shutter button I just haven’t use it much at all.

***

Thanks for sharing your impressions regarding this new and exciting camera.  I provided my own thoughts on the format here.

Stay tuned for more from Ray on the EPL3.

Note: We hope you’ll consider purchasing your equipment at B&H Photo, our favorite on-line destination for all photographic gear and accessories.  B&H sponsors 2 Guys Photo and your clicking through on our links won’t cost you a penny more, but it will provide a small financial benefit to us… a benefit that will allow us to add features and keep bringing fresh content.

The Olympus EP3 can be found here.

Thanks!

Posted by Rey

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9 Responses to Olympus EP3 User Report

  1. Mark James says:

    So you went out to the wild west to learn how to shoot from the hip, nice. I’m going to wait for the next GF/pen with a better sensor and a couple more of those new X lenses before I upgrade. Then maybe we can have a shoot out at high noon. You’ll have to come here though… 😉

    • Ray says:

      Nah, I’ve been shooting from the hip for a while, first with an LX5, then mostly with the Ricoh GRD. Attempts with previous m43 cams and my X100 were sporadically successful at best. The Seattle trip was the first time I had some success shooting from the hip with an m43 cam, but it wouldn’t have worked at all if I hadn’t worked through the phase where you get a lot of shots of the sky, the sidewalk, and stuff well to the sides of your intended subjects first! Here’s a set from Atlantic City shot almost wholly from the hip and almost wholly with the Ricoh GRD3. A few X100 shots mixed in too:

      http://www.flickr.com/photos/20889767@N05/sets/72157627132656501/

      Saipan is a pretty long trip, but its one of those parts of the world I’ve never seen but would love to. Someday maybe!

      -Ray

  2. Rodney says:

    Love the first photo. It is not a sailor coming home from war, BUT it sure has that feel to it! Well captured.

    Rodney

  3. bamapanda says:

    Ray ..I love your take on M43. Also love the Flicker set.

    Could you give some general parameters on those shots? I think the B&W and the grain that is evident though the series make it very unique.

    Thanks

    • Ray says:

      Bamapanda,

      They’re all pretty straightforward camera settings (shooting jpegs now, will use raw once Apple adds support for these cameras) and then the B&W processing is done in Silver Efex Pro. It lets you control everything, down to the amount and type of grain. I’m not sure I can be more specific since the program gives you so many options to work with. But that’s what I use to achieve the look you’re talking about. And, actually, the color shot of the family standing on the corner is also done in that program – it has limited color functionality in addition to its extensive B&W controls. I actually do a lot of color work in it, when I’m going for a sort of muted look (which I often am).

  4. Pingback: Which PEN for your pocket? EP3 vs. EPL3 vs. EPM1… | 2 Guys Photo

  5. Jonny Dante says:

    100% agree. I put my old GRD streetmachine back in its caes using only E-P3 with 12 mm for street work. It is amazing how fast and secure it works. I do have a smile back in my face while working ! Thnx Olympus. And with VF-2 sitting in a cafe my stunning 90 mm Summicron runs to its best performance. No doubt. E-P3 is a TOP-DEAL.

  6. Pete Ng says:

    Great review. And in a dilemma for deciding between the Sony NEX-5N or Olympus EP3. Any quick advice?

    Cheers.

    • Rey says:

      Pete –

      Here’s some quick and very opinionated advice. The EP3 is a smaller camera with a wonderful cadre of lenses that go along with it. The PEN system is absolutely more complete and I would say that the controls of the EP3 are more “traditional”. The shooting experience is better. The NEX represents a relatively small kit but the system is much less complete. Bottom line: the NEX delivers a better image quality. Not by leaps and bounds, but it is better. The dynamic range is greater and I find the photos have more contrast and detail. Some on the internet forums describe this as having more “pop”.

      You’re not going to go wrong either way. Really depends on what’s most important to you.

      Good luck!

      Rey

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