January 31, 2012
- Solid design
- RAW shooting
- Speedy shooting
- Above average image quality
- Low-resolution display
- Mediocre video quality
The Olympus PEN E-PL3 is a 12-megapixel digital camera that goes beyond the typical compact camera. This camera offers some added features, like a tilting LCD, RAW shooting, swappable lenses and 1080p video. The video quality, however, could be better but the image quality is very impressive.
The body of the Olympus PEN E-PL3 is well-constructed and feels very solid. It is made of metal instead of plastic, so there's some added durability there. Because of that, it is a little heavier than your average camera at 11-ounces. It measures 4.3 x 1.5 x 2.5-inches (wdh) so it's not too big in that respect. There is, however, no grip anywhere on the body and for a camera where you can attach a flash to it, you really need a place to hold onto it with a firm grip.
Most of the controls on the back are the standard for digital cameras of today's age. There is a four-way navigational dial that lets you bring up many image controls, like exposure and autofocus. Olympus includes a programmable function button, but it's rather oddly placed and not so 'convenient'. The LCD on the back measures 3-inches and is tiltable for easy-viewing. However, the screen is difficult to see in direct sunlight and is of relatively low-resolution to begin with, so overall the display is subpar. There is an optical electronic viewfinder for enthusiasts who want that added feature and because of the quality of the built-in scree, it's probably a good idea.
The top of the camera has a standard mode dial that lets you scroll through all the usual programmed and automatic modes. You can also access the video mode, art filters and the full manual mode here too.
On the subject of modes, you get a whole selection of standard shooting modes here, including as we said, full manual mode. This is a must-have for professionals who don't necessarily want to carry around a more professional camera that would offer the same and then some. The modes worth mentioning include Program Auto, Aperture priority and Shutter priority. There is also an iAuto mode that gives the camera full control, although you most likely won't get the best images possible this way. Olympus gives you a whole selection of scene program modes that will adjust the camera's image settings based upon your shooting conditions.
Some of the Olympus PEN E-PL3's specifications include a 12.3-megapixel Live MOS image sensor, a 3x optical zoom, ISO speeds from 200-12800, image shift stabilization and uses SD memory. Images can be captured in either JPEG or RAW at a maximum resolution of 4032 x 3024-pixels and videos are shot in full 1080i HD in AVI format.
We found the camera to be fairly speedy in our use. The only time where you might have to wait an extra second or two is the power on, but once it's on, the speed increases. Shot-to-shot time was about 0.5 seconds and 0.7 seconds for RAW and JPEG images, respectively.
In subjective image testing, we found the image quality with this camera to be above average when compared to other 12-megapixel cameras. We did notice some smearing in dark and dim conditions, which is most likely due to the built-in noise reduction. Most images in well-lit and outdoor settings looked quite good. Images looked sharp for the most part and colors were vibrant. Shooting in RAW format, as always, will offer the best looking images because it forgoes the compression of the JPEG format.
Video quality, on the other hand, wasn't so good. When shooting in full 1080i HD, we found the dark-shooting quality to be poor and resulted in very grainy, almost unwatchable videos. The image stabilization feature also works while shooting video, but it didn't seem to help much. If you want to shoot the occasional video, particularly outdoors or in well-lit conditions, the E-PL3 will do the job.
Battery life is average at a CIPA rating of 300 shots per charge.