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Olympus PEN E-PL3 Review

A fresh new small system camera from Olympus with a resolution of 12 megapixels, the Olympus E-PL3 is also known as the Olympus PEN Lite. The EPL3 has a sleek metal body and boasts the world’s fastest auto-focus system, a high resolution and tiltable 3-inch LCD screen, five frames per second burst shooting, 1080i HD video recording, a maximum sensitivity of ISO 12800, sensor-shift image stabilization, a hot shoe, and an accessory port. Additionally, the EPL3 has a top sensitivity of ISO 12800. The Olympus PEN E-PL3 may be purchased in silver, black, white, or red for a retail price of £549.9 or $699.99 for a standard zoom lens kit with a 14-42mm focal length.

Olympus PEN E-PL3 Build Quality

When you consider that Olympus didn’t even announce the E-PL2 until the beginning of 2011, the launch of the E-PL3 Digital Pen, commonly known as the Pen ‘Lite’ in common parlance, a little over seven months later seems almost indecently fast. According to Olympus, the E-PL2 is no longer available for purchase. However, with the simultaneous announcement of the flagship E-P3 and the baby of the range E-PM1 ‘Mini’ Pen models at the end of June, Olympus appears to be very much throwing down the gauntlet to competitor makers of mirror-less, interchangeable lens compact system cameras.

At the time of the most recent count, these competitors consisted of Sony, with its ever-expanding Cyber-shot NEX line, Samsung, with the less well-accepted NX; Panasonic, with its ever-popular Lumix G series; and Pentax, with its fascinating-looking new Q system.

Therefore, it’s possible that Olympus, who arguably introduced the first truly compact mirrorless model to the market with the E-P1 in 2009, following on from Panasonic’s G1, is looking to maintain its early lead in winning over the hearts, if not always the pockets – at least in the United Kingdom, that’ll be Panasonic – of enthusiastic amateur photographers who want near DSLR quality without the attendant bulk.

To get right to the point, even though the headline resolution of 12.3 megapixels from a high-speed Live Mos sensor has remained the same, the fresh-out-of-the-factory E-PL3 is the first Olympus Digital Pen to include an angle-adjustable, wide-screen ratio tilting LCD screen at the rear of the device. This makes it the first Olympus Digital Pen.

It has a size of 3 inches, a widescreen aspect ratio, and a reasonable 460k dot resolution, which means that visibility is clear enough, even though it is not quite a match for the OLED screen on the E-P3 model. It is similar to its competitor in that the LCD can be pulled away from the body and tilted up or down. However, unlike the LCD on a camcorder or a mid-range DSLR such as the Canon EOS 600D, it cannot be swung out through 180 degrees to be parallel to the chassis. This feature is reminiscent of Sony’s NEX series regarding its adjustable LCD. In addition, it recalls Sony’s NEX series in terms of its flexible LCD.

When transported (without the lens) in a jacket pocket, it also cannot be rotated so that the screen faces the body to provide an additional layer of protection from scratches. It is not a touch screen like the one on the new E-P3, as might be reasonably expected, and to tell you the truth, its on-screen icons are a little on the small side for accurate selection via a fingertip anyway. Even though its adjustment angles are slightly restricted, it is not a touch screen like the one on the new E-P3.

Olympus PEN E-PL3 Image Quality

We always use the Art Filter effects on the digital Pen series, and the E-PL3 is no exception. This is because they serve as a point of differentiation from the other compact system cameras, even though Panasonic has similar effects on its Lumix G series under different names.

Although pinhole and dramatic tone are, in our opinion, the two of these six that are most worth using, pop art can be fun to use to accentuate already bright colours in a scene and turn a photo that was taken on a dreary day into something that is more visually arresting. The main text mentions that these two effects are the most visually arresting. The diorama choice didn’t work out as well for us, and when we used it, we got inconsistent and inconsistent outcomes. Experimentation is essential, as it always has been.

The same holds for using the basic kit zoom, a tool that is good at helping the user generate narrow depth of field effects and cram more broad landscapes or cityscapes into the frame. As such, it is a jack-of-all-trades tool.

In terms of sharpness and clarity of detail, the results won’t be able to compete with the typical DSLR. Still, for the vast majority of people, they will be more than adequate, especially after a bit of adjustment for brightness and contrast, which is, after all, something that can be accomplished in-camera using the Live Guide mode.

Again, when shooting in low light and increasing the ISO, one will only reach for the highest whack ISO 12800 setting if they are trying to create an impressionistic image rather than a photorealistic one. However, in all honesty, it could work immensely well for a moody black-and-white shot at a rock gig.

If you want a picture that genuinely looks like a shot and is worth keeping, you should stick to an ISO level of 6400, previously the highest available option on an Olympus Pen.

Olympus PEN E-PL3 Specs

Body material*Metal
Sensor • 4/3″ Hi-Speed Live MOS sensor
 • 17.3 x 13.0 mm active area
 • 13.1 million total pixels
 • 12.3 million effective pixels
 • RGB (Primary) color filter array
 • Fixed low pass filter (anti-alias filter)
Dust suppressionSupersonic Wave Filter
Image stabilization • “Supersonic Wave Drive” (in-body sensor shift)
 • Three modes: Horizontal+Vertical, Vertical only, Horizontal only
 • Up to 3 EV compensation (claimed)
 • Digital IS in Move Mode
Image processor*TruePic VI
Image sizes (Still) • 4032 x 3024
 • 3200 x 2400
 • 2560 x 1920
 • 1600 x 1200
 • 1280 x 960
 • 1024 x 768
 • 640 x 480
Image sizes (Movie)AVCHD Format:*
 • FullHD Fine : 1920×1080, 60i Recording, 17Mbps
 • FullHD Normal : 1920×1080, 60i Recording, 13Mbps
 • HD Fine : 1280×720, 60p Recording, 17Mbps
 • HD Normal : 1280×720, 60p Recording, 13Mbps
Frame rate of image sensor output is 30fps

Motion-JPEG Format:
 • HD: 1280×720, 30fps*, Aspect 16:9
 • SD: 640×480, 30fps*, Aspect 4:3 (VGA) 
* Some Art Filters are at reduced frame rates
Movie lengthAVCHD Format:
 • 29 min, Max 4Gb

Motion-JPEG Format:
 • 7 min @ HD, Max 2Gb
 • 14 min @ 640 x 480, Max 2Gb
Aspect Ratio4:3 (Default), 3:2, 16:9, 6:6, 3:4
File formats • Raw
 • Raw + JPEG
 • JPEG
 • MPO* (3D still)
 • AVCHD*
 • AVI Motion JPEG
Sound recording • AVCHD Format: Dolby Digital
 • Motion JPEG Format / Picture with Sound: Wave Format Base (Stereo PCM/16bit, 48kHz)
 • Max Recording Time (Picture with Sound) 30 sec
 • Mic / Speaker: Stereo / Mono
Digital Tele-Converter • 2x digital zoom
Lenses • Micro Four Thirds Mount
 • Range of M.ZUIKO DIGITAL lenses available
 • Multiply focal length by 2 for 35 mm equiv. FOV
 • Compatible with standard Four Thirds lenses via adapter.
Auto focus • Contrast Detection AF system
 • 35-area multiple AF*
 • When non high-speed contrast AF compatible lens is used, works as MF assist
Focus Area Selectable • Automatic
 • Manual
 • Auto from 35 area, Single area from 35 area, Group target (9 area) from 35 area*
 • Auto from almost all area when Face detection is ON
 • Free selection when Magnified View Mode is selected
Eye Detect AF* • OFF
 • Near side eye priority mode
 • Right side eye priority mode
 • Left side eye priority mode
Focus modes • Single shot AF (S- AF)
 • Continuous AF (C-AF)
 • Manual focus (MF)
 • Single + Manual (S-AF+ MF)
 • AF Tracking (C-AF+ TR)
 • Focus mode can be set in still and movie modes separately
AF assist lamp • Yes*
Exposure modes • iAuto
 • Program AE (with shift)
 • Aperture priority AE
 • Shutter priority AE
 • Manual
 • Art Filter
 • Scene select
Scene modes • Portrait
 • e-Portrait
 • Landscape
 • Landscape + Portrait
 • Sport
 • Night Scene
 • Night + Portrait
 • Children
 • High Key
 • Low Key
 • DIS mode
 • Macro
 • Nature Macro
 • Candle
 • Sunset
 • Documents
 • Panorama
 • Fireworks
 • Beach & Snow
 • Fisheye Effect (for use with lens converter)
 • Wide Angle (for use with lens converter)
 • Macro (for use with lens converter)
 • 3D*
Art Filter • Pop art
 • Soft focus
 • Grainy film
 • Pin hole
 • Diorama
 • Dramatic Tone
Sensitivity • Auto : ISO 200 – 12800* (customizable, Default 200-1600)
 • Manual ISO 200* – 12800, 1/3 or 1 EV steps
Metering system • TTL Image Sensor metering system
 • 324-zone multi-pattern
Metering modes • Digital ESP (324-area multi-pattern metering)
 • Center-Weighted Average
 • Spot (1%)
 • Highlight based spot
 • Shadow based spot
AE Lock • AE lock available using Fn button
 • AF lock with shutter release half-press in Single AF mode
Exposure comp. • Up to ± 3.0 EV
 • 1/3, 1/2 or 1.0 EV steps
AE Bracketing • 2*, 3, 5* frames in 1/3, 1/2, 2/3 or 1.0 EV steps
 • 7* frames in 1/3, 1/2, 2/3 EV steps
Exposure fine tune • ±1EV in 1/6EV steps
Shutter speed • 60-1/4000 sec
Flash X-sync speed* • 1/60 – 1/160
White balance • Auto
 • Sunny
 • Shadow
 • Cloudy
 • Incandescent
 • Fluorescent
 • Underwater
 • Flash
 • 2 custom presets*
 • Kelvin (2000 – 14000 K)
 • Flash + WB:  Off / AWB Priority / Flash WB priority*
 • AWB Keep Warm color: Off / On*
WB fine tuning • Red – Blue: ± 7 steps (2 mired each)
 • Green – Magenta: ± 7 steps (2 mired each)
WB Bracketing • 3 frames
 • 2, 4 or 6 steps
Color space • sRGB
 • Adobe RGB
Image parameters • iEnhance (3 levels)
 • Saturation – 5 levels (Vivid, Natural, Muted, Portrait)
 • Sharpness – 5 levels (Vivid, Natural, Muted, Portrait, Monotone)
 • Contrast- 5 levels (Vivid, Natural, Muted, Portrait, Monotone)
 • B&W filter (Yellow, Orange, Red, Green)
 • B&W toning (Sepia, Blue, Purple or Green)
 • Gradation (4 levels)
 • Art Filter Bracketing available*
Drive modes • Single
 • Sequential
 • Self-timer (2 or 12 sec)
Continuous* • 5.5 fps (IS Off)
 • 4.1 fps (IS On)
Add-on flash • Special external flash is included
 • Guide No: 10m at ISO 200
 • Mode: TTL-Auto, Manual (Full, 1/2*, 1/4, 1/8*, 1/16, 1/32*, 1/64)
 • Wireless flash (4 channels, 3 groups)
External Flash • Hot-Shoe
 • Compatible with E-system Flash (FL-50R, FL-36R, FL-50, FL-36, FL-20, FL-14, FL-300R)
 • External Flash Control : TTL Auto, Auto, Manual, FP-TTL-Auto, FP-Manual
 • Modes: Auto, Red-eye reduction, Red-eye reduction slow sync., Slow sync at 1st curtain, Slow sync at 2nd curtain, Fill-in, Manual, Off.
 • Flash power: Up to ± 3EV in 1, 1/2, or 1/3 EV steps
Super Control Panel Settings • ISO sensitivity
 • WB
 • WB compensation
 • Picture mode/Scene mode/Art filter mode
 • Sharpness
 • Contrast
 • BW filter*
 • Picture tone*
 • Flash mode
 • Drive mode
 • Metering mode
 • Saturation
 • Gradation
 • AF mode
 • AF target
 • Face Priority
 • Color space
 • Flash intensity compensation
 • Record mode
 • Aspect ratio
 • Image Stabilizer
*Available in Monotone mode
Live Control Settings • Image Stabilizer
 • Picture mode/Scene mode/Art filter mode*
 • WB
 • Drive mode
 • Aspect ratio
 • Record mode (stills)
 • Record mode (movie)
 • Flash mode
 • Flash intensity compensation
 • Metering mode
 • AF mode
 • ISO sensitivity
 • Face Priority
 • Movie sound recording
*Availability corresponds to chosen shooting mode
Orientation sensor • No
Electronic Viewfinder • External (optional)
Display* • 3.0″ 16:9 LCD with Anti-Reflective Coating
 • Tilt screen
 • 460,000 dots
 • 100% frame coverage
 • Brightness adjustment +7 to -7
 • Color Temperature adjustment +7 to -7
Live View • 100% field of view
 • Max 8 frames of face detection can be displayed
 • AF operation
 • 5x* – 14x magnification
Live View Modes • Normal Mode
 • Grid Line Mode (4 types)
 • Histogram Mode
 • Highlight & Shadow Mode
 • Multi View Mode
Live View Information • Battery check
 • Card write indicator
 • Super FP Flash*
 • RC mode
 • Auto bracket
 • Multiple exposure
 • Face priority
 • Movie sound
 • Internal Temperature Warning
 • Dial lock
 • Focal length
 • Flash status
 • AF confirmation mark
 • IS mode
 • Picture mode/Art filter/Scene mode
 • WB
 • Sequential shooting
 • Self-timer
 • Aspect ratio
 • Record mode (stills)
 • Record mode (movies)
 • Available recording time
 • Number of storable still pictures
 • Tone control
 • Flash intensity compensation
 • Exposure compensation
 • Aperture
 • Shutter speed
 • Histogram
 • AF confirmation mark
 • AE lock
 • Shooting mode
 • Myset
 • ISO
 • AF mode
 • Metering mode
 • Flash mode
*Requires a compatible flash unit
Playback functions • Single-frame
 • Information Display
 • Index Display(4/9/25/100 frames, Calendar)
 • Close-up (2 – 14X)
 • Movie (w/sound, FF/REW/Pause)
 • Slideshow (Still/Movie/Still+Movie, Slide show w/BGM/BGM+Sound/Sound)
Editing • Raw development
 • JPEG editing (Shadow Adjustment, Redeye Fix, Crop, Aspect ratio, B&W, Sepia, Saturation, Resize, e-Portrait)
Storage • SD (SDHC, SDXC, UHS-I compatible)
 • Eye-Fi compatible*
Connectivity • USB 2.0 (Hi Speed)
 • Mini HDMI
 • Video Out (NTSC / PAL)
 • Accessory Port AP2
Power • BLS-5 Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery (supplied & charger)
 • Approx 330 shots (CIPA test standard)
Dimensions109.5mm (W) x 63.7mm (H) x 37.3mm (D) (excluding protrusions)
Weight (no batt)265g
Weight (with batt & card)313g
Box contentsBody, Clip-on Flash, Li-ion battery BLS-5, Li-ion battery charger BCS-1, USB/Video Multi cable, Shoulder strap, OLYMPUS Master CD-ROM, Instruction manual, Warranty card.

Olympus PEN E-PL3 Conclusion

With the E-P3, the camera’s maker went all out in a redesign, in contrast to the E-PL2, which was effectively just an updated version of the E-PL1. However, in Olympus’ attempt to produce a Digital Pen that is both “small and adorable,” the E-PL3 is somewhat odd. To achieve its more slimline dimensions and to tilt back LCD, it sacrifices elements that may be considered vital, such as a good handgrip and a built-in flash.

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