Our review sample came fitted with the all-new Zuiko 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R kit lens, although the camera is also bundled with a 17mm ‘pancake’ lens kit. Thanks to the 2x crop factor of the Micro Four Thirds system, the Zuiko’s 14-42mm equates to 28-84mm in 35mm terms, which makes it highly practical for general use shooting landscapes and portraits. As with its predecessors a sliding lock mechanism on the barrel allows the zoom to fold into itself for a bit of extra compactness.
While it’s a well-crafted optic, the zoom ring isn’t particularly deep and is located very close to the camera body, which can initially prove a little fiddly. We do like how the camera automatically zooms in when you engage the manual focus ring though, and how the enlarged image on the rear monitor allows you to fine-tune your focus.
Results wise, the Zuiko delivers impressive levels sharpness not just in the centre but also in the edges and corners. The amount of JPEG sharpening can of course be tinkered with via the Picture Mode options, but used on a 0 or 1 setting the EP-3 produces crisp but lifelike images, free from haloing and other undesirable by-products of over-sharpening.
Fringing is well controlled too, with the only the occasional purple fringe showing up, and even then only on the kind of extreme high-contrast borders where bright sunlight meets dark shadow.
Of the EP-3’s five Picture Mode options, we found ourselves favouring the i-Enhance setting on account of the punchy colour and rich tones it produces. Of course, if you want something a bit more muted there are options for that too. The Art Filters all work well within their own remits and can be quite fun to use too.
Metering duties on the EP-3 are handled by a Through-The-Lens (TTL) module using 324-zones. The system proves pretty accurate on the whole, and when faced with high-contrast scenes the EP-3 tends to maintain a good balance between highlights and shadow retention.
White Balance is generally reliable too, although we did notice a tendency for the Automatic White Balance setting to occasionally make artificial light conditions indoors look too warm.
There’s a lot to be said for pegging the EP-3’s resolution at 12MP. It’s a sensible decision by Olympus that clearly benefits the camera’s smaller MFT sensor when light levels are less than ideal. There’s really no problem with making larger prints from a 12MP camera either, it’s plenty enough for good quality poster-sized prints.
While sharpness and detail are naturally at their best at the base ISO 200 to ISO 400 settings, the EP-3 does a very good job in the mid-sensitivity ranges of IS0 800 to ISO 1600 too, with only a very minor loss of detail as noise begins to creep in and soften the image. ISO 3200 is the point at which the effects of noise become visible at below 100%, although images often remain usable. At ISO 6400 images become dramatically softer, while at the top setting of ISO 12,800 red colour noise becomes so prevalent as to pretty much wreck the image.