Olympus PEN E-PL3 Review

Olympus’s PEN line of tiny system cameras has always had a following, but it has also been met with criticism from a particular segment of the photography community. For example, the E-P1 (released in June 2009) did not have a built-in flash or viewfinder, had an out-of-date interface that was pretty confusing and had a slow AF system.

The subsequent cameras attempted to address these concerns, but to the untrained eye, it wasn’t easy to differentiate between the various models due to their similarities.

However, with the recent launch of the PEN E-P3, E-PL3 (where the L stands for Lite), and the E-PM1 (where the M stands for Mini), Olympus has sought to deal with this identity issue as well as make a few other changes.

Olympus PEN E-PL3 Price

See: Best Lenses for Olympus PEN E-PL3 | Best Memory Cards for Olympus PEN E-PL3

Olympus PEN E-PL3 Features

The Olympus P3 uses a Four Thirds type 17.3 x 13.0mm Live MOS (CMOS) sensor with 12.3 million effective pixels, just like the PEN Lite and PEN Mini cameras.

It is thought that the sensor in the Olympus PEN camera is the same one that is found in the Panasonic GF3 because the two companies have collaborated on several projects in the past. Olympus and Panasonic have a working relationship.

Since the P3 is a tiny system camera, it does not include a reflex mirror; instead, it uses a contrast detection autofocus (AF) system that takes its cues from the information obtained from the image sensor. Because the Live MOS device included inside the P3 has a quick read-out speed of 120 frames per second, the AF may be made to move much more quickly.

Olympus asserts that the TruePic VI processing engine in the new PEN cameras is quicker than Panasonic’s Venus Engine VI FHD technology. As a result, the company can extract more speed from the AF system. Consequently, Olympus thinks the P3 boasts the quickest AF in the world when coupled with its MSC (Movie Stills Compatible) lenses.

Olympus and Panasonic provide lenses with a mount compatible with the Micro Four Thirds standard, and the P3 can use these lenses.

Another improvement has been made to the PEN autofocus system; the P3 now has 35 AF points. These points cover almost the whole image frame except the very edges. In addition, in a helpful move, Olympus has included an AF assist light, which will boost the camera’s ability to focus in low-light settings.

In addition to the standard single and continuous autofocus options, the P3 also includes a Tracking Continuous AF mode, which is similar to the one offered by Panasonic. This Mode enables the user to select the subject that should be in focus, and then they can leave the camera to ensure that the issue remains in its direction as it moves around the scene.

Olympus PEN E-PL3 Build Quality

The P3, just like previous iterations of Olympus’s PEN line of cameras, has a structure that gives it the impression that it will last thanks to its metal body.

The P3 includes a narrow plastic grip on the front of its standard model, giving just enough traction for carrying it between shots. However, the shoulder strap that comes with the model is a more solid choice. Those who like a more understated appearance can get rid of the grip by using a penny to loosen the screw and doing so.

Anyone who desires a more secure grasp on the handle may purchase the optional deeper grip; however, given that it costs £69.99, it’s not exactly a steal for a piece of molded plastic. This adaptability is a fantastic feature; however, after a few cycles of loosening and tightening, we observed that the anodized screw had lost a tiny bit of the black sheen it had initially had.

Olympus PEN E-PL3 Performance

The P3 can resolve an astonishing degree of detail at lower sensitivity settings, on par with certain SLRS with bigger (APS-C sized) sensors. This is because the P3 has a larger image sensor than the SLRS. JPEGs captured at an ISO setting of 3200 appear to have noise quite well under control.

Luminance noise is noticeable, but it is not distracting, and it might even be regarded as the sort of grain you would sometimes want to add to an image to improve the mood.

However, if you increase the sensitivity to ISO 6400, you will see that noise, and the camera’s attempts to eliminate it will become more problematic. Even when the photographs are resized to generate reasonably tiny prints, those shot with the Noise Reduction set to standard appear hazy and lacking in details.

When seen at 100% on-screen, there is a significant amount of blurring in the details, and several illustrated parts have no clarity. Therefore, we wouldn’t recommend utilizing any sensitivity levels greater than ISO 6400. In all fairness to Olympus, any setting beyond ISO 3200 is considered outside the camera’s natural range.

At the time of writing, Olympus had still not made their raw conversion software for the P3 accessible, and it will be fascinating to compare the JPEG output with the simultaneously acquired raw files.

Olympus PEN E-PL3 Color

In general, the E-P3 does an excellent job of handling colors, and the shots it produces seem realistic while still having a certain amount of punch right out of the camera. Additionally, the general-purpose ESP metering system handles the majority of scenarios with ease, and the expansive dynamic range of the P3 ensures that bright spots do not abruptly burn out.

Although it should not come as a surprise, applying the most significant amount of shadow brightening and highlight darkening results in flat photographs with a characteristic HDR (high dynamic range) appearance. The tone adjustment function is beneficial in scenarios with very high contrasts.

Olympus PEN E-PL3 Autofocus

The upgraded AF system from Olympus is relatively quick when there is sufficient light. Still, when there is less light, it behaves similarly to most other contrast detection systems and becomes slower and more reluctant.

Additionally, the tracking AF system can only deal with subjects that move at somewhat modest speeds, so it is not a choice for photographers who want to capture the action.

Olympus PEN E-PL3 Dynamic Range

The P3 features an extensive dynamic range, especially for a Four Thirds camera, which makes the tone correction function of the P3 effective in high contrast settings. However, the P3’s most outstanding feature is its wide dynamic range.

Images have a broad spectrum of tones with delicate gradations because the highlights do not burn out too early, and the shadows do not block up earlier than they should.

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
The frame rate of the 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
 • MPO* (3D still)
 • 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 the focal length by 2 for 35 mm equiv. FOV
 • Compatible with standard Four-Thirds lenses via an adapter.
Autofocus • Contrast Detection AF system
 • 35-area multiple AF*
 • When non-high-speed contrast AF compatible lens is used, it works as an MF assist
Focus Area Selectable • Automatic
 • Manual
 • Auto from 35 areas, Single area from 35 areas, Group target (9 areas) from 35 areas*
 • Auto from almost all areas 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
 • Pinhole
 • 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 the 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
 • two 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 • three frames
 • 2, 4, or 6 steps
Color space • sRGB
 • Adobe RGB
Image parameters • enhance (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, three 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 exposures
 • 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 Verdict

The Olympus PEN E-P3 has a lot going for it, and it’s easy to see why. Although the effective pixel count of 12.3 million isn’t the highest, the rest of the specification is impressive with all of the current must-have features, including sensor-shifting image stabilization, sensor cleaning, manual exposure control, automated shooting, Art Filters, and full high definition video recording.

The P3 is also nicely crafted and easy to grip, with logically placed controls. It allows the user to personalize the device to their tastes.

As a result, unskilled users should be able to pick up the camera and start shooting immediately, while connoisseurs have all the control they need and can set it up to fit their style.

Olympus PEN E-PL3 Pros & Cons

Good For
  • Detailed photographs were taken at a low ISO Fast AF Touchscreen sensitive to input. A multitude of valuable features Connector for accessories (for viewfinder)
Need Improvements
  • Poor image quality at ISO 6400 and above because the autofocus system cannot keep up with quick movement. No viewfinder built-in

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