2011 Camera of the Year

As digital imaging goes mainstream, digital cameras have become more homogenous, with manufacturers slavishly copying others more innovative ideas. During 2011 I got to test many different SLRs and mirrorless interchangeable cameras and some of them were quite good, especially the Nikon J1. For those companies who’ve taken the extra step of producing clever and exiting cameras, I would like to present the “Ernie” award for digital innovation. The late Earnest E. Mau was a photographer, computer pioneer, and friend who didn’t live long enough to get his hands on a really good digital camera and it is awarded in his honor this year to the Olympus E-P3.

The Olympus E-P3 is part of the Micro Four Thirds system that uses the same chip size (17.3 x 13mm) as their Four-Thirds system SLRs. It’s an extremely sophisticated camera wrapped in a compact interchangeable lens body that delivers SLR performance and lots more. The camera has a 12.3-megapixel imaging chip that’s optimized for the M. Zuiko digital lenses and a new lens series called Movie & Still Compatible (MSC) features high-speed optics with “near-silent” autofocus for HD video capture. The high-res, mostly smudge-proof three-inch OLED Touch screen has a 176-degree angle-of-view and an interface that lets you touch to focus and snap the shutter. Just like an iPhone, only better. You can even flip through pictures just as you would on an iPhone.

Lag time is a speedy 60 milliseconds. The camera’s Supersonic Wave Filter dust reduction system removes dust from the front of the image sensor and I never had to dust spot any of the thousands of images made with the E-P3. The TruePic VI image processor is new and designed for improved color reproduction and faster speeds. Like its predecessor, the E-P3 offers Art Filters this time including Pop Art, Soft Focus, Pale Light & Color, Light Tone, Grainy Film, Pin Hole, Diorama, Cross Process, Gentle Sepia, and Dramatic Tone. The big news is that because of the TruePic VI processor the filters are applied almost instantaneously.

Olympus cameras have always been somewhat infrared sensitive when used with on-camera filters and most of the filtered images in my book “The Complete Guide to Digital Infrared Photography” were made with Olympus digital SLRs. Recently I’ve noticed a somewhat diminished IR sensitivity in their cameras but was able to extract pretty good infrared performance from the E-P3 using the Cokin 007 (89B) filter.

How much did I like the E-P3? Here’s a simple test that I inadvertently made: When Mary and I went to a car show we took the E-P3 and an entry level SLR I was testing for Shutterbug and mid-way through the show we switched cameras. When we got home from the show, I downloaded the files and noticed we shot 170 images with the SLR and 680 images with the E-P3. Clearly the Olympus was the camera we enjoyed using the most.

The Olympus E-P3 does everything you could expect from any digital camera and it does all of them quite well. Olympus has a heritage of optical excellence that continues with the compact lenses it’s created for the Pen family of cameras. Many of the innovations, such as a Live View SLR, that they made were quickly copied by other manufacturers who acted as if was they—not Olympus—who had introduced them. All the while quietly creating clever new cameras, like the Pen series. It was Olympus and to be fair Panasonic that created the entire market for mirrorless interchangeable lenses and everyone, save Canon, has jumped on that bandwagon. And why not, this is a small, light and useful camera that can bring fun back into your photography. And fun as we like to say here, is what’s photography is all about. If nothing, else, that’s why the Olympus E-P3 deserves to be 2011’s Camera of the Year.

Author: Joe Farace

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