Olympus PEN E-PL3 REVIEW - Digital Photography School
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Olympus PEN E-PL3 REVIEW

For me, this camera is a bit of a puzzle. Why?

Having just spent a week or so with the Olympus PEN E-P3, and coming away very impressed, I wondered why the company launched another model that seems to be virtually identical, except for price and some minor mods. I am now eagerly awaiting the third in the ‘collection: the Mini model.

E-PL3 - angle BLK 14-42mm II R.jpg

On the face of it, the E-PL3 LITE is a bargain as a mirrorless, interchangeable lens camera.
In my review you may find that some of the descriptions echo those in my review of the E-P3. Cos that’s how the camera is!

An echo!

E-PL3 - top BLK.jpg

Olympus PEN E-PL3 Features

With the camera’s Live MOS sensor expect to make a 34x26cm print from its maximum image size of 12.3 effective pixels. You can shoot video in Full HD 1920×1080 pixels in AVCHD format and, in MPEG4, 1280×720.

E-PL3 - back BLK.jpg

The review camera was supplied with the f3.5/14-42mm kit lens and, before getting into it too deeply, I was impressed that the rear LCD can swing 80 degrees up and 45 degrees down, enabling you to comfortably shoot high or low angle or shots. The E-P3’s rear screen has no such ability.

Olympus viewfinder.jpg

Also supplied with the review camera was the cute little electronic viewfinder that clips into the accessory shoe and gives you an eye level view on a tiny LCD screen. The only thing I missed was an eye sensor: you have to tap a button on the finder to alternate rear/top views. Perhaps ‘cute’ is a little misleading: the viewfinder stands 3.5cm above the body.

Olympus flash.jpg

One snag is that you have to demount the viewfinder if you want to slip the supplied flash unit to the accessory shoe. A bonus is that the output of the flash is adjustable. Taking it further, you can attach a wireless unit and trigger up to three external flash units.

Pot.jpg

However, the camera is about 10 per cent smaller and 15 per cent lighter than the PEN E-P3 … quite a lot when you are slipping it into a pocket.

Boat 3.jpg

The camera’s rear has a jog wheel, with access to flash, single/multi shot drive, exposure compensation, and AF target options; then there’s the info, menu and OK buttons, replay, enlarge screen (for precise focusing) and movie recording. The various buttons are labelled in a dimmish colour and hard to see in low light.

As with the E-P3 I was far from impressed by the viewfinder menu: cluttered, minuscule rows of type do not make an enjoyable operator experience.

But once you dig into the displays for scene modes (23 in all) and Art Filters (6) all is hunky dory, with bright, colourful illustrations.

Shooting movies is edgy: I found auto focus slow to detect some subjects. When you shoot a still while recording a movie the latter stops, then restarts a tad later. There could be a better approach.

Startup

From startup the PEN was able to capture its first shot in about a second; follow-ons came in as fast as I could hit the button.

ISO Tests

Olympus PEN E-PL3 ISO 200.JPG

Olympus PEN E-PL3 ISO 400.JPG

Olympus PEN E-PL3 ISO 800.JPG

Olympus PEN E-PL3 ISO 1600.JPG

Olympus PEN E-PL3 ISO 3200.JPG

Olympus PEN E-PL3 ISO 6400.JPG

Olympus PEN E-PL3 ISO 12800.JPG

Presuming the sensor and processing in this camera are the same as in the E-P3 it is not surprising that the results are identical:

With noise and artefacts the camera is OK all the way to ISO 3200, with ISO 6400 showing trouble. By ISO 12,800 … forget it.

Olympus PEN E-PL3 Verdict

Quality: very sharp pictures and excellent colour rendition.

Why you’d buy the PEN: compact camera; good price; access to full range of Micro Four Thirds lenses and accessories.

Why you wouldn’t: nothing to report!

The E-PL3 is available in four colours: black, silver, white and red. When the body colour is the lens colour is black; with a silver, white or red body colour, the lens colour is silver.

Note! All three models — Classic, Lite, Mini (E-P3, E-PL3, E-PM1) — have key core technology and performance similarities:

AF speed, imaging quality, Full HD video with stereo sound and the same six-core multi-processor.

They differ in size and style, controls, handling and target customer appeal.

The E-P3 has an OLED touchscreen and twin input dials. It’s larger in size and design.

The E-PL3 has one input dial and is aimed at the enthusiast.

The E-PM1 is aimed squarely at the fuss-free user who doesn’t care too much about settings but wants DSLR quality and HD video.

Boat 7.jpg

Olympus PEN E-PL3 Specifications

Image Sensor: 12.3 million effective pixels.
Lens: Micro Four Thirds system.
Exposure Modes: iAuto, Program AE, shutter and aperture priority, manual.
Effective Sensor Size: 17.3×13.0mm Live MOS.
35 SLR Lens Factor: 2x.
Shutter Speed: 60 to 1/4000 second, Bulb. Flash sync: 1/160 sec.
Sequential Shooting: 4/5fps.
Memory: SD/SDHC/SDXC/EyeFi cards.
Image Sizes (pixels): 4032×3024 to 640×480. Movies: 1920×1080 to 640480.
Viewfinder: 7.6cm LCD screen (610,000 pixels).
File Formats: JPEG, RAW, JPEG+RAW, MPO (3D) AVCHD, MPEG4.
Colour Space: sRGB, Adobe RGB.
ISO Sensitivity: Auto, 200 to 12,800.
Interface: USB 2.0, HDMI mini, AV.
Power: Rechargeable lithium ion battery, DC input.
Dimensions: 109.5×63.7×37.3 WHDmm.
Weight: 313 g (inc battery and card).
Prices: Get a Price on the Olympus PEN E-PL3 at the following online retailers:

Amazon:

B&H Photo:

Summary
Reviewer
Barrie Smith
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Olympus PEN E-PL3
Author Rating
5

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Barrie Smith is an experienced writer/photographer currently published in Australian Macworld, Auscam and other magazines in Australia and overseas.

  • V

    Not sure of why all the versions either, but the EPL is popular among four third users. O would only buy the EPL if I didn’t have money for the EP3 which is still small in comparison to other mFT cameras.

  • V

    Sorry, typing on my itouch

  • http://www.dangrabbit.com/photography Amy (DangRabbit)

    FYI: EPM1 and EPL3 shoot at faster FPS than EP3 believe it or not… 5.5 FPS vs. 3 FPS.

  • Daniel Phelps

    I recently purchased this camera previously having an Olympus Evolt E-500. I really like how it feels and the quality of the photos is pretty impressive. I wouldn’t say it’s small enough to slip in a pocket – but it’s close and with a fixed lens it might be doable. While I wanted to get the EP3 I was on a budget and figured that instead of dishing out the cash now, I could possibly afford a prime lens later this way. Plus, I like the idea of an adjustable view screen.

  • Nigel McCarter

    The tilt screen is one of the most useful features, particularly for low angle shots. (a) with the screen face up, and the neck strap, it is feasible to take reasonable long exposures. (b) with the screen face down, it is very easy to shoot over the the heads of a crowd.
    Moreover, at waist level, it is possible to shoot street people incognito, useful in Tokyo where it is sometimes considered impolite to take photographs,

  • Nat

    I have this camera, It’s really compact for the features it has. However, I purchased this camera for studio shots, and was devastated to find out that it cannot shoot tethered. I believe this is a major limitation for this model.

  • Graham

    Great review, I have had mine since May 2013 and have been using it with the Sigma 19mm f2.8 ex dn and 30mm f2.8 ex dn and Olympus 45mm f1.8. The camera does under exspose on all metering methods but is easily compensated in the settings – menu, gears, J = utility, exposure shift, + 0.6. Save and your done, no more setting exposure compensation unless you are going for a desired look or feel to you images. Kit lens is not too bad after you switch off noise reduction and set contrast and sharpening to -1. Also I recomend setting A-1 and G-0. To get faster response turn off image review. Great little camera that I take everywhere when not using my om-d e-m5. I also use the Olympus FL600R flashgun with this camera, both on and off camera thanks to the suplied flash has wireless control. I would also recommend setting 1 myset for bright light with noise reduction off and another myset for low light with noise reduction set to low.

  • Mali John

    I bought mine July of last year. The only thing I don’t like about is I can’t shoot B & W. What it has is the grainy B & W art filter.

Some older comments

  • Nat

    November 7, 2012 08:17 am

    I have this camera, It's really compact for the features it has. However, I purchased this camera for studio shots, and was devastated to find out that it cannot shoot tethered. I believe this is a major limitation for this model.

  • Nigel McCarter

    November 1, 2011 10:29 pm

    The tilt screen is one of the most useful features, particularly for low angle shots. (a) with the screen face up, and the neck strap, it is feasible to take reasonable long exposures. (b) with the screen face down, it is very easy to shoot over the the heads of a crowd.
    Moreover, at waist level, it is possible to shoot street people incognito, useful in Tokyo where it is sometimes considered impolite to take photographs,

  • Daniel Phelps

    October 21, 2011 03:35 pm

    I recently purchased this camera previously having an Olympus Evolt E-500. I really like how it feels and the quality of the photos is pretty impressive. I wouldn't say it's small enough to slip in a pocket - but it's close and with a fixed lens it might be doable. While I wanted to get the EP3 I was on a budget and figured that instead of dishing out the cash now, I could possibly afford a prime lens later this way. Plus, I like the idea of an adjustable view screen.

  • Amy (DangRabbit)

    October 20, 2011 10:41 pm

    FYI: EPM1 and EPL3 shoot at faster FPS than EP3 believe it or not… 5.5 FPS vs. 3 FPS.

  • V

    October 20, 2011 11:10 am

    Sorry, typing on my itouch

  • V

    October 20, 2011 11:09 am

    Not sure of why all the versions either, but the EPL is popular among four third users. O would only buy the EPL if I didn't have money for the EP3 which is still small in comparison to other mFT cameras.

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