After years of smartphone cameras trying to catch up to "real" cameras, the exchange is going in the other way. The new Olympus PEN E-PM2 (one of several Olympus cameras debuting today) is an example of smartphone schooling.
The 16-megapixel shooter belongs to the growing class of mirrorless cameras that take interchangeable lenses like an SLR but are much thinner and require you to preview shots on an LCD as with a point and shoot or a cellphone camera.
The E-PM2, which sells for $600 with a 3X zoom lens (as well as its nearly identical big sibling, the $700, with lens, E-PL5), has a capacitive touchscreen like smartphones and the tap-to-focus feature that the iPhone made famous. You simply tap on the screen preview exactly what you want to be sharpest.
The benefit over doing this on an iPhone : a "real" camera can focus much faster. Olympus, in fact, claims that its mirrorless models are some of the fastest-focusing cameras in the world. Of course we couldn't verify that in a quick hands-on, but we found the camera to be extremely quick — snapping photos at nearly the same time we touched the screen. And with a max speed of 8 photos per second, the E-PM2 provides a very good chance that you'll get your shot.
Of course the real bonus of smartphones is that they can share photos on the spot. The E-PM2 provides a workaround using a Wi-Fi-equipped memory card and apps for iPhones and Android phones. While reviewing photos on the camera, you can select any to send over to a smartphone over Wi-Fi. That process was also a snap in our hands-on. (This is not a brand-new technology, but nevertheless a potentially handy one, if done right.) You can also share the photos with several people by sending them to multiple smartphones at once.
Something Olympus couldn’t tell us was whether the card's Wi-Fi stays on all the time. If it does, the camera's battery would likely drain far faster than otherwise. (Olympus had intended to include the wireless memory card in the box with the cameras, but due to a glitch, it will allow people to order the card for free after they buy the camera.)
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And because it's a real camera, the E-PM2 can do things that are unthinkable for a smartphone. In addition to the lightening-fast focus, it can take photos at very low light (with a maximum sensitivity of ISO of 25,600).
And the camera takes dozens of specialized lenses. In the box is a 3X, 14-42mm zoom lens (about what you get with most mirrorless and SLR cameras). Olympus today also introduced a $500 "macro" lens for extreme close-ups at just 19 centimeters (7.5 inches) away.
E-PM2 goes on sale in October and is available in silver, black, white or red.