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Olympus PEN Lite E-PL3 Micro Four Thirds Review

Joshua Waller tests the latest Olympus PEN camera, the Lite E-PL3, with the World's fastest auto focus and 5.5 fps shooting.

| Olympus PEN Lite E-PL3 in Mirrorless Cameras

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL3 Micro Four Thirds Review: Olympus PEN Lite E-PL3

The Olympus PEN Lite E-PL3 is the updated version of the E-PL2, and is a significant update to the predecessor with a significantly more compact body, new shutter system, with higher speed shooting at upto 5.5 fps, anti shake sensor, ultra fast focus, AF illuminator, tilting 16:9 screen with 460k dots, Full HD video, stereo sound, completely new design, numerous colours and updated Art filters with effects. Other changes include the camera no longer featuring a built-in flash, instead a clip on / pop up flash is included. The lens is the same as the MK II, but the new R designation means that it has been redesigned cosmetically to match the updated PEN range. While the E-P3 is a significant update to the E-P2, the E-PL3 is a massive update to the E-PL2

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL3 Features

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL3 Micro Four Thirds Review: Olympus PEN Lite E-PL3

  • 12 megapixel Micro Four Thirds sensor
  • 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 16:9 screen, 460k dots
  • Choice of colours
  • New tone control
  • Art bracketing, 6 filters, plus effects
  • 3D Photos

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL3 Micro Four Thirds Review: Olympus PEN Lite E-PL3

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

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL3 Micro Four Thirds 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, 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 £549 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 Lite E-PL3 Handling

Instantly noticeable, apart from the extremely gorgeous looking design, is the lack of any kind of front grip, and with a smooth finish it makes the camera feel quite slippery. Thankfully there is a rubber thumb grip on the back of the camera, and it's provided neck strap is definitely worth attaching to the camera for extra peace of mind. The memory / battery compartment is good and an improvement over the EPL1 / EPL2 with a locking mechanism much like the Panasonic Lumix G series of cameras.

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL3 Micro Four Thirds Review: Olympus PEN Lite E-PL3

The tilting screen feels solid even when tilted to extremes, although the 16:9 aspect means that a lot of the screen is wasted when taking and viewing 4:3 photos (the default aspect ratio). The customisable buttons Fn / Record / Right (labelled flash) and Down (labelled Timer/Shooting mode) buttons can be set to various functions, however, the Fn / Record buttons can only be set to a limited set of functions (these are: AEL/AFL, Preview, One touch WB, Home AF Position, MF, RAW, Test, Myset1, 2, 3, 4, Backlit LCD, Underwater, Live Guide, Digital Tele-Converter, Off), then the Right / Down buttons can be set to ISO/WB/Lock scroll wheel, Exposure, Flash mode. Which I find a little awkward, personally, I would have liked to keep the flash and shooting mode / self-timer buttons where they are, and instead change the Fn / Record buttons to ISO / WB (one touch WB would be nice). There is a video position on the mode dial, so the record button isn't entirely necessary. However, saying this, there is still an easy way to access all of these features by pressing the middle OK button, this brings up an overlay of controls.

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL3 Micro Four Thirds Review: Olympus PEN Lite E-PL3

Another minor gripe is that when you do press one of the many buttons, and the options appear on screen, they don't appear instantly, instead they "animate" / scroll onto the screen quite slowly, delaying you setting whatever it is you wanted to set. This wasn't the case on the E-P3 (firmware fix please, or add a menu option?) - when the camera is marketed as the World's Fasted Auto Focus it doesn't make sense to slow another area of the camera down with slow menus.

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL3 Micro Four Thirds Review: Olympus EPL3 Menu

Menus: The menus are very similar to EP3, but with a different colour / background colour. 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 above), and then there are literally hundreds of options! (70 options, each with sub options, over 10 colour coded screens)

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL3 Micro Four Thirds Review: Olympus PEN Lite E-PL3

Battery Life: Battery life is rated at 330 Shots (using 100% live view, under CIPA testing). We managed to take over 380 photos before the battery went flat, this is better than 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 Lite E-PL3 Micro Four Thirds Review: Olympus PEN Lite E-PL3

Speed - we tested the Olympus PEN E-PL3 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-PL3
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 2.1
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) 5.5fps (12 shots)
Continuous Shooting - Flash N/A 2fps (infinite shots) 1.9s
Continuous Shooting - RAW 4fps (6 shots) 3fps (5 shots) 5fps (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 been massive improvements in the focusing speed, as focusing was very, very quick, as fast as, if not faster than the Panasonic Lumix G3, and GF3, and shutter response is practically instant. Continuous shooting is around 5.5 fps (with IS disabled) or 4 fps with IS enabled, which is excellent, and the fastest Micro Four Thirds camera yet, quicker even than the top of the range Panasonic Lumix GH2 (with 5fps shooting).

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL3 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 Lite E-PL3 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 portrait shot with flash, shows very little red-eye, however the image is underexposed and has given the subject a red tint.

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL3 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 Lite E-PL3 ISO test images

ISO Noise performance: (Noise Filter Low, default: Standard). The E-PL3 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 Lite E-PL3 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.

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL3 Digital filters

Art Filters - On the E-PL3, there are 6 Art Filters, as well as additional 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-PL3 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, Toy Lens, and others.

Video: Video on the E-PL3 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. The E-PL3 is currently priced higher than a number of the competition with the kit lens version costing £549, more than the Panasonic Lumix GF3, Panasonic Lumix G3, Samsung NX11, NX100, and Sony NEX- 5, although as this is the RRP, I would expect it to fall over time.

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL3 Verdict

The Olympus PEN E-PL3 is an excellent upgrade to the E-PL2, 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. They've also produced a compact, stylish camera with fast continuous shooting at 5.5 fps. AF illuminator and the tilting screen is a 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-PL3 is excellent with excellent detail from the 12 megapixel sensor, with low noise and great colour. The PEN Lite E-PL3 is a compact Micro Four Thirds camera that hasn't compromised on controls, and gives you a mode dial and 4 customisable buttons!

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL3 Micro Four Thirds Review:
The Olympus PEN E-PL3 is a stunning camera, producing great images from a compact, high speed camera.

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL3 Pros

Two year warranty
Good build quality
Excellent image quality
In camera anti-shake (works with ALL lenses)
Art filters + effects
Customisable function button, video button, right and down buttons
Tilting screen
5.5 fps shooting (fastest M43 yet)
Rear thumb grip
Great colours

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL3 Cons

Lacks built in flash
Advanced menus can seem daunting initially
Slow pop up menus
Small scroll wheel, very close to screen
No front grip (flipbac? why not give the option Olympus?)
Strangely large box for a small camera (twice the size of Panasonic Lumix G boxes)


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 Lite E-PL3 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 resolution460k dots
Touch ScreenNo
Focusing modes
  • Autofocus
  • Manual
  • Spot
  • Face Detection
  • Multi
Exposure Control
Shutter speeds shortest1/4000sec
Shutter speeds longest60sec
Bulb modeYes
Exp modes
  • Program
  • Aperture-Priority
  • Shutter-Priority
  • Manual
  • Scene modes
  • Centre-weighted - Average
  • Spot
  • ESP Light Metering
ISO sensitivity200 - 12800
White balance
  • Auto
  • Manual
  • Bracket
  • Outdoors/Daylight
  • Cloudy
  • Incandescent
  • Fluorescent
  • Shade
Exposure Comp+/-3
Viewfinder ResolutionNo Data
MagnificationNo Data
Shooting Options
Continuous shooting5.5fps
Movie modeYes
Video Resolution
  • 1920x1080 FullHD
  • 1280x720 HD 720p
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 TypeLithium Ion
Battery Life (CIPA rating)330shots
Box Contents
Box ContentsFlash, flash case, strap, basic manual (multi language), full manual on cd/dvd, camera, battery, battery charger, AV cable, USB cable, Warranty Card

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Photographs taken using the Olympus PEN Lite E-PL3

Whats not to like[marmite perhaps]solitude or company colour editssolitude or company 1worth another lookTHE COMFORT ZONEPERHAPS A VOYERGLUM IS THE SUMNo Mean CityHave nots[an alternative christmas message]shapes and shadowsMupe Rocks, Dorset Heritage CoastSEARCHING FOR ONE"S SOULGo?Frozen floods at sunrise, Somerset Levels

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Paul Morgan 22 19.9k 6 England

Quote:Strangely large box for a small camera (twice the size of Panasonic Lumix G boxes)

Lol is that really a con Smile
Coleslaw 17 13.4k 28 Wales
i thought the same,
Paul Morgan 22 19.9k 6 England
LOl not good for trees I guess.
It just seemed a surprise considering it's one of the smallest PEN cameras (if you exclude the Mini), and the box size doesn't seem to have taken that into consideration. Most camera companies are using the smallest size possible for environmental reasons (it also affects weight, amount you can pack in a larger box, delivery costs, fuel, trees, etc etc) and then it arrived much larger than I expected. It's a minor negative obviously, but I thought it was worth pointing out. It's also easier to keep boxes if they're smaller Smile
StrayCat 19 19.1k 3 Canada
Another enjoyable read Joshwa, good job. I've always been a sort of small box fan myself.Wink

I bought my camera at Amazon and had it shipped to California where my nephew was vacationing last year. I am in the Philippines. When I got my camera, it was no longer in the box, so I didn't get to see the "big" box.

The Olympus PEN E-PL3 is really a very good camera. I wanted a dSLR but I cannot afford it. Also, my shoulders hurt from time to time. A heavy camera will be a burden.

One reviewer gave it a 3 and a half stars and raved about the Sony NEX-C3. The E-PL3 is still available at Amazon. The Sony NEX-C3? A forgotten thing.

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