Olympus’ E-PL series has always been positioned as the more affordable and simpler alternatives to their flagship E-P cameras. After some recent product line reshuffling though, the latest E-PL3 ( now dubbed the PEN Lite) now stands in between its higher-end cousin and a simpler smaller series, the E-PM1 or otherwise knows as PEN Mini. Re-designation aside, just what can we expect from the E-PL3?
Design-wise, the E-PL3 is clearly inspired by the minimalist look reminiscent of the Olympus XZ-1. Like the latter, the E-PL3’s front is flat and made out of lacquered metal, with an overall look that’s classy, sleek and please to the eye. Olympus streamlined the camera by removing both handgrip and built-in flash, though you can still get the latter via a clip on accessory. The lack of handgrip, while it does keep the camera small, ends up making the E-PL3 a little too flat for comfortable handling. One noticeable feature is the sturdy 3.0-inch tilt screen, though lacking touchscreen capability like on the E-P3. Overall, the E-PL3 solidly-constructed, and with accessible and well-designed controls that are further enhanced by a straightforward user-interface.
Compared to the E-PL2, the E-PL3 sports a better processor, better AF system and higher ISO capabilities over its predecessor but retains items like in camera raw conversion and art filters. The EP-3 and the E-PL3 might differ in terms of aesthetics but they share the same sensor and internals – both come with a 12.3-megapixel CMOS sensor, the TruePic VI image processing engine and a 35-point AF system. Needless to say, they are identical in terms of performance.
Like the E-P3, the E-PL3 scores a decent resolution score of 1800x1600 LPH (vertical and horizontal) on our chats with images that are detailed and defined. However, its ISO performance takes a slight beating – images are clear till ISO800, with smudging of details and noise making an appearance from ISO1600 onwards. We don’t recommend shooting about that as the image quality starts to dip right after, at ISO12800, images are barely usable. Otherwise, there are plenty of positive things to like: color production is brilliant while auto-focusing is speedy and accurate.
The Olympus E-PL3 is an affordable option that appeals to the camera enthusiasts looking to transmit from compacts. It offers the same level of performance as its higher-end sibling, the E-P3, but in a smaller body that comes with a handy tilting LCD screen. The lack of a handgrip or built-in flash might be cause of concern to some but if you are willing to overlook those, you will have in your hands a very capable camera.