Olympus PEN Lite E-PL3

      Photo Review 8.5

      In summary

       The first PEN series camera with a tilting 3.0-inch widescreen monitor screen.The PEN Lite E-PL3 sits in the centre of the new PEN camera range and features the same image sensor and processor as the flagship E-P3 as well as that camera’s FAST AF system and support for 1080i Full HD video capture. With an RRP $200 less than the E-P3’s, a few features have been lost. The LCD screen has lower resolution but it tilts and provides 16:9 viewing. There’s no built-in flash, no grip moulding, four fewer Art Filters, no level gauge and top flash synch is 1/160 second (instead of 1/180 second). . . [more]

      Full review



      The PEN Lite E-PL3 sits in the centre of the new PEN camera range and features the same image sensor and processor as the flagship E-P3 as well as that camera’s FAST AF system and support for 1080i Full HD video capture. With an RRP $200 less than the E-P3’s, a few features have been lost. The LCD screen has lower resolution but it tilts and provides 16:9 viewing. There’s no built-in flash, no grip moulding, four fewer Art Filters, no level gauge and top flash synch is 1/160 second (instead of 1/180 second).

      While retaining a mainly metal body, Olympus claims it has redesigned the internal structure of the new camera and scaled-down the sizes of internal components. So it’s no surprise to find the new model smaller and lighter than its predecessors, although not by much. The table below compares key features of the three models in the PEN E-PL series.


      PEN E-PL3

      PEN E-PL2

      PEN E-PL1

      Effective resolution

      12.3 megapixels

      Image processor

      TruePic VI

      TruePic V

      Moulded grip




      Control dials

      One, surrounding arrow pad


      LCD monitor size/aspect




      LCD monitor resolution

      460,000 dots

      230,000 dots


      External flash (supplied)


      Flash GN/ synch speed

      GN10@ ISO 200 / 1/160 sec.

      GN10 @ ISO 200 / 1/180 sec.

      GN10@ ISO 200 / 1/160 sec.

      Max. burst speed/ capacity

      5.1 fps/ 9 RAW

      3 fps / 10 RAW

      AF detection points



      Shutter speeds

      60-1/4000 sec.

      60-1/2000 sec.

      ISO range




      Max. movie resolution

      1080p 50i

      720p at 30 fps

      Movie sound recording



      Battery/capacity (CIPA rated)

      BLS-1 / 300 shots/charge

      BLS-5 / 280 shots/charge

      BLS-1 / 290 shots/charge

      Dimensions (wxhxd)

      109.5 x 63.7 x 37.3 mm

      115.4 x 72.7 x 42.0 mm

      114.6 x 72.2 x 41.5 mm

      Body weight (without battery & card)

      313 grams

      317 grams

      296 grams

      Build and Ergonomics
      With the E-PL3, Olympus has returned to a ‘boxy’ body styling that looks a lot like a slimline digicam. Indeed, the body of the camera is not much larger than a digicam, although still a bit big to fit into a shirt pocket without the lens attached. With the 12mm f/2.0 ED MSC lens supplied with the camera for our review, it was barely jacket-pocketable.


      Angled front view of the E-PL3 in red with the standard 14-42mm kit zoom lens. (Source: Olympus.)

      In a departure from past trends, the E-PL3 has a totally flat front panel, except for the lens mounting and release button. There’s no grip moulding at all and the shiny surface of the camera (at least the red one we had) was pretty slippery, so we had to brace a middle finger against the lens mount to hold the camera steady one-handed.

      The small thumb rest attached to the rear panel positions the ball of your thumb over the arrow pad and control buttons near it so you can’t adjust them with your free hand. Even though the movie button sits directly below your thumb tip, this isn’t a ‘natural’ digit for operating control buttons so it’s quite awkward switching movie recording on and off this way. Shooting stills one-handed is possible; recording video clips isn’t without compromising camera steadiness.

      An AF-Assist lamp/self-timer indicator sits in the top corner above the lens release button. The lens mount covers just under half of the front panel and consists of a 5 mm wide stainless steel ring that protrudes approximately 3 mm from the body. Inside this ring you’ll find 11 gold-plated contacts so the lens and camera can ‘communicate’.


      Back view of the E-PL3 with the monitor against the camera body. (Source: Olympus.)



      Back view of the E-PL3 in silver with the monitor tilted out from the camera body. (Source: Olympus.)

      The widescreen (16:9) tilting 3-inch LCD covers most of the rear panel. It’s hinged and flips down through about 30 degrees and the lower edge pulls out through a similar angle. While quite convenient for over-the-head and low-angle shooting, the monitor can’t be turned so that the screen is facing the body for added protection against scratches when being transported.

      The monitor pushes the arrow pad and Info and Menu buttons to the right hand side of the camera body, necessitating a slight bulge for the former. Above the screen are five buttons, covering (from left); Playback, Delete, Function/Index, Magnify and Movie. The accessory port for the supplied flash and optional EVF, microphone and other accessories is located above the middle of the screen.


      Top view of the E-PL3 without a lens. (Source: Olympus.)

      The accessory port cover slides into rails on the top panel, which (as in previous models) is quite sparsely populated. Here you’ll find a mode dial, shutter button and recessed power on/off button, Left and right microphone holes for stereo audio recording straddle the accessory shoe.

      The rechargeable battery and memory card share a compartment in the base of the camera, next to the metal-lined tripod socket. It’s slightly off the optical axis of the lens and so close to the battery/card compartment as to prevent cards being changed when the camera is tripod mounted.

      A single accessory port is located below the strap eyelet on the right hand side of the camera. It has a flip-up plastic cover attached with a flexible tag and contains sockets for HDMI and USB/AV-out connections. The strap eyelets are large and rattle a bit when the camera is carried hanging from your neck. The E-PL3 is being offered in black, red, white or silver.

      Features and Controls
      The E-PL3’s user interface is almost identical to the E-P3’s and covered in our review of that camera. Many of the features introduced in the E-P3 are also offered in the ‘Lite’ model, among them the fast 35-point AF system and TruePic IV processor.

      With the same sensor as in the E-P3, image sizes and quality settings are identical to the E-P3’s and covered in our review of that camera. Movie options are also the same as in the E-P3.

      As the middle model in the line-up, it’s no surprise to find the E-PL3 lacks some of the E-P3’s controls and provides a suite of functions more suited to the needs of point-and-press photographers. The Live Guide mode is included and enables users to select functions by tabbing up and down a menu displayed down the right hand side of the screen.

      Only six Art Filter setting are provided, compared with 10 on the E-p3. However, the same adjustments are provided for them and they can be applied to movie recordings, as in the higher-featured camera.

      The clip-on flash supplied with the E-PL3 is a pretty dinky affair that’s small enough to slip into unreachable places in your home or hide away in your camera bag. It’s not particularly powerful, despite having the same Guide number as the E-P3’s built-in flash.

      In contrast, one area in which the E-PL3 is superior to its ‘big sister’ is in continuous shooting speeds, where it supports a maximum burst speed of 5.1 frames/second, compared with 3 fps in the E-P3. Image stabilisation must be switched off to reach this speed; otherwise the maximum burst speed is 4 fps (which is still better than the E-PL3’s).

      Bracketing options are the same as in the E-P3 and the E-PL3 also provides the Digital Tele-converter function, which uses cropping to achieve a zoom magnification of approximately 2x. Flash modes are essentially the same as those in the E-P3.
      The E-PL3 has similar customisation facilities to the E-P3 and offers the same support for 3D stills recording (located within the Scene pre-sets). Users can take advantage of the same Super Control Panel display but the LCD monitor has no touch screen.
      Playback and Software
      These features are the same as in the E-P3 and covered in our review of that camera.

      Performance-wise we found a few differences between the E-PL3 and the E-P3 we reviewed recently. Autofocusing appeared to be slightly slower and less accurate than we found with the E-P3. This tended to occur when we videoed moving subjects in dimly-lit situations, where focus tracking lagged noticeably.

      For still shots, low-light autofocusing was as good as with the E-P3 and the review camera showed little tendency to hunt with the 12mm f/2 lens used for all of our test shots – click here for a review of the 12mm f/2 lens.

      The exposure metering system tended to under-expose available-light shots in low light levels and was often ‘tricked’ by subjects with wide brightness ranges, particularly when a darker area was in the centre of the frame. Highlight and shadow details in wide brightness range subjects were often poorly recorded in JPEG images.

      Our Imatest tests were all taken with the supplied 12mm f/2 lens and the review camera turned in similar results to the E-P3 we tested a couple of weeks beforehand. Both cameras have the same sensor and image processor technologies so the slight differences we identified can be attributed to the different lenses. The graph below shows the results of our tests across the review camera’s ISO range.


      Low-light performance was generally good with long exposures using ISO settings up to 1600, where image noise started to become apparent. Resolution began to decline from ISO 1600 on and noise was apparent at ISO 3200, although shots remained printable up to A4 size. By ISO 6400, noise was quite obvious in long exposures and at ISO 12800, colour reproduction was affected and images were blotchy and unsharp.

      Unfortunately, the supplied flash didn’t produce enough power to illuminate a close subject at low ISO settings and the camera appeared reluctant to adjust the lens aperture and/or shutter speed to compensate when sensitivity settings were increased. The pre-set exposure of 1/60 second at f/2 in the Program AE mode overwhelmed the subject at ISO 1600 and the small adjustments the camera made did little to prevent over-exposure at higher ISO settings. By ISO 12800, image softening also reduced overall quality and colour reproduction was compromised.

      White balance performance was similar to the E-P3. The auto setting failed to completely correct the inherent cast in incandescent lighting, although only a slight warm cast remained. It over-corrected very slightly with fluorescent lighting, leaving a slight blue cast.

      Both pre-sets over-corrected slightly, although the second of the Fluorescent light pre-sets came close to neutral colour rendition. Neutral colours were obtained lighting with both the manual white balance measurements (Custom and One Touch) and plenty of in-camera adjustments provided for tweaking colour balance, if required.

      Video quality was indistinguishable from the E-P3 and the camera had the same tendency to crop the frame at the start of all recordings, making precise framing of clips impossible. Audio quality was adequate, although the built-in microphones were quite susceptible to wind noise.

      Camera response times were similar to E-P3, despite expectations of some improvement in speed with a fast prime lens. The review camera also took roughly two seconds to power-up and shot-to-shot times averaged 0.9 seconds without flash and 4.8 seconds with. Average capture lag was 0.28 seconds without pre-focusing, with shutter lag reducing to less than 0.1 seconds when shots were pre-focused.

       Image processing times were slightly slower than we found with the E-P3, with Large/Super Fine JPEGs taking approximately 2.9 seconds, ORF.RAW files taking 3.2 seconds and RAW+JPEG pairs 3.4 seconds on average. Using the art filters extended processing times, often by several seconds.

      In the sequential shooting (burst) mode, we recorded bursts of 10 Large/Super Fine JPEGs and also ORF.RAW files in 1.7 seconds. It took 5.4 seconds to process this burst. Nine ORF.RAW files were recorded in 1.6 seconds and took 9.1 seconds to process.

      Swapping to RAW+JPEG capture, we recorded eight pairs in 1.3 seconds. This burst was processed in 14.7 seconds. In the low-speed continuous shooting mode, the camera captured 10 JPEG frames in 2.7 seconds. Processing was completed within two seconds of the last frame being recorded.

      Buy this camera if:
      – You want a smart-looking compact digital camera with interchangeable lenses, raw file capture plus in-camera image stabilisation and effective dust reduction technology.
      – You’d like Full HD video recording with stereophonic sound.
      – You’d appreciate relatively fast autofocusing.
      Don’t buy this camera if:
      – You’re not comfortable with Olympus’s relatively convoluted user interface.
      – You require a wide dynamic range in JPEG shots.
      – You require a built-in flash.

      JPEG image files




      Raw image files converted into 16-bit TIFF format with Olympus [ib].




      SAMPLE IMAGES (All taken with the M.Zuiko Digital12mm f/2.0 lens.)


      Auto white balance with incandescent lighting.


      Auto white balance with fluorescent lighting.


      30-second exposure at f/3.5, ISO 200.


      8-second exposure at f/5, ISO 1600.


      8-second exposure at f/10, ISO 6400.


      8-second exposure at f/14, ISO 12800.


      Flash exposure at ISO 200; 1/60 second at f/2.


      Flash exposure at ISO 1600; 1/60 second at f/2.


      Flash exposure at ISO 6400; 1/60 second at f/2.8.


      Flash exposure at ISO 12800; 1/80 second at f/4.


      Without Digital Tele-converter; ISO 200; 1/400 second at f/4.5.


      With Digital Tele-converter; ISO 200; 1/640 second at f/5.6.


      Skin tones; ISO 640; 1/60 second at f/2.


      ISO 1600; 1/50 second at f/2.


      ISO 400; 1/60 second at f/5.6.


      ISO 200; 1/125 second at f/2.5.


      ISO 320; 1/60 second at f/2.


      Still frame from AVCHD video clip at 1920 x 1080 pixels.


      Still frame from AVCHD video clip at 1280 x 720 pixels.


      Still frame from M-JPEG video clip at 1280 x 720 pixels.


      Still frame from M-JPEG video clip at 640 x 480 pixels.

      Additional image samples can be found with our review of the M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 MSC lens.




      Image sensor: 17.3 x 13.0 mm Live MOS sensor with 13.06 million photosites (12.3 megapixels effective)
      Image processor: TruePic VI
      A/D processing: 12-bit lossless compression
      Lens mount: Micro Four Thirds System
      Focal length crop factor: 2x
      Image formats: Stills – ORF.RAW, JPEG (Exif 2.2), RAW+JPEG, MPO (3D still); Movies – AVCHD/AVI M-JPEG with stereo audio
      Image Sizes: Stills – 4:3 aspect ratio: 4032 x 3024, 2560 x 1920, 1024 x 768 (3:2, 16:9 and 6:6 aspect ratios also available); Movies: AVCHD Full HD Fine: 1920 x 1080, 60i at 20Mbps; HD: 1280 x 720 at 30fps; M-JPEG: 1280 x 720, 640 x 480 at 30 fps
      Image Stabilisation: Body-integrated sensor-shift system with four settings: IS1, IS2, IS3, OFF
      Dust removal: Supersonic Wave (vibration)
      Shutter speed range: 60 – 1/4000 sec. Bulb: up to 30 min. Flash synch. 1/30-1/160 sec.
      Exposure Compensation: +/- 3EV in 1/3, 1/2 or 1 EV steps
      Exposure bracketing: 2, 3, 5 frames in 0.3, 0.7, 1EV steps selectable, 7 frames in 0.3, 0.5, 0.7EV steps selectable
      Self-timer: 2 or 12 seconds delay
      Focus system: Imager Contrast Detection AF system with 35 detection points and Built-in AF illuminator
      Focus modes: Single AF (S-AF) / Continuous AF (C-AF) / Manual Focus (MF) / S-AF + MF / AF tracking (C-AF + TR)
      Exposure metering: TTL Image Sensor metering system with three modes: Digital ESP (324-area multi pattern metering); Centre-weighted average and Spot metering (approx. 1% of the viewfinder screen. Highlight / shadow bias spot metering are available)
      Shooting modes: iAuto; Program AE (with program shift); Aperture priority AE; Shutter priority AE; Manual; Scene select AE and Art Filter
      Scene presets: Portrait, e-Portrait, Landscape, Landscape + Portrait, Macro, Sport, Night Scene, Night + Portrait, Children, High Key, Low Key, DIS mode, Nature Macro, Candle, Sunset, Document, Panorama, Fireworks, Beach & Snow, Fisheye Conv., Wide Conv., Macro Conv, 3D
      Art Filters: Pop Art, Soft Focus, Grainy Film, Pin Hole, Diorama, Dramatic Tone
      Picture modes: i-Enhance, Vivid, Natural, Muted, Portrait, Monotone, Custom 
      Colour space options: sRGB, Adobe RGB
      ISO range: Auto, ISO 200-12800
      White balance: Auto/Preset WB with 6 settings between 3000K and 7500K: Tungsten (3000K), Fluorescent (4000K), Daylight (5300K), Flash (5500K), Cloudy (6000K), Shade (7500K); Underwater; One-Touch; Custom; WB bracketing of 3 frames in 2, 4, 6 steps selectable in each A-B/G-M axis
      Flash: External flash only (hot-shoe provided) 
      Flash exposure adjustment: +/- 3 EV in 1/3 EV steps
      Sequence shooting: Max. 5 frames/second with IS off; 4 fps with IS on
      Storage Media: SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards; Eye-Fi compatible 
      Viewfinder: Optional VF-2 EVF with 1,440,000 dot resolution
      LCD monitor: Tilting 3-inch, widescreen TFT LCD with 460,000 dots
      Data LCD: No
      Playback functions: Single-frame, Close-up, Index /Calendar display, Index (4, 9 or 25 frames), Enlarge (2x to 14x), Slideshow with background music and 3 transition effects, Picture rotation (auto mode available), Histogram (independent luminance/RGB available), Shooting information, In-camera editing (Raw to JPEG; JPEG-only: shadow adjust, red-eye fix, crop, aspect, B&W, sepia, saturation, resize, e-Portrait); voice annotation, image overlay (2 or 3 images merging)
      Interface terminals: USB 2.0, HDMI (Type C Mini)
      Power supply: BLS-1 rechargeable lithium-ion battery; CIPA rated for approx. 300 shots/charge
      Dimensions (wxhxd): 109.5 x 63.7 x 37.3 mm
      Weight: 313 grams (body only)



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      Rating (out of 10):

      • Build: 8.5
      • Ease of use: 8.0
      • Autofocusing: 8.5
      • Image quality JPEG: 8.0
      • Image quality ORF.RAW: 8.5
      • Video quality: 8.5
      • OVERALL: 8.5