Now in its third generation, the Olympus PEN range offers three distinct models, organised in a clearly defined hierarchy: the EP-3 is the flagship model and offers touch-screen controls ; the entry-level E-PM1 PEN Mini with its stripped back feature set offers the PEN experience on a budget; and finally, the style-driven E-PL3 PEN Lite that we have here, sits between the two other models, offering the performance benefits of the E-P3 for only around £100 more than its predecessor, the E-PL2.
The first thing that strikes us about the E-PL3, is that the differences between it and its predecessor, the barely six-month-old E-PL2, are far more substantial than the differences between the E-PL2 and E-PL1 models. In other words, whereas the E-PL2 only really offered incremental upgrades over the E-PL1, the differences between the E-PL3 and E-PL2 are much more striking.
For a start the latest model comes with an LCD screen that can be tilted up or down for angled shooting, whereas the E-P2’s monitor was fixed in position. On the downside though, the E-PL3 also lacks the internal pop-up flash and finger grip of the E-PL2. What it does get, however, is the same sensor and image processor combination of the more expensive E-P3, meaning it’s capable of the same high image quality we saw on that model. Whichever way you look at it the E-PL3 sounds like an interesting proposition, but how does it shape up against its main rivals?
With a current street price of around £500-550 with a 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 Zuiko kit zoom the E-PL3’s competitors within the Micro Four Thirds standard include its predecessor, the highly-rated E-PL2 (c.£430 with a 14-42mm zoom), and the classy little Panasonic Lumix GF3 (c.£380 with a 14-42mm zoom) which comes with an intuitive touch-screen control and built-in flash. It’s even possible to find the original E-PL1 and 14-42mm package in stock online for around £280 – a tempting price in its own right.
Although it uses a smaller CX format sensor, the recently announced Nikon V1 (£550 with a 10-30mm kit zoom) could also give the E-PL3 some competition on account of its super-fast Expeed 3 processor that enables it to deliver up to 60fps at full resolution, along with its innovative Motion Snapshot abilities. With its even smaller (1/2.3in) compact-sized sensor the tiny little Pentax Q is less of a competitor and actually more expensive than the E-PL3 at around £600 with a 8.5mm pancake lens.
Looking at compact system camera (CSC) rivals with larger APS-C sensors, the standout competitor has to be the Samsung NX100. In anticipation of the launch of the all-new Samsung NX200, the nearly 12-month-old NX100 is now being heavily discounted, with prices of around £300 with a 20-50mm kit lens available advertised online. The highly-rated Sony NEX-C3 (c.£430), on the other hand, is another CSC that uses an APS-C sensor. Interestingly, it matches the E-PL3 almost spec for spec elsewhere with its adjustable LCD monitor and lack of built-in flash.
Whichever way you look at it, that’s some pretty stiff competition. So how does the E-PL3 measure up. Let’s take a closer look and find out…