Olympus E-PL3 review

Olympus recently launched three third-generation Pen models – its own take on mirrorless compact system cameras – of which the 12.3-megapixel E-PL3, or Pen Lite, sits firmly in the middle.

As well as being slimmer than the range-topping E-P3, it’s notable for being the first camera in the range to take on the likes of Sony’s NEX by sporting a tilting, widescreen LCD (3in and 460k dots), enabling easier high- or low-angle shooting. As a result, there’s no optical or electronic viewfinder, but more alarmingly Olympus has removed the internal flash. Yes, a plastic clip-on bulb is provided, attached via a combination of hotshoe and rear accessory port, but we though simplicity was the aim?

For anyone upgrading from a snapshot camera, the best option for £550 is to buy the E-PL3 with a 14-42mm standard zoom, which is the equivalent of 28-84mm in 35mm film terms. The lens itself has recently been remodelled to reduce mechanical noise when auto-focus is used while shooting Full HD video (previously you’d get a churning noise as the lens made its adjustments). It’s a good starter option, though you should note that the zoom isn’t automatic, requiring adjustment by hand if you want to alter framing when recording.

For beginners, there’s the Live Guide function, summoned with a press of the Fn button. This allows users to view any adjustments they make in real time before actually pressing the shutter button. So instead of having to understand what depth of field means or what adjusting an aperture will do, you can drag an on-screen slider to progressively blur the background to a portrait shot so that the subject is given more prominence. Among the auto shooting options are the manual ones you’d expect too.

The beginner-targeted E-PL3 omits built-in flash, but added a tilting LCD screen to more easily achieve low- or high-angle shots


The E-PL3 is fast, committing compressed JPEGs and maximum quality Raw files shot in tandem to card in two seconds. Otherwise, the Pen responds to each button press and slider adjustment in real time. Battery life is good for 330 shots and we enjoyed using the six integral Art Filter digital effects, such as Pop Art and Dramatic Tone, to lift otherwise drab scenes. Colours are warm and flattering and this carries over into video clips, adding the benefit of stereo sound.

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