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Olympus PEN Lite E-PL3 review

The new downsized PEN CSC boasts an extremely fast autofocus system

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL3
The Olympus PEN Lite E-PL3 is a compact system camera that produces great results

Our Verdict

A lightweight alternative to an entry-level DSLR


  • Very fast AF
  • Simple control layout
  • Art filters
  • 1080p HD movies
  • Live Guide


  • Mic a little sensitive
  • No built-in flash
  • No integral EVF
  • No built-in front grip

Small but perfectly formed, cameras in the Olympus PEN range are well loved for their stylish good looks and user-friendly handling. One of a trio of new launches from the manufacturer, the new Micro four Thirds PEN Lite E-PL3 continues the PEN trend for combining retro charm with a comprehensive feature set.

It may be smaller than its big brother, the E-P3, but it's brimming with innovative technologies and beginner-friendly characteristics.

Micro Four Thirds (MFT) cameras belong to the relatively new breed of mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras, (popularly referred to as Compact System Cameras, or CSCs) which marry some of the merits of shooting with a DSLR with the reduced size and weight benefits provided by a compact digital camera.

Olympus pen lite e-pl3

Incorporating a unique internal design, the mechanism inside a CSC differs from that of a traditional DSLR. Omitting the traditional DSLR reflex mirror system and optical viewfinder design, CSCs allow for the lens to be positioned much closer to the sensor. This enables manufacturers to significantly scale down the size and weight of these cameras, without having to scale down the sensor as well.

As a result, CSCs like the Olympus PEN Lite E-PL3 benefit from having a larger sensor than compact camera in a more compact package that's lighter and more portable.

Olympus' past PEN models haven't quite matched up to their rivals in terms of successfully saving on body weight and size. However, the recently released trio of new PENs (the Olympus PEN Lite E-PL3, E-P3 and E-PM1) herald the arrival of a new, smaller, lighter and faster generation of cameras.

Olympus pen lite e-pl3

The three new PENs share the same basic specifications, but each model sports its own unique design, control layout and dimensions. A few differentiating features highlight the diverse users that the individual cameras are designed to appeal to.

As the 'middle child' of the bunch, the E-PL3 is smaller and lighter than its big brother, the E-P3. It seeks to deliver the same user-friendliness as the smaller entry-level E-PM1, combined with the manual functionality of the more advanced flagship model.

Currently being sold for around £500, the Olympus PEN Lite E-PL3's rivals include the £629 Panasonic Lumix DSC-GF3, the £430 Sony Alpha NEX-C3 and older brother the £790 Olympus PEN E-P3.