When Olympus first announced the Four Thirds sensor and lens mount system at the Photokina camera show in 2002, it was with the intention that this designed-for-digital system would result in smaller, lighter cameras and lenses without compromising on quality. Olympus has used the Four Thirds technology in its successful series of digital SLRs, but while these cameras are certainly of excellent quality, the size advantage of the smaller mount and sensor has been offset by the need for conventional SLR components such as the reflex mirror and optical pentaprism viewfinder. It wasn't until Panasonic launched the Lumix G1 last year, an interchangeable-lens camera with an electronic viewfinder, featuring the new Micro Four Thirds standard, that the full advantages of the system began to be realised. Even so the G1 isn't that much smaller than a conventional APS-C digital SLR.
Now however Olympus has announced a camera that could really get the ball rolling for the system. The Pen E-P1 is a beautiful new retro-styled compact camera featuring interchangeable Micro Four Thirds lenses and a Four Thirds format 12.3-megapixel Live MOS sensor. It has no viewfinder, instead using a live monitor display like a compact.
The Pen E-P1 is styled after the popular Olympus Pen 35mm compact camera from 1959. Designed by Yoshihisa Maitani, the original idea was for a camera that was as easy to use and carry as a pen, hence the name. The new Olympus Pen may be a little more complex than the original, since features include built-in sensor-shift image stabilisation, HD movie recording with stereo audio and HDMI output, 3fps continuous shooting and apparently Raw mode as well. It has 20 shooting modes, face detection, shadow adjustment, multiple aspect ratios, Art Filters and presumably also optional manual exposure, although the press release I received makes no mention of it.
What is clear however is that the E-P1 is a stunningly gorgeous camera, and is available in either silver and black, silver and silver or tan and white, with optional accessories including a leather "body jacket", the VF-1 hot-shoe mounted optical viewfinder, FL-14 flashgun and the MMF-1 adapter allowing the camera to use all existing Four Thirds lenses. The E-P1 is being launched in July in a number of kit configurations with a 17mm f/2.8 pancake lens, a 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens, or both. The body-only price is £599.99, the 14-42mm zoom kit is £699.99, the 17mm kit is £749.99, while £849.99 gets you the E-P1 and both lenses. So it's a bit expensive then.