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Olympus PEN E-PL3 Digital Camera Review

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Digital Camera Review by: Michael Gazzola

 

It’s been just 18 months since Olympus formally announced the E-PL1 and a little over 12 months since we published our review on the E-PL1, where the camera was awarded a Platinum medal. Today we post our review of the E-PL3 single-lens kit, M.Zuiko Digital 14-42mm IIR lens and FL-300R System Flash…

 

Appearance & Functionality


At a quick glance of the front you’ll notice the E-PL3 has shaken off the hand grip and gone for a more streamlined, less cluttered clean look and is available in 4 colours from Black, Silver, Red and White.

The ART filters option has been retained as a dedicated option on top dial, along with the exclusive group of P,A, S, M, Video, iAuto and Scene. As with the E-PL2, the same 6 ART filters have been retained; Pop Art, Soft Focus, Grainy Film, Pin Hole, Diorama, Dramatic Tone.

The main dial on back is multi-functional with scroll and push options for navigating, reducing the number of buttons required to get around and allowing for the overall camera to be reduced in size, by around the 5% mark, but still being cleverly designed to cater for a 3 inch LCD screen.

 

olympus20110927c.jpgImage Quality / Lens Quality


In this segment Olympus shines – which is pretty damn important. For starters, their claims for the world's fastest autofocus speed sounds about right. Without any specific lab test the focusing is in short, fast. Point, shoot. It’s really that easy. Occasionally in low light areas where a scene contains much the same colour (eg white walls and chairs) there is a slightly longer focus grab time. Otherwise, excellent as far as shutter lag is concerned.

The 12.3 megapixel capture using TruePic VI Image processing engine is capable of 5fps burst shooting, so it's no surprise the E-PL3 tested positive time and again in varying environments producing sharp, clear and punchy images, with accurate colour for both skin tones and primary colours.

Auto White balance under daylight and ambient light testing produced very good results, including the more tricky fluorescent lit rooms.

The film speed option has increased to a top of 12,800 ISO. This is great news for those who know of the benefits! Where the megapixel race seems dead, this is one area that more than ever is becoming a key selection criteria for buyers. If it’s not for some, they should be adding this to their priority list as it opens up flexibility like never before for photographers of all walks.

If you understand what ISO is about, skip this paragraph. For those who want to know more, read on… In the ‘film’ days 100 ISO was generally recommended for lower / fine grain images. If you stepped up to 200, then 400 and 800 ISO films the grain increased much like newspaper images. The benefit of using a high 800 ISO film was that more light was let into the camera allowing you to shoot images mid-Winter at 6pm, as if it were 4pm. The second benefit is that it extends the length of your flash distance. For example, if 100 ISO gave you 2 metres distance from camera to subject, 200 ISO = 4m, 400 ISO = 8m and 800 ISO = 16m (All estimates).

So skip forward to 2011 where the digital race extends every boundary with every new generation of camera and we’re now up to 12,800 ISO (film equivalent). But, and it’s a temporarily big but, right now 12,800 ISO is more for fun than using for quality. However, the leap past 800 ISO has been rewarded with great results achieved at 1600, 3200 and the in-between step up to 4000 ISO. After this the ISO level gets too grainy and unusable as a good print. But to just see where Olympus is heading is very encouraging.

Getting back on track, Olympus start its lowest ISO range setting at 200, where most cameras offer 100 ISO and some even an L option that generally equates to a 50 ISO level. This is not a short fall though as the images are super clean at the 200 ISO level, nor is there a grain compromise.


The shutter range is from 60s - 1/4000 second, with a ‘Bulb’ option allowing for the shutter to remain open for up to 30 minutes. For syncing a flash (optional Olympus FL-300R flash) you’ll be looking at 1/30-1/180, (Super FP mode: 1/125-1/4000).

Olympus has equipped the E-PL3 body with a metal camera lens mount, which would have been great to also see this touch added to the kit lens. The lens works smoothly but the casing feels like a fair bit of tough plastic work has gone into it. However, after viewing the quality of images this camera produces I’m happy to turn a blind eye on this as it produced sharp, quality images time and again.

 

olympus20110927b.jpgLCD / Viewfinder


The slim-line 16:9 aspect tilting 3.0-inch HyperCrystal 460,000 pixel LCD screen has this time around been hinged allowing the photographer to shoot from angles not easily achievable before. The E-PL3 folds 80° out to view vertically up so you can now hold the camera at your waist and shoot, and also flick out to hold above your head with the LCD at 45° for high angle shooting flexibility.

There is also an optional Electronic Viewfinder at with a whopping 1,440,000 dot resolution, around 3½ times the resolution of the LCD back, putting it into the top end of EV’s available on the market.

 

Video


Olympus has kindly included a 1080i Full HD video capture as an option on the E-PL3. Access to switch from stills capture to video capture is a simple push of a button, literally. The buttons are almost next to each other, with the video one tagged with a red dot – to help those who are a little ‘digital age’ challenged.


The Full HD video quality is excellent. Capturing quick moving objects outside or kids within a home environment playing the quality on a big screen tv really is, quality. Olympus have done a great job with this component and should be given a solid pat on the back… although it makes you wonder that with the quality the E-PL3 can produce are they one day planning to enter the lucrative video camera market???

On the geek side, there’s 1920x1080, 60i Recording, 20Mbps, Aspect 16:9, at 30fps.  Some of the Art filters are available in video mode, with the capture of video in AVCHD/AVI M-JPEG and a Best settings option of AVCHD Full HD Fine mode.



 

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Conclusion


There’s plenty to like and very little to gripe. The gripe being the exclusion of a HDMI cable in the kit – considering the Full HD video option and the number of large screen TVs rolling out the doors of retailers.

Otherwise, the Olympus PEN E-PL3 digital camera is a beautiful looking camera capable of delivering crisp Full HD video, sharp still images at break neck focussing speeds, loads of manual dslr-like capabilities, fun ART filters and plenty more. Once again, Olympus has produced a gem and gets a big thumbs up ‘Platinum’ medal awarded from the good fellas at Buy-n-Shoot.com for their efforts.

Appearance rating 5 stars
Functionality rating 4.5 stars
Image quality
4 stars
Lens quality
3.5 stars
View finder / LCD screen 4.5 stars
Value for money 4 stars
RRP (AUD) $799 single lens kit / $999 twin lens kit
SPACER.GIF  
Effective Pixels 12.3 Mega pixels
Sensor Type
High speed Live MOS Sensor
Image Sizes 5 Sizes
Lenses 14-42mm IIR (M.Zuiko)
40-150mm R (M.Zuiko) 
Resolution Settings [RAW] 4032 x 3024 pixels
[JPEG] 4032 x 3024 pixels - 1024x768 pixels
Shooting Modes 23 Scene options
Face Detection Yes
Manual Focus Yes
Auto Focus Yes
Aperture Priority No
Shutter Speeds 60 - 1/4000 sec. Bulb: up to 30 min. (selectable longest time in the menu. Default: 8 min). 1/3, 1/2, or 1EV steps selectable.
Shutter Priority Yes
ISO ISO 200 - 12,800
LCD Monitor Yes
LCD Size 3 inch 16:9, 460,000 Screen Resolution
Viewfinder (Optional) VF-2, 1,440,000 dots
Flash (Optional) FL-LM1: GN10 (F no/m) at ISO200
Hot Shoe Yes
White balance 7 settings (3000K - 7500K), Lamp (3000K), Fluorescent (4000K), Daylight (5300K), Flash (5500K), Cloudy (6000K), Shade (7500K) , Underwater WB
Self Timer 12 sec., 2 sec. (cancel available)
Video Options AVCHD/AVI M-JPEG; Best settings: AVCHD Full HD Fine : 1920(H)x1080(V), 60i Recording, 20Mbps, Aspect 16:9, 30fps; HD: 1280(H)x720(V), 30fps (Some Artfilters are exceptional), Aspect 16:9
Video Out Yes, Mini HDMI type-C (optional)
Storage Type SD Memory Card (SDHC, SDXC, UHS-I compatible), Eye-Fi, Class 6 is recommended for Movie shooting
Image / Audio Formats DCF, DPOF compatible/Exif, PRINT Image Matching III
RAW (12-bit lossless compression), JPEG, RAW+JPEG
AVI Motion JPEG (30fps)
Connectivity CB-USB6 USB Cable
Power Source BLS-1 Li-ion battery (included)
Battery Options BCS-1
Dimensions 109.5 mm (W) x 63.7mm (H) x 37.3mm (D)
Weight 313g (inc. Battery and Memory card), 265g (body only)
















 


 

 
 

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About Olympus

 

In Greek mythology, Mt.Olympus is the home of the twelve supreme gods and goddesses. Olympus was named after this mountain to reflect its strong aspiration to create high quality, world famous products.

"Olympus" has been used as a trademark since the time of Takachiho Seisakusho, the predecessor of Olympus Corporation.

In Japanese mythology, it is said that eight million gods and goddesses live in Takamagahara, the peak of Mt.Takachiho. The name "Olympus" was selected as the trademark because Mt.Olympus, like Mt.Takachiho, was the home of gods and goddesses. This trademark is also imbued with the aspiration of Olympus to illuminate the world with its optical devices, just like Takamagahara brought light to the world.

Takachiho Seisakusho was renamed Takachiho Optical Co., Ltd. in 1942 when optical products became the mainstay of the company. In 1947, the name was changed again to Olympus Optical Co., Ltd. in an attempt to enhance its corporate image.

And in 2003, the company made a fresh start as Olympus Corporation, to show its willingness to establish a dynamic corporate brand by unifying the corporate name and the well-known brand.

In recent years, Olympus Corporation has focused on "Opto-Digital Technology" as its core competence, technological strengths that competitors cannot easily imitate, to maximize corporate value and to become one of the top optical instrument manufactures.

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