The Olympus Pen E-PL3 is a 12.3 megapixel mirrorless ILC based on the Micro Four Thirds standard. The middle of the range Pen, it combines a high degree of control and customisation with ease of use features in a compact and sylish body that features built-in sensor-shift image stabilisation.
Also known as the Pen ‘Lite’ this model imroves on its predecessor in a number of ways. There’s a new flip-up 3 inch 16:9 LCD screen, a clip-on accessory flash, faster 35-point AF, 1080i HD video shooting, faster sequential shooting at 5.5fps, and extended ISO sensitivity range, all in a more compact less retro-styled body.
Now let’s see how the features and quality stack-up against the competition.
Compared to Panasonic Lumix GF3
If the larger sensor of the NEX-C3 holds no appeal for you, then the Panasonic Lumix GF3 is probably the closest contender to the Pen E-PL3. Both cameras are built around the Micro Four Thirds standard with the most significant difference being built-in stabilisation on the Pen E-PL3, which works with any lens you attach. In contrast, the GF3 relies on optically stabilised lenses, and while all the native Panasonic zooms are stabilised, most of the primes are not.
We’ve discussed the pros and cons of each approach before, so let’s just say that the arguments cut both ways. The GF3 body is significantly lighter than the E-PL3, but its standard kit lens is bigger than the collapsing Olympus model; that said, Panasonic’s new 14-42mm Power Zoom with its tiny dimensions and motorised zoom could be a game changer. The bottom line, though, is the E-PL3 gives you stabilisation whatever the lens.
But we’re comparing bodies, rather than lenses and the other big difference is that, like the NEX-C3 the Pen E-PL3 has a 16:9 tiltable LCD screen. Then again the GF3’s screen is touch-sensitive, whereas the E-PL3 puts a much greater emphasis on physical controls with a mode dial, and four customisable buttons. The removal of the GF3’s accessory port and hotshoe, not to mention the downgrading of audio recording to a mono also gives the E-PL3 an advantage in those areas. Its included accessory flash is more powerful than the GF3’s built in one and you can fit a larger one if needed.
See my Panasonic GF3 review for more details.
Compared to Sony Alpha NEX-C3
The bigest differences between the Sony Alpha NEX-C3 and the Olympus Pen E-PL2 are sensor size and resolution. With a 4 megapixel advantage over the E-PL3 the NEX-C3 provides scope for bigger prints and aggressive cropping. Ordinarily the higher resolution would carry a cost in terms of noise and image quality, but not so with the NEX-C3’s larger APS-C sensor which unsurprisingly outdoes the E-PL3 in terms of high ISO noise performance.
As for image quality generally, I thought the E-PL3 results were marginally superior to the NEX-C3, but what differences there are are likely to be due more to differing processing approaches rather than sensor output, which means if you’re prepared to experiment with custom settings or shoot Raw, this isn’t likely to be an issue.
What about Features and handling? The biggest difference here is the Pen E-PL3’s built-in stabilisation, the arguments for against most people will be familiar with. The bottom line is the Pen has stabilisation whatever lens you’re using, whereas if you want stabilisation on the NEX-C3, you need a stabilsed lens.
Both cameras provide a high degree of customisation, but the Pen E-PL3’s mode dial is a positive advantage here, providing direct access to Shooting modes. That, and the E-PL3’s Live Control shortcuts menu means you can customise without compromising in the way the NEX-C3’s lack of physical controls forces you to. But then there’s the unique composite modes of the Sony to consider, from Handheld Twilight to Sweep Panorama. Finally, it’s a small point, but if you do a lot of Flash Photography the NEX-C3’s fiddly non-standard connector is a bit of an irritant and less useful than the E-PL3’s conventional hotshoe.
See my Sony NEX C3 review for more details.
Olympus Pen E-PL3 final verdict
The Olympus Pen E-PL3 sits in the middle of the Olympus Pen range between the flagship E-P3 and the Pen Mini E-PM1. This makes it a good choice both for compact upgraders looking for more control than the entry-level Pen Mini can offer and enthusiasts for whom the E-P3 is out of reach or overkill.
The Pen E-PL3 shares most of the E-P3’s strengths: excellent image quality, fast performance, 1080i AVCHD video and huge potential for customisation all in a smaller body with fewer controls and a flip-up LCD screen. Crucially, the E-PL3 retains a physical mode dial, a feature that Sony has never deemed necessary on its NEX range and Panasonic dropped from the GF2 onwards. As well as being able to directly access exposure modes, the E-PL3 has a movie mode with comprehensive exposure settings for movie shooting including fully manual exposure control.
The 16:9 proportions of the screen won’t be greeted with unanimous approval, as composing and viewing 4:3 stills effectively means working on a 2.5in screen with black bars down either side. And though the extension of the ISO sensitivity range enhances the E-PL3’s low light capabilities, the lack of composite modes made popular by Sony’s NEX is something Olympus is going to have to address in the future. But those are fairly minor points that do nothing to dim an otherwise shining performance from the Pen Lite E-PL3 and one thoroughly deserving of our Highly Recommended award.
Built-in stabilisation works with any lens.
Excellent all-round image quality.
Good range of movie exposure modes.
Fast startup and AF response.
(relative to 2011 ILCs)
17 / 20
18 / 20
17 / 20
18 / 20
17 / 20