Today I received the Olympus PEN E-PL3. As you know, the Olympus PEN series is one the most popular mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras out on the market today. It also doesn’t hurt that the Micro Four Thirds format has a huge following and lots of support from third party lens makers. The PEN E-PL3 is Olympus’s third generation E-PL series and the first camera in the series to take a step in a slightly different direction.
The first thing you’ll notice about the PEN E-PL3 is that it doesn’t look very “retro” inspired like all the previous PEN cameras do. In fact, this camera is as far away from retro they could get. The face of the camera is quite plain and is only adorned with the Olympus and 4/3 logo, the lens release button, and the AF assist light. Other than that, it’s just a solid gloss brushed metallic face. It also does away with the usual hand grip that the older PEN models had. In doing this, the body itself does look slimmer, but now has a protruding lens mount similar to that on the Sony NEX-5N.
If you move to the back of the camera, you’ll notice a new articulating screen that angles up or down. This one is attached to the near bottom of the camera and is attached to 4 different points. It feels quite strong and well made and doesn’t feel flimsy and fragile like they do on larger DSLRs. This is one solid screen. You will also notice that there is no optical viewfiner or electronic viewfinder. All your shooting will be done with the view screen unless you opt for the optional EVF. Out back, you’ll also find a host of buttons. Olympus has retained all the buttons from the previous E-PL2 camera but have justÂ rearrangedÂ them a bit. You won’t be able to get to all the buttons now with one hand but the 2 they moved to the left aren’t really essential for 1-handed usage. Now, as is the case with this camera as it is with other compact mirrorless system cameras, there aren’t really as many buttons as there are withÂ theirÂ larger DSLR brothers. Luckily digging through the menus will allow you to assign some of these buttons to other functions, but I’ll get into that more in the full review later. You’ll also notice that the rear potion of the camera is not the same material as the front of the camera. The rear is painted in aÂ metallicÂ silver, but you can tell its made out of plastic. It’s still better though then some of the other cameras I’ve seen.
If you look at the top of the camera, you’ll be happy to see that there is a dedicated shooting mode dial. This makes it super easy to choose the mode youÂ wantÂ to shoot in. This is one thing I wished the Sony NEX-5N had. The top plate is made out of metal which looks really nice as are all the buttons and dials up top. You’ll also notice the hot shoe adapter. Unlike the previous PEN models, the E-PL3 does not have a built-in flash. Instead, you’ll have to use the optional flash add-on which is an extra thing to carry with you. I don’t really use the flash that much anyways so it’s not really a big deal to me. One downside to the flash however is that if you do decide to use it, you will not be able to attach anything else to the accessory port. The upside to the inclusion of the hot shoe though is that you can use a much better flash if you have to.
On the side of the camera, you’ll find 2 ports covered by a plastic flap. These are for the HDMI port, USB port, and A/V Out port. You’ll also find the attachment points for the neck strap on the sides. Other than that, it’s prettyÂ barren, but has a very clean look to it. On the bottom of the camera is the battery/SDHC cover as well as the tripod mount hole. The hole is placed almost directly in the middle of the body instead of centered with the middle of the lens. Some people may or may not like this as people have their preferences as to where this hole should be.
Here are some smallÂ observationsÂ you’ll probably also notice too from looking at the camera. If you place the camera down on its bottom with the lens attached, it does not sit flat. Instead, the camera will tilt forward and rest on the lens. If the camera came with a lens hood, then it wouldn’t be such a big deal as then the lens hood would lift up the front a bit and the camera would sit flatter on its bottom. I would just leave the lens hood on which would also keep the lens from getting scratched up, that’s of course if it came with the lens hood, which it doesn’t.
On the subject of the lens, the Micro Four Thirds lenses are very small and compact. Not only that, they are really light. The kit lens on the E-PL3 is a 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 M.ZUIKO lens and takes 37mm lens filters. The lens has a nice metallic finish to it, but portions of it are made out of plastic, or at least feels like it. The focusing ring and zoom ring though have aÂ reallyÂ nice feel to them and are really smooth when you rotate them.
Even though the Olympus PEN E-PL3 strays from the past retro look of the previous PEN models, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t look good anymore. On the contrary, the new look is very modern and very clean. I’ve already had a few people compliment me on the way it looks, especially with the silver finish. Even though portions of the camera are made out of plastic, it has a very solid feel to it even though it is very light. Build quality is very good and it doesn’t feel like I’d be breaking any portions of the camera any time soon. I think people will really appreciate the new articulating screen as it really allows you to get angles you wouldn’t normally be able to get unless you wereÂ literallyÂ laying flat on the ground or standing on a chair. It’sÂ actuallyÂ one of the features I look for in a digital camera now. I also like the fact that the AF-assist light is on the left side of the lens and not the right side as often times when it is mounted on the right, my hand gets in the way of the light. This is not the case with the PEN E-PL3.
I do wish however that there would be some kind of finger grip up front to make holding the camera a little bit more comfortable, but after a while, you’ll get use to it as most of the time, you’ll be shooting with 2 hands anyways and most of the weight will be shifted to your left hand. I also wish that the PEN E-PL3 came with a lens hood as that seems to be standard now on mostÂ interchangeableÂ lenses.
Aside from those little negatives, I’m very impressed with the overall package of the Olympus PEN E-PL3. It is a nice, tidy package that not only looks good, it also feels good. It has a great weight to it and should please those who are looking for something much lighter than a traditional DSLR.