Mu-43 Top Veteran
Registered: March 2010
Location: Northeastern Tuscany
Review Date: Fri June 15, 2012
||Would you recommend the product? Yes |
Price you paid?: None indicated
| Rating: 9
Flip screen makes it a digital TLR, very fast focus and operation
Same sensor as older models
The little black duck - an Olympus E-PL3 review
(from my blog, originally posted on Jan 29)
After two years with my white E-PL1 I was in the market for a new toy: while I liked the results I got from the washing machine with native and vintage glass (I loved the Olympus Jpegs and was happily shooting Jpeg+RAW and eternally post processing my "work"), I found it a little on the slow side of things, in focusing and operating.
E-PL1 with 20mm f/1,7 prime, the Washing Machine
Plus everyone loves cleaner, higher ISOs and greater resolution these days: I was suggested to let the aging friend go to a new home where it would be well treated and to move on and step into the future.
My search began. We all love shiny new toys, but I was really undecided and after a lot of reasoning and weekends spent handling whatever from a Fuji X10 to a M9-P I was even more confused. Always wanting to look sidewise at things, I noticed the good review Soundimageplus gave to the Samsung NX200, and only the ugly pricing stopped me. And the 50MB RAW files.
Meanwhile I was still shooting with my E-PL1
Slowly I wandered back to the idea of another Micro 4/3: the size is right, and I already had the best 40mm equivalent under the sun in the shape of the Lumix 20mm f/1,7.
I duly went into shops, examined my choices and was heading towards the dark side as the newer PENs didnít impress me, in the direction of the newly released Panasonic GX1 which was expected in shops ďany day nowĒ - I loved the size, the speed, the screen. Its interface was a little different for me, but I thought that after a couple of weeks of deep configuring, I would find the settings I like and use those. In a shop I was allowed to handle it, but couldnít test my lenses on it as it was already sold ďas virginĒ to a confirmed checker of shutter counts. I left the shop almost committed.
As it was scarce around here, that evening I was with my finger on the mouse on the Internet, ready to go for a GX1+25mm Summilux combo shipped all the way from Hong Kong. And then the net went off. I took it as a sign, and went happily to spend a few days with family up on the Alps as it was just before New Yearís eve.
Up there, nearly no snow
When I was back home, I decided to go for the full brick-and-mortar camera shop experience: prices were similar, and Iíd get the pleasure of instant playing. A few days later, and there I am, trying my 20/1,7 on the GX1 and feeling very unsure. Shoot, look. Shoot, look. Look at the images on the computer screen, hmm. And I decided the GX1 was not for me.*
While I was there, I decided to have a look at the PENs again: lots of people love the E-P3 and maybe I was wrong. I tried them all, and in the end saw a little black duck in the corner of the window - and it looked smart. On went the 20/1,7, shoot, like. And again, on went a shiny 45/1,8 which was sitting beside. Smile.
Out went the plastic.
This is why you are reading my review of the Olympus E-PL3.
Olympus E-PL3 with 45mm f/1,8 prime, the Stereo Amplifier
How itís made
The reviewer at the Phoblographer says itís built like a tank, and itís true: but it isnít a tank - itís sleeker and Iíd say that if my white E-PL1 is the washing machine of the 80s, my black E-PL3 is the slim, solid stereo amplifier of the 80s.
The front is very clean, with all the balance going to the lens when shooting. The grip I loved on my E-PL1 is gone, but it seems less necessary than before - for a good reason: the surprise is the screen on the back, which tilts reminding me a lot of using a TLR: look down, shoot forward.
Olympus E-PL3 with 20mm f/1,7 prime - screen looking up (see the icons)
When the screen is tilted, the camera rests on the left hand which holds the lens, and the right hands operates. Itís both better and worse than using an EVF: as I donít have to bring the camera to my eye when shooting itís less conspicuous on the street and easier in the composition, but when focusing manual lenses or shooting in the strongest light the EVF is better. Visibility is actually quite good in midday light, and versatility in the street wins the moment for me. The alternative choice would have been the E-PM1+VF-2 combo, but it was less versatile and more expensive.
The screen aspect ratio is 16x9 and this means that all those icons are out of the picture when shooting in 4/3. This of course means that the picture is smaller than the screen and you might not like this..
If you know the E-PL1, you already know which buttons you are going to find: they only changed position to allow the screen to tilt. The very welcome addition is the control wheel which makes adjusting exposure or time much easier when on the field. But itís very near to the screen, meaning itís difficult to operate if you are going to change the focus point position using the left-click (but there is an easy solution to this, using the super control panel). You can configure the functions tied to some buttons and to the control wheel, so you are not tied to use the big red button only for video - in my head, that is the place for the exposure lock.
I liked the tiny flash in the E-PL1: nearly never used it, but having it to bounce or fill was sometimes useful - and now it's gone. In its place, a tiny add-on which has both defects: it can't be lifted to bounce and it's not already there should you need it (it will be "somewhere in the bag").
How it works
Really much faster than my E-PL1. After missing a lot of moments while trying to turn on my camera or to focus, its lack of speed was my greatest problem and it is now solved, period. Now if I don't get a pic it's my fault. The E-PL3 is responsive, and in good light it focuses really fast with MSC lenses like the kit 14-42mkIIR and the superb 45/1,8. When using the Lumix 20/1,7 focusing is not as fast, but much faster than on my E-PL1. Shooting in available darkness is very possible thanks to the (new!) af-assist lamp with some hunting if light is really dim or the place is wide (focusing in absolute darkness outside remains impossible).
Running in Santa Croce
Metering is quite accurate - images are slightly underexposed but this happens consistently (thus allowing us to fix it by changing exposure shift once and forgetting about it forever). Automatic white balance works well in most daylight situations, while the presets are less useful.
In the difficult environment of inside shooting, it's much better than the E-PL1 white balance but not perfect. Olympus, in its infinite wisdom, decided to add a function to keep warmer colors and to make it active by default: I can't see a good reason, but it might be that home lighting in Japan is really different from what we use in Europe and some warming is needed - I turned it off.
Here she is
Jpeg and Raw
Getting an Olympus means getting lively Jpegs with really nice colors, and the E-PL3 stays the same. Noise reduction is quite heavy by default, so pixel peepers, jpeg-only shooters and everyone else are advised to set it to Low, or turn it off - because the good news is that up to ISO1600 chroma noise is very even, and at ISO1600 it looks like grain. Above that, and you begin to need noise reduction, and I prefer to apply it in post processing on the raw files.*
10 sec at f/3,2 ISO200 , denoised in Dfine
The E-PL3 has the usual PASM modes, a very vivid iAuto mode, the same scene modes every point and shoot camera has and a few "art filters" which can be used live or applied in-camera on raw files. In the forums many people rave about the Dramatic Tone filter which can be a little too heavy on the eye after some time of use; the grainy black and white filter is in my opinion the most likable.
Fuorcivitas, 1/30sec f/1,8 ISO 1600 45mm - Grainy B&W II
Working with the raw files in the free Olympus Viewer 2 allows to apply all the filters after the fact, but Lightroom can squeeze much more out of them or overprocess everything until all is black.
I'd say that Jpeg image quality is about the same as the E-PL1 at default settings; after some customization they are somewhat better in daylight and even more in available darkness. Raw image quality is better than the E-PL1 raw at higher ISO.
Fuorcivitas - 1/8sec f/5,6 ISO 1600 20mm (Raw processed in Lr3)
You remember I was going to buy a GX1 and I didn't, and here's why: I love primes, and primes are not in-lens stabilized. I thought this wasn't important, that the magic high ISO of the GX1 would fix this for me, and I was wrong. A few shots with my 20/1,7 in a dark corner of the camera shop proved it to me - while the very usable ISO3200 of the GX1 is beautiful and stops action wonderfully when light is enough, when available light becomes near darkness my hands get better pictures with the in-camera stabilization coupled with a fast prime. Even my trusty old E-PL1 with its kit lens worked quite beautifully for me (if it managed to focus, that is). This is probably the place where your experience and opinion can and will be different, and I'm happy with that. Panasonic makes great stabilized zooms, but they are not fast and not primes.
They begin with the city
Are you happy?
I get on the street and after a while I forget about the camera and just look around, bringing home what I saw. Coupled with the 20mm and the 45mm, it's a joy to use and fast fast fast. Even the kit lens gives some joy at the wide end, and adapted vintage lenses shine.
Yes, of course I'm happy - a happy duck.
What about the 45mm?
I'm still scratching the surface, but very happy of what I see. Read the good use-oriented review from Robin Wong
Backstage - Configuration and my settings
Do read the manual (online PDF), and ask in the the helpful forums at mu-43 when in need.
Itís an Olympus, and this means itís very very configurable - spending some time deep in the menus can make a lot of difference in the way the camera works, and the results you can get.
You can configure different settings for each picture mode and save four different personal presets. To modify some of the settings you need to enable the custom (cogs) menu from the setup menu, as it ships disabled.
Menu B: Assigned the Fn button to the switch home focus point/ all focus , and the red button to AEL
Menu C: Enabled live grid and the famous Super Control Panel
Menu G: Noise filter to Off or Low *(let Noise reduct to Auto, it is a setting for long exposures applying dark frame subtraction), All WB set to A:-1 G:0, *Keep warm color to Off , and Jpeg to Large/Superfine
Menu J: Exposure shift +1/6 *(still undecided on this)
I prepared two presets: one for daytime use and one for available darkness and long exposures..
Daytime: Contrast -1, Sharpness -2, Saturation -1,Gradation Auto with Noise Filter (custom menu G) off
Darkness : Contrast -1, Sharpness -1, Saturation -1,Gradation Normal with Noise Filter (custom menu G) Low
And that's all.
Light (non denoised)
Blues (and pinks, too)
C&C welcome - "Time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so."