Olympus E-P3 Digital Pen review

Does the Olympus Pen-E drop?

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  • Classic design
  • Built-in flash
  • Art Filters digital effects


  • Cost
  • Not the most 'compact'

Third generation 'Pen' flagship model- the Olympus’ E-P3 - maintains gorgeous retro styling whilst thankfully squeezing in integral flash while retaining the retro styling we've come to love

In late 2009 Olympus’ E-P1 was the first interchangeable lens compact/digital SLR hybrid to get us truly excited, largely thanks to its gorgeous throwback 1960s styling and robust brushed steel finish. Two years later the third generation E-P3 model is upon us and thankfully very little has changed, except minimal tweaks for the better.

Most notable is, finally, a pop-up flash sunk into its top plate. Handling wise, some features have been adopted from the lower end E-PL1/E-PL2 models. These include Live Guide which allows less experienced users to manually adjust depth of field via an on-screen slider instead of having to know anything about aperture.

The E-P3’s proportions are 122x89.1x34.3mm, so, even with the newfound ability to unscrew the handgrip, it’s one for your bag rather than jacket, with a body-only weight of 321g.

Olympus E-P3 Controls (ease of use)

With the welcome addition of the pop-up flash, the shooting mode dial, which was formerly recessed into the top plate has swapped over to the other side of the hotshoe, nestling next to the raised shutter release button. As well as scene and subject recognising intelligent Auto mode to reliably allow for point and shoot operation, also included here are the creative quartet of program auto, aperture priority, shutter priority for those who want to get hands on. Backplate controls are numerous and mainly button led, apart from a fiddly scroll wheel encircling its multi-directional control pad.

Olympus E-P3 Screen

The number of physical controls is something of a surprise because the E-P3 additionally offers touch screen control. Thus it’s possible to avoid using the touch screen entirely if wanted, and in truth it didn’t for us add much to the camera; we’d have preferred the angle adjustable screen introduced on the mid range E-PL3. In the absence of a clip-on optical viewfinder, we are however reliant on the screen for composition and review and thankfully this is where it comes up trumps with a life-like display thanks to OLED technology and high 610k-dot resolution.

Olympus E-P3 Speed (performance, basically)

Olympus has supplied the E-P3 with a re-vamped 14-42mm screw-on zoom lens that is much quieter than before when adjusting auto focus. This proves a boon when recording Full HD video clips. Its main claim however is not for the world’s quietest but rather fastest auto focus, a claim also being made by Panasonic for its same system G series cameras. We tested this boast with a GF3 model alongside the E-P3 and a finger on each shutter release button, declaring a draw.

Olympus E-P3 Battery

The Olympus E-P3’s rechargeable lithium ion battery is good for a respectable 330 shots from a full charge, just 10 images fewer than the physically smaller Panasonic GF3. Both are slightly above average results for power duration.

Olympus E-P3 Pictures and video

We were able to play with the E-P3 with not only its standard general-purpose supplied zoom, but also with its new heavyweight glass 12mm prime lens – 750 quid on its own – aimed at portrait shooting. This allowed us to achieve some lovely shallow depth of field effects – eyes in focus, ears out of focus – to get more professional results than are achievable with anything other than a digital SLR. However if you want pin sharp results and aren’t bothered about a smaller form factor, for us a DSLR is still sharper. The on-board Art Filters are also worth singling out for praise, with Dramatic Tone mode especially gritty and vivid. These can be applied to video as well as stills – which really raises the E-P3’s game.

Olympus E-P3 Verdict

Though it looks positively chunky ranged against Panasonic’s simultaneously released Lumix DMC-GF3 interchangeable lens compact camera – which uses the same mirror-less mechanism and core sensor technology - the brushed metal finish to the E-P3 exudes real class; sufficient to suggest a price tag of £749 might actually be worth it. The inclusion of a pop-up flash is something we’ve been asking for, for the past two years, so we’re especially pleased to see one implemented here without adding to the bulk.

Olympus E-P3 Digital Pen launch date: out now ,Olympus
Olympus E-P3 price: £799

Olympus Pen E-P3 Specs:

  • Sensor: .12.3 megapixel Live Mos sensor
  • Lens: 14-42mm standard zoom on test
  • Screen: 3-inch touchscree, 614000 pixel OLED
  • Video: Full HD 1920x1080 pixels at 30fps
  • Storage: SD, SDHC or SDXC media card
  • Battery: rechargable lithium- 330 shots per charge
  • Connections: USB 2.0, AV out, mini HDMI, remote
  • Dimensions/Weight: 112x69.1x34.3mm, 321g(body only)