The Olympus EP3 was one of the most important digital cameras ever made, whether you realize it or not.
I remember being in the offices in Manhattan when the Olympus EP3 was presented to me. My jaw dropped. The company made a camera that would finally make folks take mirrorless seriously. Yet because it was a Micro Four Thirds camera, folks looked the other way. They wanted at least APS-C sensors. They wanted a full-frame. And DSLRs were still doing well. It wasn’t until the Olympus EM5 that folks looked at mirrorless more seriously, but the EP3 is what started it all.
Part of how Olympus did it was the implementation. Olympus developed the FAST autofocus system. (Literally, that’s what it was called.) It was designed mostly to be used with the touchscreen. If you tapped a spot on the screen, it would focus and shoot. More importantly, it was always fast. It worked with street photography, portraits, landscapes, etc. To this day, it still ranks as one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.
The EP3 turns ten this year. You can still find good, working versions of the camera on eBay. But to think that this camera is what started the autofocus revolution. I remember when DSLRs and older mirrorless cameras would grind away to get autofocus. But that wasn’t the case with these. It was quick, effortless, easy, and enjoyable! It was refreshing and fun!
Later on, other camera systems got better too. Sony, Fujifilm, Canon, Nikon, Panasonic, and Samsung all gained better autofocus. This helped start more of a revolution. Eventually, Sony made the a7 and a7r series. The autofocus at first wasn’t the best or mind-blowing–despite the cameras being so. The Sony a9 would eventually kill the DSLR. And today, I’m shocked when people use one. Admittedly, both Brett and Hillary own and use DSLRs every day.
Autofocus continues to improve these days, but it’s Sony and Canon who seem to truly be doing the innovation. Olympus is now OM Digital. And I hope the split means that they can deliver more. At times, I felt the larger company was limiting what they could do. For what it’s worth, I believe in Micro Four Thirds, but I think they need to become very different cameras. The sensor format is basically the film equivalent of 110. So why can’t they be smaller, more fun, less serious, and even more consumer-friendly? Why can’t they have full-touch screens? Why can’t they be the visually stunning cameras that the Pen series was? Of course, I’m hoping this all changes.
More importantly, I hope OM Digital keeps its prices up and finds a way to justify it. I think companies need to try harder with every iteration. We can’t wait around every two years for a Photokina announcement. Instead, cameras need to split into two directions. They need to become even more serious tools that we can use in our lives. But they also need to be luxurious items that we can enjoy for our hobbies. And if you’re a photographer that doesn’t find time to shoot for fun, I weep for you.
Photography doesn’t need to be serious all the time. OM Digital has a great spot with birding and landscape. But at the same time, I can’t think of a single photographer that wouldn’t want a new Pen F camera.