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Olympus E-P3 Review

Three months before its official release the photographic press caught its first sight of this new model. This was paralleled by close looks at two related models, near-identical in specs, but differing radically in appearance: welcome also to the Lite E-PL3 and Mini E-PM1.

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Olympus considers the E-P3 to be the flagship model of its PEN series of new generation system cameras. It uses the Micro Four Thirds series of interchangeable lenses and is available in silver and black.

Olympus E-P3 Top.jpg

Olympus E-P3 Features

The Live MOS sensor has 12.3 million pixels, with a maximum image size of 4032×3024 pixels or 34x26cm as a print. Video is in catchup with Olympus’s peers: Full HD 1920×1080 pixels in AVCHD format or 1280×720 in MPEG4. And ’bout time!

Olympus E-P3 - top BLK.jpg

It’s a neat package and, minus lens, easily pocketed. With the 14-42mm lens fitted, weight is not a challenge at 500 grams, although it does protrude a little over 7cm when the zoom is fully extended. The slightly raised grips on the camera’s front and rear help considerably; an interesting touch is that the front one is replaceable with various sized grips. And, at the end of the day, the PEN beats the bum off a DSLR for bulk!

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The rear LCD screen is enjoyably large at 7.6cm — and bright! If you feel the need for an eye level viewfinder, there’s the choice of an optical option or a mini LCD tucked away in an electronic finder that presents a precise echo of the rear screen.


And, while we’re talking about accessories, there is a heap of them described in the instruction manual, as shown here.

The layout will be familiar to most camera users. The rear panel is fairly busy, with the jog wheel giving access to flash, single/multi shot drive, exposure compensation, AF target options; then there are the info, menu and OK buttons, replay, enlarge screen (for precise focusing) and movie record. The various buttons are unfortunately picked out in a poorly visible colour, hard to see in dim light. Plus the Fn1 button.

The OK button is your best bet to quickly fine tune matters such as ISO, metering patterns, image size etc.

For its part, the mode dial on the top deck is (thank heavens!) more clearly marked with PASM etc, picked out in white on a black background. Near it is the power and shutter buttons and a mysterious Fn2 button.

Fn button.jpg

Fn1? Fn2? No mystery really. You can assign various functions to each of these: adjust image stabiliser, toggle between JPEG and RAW, lock focus and exposure … and more.


The flash is interesting and well conceived: tap the rear button and it springs up on a cantilever arrangement, placing the light source a red-eye avoiding 7cm from the lens centre.


The viewfinder menus take a little time to get used to: not so graphic in appearance, the rows of text (to my eyes) appear cluttered, with the various options flanked by explanatory info. Too much, in type that is minuscule.

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Having said that, I can happily report that the displays for scene modes and Art Filters are excellent, graphic and colourful.

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Shooting movies is a little touchy: auto focus is slow to fix on some subjects but touching the shutter button quickly pulls it into line. Shoot a still while recording a movie and the latter stops, then restarts a moment later. Not the best approach in my book. But, having said that, I can offer praise for the stabiliser while shooting video: one of the best.


Olympus E-P3 Startup

From startup the PEN was able to capture its first shot in less than a second, then follow-ons as fast as you could tap the button.

Olympus E-P3 ISO Tests

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Olympus E-P3 ISO 400.JPG

Olympus E-P3 ISO 800.JPG

Olympus E-P3 ISO 1600.JPG

Olympus E-P3 ISO 3200.JPG

Olympus E-P3 ISO 6400.JPG

Olympus E-P3 ISO 12800.JPG

In terms of noise and artefacts the camera is useable all the way to ISO 3200, with ISO 6400 just falling over the edge. By ISO 12,800 … sayonara!

Olympus E-P3 Verdict

Quality: a great useable camera that can easily stand in for an upper level DSLR.

Why you’d buy the PEN: you want a compact, high quality, interchangeable lens camera.

Why you wouldn’t: you need more picture control; you dislike changing cards in the camera base.

Olympus E-P3 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: 1/180 sec.
Sequential Shooting: 3fps.
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).
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: 122×69.1×34.3 WHDmm.
Weight: 369 g (inc battery and card).

Get a Price at Amazon


Get a Price at Amazon: Olympus PEN E-P3 with 14-42mm Zoom Lens or Olympus PEN E-P3 with 17mm Lens
Get a Price at B&H Photo: Olympus E-P3 PEN Digital Camera with 14-42mm Lens or Olympus E-P3 PEN Digital Camera with 17mm Lens

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Barrie Smith
Barrie Smith

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

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