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Olympus PEN E-P3 Mirrorless Review

Joshua Waller reviews the new Olympus PEN E-P3 - the E-P3 is the top of the range PEN camera from Olympus and promises the World's Fastest Auto Focus - but does it deliver?

| Olympus PEN E-P3 in Mirrorless Cameras


Olympus PEN E-P3 Mirrorless Review: Olympus PEN E-P3

The Olympus PEN E-P3 is the newest Micro Four Thirds camera from Olympus, and offers improvements in speed, focusing, image processing, video, built in flash, and even more, including a high resolution 3 inch touch screen. In fact, the camera's focusing is so fast, Olympus are claiming it's the world's fastest! Find out in our review how the camera performs.

Olympus PEN E-P3 Mirrorless Review: Olympus PEN E-P3
Olympus PEN E-P3

Olympus PEN E-P3 Features

Olympus PEN E-P3 Mirrorless Review: Olympus PEN E-P3

The Olympus PEN E-P1 was the first Micro Four Thirds camera from Olympus, and the first compact styled mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, as previously Panasonic's Micro Four Thirds cameras were DSLR style with built in electronic viewfinder. The Olympus PEN E-P2 added an accessory port which can connect a variety of options, primarily the electronic viewfinder, but little else changed between the two models. The Olympus PEN E-P3 on the other hand, introduces a number of new features, and significantly improves auto focus speed, amongst other things, here are the new key features:

  • Improved sensitivity - upto ISO12800 (although at the loss of ISO100)
  • TruePix VI Image Processor
  • World's fastest AF, AF illuminator
  • Full HD Video - advanced IS, shutter priority
  • Advanced Shadow Adjustment Technology
  • New graphic user interface (see below)
  • 3inch OLED Touch screen, anti-fingerprint
  • Choice of grip, no grip and large grip
  • New tone control
  • Art bracketing, 10 filters, plus effects
  • Face and iris/eye-detection AF

Olympus PEN E-P3 Mirrorless Review: Olympus PEN E-P3

Olympus PEN 3 vs Olympus PEN 2 vs Olympus PEN 1 - Here's how it compares to its two direct predecessors, with the new features highlighted in bold.

Olympus PEN E-P1 Olympus PEN E-P2 Olympus E-P3
12.1 megapixels (effective) 12.1 megapixels (effective) 12.1 megapixels (effective)
3inch 3inch 3inch, Touch screen, 610k
3fps 3fps 3fps
11 point AF, 25 point with Face 11 point AF, 25 point with Face 35 point area focus
720p video 720p video Full HD 1920×1080, 1080i
Stereo microphones Stereo microphones Stereo microphones
ISO100 - ISO6400 ISO100 - ISO6400 ISO200 - ISO12800
External Flash External Flash Built in flash
Battery life: 300 Battery life: 300 Battery life: 330
335g 335g 321g
120.5 x 70 x 35 mm 120.5 x 70 x 35 mm 122 x 69.1 x 34.3 mm
£699 with kit lens (14-42) £699 with kit lens (14-42) £799 with kit lens (14-42)
  Colours: Black, Silver Colours: Black, White, Silver
  Accessory port to allow use of electronic viewfinder. Other: Histogram, Fisheye, Wide Converter, Macro scene modes for use with the Olympus converters, 3D photo mode, Largest amount of art filters, Level Gauge, Fn buttons, mode dial moved.

At the same time as the Olympus PEN E-P3 announcement, Olympus also announced two other new models, the PEN Lite 3 (E-PL3), and PEN Mini (E-PM1), here's how they compare visually (shown to scale):

Olympus PEN E-P3 Mirrorless Review: Olympus PEN Mini, Lite, and E-P3

Olympus PEN 3 vs Olympus PEN Lite 3 vs Olympus PEN Mini 1 - How does it compare?

Olympus PEN E-PM1 Mini Olympus PEN E-PL3 Lite Olympus Pen E-P3
12.1 megapixels (effective) 12.1 megapixels (effective) 12.1 megapixels (effective)
3inch 460k, Touch, 16:9 3inch 460k, Touch, Tilting, 16:9 3inch OLED, Touch, 610k, 3:2
4.1/5.5fps IS On/Off 4.1/5.5fps IS On/Off 3fps
35 point area focus 35 point area focus 35 point area focus
Full HD 1920×1080, 1080i Full HD 1920×1080, 1080i Full HD 1920×1080, 1080i
Stereo microphones Stereo microphones Stereo microphones
ISO200 - ISO12800 ISO200 - ISO12800 ISO200 - ISO12800
Detachable flash Detachable flash Built in flash
Battery life: 330 Battery life: 330 Battery life: 330 (LCD On)
216g 265g 321g
109.5 x 63.7 x 34.0 mm 109.5 x 63.7 x 37.3 mm 122 x 69.1 x 34.3 mm
£429 with kit lens tbc £529 with kit lens £799 with kit lens (14-42)
Colours: Black, white, silver, dark brown, purple and silver rose Colours: Black, Silver, White, Red Colours: Black, White, Silver
Variation of art filters not available (art filters still available), no mode dial. Variation of art filters available, mode dial available. Other: Histogram, Fisheye, Wide Converter, Macro scene modes for use with the Olympus converters, 3D photo mode, Largest amount of art filters, Level Gauge, Fn buttons, mode dial moved compared to E-P1 / E-P2.


Olympus PEN E-P3 Handling

To anyone who's used the E-P1 or E-P2, the general design and feel of the camera will be very familiar, as the body is very solidly made, but with some subtle but useful improvements. The major improvement is the inclusion of a built in flash and the ability to change the grip on the camera - you have the choice of no grip, giving you the slimmest camera, a standard / medium sized grip, or a larger more substantial rubber grip. There are further more stylish grip options available as well.

Olympus PEN E-P3 Mirrorless Review: Olympus PEN E-P3
Olympus PEN E-P3 Back

The size of the E-P3, whilst very similar to the E-P2, now feels quite large in comparison to the tiny E-PL3 (Lite), and E-PM1 (Mini), and other Micro Four Thirds cameras. The touch screen is also a new feature, and it's good to see an improvement in resolution and quality with a 610k dots OLED screen. This shows photos with bright vibrant colours and sharp details. It's also coated with an "anti-fingerprint" coating so using it as a touch screen shouldn't cause too much concern. You can select the focus area with your finger, or take a photo by touching the screen, and for manual focus you can select the areas you want magnified, and choose between 5, 7, 10 and 14x zoom to fine tune focus. However the majority of the time you don't need to use the touch screen if you don't want to as the majority of menus and controls are still changed using the scroll wheel and 4-way buttons.

Olympus PEN E-P3 Mirrorless Review: Olympus PEN E-P3
Olympus PEN E-P3 Top

Menus - the PEN cameras have a refreshed menu system with easier to navigate controls, and they have a softer edge to some of them. There is built in help and a built in camera manual. There are two dedicated function buttons, however, when you go into change the default options you can also set the Video, Right, and Down buttons as custom functions. The more basic options are in the normal menus, then you can also switch on the Custom Menu (shown below), and then there are literally hundreds of options! (70 options, each with sub options, over 10 colour coded screens)

Olympus PEN E-P3 Mirrorless Review:

Battery life: The E-P3 used the same battery as the E-P1, and E-P2 before it, and battery life is rated at 330 Shots (using 100% live view, under CIPA testing). We managed to take around 320 photos (a number of these multiple exposure shots) before the battery went flat, this is about what we expected, although the number of shots achieved will depend on whether you shoot continuous, how often you switch the camera on / off and what features you use.

Olympus PEN E-P3 Mirrorless Review: Olympus PEN E-P3
Olympus PEN E-P3 Bottom

Speed - we tested the Olympus PEN E-P3 and compared it to the Samsung NX11, and Panasonic Lumix GF3. You can also compare the results to the new Panasonic Lumix G3 as well.

  Panasonic GF3 Samsung NX11 Olympus E-P3
Shutter Response <0.05 0.1 <0.05
Wide - Focus / Shutter Response 0.2* 0.3 0.2
Full zoom - Focus / Shutter Response 0.2* 0.3 0.2
Switch on Time to Taking a Photo 0.9 1.3 0.7
Shot to Shot without Flash 0.6 1.0 0.6
Shot to Shot with Flash 1.3 1.1 2.0
Continuous Shooting
(shots before slow down)
4fps (13 shots) 3fps (15 shots) 3fps (59 shots)
Continuous Shooting - Flash N/A 2fps (infinite shots) 1.6s
Continuous Shooting - RAW 4fps (6 shots) 3fps (5 shots) 3fps (8 shots)

* 14-42mm Olympus M Zuiko 14-42mm II R lens used for both M43rds cameras, tested with the new Samsung Class 10 memory card.

This is one area where you can instantly tell that there have indeed been massive improvements in the focusing speed, as focusing was very, very quick, as fast as the Panasonic Lumix G3 (the G3 focuses in less than 0.2 seconds), and shutter response is instant. Continuous shooting is around 3 fps, which is a little disappointing considering the mid-range "Lite" model features 5.5fps.

We couldn't necessarily confirm that the Olympus PEN E-P3 has, in fact, the world's fastest autofocus system, as the G3 and GF3 both match the speed. Therefore, with Panasonic also claiming to have the world's fastest autofocus system (at launch), we would have to conclude that they both have "the world's fastest autofocus".

Olympus PEN E-P3 Performance

Here are several sample photos taken in a variety of lighting conditions, click "Hi-Res" to view full size sample photos, there are more sample photos in the equipment database where you can also add your own photos:

Olympus PEN E-P3 Sample Photos

The photos shown here show good colour, detail, and the lens is capable of producing good background blur (bokeh) when used to focus on close subjects. The first landscape shot shows good colour, and impressively the camera has managed to keep detail in the bright sky without losing the detail in the clouds. The photo of the yellow flowers shows excellent detail in the stalks of the plant. The portrait shot with flash, shows very little red-eye, however the image is underexposed and has given the subject a red tint.

Olympus PEN E-P3 Lens test images

The lens performs well with detail right to the corners, although there is some highlight clipping in the wide shot in the clouds, and some purple fringing in extreme contrast areas (the corners especially) although this was generally low in other photos. The kit lens is capable of decent macro performance when used at the telephoto end.

Olympus PEN E-P3 ISO test images

ISO Noise performance: (Noise Filter Low, default: Standard). The E-P3 produces low noise at ISO200, through to ISO800, even when the noise filter is set to low. At ISO1600 and ISO3200 coloured noise becomes apparent, and it's at this point that I'd want to switch the noise filter to standard. Similarly at ISO6400 noise becomes more noticeable and this setting would be best used with the noise filter set to standard. ISO12800 is best used resized, however, the camera does a good job at maintaining colour even at this high ISO setting.

The photos above also show the noise reduction options: Off, On, Auto, with the noise filter options of: Off, Low, Standard, High. Low gives a nice grain with good detail, Standard (Default) does a very good job of removing most of the noise if you're not a fan of noise, whereas High seems as though the noise reduction is a little too high, although your personal preferences may differ.

Olympus PEN E-P3 White-balance test images

Auto white balance: AWB performed well under tungsten and fluorescent lighting, often producing better results than using the respective presets. Interestingly the camera has an option to "Keep warm colour" when using auto white balance - examples can be seen above.

Olympus PEN E-P3 Digital filters

Art Filters - On the E-P3 (and E-PL3) Olympus has updated the Art Filters with more filters available, as well as introducing effects that can be applied on top of the filters while taking photos. The number of filters and options available depends on which Art Filter you are using - for example, with Pin Hole having 3 different colour options, and also one frame effect available. Another example is Pop Art - this has 2 types of filter (normal, or darker), and all 5 filter effects available (as shown above).

Lenses available: The E-P3 comes with a collapsible zoom kit lens: the Olympus M. Zuiko 14-42mm II R - equivalent to 28 - 84mm, this is an updated version of the 14-42mm Mk II lens and is updated cosmetically only so that the style matches the new range of Olympus PEN cameras. As it's part of the Micro Four thirds system, there is an abundance of lenses to choose from, from both Olympus and Panasonic, and others! There is also a number of adapters available to allow you to use DSLR lenses, as well as a lot of third party "toy" lenses like the Pinhole PenWide, Holga, and others.

Additional sample photos from the Olympus PEN E-P3 and M.Zuiko Digital 12mm f/2.0 Lens, as well as photos taken side by side with the Panasonic Lumix G3.

Video: Video on the E-P3 is greatly improved, now featuring full HD video, and full manual controls (P, A, S, M, Art filters), although using the Art Filters greatly reduces the frame rate on videos. With Full HD, there is also further compression / size options including AVCHD Full HD Fine / Normal, HD Fine / Normal, MJPEG HD / SD, as well as a digital teleconverter that allows digital zoom without any loss of video quality.


Value for Money: Built in body stabilisation is a bonus of the PEN system, as it enables you to have image stabilisation with any lens, new or old, and is of particular interest if you're planning on using adapters to use third party lenses. Although saying this, the E-P3 is currently priced higher than the competition with the kit lens version costing £799, more than the Panasonic Lumix GH2, G3, Samsung NX11, and Sony NEX-5.

Olympus PEN E-P3 Verdict

The Olympus PEN E-P3 is a welcome upgrade to the E-P2, with extremely fast focusing, which was one of the big problems with the PEN series, especially if you'd used another faster Micro Four Thirds camera, but now Olympus are back in the game. The addition of a built in flash, AF illuminator and several new art filters and effects that can be applied to the art filters, is a very welcome addition.

Olympus has expanded the appeal of the PEN series with new 12mm and 45mm lenses with an entirely metal construction, and a variety of lens converters are available. Image quality of the Olympus PEN E-P3 is excellent with excellent detail from the 12 megapixel sensor, with low noise, and great colour. The build quality and appearance of the camera is simply excellent, and probably the closest we have come to a "tough" mirrorless camera yet.

Olympus PEN E-P3 Mirrorless Review:
The Olympus PEN E-P3 is extremely solid with excellent image quality and produces the speed needed to make this an excellent camera.

Olympus PEN E-P3 Pros

Two year warranty
Great touch screen
Excellent build quality (simply superb)
Excellent image quality
In camera anti-shake (works with ALL lenses)
Built in flash
Removable hand grip
Art filters + effects

Olympus PEN E-P3 Cons

High price
Only 3fps shooting
Advanced menus can seem daunting initially


Read our hands on preview and first impressions of the new Olympus PEN Lite E-PL3!
Read our hands on preview of the new Olympus PEN Mini E-PM1!
View our size comparison: comparing the Olympus PEN E-P3, E-PL3, and Lumix G3

Olympus PEN E-P3 Specifications

Image Sensor
Pixels12.3Mp (Megapixels)
Pixels (W)4032
Pixels (H)3042
Sensor TypeLive MOS Sensor
Sensor SizeMicro / Four Thirds
Sensor Size (width)17.3mm
Sensor Size (height)13mm
Aspect Ratio
  • 4:3
  • 3:2
  • 16:9
  • 1:1
LCD Monitor
LCD Monitor3in
Screen resolution614k dots
Touch ScreenYes
Focusing modes
  • Autofocus
  • Manual
  • Spot
  • Face Detection
  • AF Tracking
  • Multi
  • Touch AF
Exposure Control
Shutter speeds shortest1/4000sec
Shutter speeds longest60sec
Bulb modeYes
Exp modes
  • Program
  • Aperture-Priority
  • Shutter-Priority
  • Manual
  • Scene modes
  • A
  • Centre-weighted - Average
  • Multi Pattern
  • Spot
ISO sensitivity200 - 12800
White balance
  • Auto
  • Manual
  • Incandescent
  • Fluorescent
Exposure Comp+/-3
Viewfinder ResolutionNo Data
MagnificationNo Data
Shooting Options
Continuous shooting3fps
Movie modeYes
Video Resolution
  • 1920x1080 FullHD
Video FPSNo Data
Stereo SoundYes
Optical Zoom with VideoYes
Other Features
Image StabilisationYes
Wi-FiNo Data
Card Type
  • SD
  • SDHC
  • SDXC
File Type
  • RAW
  • JPG
  • RAW + JPG
Power Source
Battery TypeBLS-1 Lithium Ion
Battery Life (CIPA rating)330shots
Box Contents
Box ContentsNo Data

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Photographs taken using the Olympus PEN E-P3

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Just Jas Avatar
Looks nice - but expensive!
franken Avatar

Quote:Looks nice - but expensive!

I agree, almost twice the price of entry level and excellent SLR's.
Paul Morgan Avatar
Paul Morgan 22 19.9k 6 England
Expensive but not over priced, this is not entry level.
ianrobinson Avatar
ianrobinson 13 1.2k 8 United Kingdom
i agree Paul definitely not entry level and one i would like to have in my kit bag and am seriously considering.
i worry that i have spent a fortune on canon 7d and 5d mark ii when there are cameras like this available now, are we going into a smaller camera world here but better in terms of quality do you think ?
MasahikoF Avatar
Just bought one a week ago. Have had a long love affair with Oly since some of their rangefinders and the OM series. The E-P3 has ended that.

I wanted a lightweight camera for street photography which could give comparable results to say a Nikon D40/D70. I knew it couldn't compare with a D300 or more, but DxOMark showed the sensor, though dated, noisy, and low in dynamic range, might be in the vicinity of a 6 year old D70 sensor.

No, it ain't. M4/3, at least the Oly version, is not in the same league as any of the low end dSLRs I have owned or used in the last 5-7 years. Noise at base ISO? Yes, and it's color noise.

Purple fringing with the very poor quality, very slow 14-42 kit? OK in jpegs, but nearly impossible to remove in LightRoom in RAW. So yea, if you have this thing, you might be better served using jpegs than RAW. Just hope you get everything right. May be hard as the Touchscreen monitor is NOT accurate as far as color goes. So we may call that an Olympus joke on the consumer.

Oh, the optional Electronic Finder EF-2? Nice except it is not color accurate either so you photo may be a bit of a surprise. But the best part is, if you use it and touch the goofy Touchscreen with your nose, thumb or anything else, all buttons, dials and controls freeze (except shutter). Great fun to try to figure that out until you search Google for E-P3 bugs.

World's fastest focusing my a**. Has Olympus no shame?

If you are coming UP from a regular digicam, you may find this camera meets your needs even though it costs more than a more flexible dSLR with much higher image quality, generally more user-friendly. The wife has a Nikon D40 which is almost as small, nearly as light, and much, much, much---let me repeat---much better performance in about every area.

If you are an experienced photographer coming down from a dSLR or film 35mm and expect comparable image quality you may not be satisfied. Let me correct that, I find it hard to believe that you will be satisfied. If you prefer light weight to dSLR quality and complex, bizarrely designed menus, then you might be fully satisfied with the Oly.

It is cute though. Should be for the price.
ianrobinson Avatar
ianrobinson 13 1.2k 8 United Kingdom
I took the plunge and brought it last week and i found it to be a brilliant little camera, maybe Masahikof got a duff one because my images from this little beast have come out very pleasing indeed i have also printed off a3 prints and compared them to my 5d and 7d and there is very little in it when quality is at stake, just look on my portfolio and decide for your self.
I find the touch screen is superb and quite frankly am not bothered by the transition between my 5d,7d view finder or looking at a screen, it is a great screen too, the sunlight is no bother either to be honest.
I found the kit lens is pretty good and can't really fault it, however they do say get the 12mm f2 lens for this camera is one of the best lenses for this camera and the sharpest, this is my next purchase so will let you know on that.
It is not better than my DSLR'S but it does come close and because its such a small camera i can take it anywhere and i do, i take it on my bike rides so i don't miss the sunsets while i am exercising i put it in my pocket and off i go.
It is packed with technology that i am surprised to say does actually work, the speed of auto focus is very very quick. i touch the screen and in a split second it has focused and took the shot, it is very fast. and that brings me on to the touch screen, taking images by touching the screen is genius, you touch the screen where you want your focus point and at the same time it takes the photo, how fast do you need it for gods sake it is fast end of.
I have learnt the settings very quickly and did not find any issue navigating my way round the menus, of which there are a lot. i optimised the camera to how i wanted to take images which quite frankly you should with any camera to get the best from that camera.
Personally speaking i think its worth every penny and am not disappointed in the slightest, it is without doubt a great fun camera that takes great images if you know how to set it up properly not that you need to set much up but it does help turning certain settings to off.
i tend to set this camera up similar to my 7d and 5d mark ii and it certainly makes a difference.
Check my images out and see what you think, seeing real images taken by an amateur should give a better idea of what you can expect from this little gem as i call it.
altitude50 Avatar
altitude50 19 23.9k United Kingdom
I have just bought a used one in white from the well-known auction site. It was advertised as a non-runner, but it had the 14-42 lens which I could use on my Panasonic GX 7. Having handled the camera and switched it on & off a few times, the camera works perfectly however there is a fault in the lens which occurs at over approx. 30mm zoom. I found on the net that that this is common in used versions. The camera works fine with my Panasonic lenses so I will keep it and try to remember to use it for wide angle only or with a better lens..
Good as a spare body because my GX 7 is permanently converted to IR. It will go out with me instead of a bigger Sony when appropriate.
Not bad for £25 with charger.

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