Olympus E-PL3 Review

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor

Originally Posted: October 3, 2011

Last Updated: October 3, 2011

The Olympus E-PL3 ($699 with lens) is the midrange model in the "Pen" lineup. This camera, also known as the Pen Lite, sits between the entry-level E-PM1 ($499) and the higher-end E-P3 ($899). As you might have guessed, it's also the replacement for the E-PL2, and there are some major changes to be found. These 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 (when it was announced, at least)
  • 3-inch, tilting LCD display with 460,000 pixels
  • No longer has a built-in flash (Olympus includes a small external one, instead)
  • Full HD movie mode with stereo sound using AVCHD codec
  • Tone Control function lets you adjust shadow and highlight levels individually
  • Art Filters can be bracketed and fine-tuned
  • 3D photo function

The chart below compares the old E-PL2 with the brand spankin' new E-PL3:

Feature E-PL2 E-PL3
Resolution * 12.3 Megapixel 12.3 Megapixel
Sensor drive speed ** 60 fps 120 fps
Image processor TruePic V TruePic VI
Display size (position) 3.0" (fixed) 3.0" (tilting)
AF system 11-point 35-point
ISO range (fully expanded) 200 - 6400 200 - 12800
Burst mode 3 frames/sec 5.5 frames/sec ***
Tone control No Yes
Art filters: adjustable Yes 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
Battery used BLS-5 BLS-1 / BLS-5
Battery life (CIPA standard) 280 shots 300 shots
Dimensions (W x H x D) 4.5 x 2.8 x 1.6 in. 4.3 x 2.5 x 1.5 in.
Weight 296 g 265 g

* Despite same resolution, the sensors are different
** Related to autofocus speed
*** With image stabilization turned off
*** Sensor output is 30p

What does stepping up to the E-P3 get you? You get a larger, classic rangefinder-style body, an OLED touchscreen display, interchangeable grips, a few more Art Filters, and an electronic level.

Read on to find out if the Olympus E-PL3 is the compact interchangeable lens camera that's best for you!

Due to their similarities, significant portions of the E-P3 review will be reused here.

What's in the Box?

The E-PL3 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 (black model only). In either case, the price is $699. Here's what you'll find in the box for both of those:

  • The 12.3 effective Megapixel Olympus E-PL3 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
  • FL-LM1 external flash
  • Battery charger
  • 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-PL3 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-PL3 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-PL3, 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-PL3 supports SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards (including the new, super fast UHS-I cards). 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 high speed card (Class 6 or higher) is a good idea, especially if you'll be taking HD videos.

The E-PL3 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-PL3, with a comparison to other interchangeable lens cameras:

Camera Battery life w/live view
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Nikon 1 J1 230 shots EN-EL20
Olympus E-PL3 300 shots BLS-1 / BLS-5
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 320 shots * DMW-BLE9
Pentax Q 230 shots D-LI68
Samsung NX200 330 shots BP1310
Sony Alpha NEX-5N 430 shots NP-FW50

* With the 14 - 42 mm kit lens

Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer

The E-PL3's battery life is a bit above average among this group of interchangeable lens cameras. Its numbers are also an improvement over its predecessor. Something to keep in mind: as with all of the cameras in the above table, the E-PL3 uses a proprietary lithium-ion battery. A spare BLS-5 will set you back around $50.

When it's time to charge the battery, just pop it into the included charger. Then go for a scenic drive, as it'll take 3.5 hours to fully charge the battery. This charger doesn't plug directly into the wall (doh) -- you need to use a power cord.

The E-PL3 supports a wide variety of accessories . Here are the highlights:

Accessory Model # Price * Description
Wide-angle converter WCON-P01 $90 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 $52 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 $128 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-PL3. Do note that not all lenses will support autofocus.
Electronic viewfinder VF-2
From $234
From $179
Articulating EVFs that attach to the E-PL3's hot shoe and accessory port. The VF-2 has 1.44 million pixels and a 1.15X magnification, while the VF-3 has 920k pixels and a 1.0X magnification. Available in silver and black.
External flash


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 is a full-size flashes with all the expected bells-and-whistles.
Remote shutter release RM-UC1 $40 A shutter release button on a 1 meter long cable. Good for tripod shooting.
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 $60 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.
Underwater housing PT-EP05L From $799 This pricey underwater case lets you take the camera and its kit lens up to 45 meters underwater. Has a built-in lamp for macro photography.
* Prices were accurate at time of publication

And that's only a partial list! One accessory you won't find for the E-PL3 is an AC adapter -- Olympus seems to have an aversion to them, for some reason.

Olympus includes two software products with the Pen Lite. First is Olympus Viewer 2, which can be used to transfer, organize, edit, and share your photos. There are numerous editing controls, plus the ability to work with RAW files. You can also use Olympus Viewer to update the firmware on your camera and lenses. The other piece of software is called [ib], and is for Windows only. This does many of the same things as Olympus Viewer, just with a flashier, more consumer-friendly interface. You can read more about both of these products in my E-P3 review.

You can also use Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom to edit the E-PL3's RAW file, as long as you have version 6.5 or 3.5, respectively. Oh, and in case you don't know: RAW files contain unprocessed image data straight from the camera's sensor. This allows you to adjust things like white balance, sharpness, color, noise reduction, and more -- all without degrading the quality of the image. The downsides are larger file sizes and slower processing speeds.

Wondering about how to edit the AVCHD videos that the E-PL3 produces? Mac users will want to use iPhoto or Final Cut Pro X, since Olympus Viewer cannot work with them. Windows users will be able to view AVCHD videos in Olympus Viewer, but you'll need something more robust (Adobe Premiere, Sony Vegas, etc.) to edit them.

While my early production camera did not come with a manual, I imagine that they will be the same as on the E-P3. In the box there will be a concise manual to get you up and running. If you need more details, you'll need to load up the full camera manual, which is in PDF format on an included CD-ROM. Neither manual is terribly user-friendly, and they could be more detailed, as well.