Olympus PEN E-P3 review

Could the PEN really be mightier?

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Olympus pen e p3

At the lower sensitivity settings the P3 is capable of resolving an impressive level of detail, on a par with some SLRS that have larger (APS-C sized) sensors. Noise also appears to be pretty well controlled in JPEGs taken at ISO 3200. Luminance noise is visible, but not objectionable and could even be described as the type of grain that you might occasionally want to add to enhance the atmosphere of a shot.

Push the sensitivity to ISO 6400, however, and noise (and the camera's attempts to remove it) becomes more troublesome. Even when sized to make relatively small prints, these images taken with the Noise Reduction set to standard look soft and lack details. At 100% on-screen, there's a fair amount of blurring of detail and some image elements lack any definition. We would avoid using sensitivity settings of ISO 6400 or higher. To be fair to Olympus, every setting from ISO 3200 upwards is outside of the native range.

At the time of writing Olympus had still not made its raw conversion software for the P3 available and it will be interesting to compare the JPEG results with the simultaneously captured raw files.


Our images reveal that the E-P3 generally handles colours well and photographs look natural, but have punch straight from the camera. The general purpose ESP metering system also takes most situations in its stride and the P3's wide dynamic range means that bright areas don't burn out unexpectedly. The tone adjustment facility proves useful in very high contras scenes, although not surprisingly, applying the maximum level of shadow brightening and highlight darkening results in flat images that have the typical HDR (high dynamic range) appearance.

Auto focus

Olympus's improved AF system is very fast in good light, but when light levels fall it goes the same way as most other contrast detection systems and becomes slower and hesitant. The tracking AF system can also only cope with relatively slow moving subjects and it isn't a viable option for sports photographers.

Dynamic range

Although the P3's tonal adjustment feature proves useful in high contrast situations, the P3 has an impressively wide dynamic range, especially for a Four Thirds camera. Highlights don't burn out too quickly and shadows don't block-up earlier than they should so that images have a full range of tones with subtle gradations.

Tech Specs

Product TypeMirrorless Camera with Lens
Battery Size SupportedProprietary Battery Size
Maximum Video Resolution1920 x 1080
Effective Camera Resolution12.3 Megapixel
Product FamilyPEN
HD Movie ModeYes
Memory Card SupportedSecure Digital (SD) Card, Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) Card, Secure Digital Extended Capacity (SDXC)
Image StabilizationOptical, Digital
Brand NameOlympus
FeaturesLive View, Continuous Shooting Mode
Screen Size7.6 cm (3")
Video FormatsMotion JPEG (AVI)
Weight (Approximate)321 g
Image Sensor Size4/3" (17.30 mm x 13 mm)
Maximum Image Resolution4032 x 3024
Display Screen TypeOLED
Height69.1 mm
Width122 mm
Depth34.3 mm
Focal Length17 mm
Image FormatsJPEG, RAW
Focus ModesAuto, Manual
ManufacturerOlympus Corporation
Product ModelE-P3
Product NamePEN E-P3 Mirrorless Camera
Product LinePEN
Exposure Control
  • Program Automatic
  • Aperture Priority
  • Shutter Priority
  • Manual
Aspect Ratio16:9
Manufacturer Part NumberV204033SE000
Manufacturer Website Addresshttp://www.olympus.co.uk
Marketing Information

The PEN E-P3, or simply 'PEN', has the fastest auto-focus of any camera with interchangeable lenses. With its world-beating FAST AF (Frequency Acceleration Sensor Technology), timeless metal design and state-of-the-art touch-sensitive OLED display, it's a genuine alternative to bulkier and more expensive SLRs.

Package Contents
  • PEN E-P3 Mirrorless Camera
  • M.Zuiko Digital 17mm 1:2.8 Pancake Silver Lens
  • BLS-1 or BLS-5
  • BCS-1 or BCS-5
  • Micro Four Thirds Body Cap (BC-2)
  • Shoulder Strap
  • CB-USB6 USB Cable
  • CB-AVC3 Audio/Video Cable
  • Software CD-ROM
  • Operating Instructions
  • Warranty Card
Limited Warranty2 Year