Olympus E-P3 review: Olympus E-P3

The only aspect in which the E-P3 lags in the field--and even the E-P2--is for continuous shooting, which runs about 3fps. However, this isn't a camera you buy for shooting action that way; none of the compact-ish models are.

If you're planning to upgrade from an older model or cross-grade from a Panasonic, keep in mind that your old lenses will require a (free) firmware upgrade in order to take advantage of these performance enhancements. And it's well worth it--when switching to the older 17mm f2.8 it reverted to its irritating hunting behavior. In a better-late-than-never move, the updated AF system also includes an AF illuminator, which also helps with low-light focusing. I've always liked Olympus' dSLR autofocus implementations, and it adds one of my favorite features to the E-P3: selectable groups of AF areas. There's also tracking AF, which works well, if not perfectly.

Olympus also took the opportunity to redesign all its lenses, adding touches like a cover for what used to be an exposed bayonet mount on the front.

The camera body is about the same size as the E-PL2. With the shrinkage of the E-PLx models, that makes it the largest model in Olympus' 2011 lineup. Though it's still an attractive, sturdy all-metal body, the black model at least feels and looks a bit more like plastic than its predecessor and than the other colors. In the box, Olympus includes an optional shallow grip that screws in if you don't like the feel of the flat front, and you'll be able to buy a deeper grip as well--that should make shooting with longer or original Four Thirds lenses a little more comfortable.

Olympus updates the camera with a 3-inch OLED touch-screen display. It's a very nice LCD--bright and saturated, fingerprint-proof, and you can choose whether to display colors as natural or vivid. The company redesigned the user interface to take advantage of the higher-resolution display, but it's generally the same as in previous models. Though it's a touch screen, only part of the interface takes advantage of it--touch shutter and the Live Guide interface. The latter allows you to adjust saturation, warmth, brightness, shutter speed, and aperture via onscreen sliders. The Live Guide is now available in all modes, not just auto, but I can't see it really fitting with the buyer of this camera.

  Fujifilm FinePix X100 Olympus E-P3 Sony Alpha NEX-5
Sensor (effective resolution) 12.3 megapixel CMOS 12.3-megapixel Live MOS 14.2-megapixel Exmor CMOS
23.6 x 15.8mm 17.3mm x 13mm 23.4mm x 15.6mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.5x 2.0x 1.5x
Sensitivity range ISO 100 (expanded)/200 - ISO 6400/12,800 (expanded) ISO 200 - ISO 12,800 ISO 200 - ISO 12,800
Continuous shooting 5fps
10 JPEG/8 raw
3.0 fps
unlimited (LN) JPEG/17 raw
2.3 fps
unlimited JPEG/8 raw
Viewfinder
magnification/ effective magnification
Optical
90 percent coverage/
EVF
1, 440,000 dots 0.47x
Optional plug-in articulating EVF
1,440,000 dots
0.58x
None
Autofocus 49-area
Contrast AF
35-area contrast AF 25-point contrast AF
Shutter speed 30 - 1/4000 sec; bulb to 60 min 60-1/4000 sec; bulb to 30 minutes 30-1/4000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 flash sync
Metering 256 zones 324 area 40 segment
Flash Yes Yes Included optional
Image stabilization None Sensor shift Optical
Video 720/24p H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/60i AVCHD @ 20, 17Mbps; 720/60p @ 13Mbps 1080/60i AVCHD
Audio Stereo Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input
LCD size 2.8-inch fixed
460,000 dots
3-inch fixed OLED
614,000 dots
3-inch tilting
921,600 dots
Battery life (CIPA rating) 300 shots 330 shots 330 shots
Dimensions (inches, WHD) 5.0 x 2.9 x 2.1 4.8 x 2.7 x 1.4 4.4 x 2.4 x 1.6
Body operating weight (ounces) 15.8 13.0 10.2 (without flash); 10.9 (with flash)
Mfr. Price n/a n/a n/a
$1,195.95 (built-in 35mm lens) $899.99 (with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 msc II lens) $649.99 (with 18-55mm 3.5-5.6 lens)
n/a $899.99 (with 17mm f2.8 lens) $599.99 (with 16mm f2.8 lens)
Ship date March 2011 August 2011 July 2010

The camera retains the solid control layout of its predecessor. The top controls are pretty simple: a basic mode dial and programmable function button. Though there's a movie option on the mode dial, you don't need to be in the mode to shoot video. Similarly, the art filters are available via the quick menus on the screen, so you don't have to use the dedicated mode.

There's now a movie record button on the back; it's in a good place for thumb-based operation, but in order to prevent accidental presses there's a lip around it which makes it hard to press, even intentionally. Olympus has dropped the dedicated autoexposure/AF lock button, and I miss it. There are now two customizable function buttons, but I think they carry too much of the interface burden. For instance, in order to use custom settings you've got to assign them to an Fn button, and hold the button down while shooting. So in order to shoot with a custom burst set (one Fn button) plus a JPEG override for raw+JPEG (the other Fn button), I ran out of fingers.

That said, the camera has a solid creative feature set, including 7-shot bracketing, multiple exposures, a great set of art filters that get increasingly customizable (and can now be bracketed), and the ability to adjust the tone curve for highlights and shadows separately before shooting. With Eye-Fi and its own PenPal support for wireless and geotagging, the only thing I can think of it lacks (within reason) is an intervalometer and an articulated display.

Conclusion
For what it delivers, the E-P3 is quite expensive--especially since the new models expected in the fall are supposed to have the same performance and sensor. Even if they're not as fast, they'll probably be fast enough. Once I get raw software and if Olympus possibly tweaks the defaults I may boost the image rating and the camera might rise in my estimation. But if you're looking for a sleek model that delivers superb image quality, spend the extra $200 on a Fujifilm X100; if you instead want to solid step up from a point-and-shoot, I'd wait and see what arrives in the second half of the year.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot  
Raw shot-to-shot time  
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (dim)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Canon EOS Rebel T3i
0.3 
0.5 
0.4 
0.6 
0.3 
Olympus PEN E-P3
0.6 
0.8 
0.7 
0.6 
0.3 
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2
0.4 
0.9 
0.7 
0.7 
0.4 
Sony Alpha NEX-5
0.8 
0.9 
0.9 
0.8 
0.4 
Fujifilm X100
2.6 
2.1 
1.5 
0.9 
0.5 
Olympus PEN E-P2
1.6 
2 
1.9 
1.1 
0.9 

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Aug 1, 2011
  • Optical Sensor Type Live MOS
  • Sensor Resolution 12.3 Megapixel
  • Image Stabilizer optical (image sensor shift mechanism)
  • Lens 34mm F/2.8
  • Optical Sensor Size 13.0 x 17.3mm