Olympus PEN E-PL3 review:

Olympus PEN E-PL3

Another downside is the LCD. While I love that it tilts, it seems relatively low-resolution and difficult to view in bright sunlight. I really think the optional EVF (VF-2) is a must-have, though it's pretty expensive.

I like almost everything about the design and feature set of the E-PL3, so I'll lead off with my one major gripe: there's no grip. The metal body is well-constructed, but it's a little heavy (especially with the flash attached) and the slippery front makes it difficult to shoot single-handed--something I hadn't realized I did that often. One other oddity is that I frequently, unknowingly, somehow turn the power on while swapping lenses.

Otherwise, the E-PL3 seems designed for the user who might otherwise have bought a Canon PowerShot G12 or other enthusiast "compact," though it doesn't offer the same wealth of direct-access buttons and dials that make cameras like that popular. The mode dial atop the top of the camera serves up the usual PASM and auto modes, as well as access to Olympus' well-implemented Art Filters, the typical set of scene program modes (including an odd, manual 3D option), and a dedicated movie mode where you have full manual controls and access to the Art Filters.

  Nikon 1 J1 Olympus E-P3 Olympus E-PL3 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 Sony Alpha NEX-5N
Sensor (effective resolution) 10-megapixel CMOS 12.3-megapixel Live MOS 12.3-megapixel Live MOS 12.1-megapixel Live MOS 16.1-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS
13.2x8.8 mm 17.3 x13mm 17.3x13mm 17.3x13mm 23.5x15.6mm
Focal-length multiplier 2.7x 2x 2x 2x 1.5x
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 3200/6400 (expanded) ISO 200 - ISO 12800 ISO 200 - ISO 12800 ISO 100 - ISO 6400 ISO 100 - ISO 25600
Continuous shooting 5fps
(60fps with fixed AF and electronic shutter)
unlimited (LN) JPEG/17 raw
(5.5fps without image stabilization)
unlimited JPEG/7 raw
unlimited JPEG/6 raw
(10fps with fixed exposure)
mag / effective magnification
None Optional Optional None Optional
Autofocus 73-point
phase detection, 135-area contrast AF
35-area contrast AF 35-area contrast AF 23-area contrast AF 25-area contrast AF
Shutter speed 1/3-1/16,000; bulb; 1/60 second x-sync 60-1/4,000 second; bulb to 30 minutes; 1/4,000 FP sync 60-1/4,000 second; bulb to 30 minutes; 1/4,000 FP sync 60-1/4,000 second; 1/160 second x-sync 30-1/4,000 second; bulb; 1/160 second x-sync
Metering n/a 324 area 324 area 144 zone 1,200 zone
Flash Yes Yes Included optional Yes Included optional
Image stabilization Optical Sensor shift Sensor shift Optical Optical
Video 1,080/60i/30p, 720/60p H.264 MPEG-4 QuickTime MOV 1,080/60i AVCHD @ 20, 17Mbps; 720/60p @ 13Mbps 1,080/60i AVCHD @ 20, 17Mbps; 720/60p @ 13Mbps 1,080/60i/50i @ 17Mbps
720/60p @ 17Mbps AVCHD or Motion JPEG QuickTime MOV
AVCHD 1,080/60p @ 28, 24Mbps, 1,080/24p @ 24, 17Mbps, 1,080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4
Manual shutter speed and aperture in video Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Audio Stereo Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input Mono Stereo; mic input
LCD size 3-inch fixed 460,000 dots 3-inch fixed OLED
614,000 dots
3-inch tilting
460,000 dots
3-inch fixed touch screen
460,000 dots
3-inch tilting
921,600 dots
Battery life (CIPA rating) 230 shots 330 shots 300 shots 320 shots 430 shots
Dimensions (inches, WHD) 4.2x2.4x1.2 4.8x2.7x1.4 4.3x2.5x1.5 4.2x2.6x1.3 4.4x2.4x1.6
Body operating weight (ounces) 9.7 13 11 9.3 9.3 (without flash)
Mfr. price n/a n/a n/a $499.95 (body only, est.) $599.99 (body only)
$649.95 (with 10-30mm lens) $899.99 (with 14-42mm lens) $699.99 (with 14-42mm lens) $599.95 (with 14-42mm lens) $699.99 (with 18-55mm lens)
$899.95 (with 10-30mm and 30-110mm lenses) $899.99 (with 17mm f2.8 lens) $699.99 (est., with 17mm lens) $699.95 (with 14mm f2.5 lens) n/a
Ship date October 2011 August 2011 September 2011 July 2011 September 2011

The back also offers a typical control layout that will be familiar to anyone who's used a digital camera recently. A four-way navigation-dial combo provides direct access to exposure compensation, flash, drive mode, and autofocus area options, while the OK button brings up the interactive display of all the most frequently used settings. If you're in auto mode, the settings change to Olympus' Live Guide menus, basic slider-driven options for things like brightness and saturation.

Likewise, Olympus' menu system has a couple of hidden screens you have to enable to view, one for the accessory port and one with a plethora of custom settings options. The latter includes welcome advanced controls that include options affecting autofocus areas, noise filter strength, and whether or not auto white balance should preserve the warm tone of indoor shots. There's also a programmable function button, but it's not in a convenient spot to use with any regularity, and using it in combination with the dial is downright contortionist. There are four custom settings slots, which is nice, but there's no really convenient way to switch among them.

The E-PL3 isn't the best at anything in its class. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 is faster, smaller, and cheaper; the Sony Alpha NEX-5N has better photo and video quality. But I like the E-PL3 for its balance of features, performance, photo quality, and design that makes many of the trade-offs worth it for the enthusiast.

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