The E-PL3 uses exactly the same 12.3MP Micro Four Thirds LiveMOS sensor and TruePic VI image processor combination that the flagship E-P3 model does. As with the E-P3, maximum output at full resolution in the native 4:3 aspect is 4032 x 3024 pixels, with further options to shoot in 16:9, 3:2 and 1:1. JPEGs can be recorded as either Large, Medium and Small files, with a further choice of Fine or Normal compression settings. It’s also possible to record in Raw, which the E-PL3 stores as proprietary .ORF files.
Sensitivity stretches from a base of ISO 200 up to ISO 12,800 – a one-stop increase over the E-PL2’s top setting of ISO 6400. As with all PEN models, sensitivity settings go up in small increments rather than just ‘doubling up’. In practical terms, this means you can set the EP-3 to ISO 640 if you think a situation warrants it, whereas many other cameras would limit you to a choice of either ISO 400 or 800. While it might take a little longer to scroll through the ISO options in the Quick menu, we do like the flexibility of this arrangement.
Advanced users and DSLR owners alike will doubtless be pleased to find the full compliment of Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and fully Manual shooting modes (PASM) all to hand. Point-and-shoot photographers are equally as well catered for with the choice of an iAuto shooting mode and 23 individual Scene modes.
While in iAuto mode we like how the Live Guide feature (accessed by pressing the OK button) brings some additional creativity to the table by allowing you to make simple adjustments to things like saturation, white balance, brightness, depth-of-field, and motion blur using simplified on-screen slider controls. It’s a great way of encouraging novice photographers to experiment and eventually grow out of the fully automatic modes.
In addition, the E-PL3 also gets six Art Filters: Pop Art, Soft Focus, Grainy B&W, Pin Hole, Diorama (Miniaturisation) and Dramatic Tone. For a bit of added creativity each of these options can be tweaked or overlaid with extra effects, such as a white border or star-bust highlights and suchlike.
Filters can be used in conjunction with the PASM shooting modes by opening up the Picture Mode sub-menu from within the Main or the Quick Menu and then scrolling through. If, however, you set the camera directly to the Art Filters shooting mode it will go into fully automatic mode. Be warned that the Art Filters do tend to make the live view feed stutter a bit. It is possible to apply the Art Filters to movies (by pressing the red one-touch movie record button while the shooting mode dial is set to the Art Filters position), but even at the lowest video setting – 640 x 480 M.JPEG – quality isn’t very good. Anything above this and framerates fall through the floor and movies stutter horribly.
Regular movie recording abilities, however, are very good with the E-PL3 able to match the more expensive E-P3 on all counts, offering a top setting of 1920 x 1080p Full HD in either 60i/20Mbps or 60i/17Mbps quality, along with 1280 x 720 HD options at 60p in both 20Mbps and 17Mbps. Movies recorded at these settings are stored in the space-efficient AVCHD format, with further options to record Motion JPEG files at 1280 x 720 and the aforementioned 640 x 480. Sound is recorded in stereo via two microphones on top of the camera, and while there’s no external microphone input, there is an external microphone adaptor available that slots into the Accessory Port.
Indeed, this Accessory Port acts as the gateway to a whole world of PEN-specific accessories from optical and electronic viewfinders to dedicated flashguns. One area where the E-PL3 arguably takes a step backwards from what preceded it is the removal of the pop-up flash. Olympus do supply a dedicated flash in the E-PL3’s box that can be attached to the accessory port when needed, but rather like the Sony NEX-C3, it’s ultimately a bit of a compromise. Indeed, it seems that for both models the lack of any built-in flash is a direct consequence of the decision to make each model as small as possible. The Lumix GF3, in contrast, takes the opposite approach by including a pop-up flash at the expense of a hot-shoe. It’s certainly something to consider.
The back of the E-PL3 is adorned with a three-inch, 460k-dot LCD monitor – exactly the same dimensions and resolution as the E-PL2. While it can’t quite match the rich hues of the E-P3’s AMOLED screen, and doesn’t offer any touch-screen functionality either, it does go one better on both that and the E-PL2’s monitor by being adjustable. Should you want to shoot from the waist (or lower) the screen raises upwards by just under 90-degrees, and should you find yourself shooting over the top of a crowd then the screen helpfully tilts downwards by around 45-degrees.