Olympus PEN E-PL2 vs PEN E-PL3

The Olympus Pen Lite Mark III or better known as E-PL3 was launched in August 2011. The “L” in the model code stands for Lite – a “detuned” version of the flagship E-P3. The E-PL3 sits in between the high end E-P3 and the entry-level E-PM3 (“M” for Mini). This camera was targeted at upgraders who wish to have a better quality photos from the usual point & shoot, with interchangeable lens flexibility and in a stylish, compact package.

Since the E-PL2 (Jan 2010), there’s been many practical & (I call them) “sensible” improvements made available to the E-PL3. A quick check with the regular camera stores reveals that both versions are still selling side by side today. Although there is a “slight” price difference, the different shapes from the 2 Pens attracted different group of users. (The Olympus Pen Series makes good fashion statement too with its selection of colors and its compactness.)

I was pretty happy when I received the E-PL3 review unit (together with the E-PL2) from the localOlympus guys. They sent the E-PL3 in my favorite metallic red color too. 🙂

So what has changed? As usual, I shall not state all the technical specs here which might bore you out. Instead, I shall highlight its important changes here. For the full specs, you can always google it for yourself. My style remains, layman style without all the technical stuff, but from the view of a user. As a professional photographer, (and as usual) I feel “strange” to be seen with these 2 Pens, but as I set out to test them, I realized these Micro 4/3 from Olympus are a joy to use – especially those days when I really feel like dumping the “heavy weights” at home for a weekend.

Main Differences between the 2 Pens.

11 AF Points/ ISO100-6400/ Bigger Body/ White Balance 7 Steps/
Plastic Body/ TruePic IV Processor/ 4 image aspect ratio/ 4 recording formats/
No AF Assist lamp/ 22 scene modes/ 9 pop filters/ 3 fps/ No Tilt Screen/ 317 g

35 AF Points/ ISO200-12800/ Smaller Body/ White Balance 7 Steps + Kelvin Settable/ Metal Body/  TruePic V Processor/ 5 image aspect ratio/ 6 recording formats/
AF Assist lamp added/ 23 scene modes/ 6 pop filters/ 5.5 fps/ Tilt Screen/ 265 g

To be fair, both cameras were mounted on a Manfrotto Tripod Rig with ballheads sitting on strong Gitzo legs. This is how the set up looks like.

I decided to test out the Pens at Lower Peirce Reservoir at a shooting event. As the Sun was extremely bright and hot this morning, this makes it perfect for me to put the camera through a few pace for direct comparisons.

Test 1: Reservoir View, Lower Peirce Reservoir, Singapore with direct Sun light from back right.
Both cameras set to 1/180, F8, ISO 200, FR 14mm, Centre Weighted Average Metering, AWB, Spot Focus on Centre AF, Manual Exposure.

I picked this scene because this scene will be great to test the metering as there are mixed shaded areas with sections that are overwhelmed by the strong & bright sunlight. Both Pens read the scene quite accurately however I would sway towards the E-PL2 for this case as the details on the clouds retained most its details while the E-PL3 sort of over-exposed the sky causing details lost on the clouds. The area below the bridge on the shot by E-PL2 has somewhat more illumination than the shot recorded by the E-PL3. Now look at the vegetations on the far left. The E-PL3 did an excellent job by balancing the overall exposure quite well, but the E-PL2 produced a darker shade of vegetation. So my take is, E-PL2: 1/ E-PL3: 0

Test 2: Bank View, Lower Peirce Reservoir, Singapore with direct Sun light from back of camera.
Both cameras set to 1/250, F16, ISO 200, FR 25mm, Centre Weighted Average Metering, AWB, Spot Focus on Centre AF, Manual Exposure.

This low shot was done to test the sensitivity of the metering system and also how the camera fares in rendering colors in a mix scene of various contrasting colors. On the E-PL2 shot, the sky rendered a nice shade of blue but the rocks turned a little pinkish. On the E-PL3, the rocks are in the exact color that my eye saw, the sky’s blue is slightly paled as compared to the E-PL2 shot, but the green on the foliages were rich and exact. With this, I will vote towards the E-PL3 as going by the percentage of accuracy, I will prefer to have my photo in a balanced exposure with accurate colors and only needing to adjust minimally on the sections that needs tweaking, On overall, the E-PL3’s shot gives a 80% accuracy which outperformed the E-PL2 that I rated about 60%.
So my take is, E-PL2: 0/ E-PL3: 1

Test 3: Snap shot of friends against the sun.
Both cameras set to 1/1250, F8, ISO 200, FR 35mm, Centre Weighted Average Metering, AWB, Spot Focus on Centre AF, Manual Exposure.

Interestingly, this shot was a random shot. I was resting and enjoying the breeze when I decided to shot both my friends. The sun was at their back and I tried out this shot to see how the cameras will fare when shooting backlighted subjects without a flash. From the shots, the E-PL2 tried to balance the exposure however making the face pale and lifeless, the E-PL3 managed to captured the scene correctly by lighting the faces correctly without having to suffer a color loss and the background colors are also well rendered and precise. It’s obvious that I will pick the E-PL3 over the E-PL2 in this aspect. E-PL2: 0/ E-PL3:1.

Test 4: Reservoir View, this time when the sun is about 45 degree to the horizon (the 10.30am sun as some landscape photographers will described).
Both cameras set to 1/1000, F22, ISO 400, FR 18mm, Centre Weighted Average Metering, AWB, Spot Focus on Centre AF, Manual Exposure.

First look had me attracted to the E-PL3 shot as the colors were very nicely reproduced and I love the details captured on the sky, the clouds, the green vegetations on the far back. The E-PL2 produced a slightly “gloomy” photo but certainly acceptable by most standards. For some strange reasons, this shot taken by both Pens sort of pulls each other apart. Although from the same product range, the shot from the E-PL2 is expected “to be like this” but the shot from the E-PL3 looks like it was shot from a Professional DSLR. 
Needless to say, my take will be, E-PL2: 0/ E-PL3: 1.

Test 5: Multi Burst, testing on its AF Accuracy, the speed of Continous AF (C-AF).
Both cameras set to 1/200, F18, ISO 400, FR 25mm, Evaluative Metering, AWB, Spot Focus on Centre AF, Manual Exposure, C-AF, Multiple Shot..

I pressed the shutter for about 2 seconds on both cameras. The E-PL2 captured about 7 shots and if you are wondering why there are only 4 shots above, well, these are the only 4 shots that are sharp enough to be posted. The E-PL3 managed really well in this aspect as a total of 14 shots were recorded at the same time and 12 sharp photos were produced as seen below.

Both cameras were fired at the same time and ended at the same time. From the above, it is very obvious that the E-PL3 has my vote for this round.
So, E-PL2: 0/ E-PL3:1.

The test shots above had the E-PL3 beating the E-PL2  4:1. Let’s see how both cameras fared in other areas.

Based on the score sheet & pre-set testing criteria, the E-PL2 scored 30/50 while the E-PL3 scored an impressive 42/50.

My view, the E-PL3 is much closer to the flagship E-P3 than the E-PM3 is to the E-PL3. The image quality from the E-PL3 belongs to the “DSLR” class and packaged to lure upgraders from point & shoot prosumers who wants exceptional quality photos, flexibility with manual modes and interchangeable lens. Although I feel that the sleeker body is a little too small for my hands, I believed this body will fit perfectly into the hands of a million ladies. Light weight, well built and small enough to be placed anywhere, I am willing to ignore my oversized hands and have one E-PL3 as a back up body or a leisure camera whenever I am not working with my “larger DSLRs”.

If you considering to move from prosumer compact to a DSLR camera but hate the weight and size, the Olympus E-PL3 is an excellent choice – to start.

Visit http://www.olympus.com.sg/

Below are some “Behind the Scene” photos – Courtesy of Connie Yeo (Shutter Journey)

About Editor AL

About The Web Editor: http://about.me/shutterjourney
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3 Responses to Olympus PEN E-PL2 vs PEN E-PL3

  1. Pingback: Olympus PEN E-PL2 vs PEN E-PL3 « Shutter Journey (SGP) « DigitCam

  2. Ontogenesis says:

    Thanks, very useful! I was having a hard time deciding, but I agree that the E-PL3 definitely takes better photos overall. This write-up makes it very easy to decide.

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