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CNET First Look
Olympus PEN E-PL3While it's not the best in any particular aspect, and you probably don't want to use it for video, the Olympus PEN E-PL3 offers an excellent balance of size, features, performance, and photo quality for the money.
-Hi, I'm Lori Grunin, senior editor for CNET, and this is the Olympus PEN E-PL3. In many ways pretty much everything on the inside. The Olympus PEN E-PL3 is the same camera as its more expensive sibling the EP3. As such a lot of the trade offs I dislike in the E-P3, I'm more willing to forgive in its less expensive little brother. In part, that's because I expect people considering this camera to be slightly less picky about the noise reduction quality of the JPEGs plus if you're paying less you're probably less likely to be resentful about needing to tweak the settings. The E-PL3 seems designed for the user who night otherwise have bought a Canon PowerShot G12 or other enthusiast compact, though it doesn't offer the same wealth of direct access buttons dials that made cameras like that popular. The mode dial on top of the camera serves up the usual the manual, semi-manual, and automatic modes. It also gives you access to Olympus' well implemented art filters. There is typical set of scene program modes including an odd manual 3D action and there's also a dedicated movie mode where you have full manual controls and access to the art filters. I like almost everything about the design and feature set at E-PL3, so I lay off with my one major gripe. There is 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. The also offer a typical control layout that will be familiar to anyone who's used to digital camera recently. If you're on auto mode, the settings change to Olympus' live guide menus, which are basic slider driven options for things like brightness and saturation. Similarly, Olympus' menu system has a couple of hidden screens that you have to enable in order to view. One is for the accessory port and one is for a platter of custom settings options. That includes welcome advance controls that include options over auto focus areas. Noise filter strength and whether or now auto white balance should preserve the warm tone of indoor shots. There's also a programmable function button, but it's not a convenient spot to use with any regularity and using it in combination with the dial is down right contortionist. There are also 4 custom settings slots, which is very nice, but there's no really convenient way to switch among them. Like many consumer targeted cameras, the JPEGs from E-PL3 have excessive smeariness from overzealous noise reduction especially when the noise reduction kicks at ISO 800, but if you can tolerate some grain and a little bit of clipping in the shadows, you can produce some much better photos at least up to ISO 1600. Exposure and color are quite good regardless of the format though. Dynamic range is better in the shadows than the highlights. I have trouble recovering some blown out detail, but overall, the dynamic range is pretty good. Video on the other hand is next bad. Exposure sharpness, color and auto focus are all excellent, but this camera has a similar problem with rolling shutter, you know, that wobbly effect as the E-P3 did. Except for slightly longer start up time, the E-PL3 performs the same at its more expensive sibling. It's fast, though the auto focus systems feels little more sluggish than I'd like. Another performance downside is the LCD. Well, I love that it tilts. It's seems relatively coarse and difficult to view in bright sunlight. The E-PL3 isn't the best at anything in its class. The Panasonic GF3 is faster, smaller, and cheaper. The Sony 5N has better photo quality and video quality, but I like the E-PL3 for its balance of features, performance, photo quality and design make many of the trade offs worth it for the enthusiasts. I'm Lori Grunin and this is the Olympus PEN E-PL3.