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Box Photo

The Olympus E-P3 comes kitted with a cosmetically re-designed 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens, as well as:

  • Neck Strap
  • PS-BLS1 Li-ion Battery (1100mAh)
  • Battery Charger
  • Optional Screw-in Grip
  • Manuals/Software
  • USB/AV Cables
  • Lens/body Caps

The Olympus E-P3 comes with the 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R MSC kit lens. The "R" designation simply indicates a cosmetic redesign of the lens, with a slightly more comfortable zoom and focus ring setup, but the same optical design inside. The lens' MSC designation refers to its "Movie Still Compatible" motor, which allows for quiet, quick focus without moving the front lens element or making any noise that will be audible on the internal microphone when recording video.

The E-P3 includes a 12-megapixel Micro Four Thirds CMOS image sensor that has been slightly redesigned by Olympus to speed up certain operations, such as interacting with the live display and autofocus systems in real-time. The sensor has also been designed to allow for better signal amplification with less noise, according to Olympus. The sensor thus has an ISO range of 200-12800 (expandable to 100-25600), but does rely on noise reduction in software in order to keep image grain to a minimum. Even with noise reduction keeping noise down, there is still a severe lack of dynamic range compared to competition like the Sony NEX-5.

The Olympus E-P3 has a 3-inch OLED electrostatic touchscreen display, and the familiar optional EVF accessory port is included below the hot shoe. The EVF is not included with the E-P3, though, as it was with the E-P2. The display duties are handled by the high-resolution OLED touchscreen instead, which offers a wide variety of information to the user. The higher resolution of the display (coupled with the OLED technology) results in a very clear, legible readout of shooting information, as well as a very bright, clear menu.

The E-P3 lost the included EVF, but gains a built-in flash that springs out from the top of the body when the rear flash-up button is pressed. The flash isn't the most powerful we've ever seen, but it's ability to spring forward and above the lens helps greatly reduce red-eye (with red-eye reduction also available in-camera).

Flash Photo

The flash emitter pops up from the top of the body via a mechanical release.

The Olympus E-P3 features a mini-HDMI out as well as a proprietary AV/USB output terminal. Both are located behind a plastic port on the right side the camera, just behind the screw-in grip. The grip does not prevent the port terminals from being accessed. The E-P3 also includes a hot shoe for flash and Bluetooth accessories, with an EVF port just below the hot shoe. The camera can also sync up with external flashes wirelessly, along with the rest of the 2011 Olympus PEN lineup.

The PS-BLS1 battery again reprises its role as the main power source for the E-P3, as it has also been used for several other Olympus PEN models. The battery is a standard Lithium-ion battery, with an external AC adapter for charging.

Battery Photo

Like most of Olympus' current generation of cameras, the E-P3 is SD/SDHC/SDXC compatible. The memory slot is in the typical spot next to the battery, located behind a plastic door on the bottom of the camera. It is very close to the tripod mount, so the card is not accessible while the E-P3 is mounted on a tripod, unfortunately.

Memory Photo

The K2000 accepts inexpensive, easy to find SD cards.

Media Photo

In testing with the 14-42mm kit lens provided with the E-P3, we found it to return the sharpest results of any of the cameras in our comparison group, with an average sharpness well over 1600 lw/ph across the board. There is some sharpening being applied by the camera in its .JPEG conversion, but the lens itself is quite sharp on its own. More on how we test sharpness.

The Olympus E-P3 had very effective horizontal image stabilization across the board, especially in our low shake testing. The only time that it had a negative impact was in high shake testing at a shutter speed of 1/500s, where the system overcorrected for the shake being applied resulting in fewer sharp images. At slower shutter speeds, the improvement was marginal in high shake testing but quite good when shake was low to moderate.

The Olympus E-P3 features a number of art filters and color modes that can be combined to your heart's content, should you choose. We found that, of all the color modes, the "muted" mode was by far the most accurate, with an average color error of approximately 2.5, with every other mode having an error of 3.2 or greater. More on how we test color.

The mode wasn't even all that muted, with a saturation level of around 99% of the ideal. The other color modes were all oversaturated, resulting in images that were less accurate, but popped in aesthetically pleasing ways. For these reasons, we conducted our tests in the muted mode, in order to achieve the most accurate results for the E-P3. All these color modes are customizable, however, with users able to make adjustments to hue, brightness, and saturation through a touchscreen picture adjust menu.

NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.

The Olympus E-P3 had the most accurate color rendition of any of our comparison cameras, by far. The closest competing cameras were the Panasonic G3 and E-PL2, both released this year, with the older Sony NEX-5 and Samsung NX100 falling behind. It's a shame that Olympus has called their only really accurate mode "muted," because many users will probably skip right over it, fearing drab, dull pictures.

The E-P3 stows most of its picture adjust presets under one setting called picture modes, with the color-specific modes available alongside more drastic effects. There are five color modes in total: natural, vivid, iEnhance, muted, and portrait. Muted is by far the most accurate, with a color error under 3 and a near-perfect saturation level. The other modes all emphasize oversaturation, from natural offering 105% of the ideal up to vivid and iEnhance, which push it to around 120%. Generally, the largest errors were in the yellow sections of our test chart, but the oversaturated modes pushed magenta and blues specifically.

The Olympus E-P3 comes with a number of white balance options, including numerous preset settings, the ability to save two custom white balance measurements, a WB shift located in the menu, and an option to emphasize the warmth of indoor tungsten lighting. We found the performance to be good overall, with the ability to choose between white balance presets and custom white balance located right in the camera's quick menu.

Automatic White Balance ()

In our automatic white balance testing, we saw that the E-P3 managed a color error of less than 175 kelvins in both daylight and compact white fluorescent lighting conditions, tending to emphasize warmer colors across the board. The camera also has the option to leave indoor tungsten lighting much warmer when utilizing an automatic white balance, which produced an average color error over 1100 kelvins. With that option turned off, that number dropped to an error of around 850 kelvins. That's not a spectacular result, but it's what we're accustomed to seeing from automatic white balances in that condition.

Custom White Balance ()

The results of the custom white balance were not the best we have seen, but they were certainly quite tolerable. In tungsten lighting, the custom white balance improved the camera's performance greatly, with a color error of just 132 kelvins on average. That was better than the camera performed with custom white balances taken in both compact white fluorescent and daylight lighting conditions, where the average color error was 186 and 192 kelvins, respectively. Overall, we'd say that unless you want very warm images, the best time to use a custom white balance is indoors with normal household lightbulbs, otherwise the automatic will suffice.

The Olympus E-P3 had the most accurate automatic white balance of any of our comparison cameras, even with its "keep Tungsten light warm" feature turned on. However, it's custom white balance ended up falling behind the competition somewhat. In all our lighting tests under custom it still managed an error of less than 200 kelvins, though. It wasn't that inaccurate, just less so compared to the competition.

Users can access the white balance menu by pressing the center OK button during shooting situations and bringing up the camera's quick menu. That menu is displayed over the current shot and offers options for all the white balance presets, automatic, as well as two custom options. When on either custom option, pressing the INFO button causes the camera to automatically begin adjusting to find a correct white balance in live view. At any time the user can point the camera at a white object and press the shutter button and take a completely custom white balance. If you prefer warmer or cooler images, you can also go into the full menu and apply an overall white balance shift in either direction, as well.

The E-P3 showed only slightly worse color rendition in long exposure testing. Long shutter speed noise reduction was more beneficial than usual with the E-P3, though it had to be as noise nearly doubled as shutter speeds approached 30 seconds. Color rendition was also improved by long shutter noise reduction, as it seems to do some light processing beyond simply taking a "dark shutter" shot to map noise. More on how we test long exposure.

We found that the E-P3 suffered a very minute setback of about 0.5 degrees in color accuracy during long exposures, with noise also rising rapidly in exposures longer than 15 seconds. At all shutter speeds of one second and longer, we found an average color error of around 3 with noise reduction turned on and 3.2 with the feature turned off. Noise was kept in check somewhat with long exposure noise reduction applied, ranging from 1.44% to 2.04% as exposures were lengthened from one second to 30 seconds. With long exposure NR turned off there was actually less noise at one second (1.28%), but it rose to over 2.6% in 30 second exposures. This likely means that the sensor does not deal well with heat when activated for longer than 30 seconds, though noise reduction actually reins it in fairly well.

Long exposure noise reduction barely makes a dent in the total amount of noise visible in images in most cameras, but the E-P3's long exposure NR works well. Overall, the recently-released Panasonic G3 showed less noise and better color accuracy in long exposures, however. The Samsung NX100 was still tops in this group, though, as despite its other flaws, it excelled in our long exposure testing.

Noise mounts quickly from ISO 1600 and upward, spiking all the way to a ridiculous 7.66% at ISO 12800. Anything beyond 2.5% generally yields a useless photo, and the E-P3 crosses that threshhold at ISO 3200 with noise reduction off. With noise reduction set to on (or automatic, which will engage it at higher ISO speeds anyway), the E-P3 only crosses 2.5% at ISO 12800, but detail is greatly smeared as a result. The E-P3 offers the option to hit ISO 25600, but with results already looking poor at 6400, this is hardly a useful feature. More on how we test noise.

The option to turn off noise reduction is buried fairly deep within the custom menus on the Olympus E-P3, though it’s easy to see why when looking at any shot taken with the camera beyond ISO 800. The E-P3 features what is now a fairly outdated 12-megapixel sensor, so while it shows some improvement over the E-PL2 released earlier this year, it doesn’t quite have the low light guns to match up with the other compact system cameras on the market. If you’re shooting with the E-P3, leave NR on and hope for the best.

The E-P3 fared very similarly to the E-PL2, which we reviewed at the beginning of this year. It had nearly identical noise results up to ISO 6400—the max for the E-PL2—though with both cameras returning more than 4.4%, neither has much use past ISO 3200. The Panasonic G3 and the Samsung NX100 fared much better, able to hit ISO 6400 with just over 2.5% noise with no noise reduction applied. The Sony NEX-5 returned the least amount of noise, though it has no option to turn noise reduction off, so that’s not much of a surprise.

The trade-off for portability with compact system cameras, at least compared to DSLRs, has been poor high ISO performance. That problem isn’t completely solved yet, but the G3, NEX-5, and Samsung NX100 have at least reined in noise significantly. The E-P3 is reportedly using an updated version of the 12-megapixel Live MOS sensor found in older Micro Four Thirds cameras. As a result, its performance is more on par with last year’s crop of models while some of its competition—whether utilizing Micro Four Thirds or APS-C sensors—have taken bigger steps forward.

The Olympus E-P3 has a default ISO range of 200-12800, ostensibly to match up with the competition in the market, like the Sony NEX-5. That can be expanded to a range of 100-25600 through the menu, though we can hardly see a use for expanding a range that is already set at a stop too high. The extra stop at the bottom of the range could be useful, but there's little noise at ISO 200 anyway.

We were left fairly unimpressed by the Olympus E-P3's dynamic range performance, as it wasn't able to pull in more than 5.19 stops of dynamic range (calculated using Imatest's f-stop noise evaluation) at its lowest standard ISO of 200. This also quickly fell off, with the camera falling to less than four stops as soon as ISO 800. While the E-P3 can shoot as fast as 12800 (and 25600, even, if ISO extension is turned on), we don't recommend it, as dynamic range is practically nil and overwhelmed with noise. This is especially apparent in real-life photos, as nearly every highlight and deep shadow is clipped, leaving very little detail to be rescued in post. RAW shooting provides some relief, but not nearly enough. More on how we test dynamic range.

The performance of the E-P3 is only a slight improvement over the E-PL2, which came out at the beginning of this year. Neither camera really matches what the Panasonic G3 and GF2 are capable of, and all fall behind the NEX-5 by a considerable margin. The NEX-5 beats the E-P3 by two full stops at their minimum default ISO speeds of 200, holding serve over the entire sensitivity range by a significant margin.

Noise mounts quickly from ISO 1600 and upward, spiking all the way to a ridiculous 7.66% at ISO 12800. Anything beyond 2.5% generally yields a useless photo, and the E-P3 crosses that threshhold at ISO 3200 with noise reduction off. With noise reduction set to on (or automatic, which will engage it at higher ISO speeds anyway), the E-P3 only crosses 2.5% at ISO 12800, but detail is greatly smeared as a result. The E-P3 offers the option to hit ISO 25600, but with results already looking poor at 6400, this is hardly a useful feature. More on how we test noise.

The Olympus E-P3 has a default ISO range of 200-12800, ostensibly to match up with the competition in the market, like the Sony NEX-5. That can be expanded to a range of 100-25600 through the menu, though we can hardly see a use for expanding a range that is already set at a stop too high. The extra stop at the bottom of the range could be useful, but there's little noise at ISO 200 anyway.

The autofocus on the Olympus E-P3 is outstanding in situations where light is plentiful. It's a contrast-based detection system, but it feels just as snappy as any phase detection system we've tested. Olympus claims this is due to the increased "dual-core" processing power working in concert with their "MSC" lenses that are able to move lens elements quickly and silently. We found autofocus was a bit slower with non-MSC lenses and hunted quite a bit in low light situations, even with an AF illuminator. Focus was dead silent, however, and was not audible on video recordings. Overall, this was the snappiest non-phase detection autofocus we've seen in any camera with a sensor of this size.

The E-P3 showed only slightly worse color rendition in long exposure testing. Long shutter speed noise reduction was more beneficial than usual with the E-P3, though it had to be as noise nearly doubled as shutter speeds approached 30 seconds. Color rendition was also improved by long shutter noise reduction, as it seems to do some light processing beyond simply taking a "dark shutter" shot to map noise. More on how we test long exposure.

We found that the E-P3 suffered a very minute setback of about 0.5 degrees in color accuracy during long exposures, with noise also rising rapidly in exposures longer than 15 seconds. At all shutter speeds of one second and longer, we found an average color error of around 3 with noise reduction turned on and 3.2 with the feature turned off. Noise was kept in check somewhat with long exposure noise reduction applied, ranging from 1.44% to 2.04% as exposures were lengthened from one second to 30 seconds. With long exposure NR turned off there was actually less noise at one second (1.28%), but it rose to over 2.6% in 30 second exposures. This likely means that the sensor does not deal well with heat when activated for longer than 30 seconds, though noise reduction actually reins it in fairly well.

Long exposure noise reduction barely makes a dent in the total amount of noise visible in images in most cameras, but the E-P3's long exposure NR works well. Overall, the recently-released Panasonic G3 showed less noise and better color accuracy in long exposures, however. The Samsung NX100 was still tops in this group, though, as despite its other flaws, it excelled in our long exposure testing.

We tested the Olympus E-P3 to see how much light the camera needed to record an image that would pass the illumination standards for broadcast (50 IRE). The camera needed 19 lux of light to produce an image that was bright enough to pass, which is a fairly disappointing score. Most high-end camcorders these days are capable of producing an image of the same brightness with just 10 lux of light or less.

The Olympus E-P3 exhibited average chromatic aberration for a camera in this group, beating out the E-PL2 released earlier this year by a small margin. The biggest problem comes in the lens altering the blue channel at the edges of the lens, resulting in significant blue fringing near the edges of high contrast areas. This isn't an uncommon problem with compact system cameras, though, and it shows up in every camera in our comparison group.

Distortion is only noticeable at the wide end on the E-P3 with the 14-42mm lens. There may be some distortion correction being applied in-camera, but there's no menu option given to turn such a feature on or off that we could find. At the wide end (14mm) we measured 1.63% of barrel distortion, though at the midpoint and telephoto end, there is no real distortion, faling to less than 0.07%.

In general, we liked the way the E-P3 captured motion. Like most DSLRs that record video, however, the camera did have some trouble spots. Its rolling shutter stood out as being rather bad. For those who aren't in the know, a rolling shutter produces a wobble effect when a camera is panned back and forth rather quickly. The issue wasn't as bad as what we saw from the Panasonic G3, but it seemed a tiny bit worse than what we saw from last year's Olympus E-PL2. Basically, you'll probably have to avoid using the camera to make quick pans.

We also saw a surprising amount of fuzzy pixelation around the rotating pinwheels and other straight edges in our motion test. Perhaps this is a result of the new 1080p recording? Other than this slight problem, though, the E-P3 recorded excellent video in our motion test. The footage was smooth, trailing wasn't a major problem, and artifacting was very low. We did most of our analysis with the Full HD AVCHD record mode using the highest quality setting, but we looked at other modes as well. The 1080p mode resulted in the cleanest footage, but some of the other modes—like the 720p options—produced motion that had a bit less trailing (but more artifacting). More on how CamcorderInfo tests motion.

The Olympus E-P3 showed us sharp video in much of our testing, but the camera took a step backwards when we conducted our sharpness test that looks at video in motion (with the camera panning back and forth). In this test, the E-P3 measured a horizontal sharpness of 625 lw/ph and a vertical sharpness of 600 lw/ph. These numbers aren't bad, but they represent little improvement over last year's E-PL2 (which records 720p HD video). We thought the improvement to Full HD recording on the E-P3 would boost sharpness levels a bit more. Still, we were impressed by the clean, crisp image produced by the E-P3 in most of our video tests, so we shouldn't complain too loudly here. More on how CamcorderInfo tests video sharpness.

We tested the Olympus E-P3 to see how much light the camera needed to record an image that would pass the illumination standards for broadcast (50 IRE). The camera needed 19 lux of light to produce an image that was bright enough to pass, which is a fairly disappointing score. Most high-end camcorders these days are capable of producing an image of the same brightness with just 10 lux of light or less.

Most of the dials and buttons from the E-P3 reprise their role here, with only a few alterations overall. The EP-3 sees the addition of a dedicated video record button, as well as a second programmable function button on the shoulder of the camera. The mode dial has been moved back to a more traditional spot on the top of the camera. The other shoulder of the camera now has a built-in pop-up flash that extends up and out, meaning the E-P3's attractive profile isn't altered by the flash's movement. This is a cosmetic change from the E-PL2, but it's more attractive Olympus seems proud of it.

The Olympus E-P3 offers all the customization and custom control one would expect from Olympus's flagship Micro Four Thirds camera, but it also offers quite a bit of picture effects in the form of "art filters." There are ten art filters in total, in addition to the five color modes, monochrome, and a custom color setting. Any of these filters or color modes can be used in any shooting mode or with the 23 scene modes found on the camera, with the option to also apply multiple art filters to form separate images, or combined to form even more drastic effects.

We weren't huge fans of the Olympus menus found on the earlier EP and EP-L series of cameras, as they are not organized particularly well. The E-P3 isn't much better, but it shows an improvement overall. It's much more clear and attractive, owing to the high-resolution screen, though there is no touchscreen control over the shooting menu. There is some touch integration in playback, but not in the regular menu. The menu is largely secondary in most shooting situations, however, because the OK button on the rear of the camera offers quick access to just about every important shooting setting.

While the model we reviewed is a final production sample, as we received it prior to the camera's NDA lifting, we were not provided with a manual for the E-PL3. We'll update with our thoughts about the manual when it is posted online.

The Olympus E-P3 features subtle design changes from the E-P2, with new interchangeable grip options, a more traditional mode dial, a high-resolution touchscreen, and a built-in flash. The E-P3, as a result, is a light camera that is easy to handle and shoot with, offering customers more options, but the same retro styling the E-P series has been known for.

Handling Photo 1

The Olympus E-P3 also features a new grip that can be taken off the body, allowing users to shoot either with one of two grips designed by Olympus, or without it entirely. Even shooting without the grip, the brushed metal body of the E-P3 offers a great deal of purchase and, if anything, the E-P3 is more attractive overall than the E-P2. You're still getting the same vertical thumb dial and rear control dial combination, though the E-P3 does not come with the electronic viewfinder that the E-P2 was packaged with. Instead, users get a high-resolution 3-inch touchscreen, with a re-designed menu and intelligent, well-integrated touch controls. The touchscreen is utilized in the best way possible, as it's entirely secondary to the operation of the camera. It's there, but you don't need to use it. As well as it works, it can be completely deactivated in the menu.

Handling Photo 2

The optional grip feature on the E-P3 is very interesting, as it offers three shooting options: a standard grip, a more pronounced grip to accommodate larger hands, or with no extra grip at all. All three present different options, which are a photographer's best friend. The included grip is similar in styling to that found on the E-P2, screwing into the side of the body instead of being found just on the front. The placement of the grip screw slot is interesting, as it's placed on the side of the body so that, when no grip is used, it doesn't interrupt the front design in any way. That design choice pushes the grip off to the side a bit, giving it a better flow around the side of the body than the E-P2 had.

Handling Photo 3

Most of the dials and buttons from the E-P3 reprise their role here, with only a few alterations overall. The EP-3 sees the addition of a dedicated video record button, as well as a second programmable function button on the shoulder of the camera. The mode dial has been moved back to a more traditional spot on the top of the camera. The other shoulder of the camera now has a built-in pop-up flash that extends up and out, meaning the E-P3's attractive profile isn't altered by the flash's movement. This is a cosmetic change from the E-PL2, but it's more attractive Olympus seems proud of it.

Buttons Photo 1

The E-P3 offers no shortage of customization, as there are a grand total of five buttons that can be repurposed to suit your needs. There are two function buttons specifically set aside for this purpose, but the dedicated video record button, as well as the d-pad right and down buttons can also have their functions altered in a number of ways. The two rear dials can also be customized by the user to offer either complementary or identical functions, depending on which shooting mode the camera is in.

Buttons Photo 2

The Olympus E-P3 has a 3-inch OLED electrostatic touchscreen display, and the familiar optional EVF accessory port is included below the hot shoe. The EVF is not included with the E-P3, though, as it was with the E-P2. The display duties are handled by the high-resolution OLED touchscreen instead, which offers a wide variety of information to the user. The higher resolution of the display (coupled with the OLED technology) results in a very clear, legible readout of shooting information, as well as a very bright, clear menu.

The Olympus E-P3 had very effective horizontal image stabilization across the board, especially in our low shake testing. The only time that it had a negative impact was in high shake testing at a shutter speed of 1/500s, where the system overcorrected for the shake being applied resulting in fewer sharp images. At slower shutter speeds, the improvement was marginal in high shake testing but quite good when shake was low to moderate.

The E-P3 features the standard shooting modes one would expect out of a camera of this type, with a full suite of priority and manual controls, an all-automatic mode, movie record mode, as well as both a scene and art filter mode right on the dial. The scene mode and art filters are accessed by pressing the OK or menu key (this can be adjusted in the custom menu), with the shooting options normally in the quick menu changed to automatic or relegated to the full menu.

The autofocus on the Olympus E-P3 is outstanding in situations where light is plentiful. It's a contrast-based detection system, but it feels just as snappy as any phase detection system we've tested. Olympus claims this is due to the increased "dual-core" processing power working in concert with their "MSC" lenses that are able to move lens elements quickly and silently. We found autofocus was a bit slower with non-MSC lenses and hunted quite a bit in low light situations, even with an AF illuminator. Focus was dead silent, however, and was not audible on video recordings. Overall, this was the snappiest non-phase detection autofocus we've seen in any camera with a sensor of this size.

Manual focus on the Olympus E-P3 is quite easy, thanks to the large 3-inch OLED screen. The higher resolution screen makes those fine focus judgements easier to make, with several options in the menu for applying a digital zoom to bring the details in closer. There is no focus peaking functionality, though, which would've been even more helpful.

The E-P3 offers .JPEG images in four flavors: small, medium, large (normal), and large (fine). There are also options for RAW shooting, as well as RAW+JPEG, with the JPEG saved at any of the available quality settings. There are several aspect ratios on the 4:3 sensor, with RAW shots always utilizing the whole 4032x3024 area. JPEGs are largest in the 4:3 ratio, naturally, but are available in cropped versions at 16:9, 3:2, and 6:6 (which is really just 1:1, or 2:2, but I guess Olympus just wanted to be fancy.) ratios.

Button Function Menu

In the custom menu for the E-P3 is a "button function" menu that allows the user to map controls for the movie record, right and down d-pad, and two dedicated function buttons. Each button has a different set of functions that the user can assign to it. The d-pad buttons can assume their labeled flash or drive functions, ISO, white balance, exposure comp, or disable the rear control dial. The two function buttons can become a depth of field preview button, reset the AF mode to "home," change to manual focus, change between RAW+JPEG and JPEG, turn the LCD's backlight on or off, change stabilization modes, activate the digital teleconverter, or adjust exposure compensation. The Fn1 and dedicated movie record buttons, specifically, can also activate the Live Guide, lock exposure or focus, take a one-touch custom WB, or shoot with one of the four "Myset" settings.

Live Guide

The Live Guide functionality is activated by the touchscreen or one of the custom function buttons (or by pressing the OK button in iAuto). It offers options for altering saturation, hue, brightness, background blur (depth of field), motion expression (shutter speed), and even offers shooting tips for specific situations.d

Super Control Panel

The SCP (Super Control Panel) can be activated by pressing the OK button when no other live control or guide menus are activated. The only way to really access it is to go into the custom menu and deactivate the live control and live guide modes. To get the SCP in the ART and SCENE modes, users will have to also deactivate those menus as well. It's not really any more useful than the other menus, and it overlays the entire image, but it relies less on the small symbols that the live control menu uses.

Olympus_ep3_SuperControlPanel.jpg

The E-P3 doesn't feature much in the way of burst/drive settings beyond the usual, and it fires at a speed that is average, if not slightly below average, for a camera at this price point. The camera's mechanical shutter feels satisfying to fire off, though, and—if the price wasn't enough of a tip-off—it's clear this isn't a cheaply built tool.

The Olympus E-P3 has just single shot and continuous recording drive modes. There are continuous focus and single focus modes, and the menu allows users to select a release priority for both continuous and single AF. With those options activated, the camera will fire whenever the shutter button is pressed, regardless of focus status.

The E-P3 fires off 3.15 full-resolution frames per second in its continuous shooting mode, though this is limited by a fairly small buffer that only allows 10-12 shots before it wears thin. Once the buffer is gone, shooting slows down to barely a shot per second. When settings that require more processing are activated, such as art filter bracketing, the E-P3 can manage just three shots at full burst. The shutter release is generally quite responsive, but that buffer really does limit how much continuous shooting one can do.

The E-P3 provides just basic self-timer delay options of two seconds and twelve seconds. There's no interval recording options available in the menu, and no custom self-timer. With the amount of bracketing and processing that this camera is capable of, it's a shame to see that a fairly basic feature like a custom self-timer isn't present. Interval shooting isn't nearly as common, but it's becoming increasingly popular online to do timelapse shots, so it's a definite miss by Olympus here.

The autofocus on the Olympus E-P3 is outstanding in situations where light is plentiful. It's a contrast-based detection system, but it feels just as snappy as any phase detection system we've tested. Olympus claims this is due to the increased "dual-core" processing power working in concert with their "MSC" lenses that are able to move lens elements quickly and silently. We found autofocus was a bit slower with non-MSC lenses and hunted quite a bit in low light situations, even with an AF illuminator. Focus was dead silent, however, and was not audible on video recordings. Overall, this was the snappiest non-phase detection autofocus we've seen in any camera with a sensor of this size.

Manual focus on the Olympus E-P3 is quite easy, thanks to the large 3-inch OLED screen. The higher resolution screen makes those fine focus judgements easier to make, with several options in the menu for applying a digital zoom to bring the details in closer. There is no focus peaking functionality, though, which would've been even more helpful.

The Olympus E-P3 offers all the customization and custom control one would expect from Olympus's flagship Micro Four Thirds camera, but it also offers quite a bit of picture effects in the form of "art filters." There are ten art filters in total, in addition to the five color modes, monochrome, and a custom color setting. Any of these filters or color modes can be used in any shooting mode or with the 23 scene modes found on the camera, with the option to also apply multiple art filters to form separate images, or combined to form even more drastic effects.

Interchangeable Grip

The E-P3 includes a grip that screws into the side of the body with a plastic flathead screw. The grip is more pronounced than the one found on the E-P2, wrapping around the side of the body more (in order for the camera to be designed so the screw mount is on the side and can't be seen from the front. The camera can also be shot without a grip, or with an optional second grip that will be available and protrude more like a traditional DSLR for those with larger hands.

Built-in Flash

While a built-in flash is fairly typical on most system cameras, it's a design change from the E-P2. The mode dial has been located to the right side of the camera, with the flash now springing up from its place. It is spring-loaded and moves up and forward, putting it at an angle that doesn't produce much of a red-eye effect. It's one more piece to break, but given that the only sacrifice from the E-P2 to include it was to move to a far less frustrating, more traditional mode dial, we're not complaining.

The E-P3 has six total video record quality options. Four record using AVCHD compression, which is the same system used on most consumer camcorders, and the last two use Motion JPEG (MJPEG) compression. MJPEG is easier to work with (the files are less power-hungry) and the compression system is older and more compatible with a variety of software. One of the MJPEG options records 720p HD video, while the other records 640 x 480 standard definition video.

The four AVCHD compression options include two that record Full HD video at a 1920 x 1080 resolution, and two 720p HD video options. We did all of our testing using the highest-quality 1080p record mode (called "Fine" quality by Olympus). We found the "Fine" setting improved the clarity of video recording a bit, but it wasn't a huge improvement. It is likely that the difference between the "Fine" and "Normal" options for both the 1080p and 720p record modes have to do with the different bitrates used during recording. We don't have the exact bitrate specs at this time, as the E-P3 is a brand new camera, but we'll add them to our specs page when we obtain that information. Find out how the performed in our video image quality test./r:link_to_content

The E-P3 has a fantastic set of manual controls that work in video mode. The camera allows you to adjust shutter, aperture, white balance, and even ISO in video mode, which is far more than most video-capable DSLRs are capable of. The only downside is that you can't set any of those controls during video recording (you have to make adjustments before you hit the record button). Other than that, we're darn pleased with the E-P3's manual video controls.

Auto Controls

The autofocus on the E-P3 was impressive, and its continual operation is great to see on a video-capable DSLR. Many true DSLRs lack this feature, as the mirror must be moved in order to get an autofocus. Mirrorless cameras like the E-P3, however, can do a live autofocus just like a traditional camcorder. Some don't do it well, though, and that's why we're praising the E-P3's autofocus. It worked somewhat slowly, but its results were very accurate and crisp. The focus transitions were always smooth and the camera didn't change exposure when adjusting focus (as is common on some models).

Auto exposure also worked smoothly, and it was fairly quick to adjust in our tests. The auto white balance was disappointing at times, and we noticed the camera adjusting white balance along with focus when we were indoors. Sometimes it would take a few seconds for the correct white balance to take effect, but the camera would usually get there. Besides, you can always use manual white balance in video mode to be safe.

Focus

We talked about the autofocus on the E-P3 in the section above, but the camera does have options for manual focus as well. To adjust focus manually you must rotate the focus ring on the camera's lens, just like you would for taking photos. You can also do a single-time autofocus by pressing down the shutter button halfway (again, just like you would for taking photos). All of these focus options are found in the E-P3's menu system.

Exposure Controls

All three of these controls—exposure, aperture, and shutter speed—can be set manually in video mode. None of them, however, can be set during video recording. This problem may not be an issue for most people, but it may bother more advanced users who want to, say, adjust depth of field in the middle of recording a video. Aperture and shutter speed have their own priority modes for recording video, and the camera also has a full-fledged manual mode where you can set both aperture and shutter speed independently.

Other Controls

The full set of white balance presets and custom options are available in video mode, although you do need to leave video mode in order to set the white balance manually (if you go back to video mode after that, the manual white balance will hold its setting).

ISO controls are available in video mode, but only in the full manual mode (where shutter and aperture must also be set). The entire ISO range on the camera is smaller in video mode, though. The range only runs from ISO 400 to ISO 1600 in video mode.

The E-P3 doesn't have any special audio features, but it does have a built-in stereo mic, which is more than you can say about many cameras of its class. The only audio control is the ability to turn sound recording on or off, which is not really much of a control at all (any basic editing program should allow you to get rid of audio in post production).

Mic Photo

The Olympus E-P3 is the newest flagship Micro Four Thirds camera from the co-creators of the format, and it is definitely a mix of old and new. We don't just mean that it's pushing forward with the retro styling that made the E-P2 and E-PL2 so popular, but it's got a new interface, new dual processor, new fast AF system, but is saddled with what is, essentially, a two-year-old image sensor. It's definitely the best Micro Four Thirds camera from Olympus yet, but those looking for the best low light, noise, and dynamic range performance are going to be a bit disappointed.

With competing systems from Panasonic, Sony, Samsung, Olympus, and now Pentax, the compact system camera market is fiercely competitive. This year we have already seen the Panasonic G3 and will soon see the Sony NEX-C3, not to mention updates from the rest of the market. While the E-P3 did have very accurate colors, we found it lacking in overall performance compared to the Panasonic G3 and last year's Sony NEX-5. It's certainly an attractive camera, and its blend of style and customizable options are an enthusiast's dream, but while its video quality was excellent for a compact camera, its dynamic range and noise performance left something to be desired.

We look forward to seeing what Olympus can do with this new AF system and their subtle design changes are thoughtful and innovative, but this sensor is outdone by some of its competition whenever light is less than ideal.

The major issue with the E-P3 came at moderate to high ISO performance. At nearly every ISO setting along its default 200-12800 range, dynamic range lacked behind its competition in the market. Image noise also quickly became a problem at ISO speeds greater than 800. While noise reduction greatly limited that, it does so at the expense of most of the image's fine detail. The E-P3 did have phenomenal color accuracy in bright light conditions, and produces some very attractive images, but it will require a combination of custom tinkering and higher quality lenses to get the most out of this camera in anything less than ideal lighting conditions. That aside, the E-P3 delivered blazing fast autofocus performance, especially for a contrast-detection system. Again, in low light that advantage is greatly reduced, but it may be the snappiest contrast-only AF system we've tested to date.
We were impressed by the E-P3's plethora of manual controls in video mode, and the camera's performance in our video tests was certainly up to par. There were a few downsides, though, including the camera's not-so-great low light sensitivity results, and the fact that none of the manual controls can be changed while video recording is actually taking place. The addition of 1080p video recording on the E-P3 is great, but it didn't product the dramatic increase in our sharpness test that we hoped (it did help make a clearer, cleaner video image, though). In the end, this is a great model for either playing around with video recording, or for doing some semi-professional videography where manual controls are a necessity.
The Micro Four Thirds lens family is chugging along, and Olympus provided us with both the cosmetically updated 14-42mm lens and the 12mm f/2.0 lens, with a sliding focus ring that allows quickly switching to manual focus. These lenses are very pleasant to shoot with, and the MSC Olympus lenses work in concert with the E-P3 to deliver incredibly fast autofocus. The camera itself feels very sturdy, with a sleek, attractive brushed metal body. The 3-inch OLED capacitive touchscreen is responsive and durable, but designed to be totally secondary if it doesn't appeal to the user. With an interchangeable grip to cap it all off, this is a camera that feels worth every penny when it's in your hand.
The E-P3 is fairly lightweight, but also broad. That gives good separation between the lens and the default grip, but does make one-handed shooting less balanced than with some other cameras. The default grip hugs flat against the body of the camera, wrapping around the side where it is held in place with a plastic screw. The grip can be easily removed, or replaced with a larger grip that Olympus will release as well. The camera feels snug in the hand, and is small enough that it's not a nuisance to have for an extended period of time, though it's just too big to fit in anything but a small bag or purse.
The E-P3 features a stunning five buttons that can be reassigned to assume various functions, along with a 610k-dot OLED touchscreen. The camera can be fine-tuned to each individual user, allowing quick access to a variety of functions. Nearly everything about the camera's immediate controls can be customized. The menu itself is far more attractive than previous Olympus efforts, though it's still laid out in the same confusing fashion. The physical buttons themselves have a good presence and solid stroke, with two rear dials for easy manipulation of shooting settings. The touchscreen itself is capacitive and quite responsive. While Olympus specifically designed the camera so that touchscreen control is never required (it can be completely disabled in the menu), it's such a pleasure to use that it reminds us of manipulating pictures on a smartphone. For fine control we'll stick to dials, but for playback and picture review, this is a touchscreen we actually found useful.

Meet the testers

TJ Donegan

TJ Donegan

Executive Editor

@TJDonegan

TJ is the Executive Editor of Reviewed.com. He is a Massachusetts native and has covered electronics, cameras, TVs, smartphones, parenting, and more for Reviewed. He is from the self-styled "Cranberry Capitol of the World," which is, in fact, a real thing.

See all of TJ Donegan's reviews
TJ Donegan

TJ Donegan

Executive Editor

@TJDonegan

TJ is the Executive Editor of Reviewed.com. He is a Massachusetts native and has covered electronics, cameras, TVs, smartphones, parenting, and more for Reviewed. He is from the self-styled "Cranberry Capitol of the World," which is, in fact, a real thing.

See all of TJ Donegan's reviews

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We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.

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