DCRP

Olympus E-P3 Review

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor

Originally Posted: June 29, 2011

Last Updated: October 3, 2011

The Olympus E-P3 ($899) may look like the E-P1 and E-P2 that came before it, but it sports some pretty significant changes. Olympus has addressed every complaint I had with the originals (and then some), making the E-P3 an interchangeable lens camera to be reckoned with. Some of the highlights of the E-P3 include:

  • A new 12.3 Megapixel Live MOS sensor
  • New dual-core TruePic VI image processor with "Real Color Technology" and "Advanced Shadow Adjustment Technology"
  • World's fastest autofocus system
  • 3-inch OLED touchscreen display with touch focus/shutter and various playback functions
  • Built-in flash (GN10 @ ISO 200)
  • Full HD movie mode with stereo sound using AVCHD codec
  • Tone Control function lets you adjust shadow and highlight levels individually
  • More Art Filters, plus the ability to bracket and fine-tune them
  • 3D photo function
  • Interchangeable grip

Well that sounds pretty nice, doesn't it? The E-P3 is joined by two other Pens, both of which use the same sensor/processor/AF system as their big brother. They are the Pen Lite (E-PL3), which has an articulating widescreen 16:9 LCD display, and the even smaller Pen Mini (E-PM1), which has a fixed LCD. Neither of the smaller Pens have a built-in flash, instead relying on a small external flash that's included in the box.

You may be wondering exactly how the E-P3 compares to the E-P2 that came before it. Fear not, here's the chart:

Feature E-P2 E-P3
Resolution * 12.3 Megapixel 12.3 Megapixel
Sensor drive speed 60 fps 120 fps
Image processor TruePic V TruePic VI
Display size / tech 3.0" LCD 3.0" OLED
Display resolution 230,000 pixel 614,000 pixel
Touch functionality None Focus, shutter, playback
Built-in flash No Yes
Wireless flash control No Yes
ISO range (fully expanded) 100 - 6400 200 - 12800
Live guide No Yes
Tone control No Yes
Art Filters: number 8 10
Art filters: adjustable No Yes
Art Filters: bracketing No Yes
Face detection w/eye detect AF No Yes
Max movie resolution 1280 x 720 (30 fps) 1920 x 1080 (60i) **
Movie codecs used M-JPEG AVCHD, M-JPEG
Interchangeable grip No Yes
Memory card support SD, SDHC SD, SDHC, SDXC
Battery used BLS-1 BLS-1 / BLS-5
Battery life (CIPA standard) 300 shots 330 shots
Dimensions (W x H x D) 4.7 x 2.8 x 1.4 in. 4.8 x 2.7 x 1.4 in.
Weight 335 g 321 g
Available colors Black, silver Black, silver, white

* Despite same resolution, the sensors are different
** Sensor output is 30p

So there's a look at the pretty significant differences between the E-P2 and the new E-P3. I'm sure I'll touch on more changes in the body of the review. And speaking of which, let's dive right into our review of the Olympus E-P3!

What's in the Box?

The E-P3 will be available in two kits. You can get it with the newly restyled (but internally unchanged) F3.5-5.6, 14 - 42 mm II R zoom lens, or with the F2.8, 17 mm pancake lens. In either case, the price is $899. Here's what you'll find in the box for both of those:

  • The 12.3 effective Megapixel Olympus E-P3 camera body
  • F3.5-5.6 II R, 14 - 42 mm MSC M.Zuiko zoom lens [zoom lens kit only]
  • F2.8, 17 mm MSC M.Zuiko pancake lens [17mm kit only]
  • BLS-1 lithium-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Standard camera grip
  • Body cap
  • Shoulder strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Olympus Viewer 2 and [ib] software
  • Concise manual (printed) + full manual on CD-ROM


The E-P3 with the restyled 14-42 and 40-150 lenses, as well as the new F2.0, 12mm wide-angle lens

The E-P3 comes with a restyled version of the F3.5-5.6, 14 - 42 mm lens that was introduced alongside the E-PL2. This lens is "MSC", or movie and still compatible, meaning that it focuses quickly and quietly (perfect for moving recording). This lens is also quite unique in that it supports a trio of conversion lenses: wide-angle, fisheye, and macro. The 14-42 offers good corner-to-corner sharpness and relatively little purple fringing. The other kit lens is the classic F2.8, 17mm model that's been around for a few years. Sharpness is good and distortion and aberrations are minimal.

The E-P3 also works with "legacy" Four Thirds lenses, via the optional MMF-2 adapter. Do note that some older Four Thirds lenses may not support autofocus. You can also use classic Olympus OM lenses via another optional adapter (MF-2), though all of these lenses will be manual focus only. If that's still not enough, I don't see any reason why you can't use Panasonic's Leica R and M-mount adapters, as well.

Regardless of what lens you have attached to the E-P3, there will be a 2X focal length conversion ratio. Therefore, the 14 - 42 mm kit lens has a field-of-view of 28 - 84 mm.

Interchangeable lens cameras (which includes D-SLRs) never come with memory cards. So, if you don't have one already, you'll need to pick one up. The E-P3 supports SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards (including the new UHS-I cards, though I was getting card errors with mine), and if you're mostly taking stills, then a 2GB or 4GB card is probably fine. If you plan on taking a lot of movies, then you'll want something like an 8GB or 16GB card, instead. Picking up a fast card (Class 6 or higher) is a good idea, especially if you'll be taking HD videos. The E-P3 is also Eye-Fi enabled, though I had a lot of weird lockups when I was using my X2 Pro card with the camera.

The E-P3 can use either the classic BLS-1 or the newer BLS-5 lithium-ion batteries. As far as I can tell, they are identical, both packing 8.3 Wh of energy into its plastic shell, which is quite good for a camera this size. Here's what kind of battery life you can expect from the E-P3:

Camera Battery life w/live view
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Canon EOS Rebel T3i 180 shots LP-E8
Nikon D5100 N/A EN-EL14
Olympus E-P3 * 330 shots BLS-1 / BLS-5
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 320 shots ** DMW-BLE9
Pentax Q * 230 shots D-LI68
Samsung NX100 * 400 shots BP1310
Sony Alpha NEX-5 * 330 shots NP-FW50

* Mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, live view only
** With the 14 - 42 mm kit lens

Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer

The E-P3 is tied for second place in the battery life competition, with only the Sony NEX-5 ahead of it. And, in case you missed it, the E-P3 is able to squeeze out 10% more shots per charge than its predecessor!

I should point out a few things about the proprietary batteries used by the E-P3 and every other camera on the above list. For one, they're pretty expensive -- you'll spend around $50 for a extra BLS-1 or BLS-5. Also, should your rechargeable battery run out of juice, you can't use an off-the-shelf battery to get you through the day. The only camera in the above table that supports AA batteries is the Canon, which does so via its optional battery grip, which makes the camera a whole lot bigger.

When it's time to charge the battery, just pop it into the included charger. Then pick up a good book and a cup of coffee, as it'll take 3.5 hours to fully charge the battery. This charger doesn't plug directly into the wall (darn) -- you need to use a power cord.


The E-P3 with the new FL-300R flash
Image courtesy of Olympus

The E-P3 supports essentially the same accessories as the E-PL2. Here are the highlights:

Accessory Model # Price * Description
Lenses Varies Varies The E-P3 supports all Micro Four Thirds lenses, with a 2X focal length conversion ratio.
Wide-angle converter WCON-P01 $99 Attaches to the front of the 14 - 42 mm lens and reduces the focal length to 11 mm (20.8 mm equivalent) at the wide end of the range.
Macro converter MCON-P01 $59 Attaches to the front of the 14 - 42 mm, 14-150, or 40-150 mm lens, and reduces the minimum focus distance to 24, 35, and 42 cm respectively.
Fisheye converter FCON-P01 $169 Attaches to the front of the 14 - 42 mm lens and lowers the focal range to 10.4 mm (20.8 mm equivalent), with a 120 degree field-of-view.
Four Thirds Adapter MMF-2 From $169 Lets you use "regular" Four Thirds lenses on the E-P3. Do note that not all lenses will support autofocus.
OM Adapter MF-2 From $167 Lets you use vintage Olympus OM lenses, which will be manual focus only.
Electronic viewfinder VF-2 From $249 An articulating 1.44 million pixel EVF that attaches to the E-P3's hot shoe and accessory port. Comes in silver and black.
External flash

FL-14
FL-300R
FL-36R
FL-50R

From $180
$170
From $230
From $458
The FL-14 is compact, not very powerful, and doesn't move in any direction. The new FL-300R can tilt in a number of ways and also supports flash wireless control. The FL-36R and FL-50R are full-size flashes with all the expected bells-and-whistles.
Large grip MCG-2 $20 A larger grip to screw onto the E-P3, for people with big hands!
Macro Arm Light MAL-1 From $60 Two LED lamps on flexible metal arms, which can be positioned in almost any fashion. Lamps operate independently of each other, with two brightness settings to choose from. Powered by the camera.
PENPAL PP-1 From $61 Allows you to wirelessly transmit photos over Bluetooth to a mobile phone or laptop. Internal memory holds 2600 photos.
External mic adapter SEMA-1 From $62 Includes a stereo mic adapter that attaches to the hot shoe (and plugs into the accessory port), a clip-on stereo mic, and an extension cable.
* Prices were accurate at time of publication

That's quite a list! One accessory you won't find for the E-P3 is an AC adapter -- Olympus seems to have an aversion to them, for some reason.

Let's talk about software now.


Olympus Viewer 2 in Mac OS X

After a brief period of not including any Mac-compatible software with their cameras, Olympus is back with their Viewer 2 product. This is the main image viewer for both Mac and Windows, and it's capable of handling a lot of tasks. The main screen looks like every other image viewer on the market: file browser on the left, resizable thumbnails in the middle, and shooting info on the right (as well as a "box" in which to put photos you want to work on.

Other options here include an image lightbox (for side-by-side comparisons), slideshows, printing, batch processing, and easy skin retouching. You can also update the firmware of both the camera and lenses using Viewer 2.


Editing in Olympus Viewer 2

Olympus Viewer 2 is fully-loaded in the editing department, as well. In addition to a quick "auto tone" fix, you can also adjust the tone curve, color balance, and sharpness. You can also reduce distortion, noise, and vignetting, or apply various filters to your photos. A redeye removal tool is also available.

The software can also edit RAW files, with things like exposure compensation, white balance, Picture Mode, gradation, and the noise filter all being adjustable. Not too shabby!


Olympus [ib] software in Windows

Also included is Olympus' strangely named [ib] software, which is for Windows only. This software, complete with an overly flashy interface, is aimed more toward consumers than the Viewer product described above.

The photo import process involves naming events (just like iPhoto), tagging any faces, and selecting the location in which a photo was taken. You can't choose individual photos to import -- it's either everything in an event or all of the photos on the camera. Once you get to the main screen, you'll find the usual thumbnail view, which is broken down by event. Over on the right side of the frame are windows for faces the software has identified, as well as a map showing the locations you've tagged.

You can also print photos, stitch together panoramas, and update the firmware on your camera from the main page. If you register the [ib] software, Olympus also gives you 2GB of online photo storage.


Editing JPEGs in Olympus [ib]

The [ib] software has a nice set of image editing tools. You can rotate or level images, correct for distortion and redeye, smooth skin tones and remove blemishes, or add special effects to your photos. Of course, basics like brightness, contrast, saturation, and sharpness can be adjusted as well. In addition to its JPEG editing duties, the [ib] software can also edit and export RAW images. RAW properties that can be adjusted include exposure, white balance, Picture Mode, contrast, sharpness, saturation, gradation, and the noise filter.

If you want to use something other than Olympus' software to edit the E-P3's RAW files, then you'll have to wait a little while. Adobe's Photoshop CS5 will be an option at some point, once their Camera Raw plug-in is updated to support the E-P3 and its siblings.

And what is this RAW thing all about, anyway? RAW files contain unprocessed image data direct from the camera's sensor. You'll need to process it on your computer first (or on the camera -- more on this later), but this allows you to adjust things like white balance, exposure, and noise reduction without reducing the quality of the original image. It's almost like taking the photo again. Be warned that RAW images are considerably larger than JPEGs, which means that they take up more space on your memory card and decrease camera performance.

The manuals for the E-P3 are split into two parts. When you open the box you'll find a printed "concise version" of the instruction manual. That'll get you up and running, but if you want more details, you'll have to load up the full manual, which is on an included CD-ROM. Neither manual is terribly user-friendly, and they could be more detailed, as well. Documentation for the software bundle is installed onto your Mac or PC.

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