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on September 22, 2011
The axiom that is so true: The best camera for you is the camera that is with you! Grew tired of backaches while hiking with my Nikon DSLR gear, which increasingly never left the house. Bought an Olympus XZ-1 as a camera that could always be with me ... and was so impressed with it that I wanted its "big brother" for better image quality when on walkabouts or hiking. The Olympus P-3 seemed a bit too much; the PM-1 seemed a bit too little; the PL-3 seemed just right (especially with the tilting screen). The form factor and menu navigation features of the XZ-1 and PL-3 are very similar. The XZ-1 is pocketable; the PL-3 is not due to the protruding lenses. Getting some of the best photos of my life with both the XZ-1 and the PL-3 ... because they are with me.

There is another side to this, and that is that people often appear uncomfortable around people taking photos with large DSLRs with large protruding lenses. I feel none of this discomfort using either the XZ-1 or the PL-3 in public places.

Exploring capabilities with the Olympus 14-42mm kit lens and the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens (have the new Panasonic "X" lenses and the Olympus 45mm lens on order). The Panasonic 20mm is incredible small, making the PL-3 feel and operate like a small rangefinder camera. The f/1.7 lens allows one to take natural light photos in places impossible with slower lenses. The Olympus 14-42mm kit lens appears to be of high quality, although it does have a plastic lens mount (please manufacturers ... charge us the extra cost and ban plastic lens mounts!). The SLRgear website is an excellent place to compare lens quality with its graphs and metrics, and the Olympus kit lens fairs better than comparable lenses with metal mounts with respect to center and edge sharpness across the zoom spectrum.

On the downside, the PL-3 menu structure is difficult to navigate. One must do considerable research to become familiar with the options. Also, the LCD screen is excellent in all but bright sunlight. An Electronic Viewfinder (VF-2 or VF-3) is a necessity to do more than guess what you are photographing in bright sunlight. The add-on flash in the PL-3 kit is so small that it is only good for fill in or firing a larger flash such as the Olympus FL-36R via the RC flash capability. Wish that Olympus had something similar to the excellent Nikon SB-400 mini-flash for the Pen-series cameras. Finding it difficult to get the almost perfect bounce flash effect that the SB-400 provided in the FL-36R/add-on camera flash combination.

The movie quality in the PL-3 is excellent compared to my Nikon D5000 (in my experience "live view" in DSLRs tend to be a joke). The tilting LCD screen is proving especially handy for movies. As others have commented, the new Pen-series auto focus for movies tends to hunt but in my experience this happens only when when the subject is moving quickly or I fail to keep the camera steady (cameras belong on fluid-head tripods to take quality movies).

I've been a photo enthusiast since 1973 when one needed a SLR or medium-format camera to get acceptable image quality for 8x10 and 11x14 prints. I've followed and experienced the technology from film through the DSLRs to, now, the new ILCs. I'm amazed at the quality one can get from something the size of the PL-3!
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on January 6, 2012
In 2005, my need was a camera which had no shutter lag to shoot pictures of my speedy daughters. I ended up with the Nikon D300. Beautiful shots which have been enlarged to 16x20. More recently the kids have grown, while the D300 still fills my photo needs, it would be great to have a video record of their violin and piano recitals. The tilt screen, HD video and small size drew me to the EPL3 which looked like it would fill my need perfectly. Unlike the D300, the EPL3 actually fits in my pants pocket. The quality of the video and the ease of copying the files to my computer drive really surprised me. My EPL3 came with the 14-42mmIIR lens, this combination truly blew me away after reviewing the pics I snapped of a Hawaiian sunset after a heavy rainstorm...breathtaking colors. I cheated a bit by using a 8x ND filter and my tripod. After lugging the D300 around for the past 6 years the EPL3 feels like a toy because of its compact size and weight. I have read the EP1 & EP2 are sluggish in the focus department, seems like with the EPL3 this is no longer an issue. Panasonic lens 20mm 1.7 and 14mm 2.5 seem to be fully compatible, both lens slipped on and were ready to shoot. Once this camera is in your hands you should be impressed by the seek look and quality feel. This camera delivers wonderful photos and video. The EPL3 is definitely not a toy.
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on February 22, 2013
I have literally wanted to buy a camera for ages now - the last camera I owned was a film camera - but each time I looked into digital cameras, something put me off actually making that step and spending my money. This time, with a baby on the way, a decision had to be made.

So last October, I started reading the usual sites (dpreview etc. which TBH weren't that useful since my knowledge of camera's is too limited), asked friends and people who were more knowledgeable about cameras and I read a whole bunch of reviews on amazon.com.

Most of the time I was advised to get some kind of Point-and-shoot camera, because:

a. it would fit in my pocket
b. I didn't know what I was doing anyway

I would then research whichever camera I was recommended and end up unconvinced because most reviews stated that a P&S camera's are generally only marginally better a good camera phone. (I am aware there are exceptions to this statement). In addtion, since I am a woman, most of my clothes do not _have_ pockets and the thought of being doomed to 'auto' for the rest of my life was ... depressing.

One friend told me to get a one-generation old micro 4/3 camera.

So I researched those... They looked promising but one review, or rather the comments on said review, here on amazon on the olympus PEN e-PL1 put me off. The comments were generally along the lines of: "you shouldn't have bought this camera since you are too stupid to use it". EEK!! Surely, I'd fit into that category as well. Part of me couldn't help but feel that this sort camera was just too good/advanced for me.

In the end... 4 months later, after going around in circles endlessly, I read an article on the best way to make pictures of babies which in summary said:

1. Do not shove a bit lens into tiny babies face.
2. Bounce the flash up to the ceiling
3. Take pictures without baby noticing (no big black box in front of your face)

So I decided to get the Olympus E-pl3 with the kit lens since it would allow me to do all three of those. I've had it for a week now and I am LOVING it!
The swivel LCD is awesome. I've taken pictures indoors without flash that look pretty good in my opinion, I've taken pictures on a moving train that look great.

The best part about camera is that I do not feel stuck in 'auto'-purgatory. I may not know ISO 100 from ISO 800, but if I want to know... I can. And since buying this camera, I really want to as well.

Now I can spend my evenings trying to figure out which book to buy on learning photography. ;-)
11 comment28 of 28 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on August 1, 2012
Updated February 19, 2013:

2 things to mention.

1 - I recently got the Olympus FL-600R flash, which while bulky with this camera will allow you much better control over light. Also the FL-600R flash recharges very quick so you can quickly take multiple pictures using the flash as opposed to the kit flash which is slow. Definitely a recommended add on that will allow you much more flexibility in using the camera. I definitely find myself getting better pictures much quicker (especially indoors) with the FL-600R as compared to the kit flash (or just due to the kit flash being too slow using no flash).

2 - I still wish this camera would perform better at high ISO settings, like at 1600 (even 800+). I have a lot of night or low light pictures where flash is not desired but due to the camera sensor not dealing well with ISO 1600 these pictures tend to suffer (i.e. could not use adequate shutter speeds at ISO 1600 without underexposing too much). For the most part I am happy with the pictures I get but I still would very much like better ISO performance. I knew this when I bought this camera, but at least now there is the E-PL5 and OM-D which should both have more than adequate ability to deal with high ISO settings. Meanwhile I am holding off on upgrading, especially now that the new flash has helped improve things, but if buying now and deciding between the E-PL3 and the E-PL5 I would choose the 5 as the extra ISO capability will make the camera a more versatile performer with the kit lens and in low light. One more thing about this, if I took a picture at night and want the effect of darkness to be noticeable, then by using a flash it kind of lights up the area too much making it look like daytime, whereas using high ISO can help capture the nighttime feeling but at the same time giving a sharp image with good color reproduction.

Original Review August 1, 2012:

I bought this camera about 1 month ago before going on vacation. In addition I bought the 20mm Panasonic Prime Lens, the 45mm Olympus Prime Lens, the 40-150mm Olympus Zoom Lens, and the VF-2 viewfinder. I had wanted to step up from my previous point and shoots (Panasonic Lumix Camera) as I was very disappointed with how they performed indoors and in low light situations. For well lit places any camera will get a decent picture so for me, who was not interested in pixel peeping, that was not the major concern.

After using the camera for a month my dislikes are as follows:

1 - Unless you switch to a prime lens in low light situations you are risking the ISO going to high for good pictures. The ISO on this camera should probably be limited to 400. I think you can get away with 800 ISO as well, but if you want to zoom or crop the noise will be noticeable already. If you want the micro 4/3 and are willing to spend a bit more the OM-D E-M5 is supposed to be much better at this. Alternatively the Sony NEX cameras have much better ISO performance, but my feeling was that the lenses on them are too large and make the camera too bulky for what I was looking for. For the most part the camera will perform fine even with the stock lens in low light situations, it just won't be perfect. It still is better than any point and shoot (maybe the new Sony RX-100 would perform better if you are only getting this with a stock lens). If you use the prime lenses then the low light performance is excellent, as the ISO will stay way down. The problem is that you have to busy switching lenses, but isn't that the point of ILC's?

2 - No grip on camera. You can buy aftermarket grips but holding this camera would have been greatly improved had the added a bump for gripping in the front.

3 - If you want to use A/S/M modes you have to be careful that you are changing the correct settings. I sometimes adjusted the exposure control when I was trying to adjust the Aperture. There is probably not much that could have been done to improve this as there is limited space for controls due to the small size.

What I like about this camera:

1 - Size! It is a fraction of the size of a DSLR. With the 20mm lens attached it is actually pocketable. With the stock lens you will not get it in a pocket, but that is what point and shoots are good for, but they lack the versatility and performance of this camera.

2 - Prime Lenses - With the prime lenses this camera really performs well. The one down-side to the sensor on this camera is it does not perform well at high ISO settings. With the prime lenses the ISO is kept down and the pictures are very clear, sharp, well colored, bright, etc. With the Oly 45mm Prime lens this camera is a super performer. I compared pictures taken on a safari ride where I took pictures of animals with this and with my old point and shoot. The pictures were taken during daylight. The pictures with the Oly 45mm Prime, came out so much sharper then the pics from the point and shoot. Even if the point and shoot could have zoomed much closer than the prime 45mm lens, since the pictures from the prime 45mm lens came out so much sharper, I could still crop and zoom them several times, which means I would get a much better result than a super zoom point and shoot. This is obviously talking about a picture where things are moving, a scenery shot where everything is still, this would be less apparent. However the telephoto lens for m4/3 will outperform a point and shoot.

3 - RAW shooting and full camera setting control - Although most shooting with this camera will be in auto mode, there are times when I want to customize the settings and I appreciate having the ability to do so. Also RAW shooting allows you to customize the results on the computer, better than any camera processor could do.

Final thoughts - If I had to make the decision today, I would still go for the m4/3 camera. To me it is the smallest format that allows for the versatility and performance that I wanted. Even a camera like the Sony RX-100 which is the best point and shoot out there, still is limited once you start zooming. The m4/3 allows you to have the zoom with high performance as well. All in all you can cover every photo situation in a good way. My only dilemma is whether I should have gone with the OM-D but overall I think I prefer this camera due to the small size.
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on April 3, 2013
To me, a camera's needs to succeed at producing a top quality Image first and foremost. If it fails to deliver in any way related to the final output of the camera, then it has a tough road ahead that is littered with other failed prospects. Ultimately, you can be the worst camera in the world functionally and deliver the best image out there and I'll rate the camera highly because, in the end, it's all about the image!

LOOKS AND BUILD QUALITY

The Olympus E-PL3 is a solid little body but, it is constructed from Polycarbonate (High Impact Plastic) so, it isn't as solid as some of the other bodies that it competes against but, it isn't bad either.

The styling is very nice and clearly shows that it's roots are halfway between the point and shoot crowd and halfway between the SLR crowd.

I have two issues here, how slick the body is, and with no grip on the camera, I'm a little nervous about dropping it when I have it out and about. The other issue is the fact that the AF Assist light is right where your left index finger might be while holding the camera and this interferes with the focusing in lower light situations.

MENUING SYSTEM

One area that seems too complex is the menu system. Each menu is fine on its own but, it seems as though more than half of the buttons on the body launch a different menu! I'm really baffled by this design as there's no rhyme or reason to some of them and some are turned off by default so they need to be activated for you to see many key features and fortunately, in the tip below I tell you how to do it.

My tip here is that you press Menu, select the Wrench, select Display Menu and activate the one that looks like two gears as this is activates the Custom Menu on the Main Menu Screen and here the ability to adjust the camera to your settings really comes alive!

METERING

Well, this is a big flaw in this camera, checking spot metering seems to show a Meter that is well calibrated and yet, their algorithms for Matrix Metering seem to heavily favor under exposure and that increases noise. Center Weighted will also favor under exposure to a lesser degree and it is almost as though the metered circle isn't the proper size. The good news is that, Olympus provided a fix for this and you can enable it using the tip below.

In the hidden custom menu (we turned this on earlier), you can tweak the exposure bias for each metering mode so, once you figure out where you want it to be, just set it and forget it.

AF SYSTEM

The AF System is very fast for this type of camera and I have to say that Olympus really stepped up here given the fact that the earlier bodies were known for having slow AF. Accuracy also seems to be fairly good so, no real issues with the focusing at all.

IMAGE STABILIZATION

I've used just about every image stabilization system around and honestly, I am not impressed with the Olympus Sensor Shift. Some reviews suggest it only works between 1/30th and 1/8th of a second and going outside that range will either not reduce blur or will actually increase the chances that blur will exist (above 1/30th or on a tripod mount). To say the least, don't buy this camera for this feature because, there are much better options.

I also found out the IS system uses the Auto-ISO as a crutch and if you attempt to stabilize the camera with a fixed ISO, it is going to create problems for you. I discovered this when I found the custom menu and set the camera's Auto ISO Max to 800 and turned the ISO back on. Next thing you know, 1/10 shutter speeds were producing sharp images, sure enough, looking at the ISO should it was toeing the max ISO I had set.

One more tip to help you get the most out of your camera, set the Anti-Shock to 1/4 when shooting at slower shutter speeds (under 1/50) as this will allow any excess movement from the internals to pressing the shutter release, to reside before releasing the shutter (Obviously this isn't good for moving objects but, neither is IS unless it features a panning mode and both should function exactly the same for that purpose.

AESTHETICS

The best things about this camera are the color and white balance reproduction. There's a certain look to Olympus photos that are really hard for others to replicate. Canon images are too yellow, Nikon's are too Red, Sony's are just plain bland (high quality but nothing special for color) and yet, Olympus just seems to pull off the perfect balance of the bunch.

If you're looking for a reason to buy this camera, this is the best reason going for it!

IMAGE QUALITY

This is somewhat of a Mixed Bag... If you are careful and babysit the metering, or learn the camera and adjust the bias, you'll get awesome results right up to ISO 1600 but, if you don't watch it, you just might find some of the worst High ISO images you've seen in this class.

With that said, I've gotten some really nice images and I only have the kit lens so the camera is more than capable of delivering on the image quality and the better, and brighter, the lens, the less of an issue High ISO becomes.

I recommend Shooting with Natural Mode, Sharpening to -1, and Noise Reduction to Low.

CONCLUSION

I started this review after spending just a few hours with the camera and I was sure, I hated the body. As I continued writing the review and shooting with it, I started to figure it out a bit more and have found that it is capable if you work within its limitations.

Overall, I like the camera because I like the Image Quality but, I cannot fathom how throwing a metering system that has to be babysat, putting the workaround in a hidden menu, and a menu system that is a bit of a mystery, into a body aimed at beginners makes any sense at all. If you're new to this level of Photography, you're either going to leave the body in IAuto or you're going to return it out of frustration.

Would I recommend this body? If you have some understanding about metering or, you like to tinker and want to make the camera your own then yes, I would. If you're the type of person that thinks cameras take nice pictures, then you should probably look elsewhere because, you're about to found out just how hard taking those nice pictures can be so, read through the review and adjust the camera based on the tips I've provided.
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on October 12, 2013
I've been buying Canon cameras for years, but when I saw this camera w/kit lens for $249 I thought I'd take a chance. For me, the Holy Grail of photography is a small, lightweight camera that takes photos of SLR quality. This is it. I have never mounted or used the kit lens (14~42mm) that came with this camera, instead I ordered an Olympus 40~150mm to use outdoors with wildlife at my home. This combination has allowed me to get my best ever hummingbird photos, visible at [...] in group 6. Group 1 has photos taken with a Canon 5D for comparison.

Compared to my Canon EOS 5D this is much lighter, smaller, faster and easier to hold for a long time while lurking for hummingbirds.

The autofocus is the fastest I've ever used, and much less prone to hunting constantly in a complex scene. The menus have a certain 1992 look to them, ancient graphic style, but it all works as expected.

With a very high speed SDHC or SDXC card I can take enormous bursts almost without limit.

It is very difficult in bright light to frame a photo using an LCD, I bought the Olympus VF-3 optional add-on viewfinder, which takes the place of the flash on the hotshoe. It provides a very bright, sharp view, albeit with visible scanning lines, but easy to verify framing and focus. Since you are looking through the lens it is a reliable way to setup a shot. That completely solved the issue of shooting in bright light.

I have finally found the sweet spot between big bulky SLRs with thousand dollar lenses, and pocket cameras for $150.

Here is the viewfinder: B005FQSXFI
And the zoom lens I like: B0066J6EOU
And photos with the lens above: [...]
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on August 24, 2012
Being inspired with photography at a very early age in my pre-teens to document trips with family and now having traveled the world and taken photos in over 30 countries I had multiple Point and Shoot cameras, moved briefly to DLSR which I quickly realized were too big and cumbersome and settled for the Canon G-sersies.

But for the last few years I became inspired by a new technology Micro four third. So I switched to a Olympus system to upgrade my Canon G12. It provides me with the flexibility of interchanging lenses and MUCH improved photos over the G12. Check out mu43rumors.com I find the best info about upcoming Micro Four Third cameras and lenses there. Also here is a Guide to Micro Four Third lens Lineup it seems to be growing constantly.

My current Travel kit is the compact Olympus E-PL3 with a Olympus ED 14-150mm f/4.0-5.6 Lens and Olympus M ED 9-18mm f/4.0-5.6 Lens
review image review image review image review image
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on April 20, 2013
I like to wait a few months before I actually give a review just to give the camera a fair shake. The main reason I stick with Olympus is that the color production (for me) is amazing. Yes, there are a lot of cameras in this class that produce excellent images but time after time, camera after camera, I keep coming back to Olympus. I take a lot of pictures of kids and after one afternoon, my memory card is almost full because of all the multiple shots that I have to take. Because I can rely on the color reproduction, I don't have to shoot in RAW, I don't have to post process and I don't have to worry about space on my 4GB card. Yes, any purist will say that I should be shooting in RAW to get the absolute best out of my camera. Yes, I have to post-process to get the best actual result pixel by pixel but in my real-world scenario, I don't have that kind of time. I am a firm believer that if you know what you're shooting and how to shoot it, the results should not need any post-processing, especially when I'm just trying to get random shots instead of artistic shots.

So, why don't I just get a high end point and shoot? I'm a manual shooter, I love changing lenses, I love the focus speed of this camera and I love the 4 shots/second (in ideal situations) I get out of it.

What don't I like? I don't like that it doesn't have a hand grip. I don't like that it has a detachable flash (then again, I don't use it much at all). Other than that, I love this camera.
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on March 28, 2014
Serious photographers, please ignore this review. It will infuriate you. This is for amateurs and soccer moms.

I'm in NO way a photographer of any kind, but I thought that we should have a nicer camera than our phones for our impending child's birth. I opened the box yesterday and charged it to take a few pictures this afternoon to test it out. WOW is all I can say. I'm taking pictures in auto mode that look as nice as some of my friends' dSLR photos. Crisp, focused foreground with the blurry background, etc. I got nice pictures of moving animals, which was a big positive for me.
Now I'm just looking for a pancake lens to make it more purse sized. I read about the body cap lens, but reviews make it sound like you need adequate outdoor lighting and most of my photos would be indoors.
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on September 11, 2014
I really like this camera and decided to keep it instead of the EPL5 which cost twice as much. It takes very sharp pictures and handles outdoor conditions well. Indoors is another story. I took some indoor pictures and at first they look very sharp but blow them up a little and the noise really kicks in. I would say flash or a tripod will be a necessary for the kit lens indoors. I've got some great shots of flowers and bees close up. There is a small clip on flash included that even has it's own velvet bag to carry it in. The battery charges outside the camera in a charger with a heavy plug in cord. There is a strap included also. I thought the Olympus was very well built and has a control knob on top to go to the different settings. There are a lot of menus to go through in set up and to use but I don't need a lot of them so I can live with that. I leave the screen setting at Macro so I just click to screen and hit ok and I'm in . I think you can make the menu as complicated as you want but I keep it simple. I'm still trying all the different features so I can't comment on a lot of them. I still haven't tried video yet because my main thing is stills. I have a canon sx50 that takes pretty good videos so I'll try later. I got this camera for $259 and it's a great deal. Hard to spend $499 on the EPL5 when this one works so well. I' ll buy a better lens later with that money. Olympus has some great lenses that are within reach.
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