The first thing that strikes us about the Olympus PEN Lite E-PL3 is its sleek metal finish. It's a beautifully engineered camera that feels extremely solid, with robust, well-placed controls adorning its outer surface.
The styling is in keeping with its predecessor's understated good looks, but the black, white, red and silver options that are available offer some scope for making more of a style statement if you want to stand out from the crowd.
Our polar-white review model proves to be a distinguished-looking option, with subtle silver detailing and controls punctuating the design that add to the camera's overall aesthetic appeal.
A sculpted, rubberised rear thumb grip offers some comfort when grasping the compact system camera, but the completely smooth front panel on the E-PL3 does make it a bit of a slippery customer.
You can buy an optional extra grip that bolts onto the camera to make up for it, but we can't help missing the more ergonomic shape of the older E-PL2 version – not to mention the integral flash.
That said, the achievement Olympus has made in reducing the size and bulk of the new model is impressive when comparing the two cameras side-by-side. The removal of said grip and flash is a necessary trade-off in order to keep the E-PL3's silhouette as slender as possible.
The end result is a camera that's pretty much the same size as the NEX-C3, which Sony is hailing as 'The World's smallest, lightest, interchangeable lens camera with an APS-C sized sensor'. The E-PL3 is a shade taller, but not by so much as to make it noteworthy, but of course it does use a smaller sensor.
While the resolution of the Olympus PEN Lite E-PL3's screen hasn't changed in comparison to its predecessor's, the ratio (now widescreen format) has.
The big news of course is its new, more flexible design: it hinges out from the body and can be tilted to make framing high and low-angle stills and movies that little bit easier than you can with a fixed screen.
It lacks the touch-screen functionality offered by the pricier Olympus PEN E-P3, but you can't have everything at this price-point.
In use, the wide viewing angle and decent anti-reflective coating go a long way to enhancing the usability of the screen, helping to make up for the lack of viewfinder.
But what is disappointing is that the live view image displayed doesn't make full use of the display's dimensions. Instead, it's confined to the central portion of the LCD, with black bars on either side containing shooting information.
Press the one-touch movie button to start filming, however, and the entire screen is filled. It may not be the most detailed screen on the market, but the resolution is adequate for everyday shooting and the decent level of brightness and contrast contributes further to a good overall performance.
The controls are fairly minimal in comparison to the more advanced E-P3. It's an important part of the design that's geared towards keeping the E-PL3 as user-friendly as possible, while still allowing for some manual control.
The top panel houses an easy-to-operate mode dial with a wealth of automatic and manual modes, plus an alternative point of access to the camera's HD movie mode and the fun-to-use Art Filters.
To the right of the articulated LCD around the back, the silver four-way d-pad provides softkey access to exposure compensation, flash, drive mode and metering options, while a rotating scroll wheel that encompasses it offers an alternative means of quickly scrolling through menus and on-screen options.
The control layout is fuss-free and easy to navigate, resulting in an overall pleasurable handling experience that beginners and more seasoned enthusiasts alike should find simple to get to grips with.