Announced sometime in June 2011, the 12.3 megapixel Olympus E-PL3 is very similar to the Olympus’ flagship model E-P3 (see SP, August 2011).
The design is Micro Four Thirds, Interchangeable Lens Compact Camera (ILCC). The camera is also known as PEN Lite.
Design And Build Quality
As mentioned above, the E-PL3 is an ILCC, based on the Micro Four Thirds System. The external body is made from plastic and metal, and feels well-built. It does not have a hand-grip like in the E-P3, but it does have a thumb-grip that offers some relief. The camera looks impressive. Though there is no built-in flash, Olympus bundles in a small external flash with dedicated functions.
We mentioned earlier that the E-PL3 is very similar to the E-P3. So then, what are the differences?
||No (but external
flash is included)
|Flash sync speed||Up to 1/160sec||Up to 1/180sec|
From the above, it appears that the E-PL3 is a cost-effective solution to the E-P3.
At the heart of the E-PL3 is a 12.3 million pixel, Micro Four Thirds Live MOS sensor (13 x 17.3mm), backed by a TruePic VI image processor. The effective focal length is twice the focal length of the lens in use. Though the mount is Micro Four Thirds, it is possible to use the standard Four Thirds System lenses using a suitable adapter. A Supersonic Wave Filter vibrates at high speed to shake off any dust that may cling to the sensor assembly. Autofocus on the E-PL3 uses Contrast Detection AF system. Focus can be set to Automatic, Auto from 35 area, single area from 35 area, or 9 area Group target.
Focussing modes available are Single shot (S-AF), Continuous AF (C-AF), Manual (MF), S-AF+MF/C-AF+TR ( AF-Tracking), Face Priority, and Eye-detect AF. The E-PL3 uses a ‘Fast AF’ (Frequency Accelerated Sensor Technology) system with 35 AF points, which, in combination with the TruePic VI Dual-core Processor, provides fast continuous shooting up to 5.5 fps.
A Mode Dial on the top lets you set the camera to Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, Movie, Scene, Art, or AUTO mode. The Scene mode has 23 options, while Art Filters on offer are six. They are: Pop-Art, Soft Focus, Grainy Film, Pin-hole, Diorama, and Dramatic Tone. The E-PL3 has 5 metering modes: Digital ESP using 324-area multi-pattern metering, Center-weighted, Spot, Highlight-based Spot, and Shadow-based Spot. If you desire to lock the exposure without locking focus, ‘Assign AEL/AFL to the Fn button’ can be enabled and the Function button (Fn) can be pressed. ISO sensitivity on the E-PL3 can be set to Auto, or manually, between ISO 200-12,800. Colour Space can be set to Adobe RGB or sRGB. Image quality can be set to RAW; JPEG – Large/Fine, Large/Normal, Medium/Normal, and Small/Normal. RAW + JPEG is also possible. A 3-mode sensor-shift image stabiliser similar to that on the E-P3, is available. Exposures can be compensated up to +/- 3 EV in 1/3, 1/2, or 1 EV step. Picture Modes can be set to Enhance, Vivid, Natural, Muted, Portrait, Monochrome, Custom, Pop Art, Soft Focus, Grainy Film, Pin-Hole, Diorama, and Dramatic Tone. Under these settings, the user can fine-tune Contrast, Sharpness, Saturation, Gradation, and Effect (High, Standard, Low). Movies can be recorded in the following modes: Full HD Fine, Full HD Normal, HD Fine, HD Normal, HD, and SD.
White Balance can be set to Auto, 7 Presets, One-touch WB, or Custom WB. Shutter speeds on the E-PL3 are from 60 seconds to 1/4000sec, plus Bulb and Time. Bracketing functions on offer are for AE, WB, ISO, Art Filters, and Flash. The LCD at the back of the camera has a resolution of 460,000 dots and an aspect ratio of 16:9 (good for videos), but for still images it can be set to 16:9, 3:2, 6:6, 3:4, or 4:3. Brightness and Colour Temperature of the LCD can be adjusted by the user.
If you are fond of panorama pictures, the E-PL3 offers you a easy solution. Just install the supplied computer software, and you can easily join the pictures together to form a panorama. For shooting panorama images, the camera offers guides to shoot the sequence; frame each shot so that the guides overlap with the previous picture. 3D Photography is also possible but the results can be viewed only on TVs that support 3D display. Multiple exposure recording (on the same frame) is possible too.
The add-on flash (provided by Olympus) has a Guide Number of 10m (33 feet) at ISO 200 and offers TTL-Auto and Manual flash operations. In manual mode, the flashgun can be used at Full, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, 1/32, or 1/64 power. Flash can be synced up to 1/160sec. Optional flashguns that can be used are FL-50R, FL-36R, FL-50, FL-36, FL-20, FL-14, and FL-300R. The camera uses SD/SDHC/SDXC/Eye-Fi card to store images and is powered by a rechargeable Li-ion battery. The camera dimensions are 109.5 x 63.7 x 37.3mm and the body weighs approx. 313g with battery and card.
The Olympus E-PL3 with the 14-42mm lens was very easy to use, but we felt that the E-P3 (SP, August 2011), with its interchangeable hand-grip, was easier to hold. Just as with the E-P3, newcomers may find the user interface somewhat difficult at first. In spite of this bickering, the E-PL3 offers great assistance to those using the Scene modes. As you move across the various Scene Modes, the LCD displays large icons describing the scene.
The overall performance of the Olympus E-PL3 was good. Flare was very well controlled and chromatic aberration, if at all, was very difficult to see. Sharpness was good at the center; edges were slightly softer, but slight softness at the center as well as the edges was noticed at f/16 and f/22 due to diffraction of light. Corner darkening was seen at all aperture settings at the 14mm (equivalent to 28mm in the 35mm format) end.
Barrel distortion was observed at 14mm and 18mm settings; but was negligible or unnoticed at the other focal lengths. In the digital ‘noise’ department, at its native image size (13.44 x 10.08 inches at 300 ppi), noise was not seen or was barely noticeable up to ISO 6,400. ISO 12,800 was not only noisy, it also underexposed, indicating that the actual sensitivity was less than claimed.
At 50-percent screen size, slight noise could be seen at ISO 1600 but images were perfectly usable up to 3200. At 100-percent screen size, noise could be observed even at the lower ISO settings, but I would not hesitate to use it up to ISO 1600 if need be. Considering that one would rarely use very high ISO sensitivities with ILCCs, we would say that the noise performance was very good.
White Balance preset and Auto White Balance with ‘Sunlight’ was very good. Similarly, preset ‘Shade’ and AWB ‘Flash’ were very accurate. Minor colour casts were observed at other settings.
Value For Money
The Olympus E-PL3 is available at an MRP of Rs. 34,999 with its 14-42mm kit lens. At this price, comparing it to the E-P3, we say that it is a better buy.
+ Good AF performance
+ Good overall image quality
+ Good build quality
– User interface could have been simpler
– No hand-grip
Design and Build Quality 16.5/20
Key Features 17/20
Noise Control 4/5
Value for Money 7.5/10
Grand Total 83/100
The overall performance of the Olympus E-PL3 is good. Considering that it is a lightweight competitor to D-SLRs, it should find its way into most camera bags. Best Buy!