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Olympus Pen E-PL3 review

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £499
inc VAT

An impressive all-rounder, with a great range of extras, but various niggling issues combine to take the shine off its appeal


17.3x13mm 12.0-megapixel sensor, 3.0x zoom (28-84mm equivalent), 426g

There’s some fierce competition for the accolade of best compact system camera (CSC). The basic concept is a strong one, combining SLR quality with compact proportions and topping it off with the best videos modes around. However, no camera we’ve seen to date gets everything right. The Sony NEX-5N comes closest with its class-leading image quality, but it’s relatively slow to focus, it’s quite pricey and its kit lens is bulkier and not as sharp as rival lenses. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 is seriously quick, costs less and there are lots of superb Micro Four Thirds lenses, but image quality in low light is disappointing. Then there’s the Nikon 1 J1, which is quick and keenly priced, but can’t match Panasonic for lens range or Sony for image quality.

Olympus Pen E-PL3

Can the Olympus E-PL3 deliver a clean sweep? On paper, the evidence is all positive. It uses the same Micro Four Thirds mount as Panasonic, and so shares the same range of excellent lenses. Its 3x zoom kit lens collapses down when not in use for easier transit, and even the lens cap is unusually slim. Olympus also claims significant improvements to image quality and performance in this third generation of Pen cameras – more on that later.

The flash is a small removable unit in the same vein as the Sony NEX cameras, but we’re delighted to see that the E-PL3 also accepts conventional flashguns on its accessory shoe – something all the other cameras mentioned above lack. The shoe can alternatively accommodate an electronic viewfinder, external microphone input adaptor, a pair of LED macro lamps on gooseneck-style bendy arms or even a Bluetooth adaptor for sending photos to say a smartphone. In fact, when it comes to accessories, including some trendy-looking bags, Olympus is way ahead of the competition.

Olympus Pen range accessories The current Pen range fitted with some of the lenses, flashes and other accessories released especially for them

Back to camera itself, the LCD screen is a similar design to that on the NEX-5N. Measuring 3in across, it’s widescreen and can tilt up or down for easy waist height or overhead shots. It’s not touch-sensitive, though, and it couldn’t match the 5N’s screen for details or contrast, either, and moving images looked a little smeared. It’s slightly raised from the back of the camera, and its proximity to the controls there sometimes made them awkward to adjust.

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Basic Specifications

CCD effective megapixels12.0 megapixels
CCD size17.3x13mm
Viewfinderoptional electronic
Viewfinder magnification, coverageN/A
LCD screen size3.0in
LCD screen resolution460,000 pixels
Articulated screenYes
Live viewYes
Optical zoom3.0x
Zoom 35mm equivalent28-84mm
Image stabilisationoptical, sensor shift
Maximum image resolution4,032×3,024
Maximum movie resolution1920×1080
Movie frame rate at max quality30fps
File formatsJPEG, RAW; AVCHD, AVI (M-JPEG)


Memory slotSDXC
Mermory suppliednone
Battery typeLi-ion
Battery Life (tested)330 shots
ConnectivityUSB, AV, mini HDMI
HDMI output resolution1080i
Body materialaluminium
Lens mountMicro Four Thirds
Focal length multiplier2.0x
Kit lens model nameOlympus M.Zuiko Digital 14-42mm 1:3.5-5.6 II R
AccessoriesUSB and AV cables, detachable flash unit

Buying Information

Warrantyone-year RTB

Camera Controls

Exposure modesprogram, shutter priority, aperture priority, manual
Shutter speed60 to 1/4,000 seconds
Aperture rangef/3.5-22 (wide), f/5.6-22 (tele)
ISO range (at full resolution)200 to 12,800
Exposure compensation+/-3 EV
White balanceauto, 7 presets with fine tuning, manual, Kelvin
Additional image controlscontrast, saturation, sharpness, noise reduction, shading compensation, colour space
Manual focusYes
Closest macro focus25cm
Auto-focus modesmulti, centre, flexible spot, face detect
Metering modesmulti, centre-weighted, centre, face detect
Flashauto, forced, suppressed, slow synchro, rear curtain, manual, red-eye reduction
Drive modessingle, continuous, self-timer, AE bracket, WB bracket, ISO bracket