In keeping with the original film-based PEN range, the EP-3 is significantly smaller than a regular DSLR, although you’ll still need fairly large coat pockets should you want to carry one around without having to resort to a bag or dedicated carry pouch. Thanks to its mostly metal construction the EP-3 feels reassuringly solid and weighty, too. In the hand, there’s definitely a premium feel about it.
One clever new feature of the EP-3 is the addition of a detachable handgrip that can be unscrewed and swapped for alternative grips, depending on how much depth you want and what kind of finish you prefer. The handgrip our review model was finished in the same kind of faux leather you might have found on the front of an old Olympus OM-2 back in 1976 – very stylish and easy to grip.
Buttons are well-placed and easy to reach. There aren’t too many of them either, which prevents any kind of button-clutter, allowing what is there space to breath. We especially like how the direction of the thumbwheel can be customised and the flexibility of having two Function buttons to call upon. That said, having the ‘Format Memory Card’ option as one of the first things you encounter within the in-camera menus does strike as a disaster waiting to happen for some unlucky owners.
In-camera menus are fairly easy to navigate and while the EP-3 offers lots of customisation for advanced users, newcomers and novices are also well looked after too. Indeed, you can even turn the Custom Menu and Accessory Port Menus off altogether should you wish, from where you can simply use the OK button while shooting to call up a simple Quick Menu of core settings.
The new high-resolution OLED monitor we mentioned above doubles up with some limited touch-screen functionality. While perfectly responsive, you can only really control a handful of things with it. First of these, and by far the most useful, is the new Touch AF feature that allows you to select a point of focus simply by touching it on the monitor. In addition, you can also use the screen to control simplified sliders while in iAuto mode, and to quick-scroll through your images in Playback mode. You can’t use it to browse any in-camera menus, or change any other settings though.
We clocked the EP-3’s start-up speed at a fraction under two seconds. While the camera (and OLED monitor) switches on pretty much instantly, it takes another second or so before the autofocus system springs to life. It’s also worth noting that the new kit lens needs to be unlocked (i.e. - extended) before the camera can be used in shooting mode. You can, however, use the camera in playback mode to review your images with the lens locked.
Speaking of autofocus, Olympus claims the EP-3’s contrast-detect AF system is the fastest in the world. While we’re not able to confirm or deny this, we are happy to report that it is extremely fast – at least in good light. In poor light indoors at night we found the EP-3 struggled a bit, although it does have an AF Assist light built in that can help out with close-range subjects.
Using the camera in single-shot mode we were able to shoot either JPEGs or Raw files at about 1fps, with no limit on the number of successive shots. Using the EP-3 in Continuous mode, we were able to reel off about 17 JPEGs before the buffer filled and the camera began to slow down. Switching to Raw recording this dropped to about 12 frames, while in simultaneous Raw and JPEG mode the figure dropped further to just nine frames.