It's tough being the middle child. Not only do you have to contend with your siblings on either side getting more attention, but you also constantly get compared to them. Such is the case with the Olympus Pen Lite E-PL3 (which we'll call the E-PL3 from now on), which sits between the Editor's Choice-winning E-P3 and the Pen Mini E-PM1.
Design and features
If you have been following the developments of the third generation of Pen-series cameras from Olympus, you will know that the internal elements of each of these cameras are much the same. They all use the same image sensor (12.3-megapixel live MOS) and fast autofocus system, with the menu interface and external design being the big differences.
The menu system on the E-PL3 has been overhauled from that found on previous versions, but is still not as nice to look at as the menu on the E-P3.
The E-PL3 is evidently cheaper than the E-P3, given away by its exterior and more compact form factor. It sits comfortably in the hand, although there is no external grip or indentation anywhere, which makes it quite easy for the camera to fall out of your hand. It has a tilting 3-inch screen that juts out from the camera body in a similar manner to that found on the Sony NEX-C3.
The physical button configuration is a lot simpler than that found on the E-P3, with main controls located above the screen. There's still room for a control wheel to the side. According to Olympus, the Lite is 25 per cent smaller than the camera it supersedes, the E-PL2, and is 20 per cent lighter. All up, it weighs 265 grams as body only, or 313 grams with battery and memory card. Connectivity is provided by a mini-HDMI and mini-USB port, and an accessory port that sits underneath the hotshoe in the same way as it does on other Olympus Pen cameras. The E-PL3 misses out on a pop-up flash, although there is an additional clip-on unit provided in the box.
The real disadvantage of having a clip-on unit is that you can't attach any additional accessories, such as an electronic viewfinder. The E-PL3 also comes with six art filters: pop art, soft focus, grainy film, pin hole, diorama and dramatic tone. On top of these filters, you can also add effects over the filtered image, including frame, star light and white edge.
|Panasonic GF3||Sony NEX-C3||Olympus E-PL3||Samsung NX100|
|12.1-megapixel Live MOS (Four Thirds type)||16.2-megapixel APS-C CMOS||12.3-megapixel Live MOS (Four Thirds type)||14.6-megapixel APS-C CMOS|
|3-inch, 460,000-dot touchscreen||3-inch, flip-down 921,600-dot screen||3-inch, flip-down 460,000-dot screen||3-inch, 610,000-dot AMOLED screen|
|Pop-up flash||Optional flash attachment||Optional flash attachment||Optional hotshoe flash|
|Full HD video (1080i, AVCHD)||HD video (720p, H.264)||Full HD video (1080i, AVCHD)||HD video (720p, H.264)|
General shooting metrics (in seconds)
- Time to first shot
- RAW shot-to-shot time
- JPEG shot-to-shot time
- Shutter lag
- Olympus E-PL322.214.171.124
- Sony NEX-C126.96.36.199.5
- Olympus E-P188.8.131.52.2
- Panasonic Lumix GF184.108.40.206.2
- Samsung NX1001.13.71.30.3
Continuous shooting speed (longer bars indicate better performance)
- Olympus E-PL34.2
- Panasonic GF33.8
- Olympus E-P33.2
- Samsung NX1002.5
- Sony NEX-C32.5
Olympus rates the battery at approximately 300 shots. The E-PL3 can also capture 5.5 frames per second in continuous mode with image stabilisation turned off. We also found that the E-PL3 slowed down to process images after about six frames shot in quick succession in continuous mode.
As the internals of the E-PL3 are essentially the same as those found in the E-P3, our comments in regards to image quality are consistent between the two cameras. Please consult the E-P3 review for further analysis of image quality and image samples. The E-PL3 produces JPEGs with very good colours and pleasing saturation. The E-PL3 can reach ISO 12,800, but sensitivities above ISO 1600 show colour noise and loss of detail, particularly in low-light situations.
One area that the E-PL3 struggled with was automatic white balance under artificial, incandescent and indoor lighting. While this is easily fixed by manually taking a white-balance reading if shooting JPEG or, of course, tweaking in RAW in post-processing, it was disappointing to see the camera struggle. Images were far too warm, with a distinct yellow tinge.
Tweaking exposure settings is a lot trickier on the E-PL3 than on the E-P3, which meant that more often than not, we left the camera on automatic mode. This is a shame, as we know what the internals can do — it's just a pity that the external package has been scaled back in terms of usability.
Video quality is disappointing considering the strengths this camera has in other areas. The autofocus system, while quick and responsive for still photos, likes to hunt quite a lot during filming. Audio is acceptable from the stereo microphones on either side of the hotshoe.
Exposure: 1/320, f/10, ISO 200
Exposure: 1/80, f/4.5, ISO 200
Exposure: 1/400, f/10, ISO 200
Exposure: 1/60, f/4.3, ISO 200, flash fired
With the same internals as found on the E-P3 wrapped in a smaller package, the E-PL3 is a compact and competent image-making machine. It's unfortunate that we tested the E-P3 before we managed to fully experience the E-PL3, because, inevitably, we're comparing them and wishing the smaller camera had everything found on its big brother. That said, lots of photographers won't need all the bells, whistles and extra heft of the E-P3, which makes the E-PL3 a compelling purchase for anyone looking at a compact interchangeable lens camera.
The E-PL3 is available as a single lens kit with the 14-42mm for AU$799, and a double lens kit with the 14-42mm and 40-150mm for AU$999.