Olympus E-P3 Review

August 11, 2011 | Gavin Stoker |

Image Quality

All of the sample images in this Review were taken using the 12.3 megapixel Fine JPEG setting, which gives an average image size of around 6Mb.

As we found when we reviewed the E-P2, the images straight out of the camera are more colourful than we'd formerly expected of Olympus and going by previous examples, even with the camera's default Natural colour setting selected instead of Vivid (i-Enhance, Muted and Portrait being the other Picture Mode options). Thus the E-P3 comes up trumps both for landscapes and portraits.

We weren't expecting to see a pronounced difference between this and the E-P2, so some of our comments about that former model still stand. For example we were unsurprised to find instances of visible pixel fringing when zooming in to check detail, if not to an insurmountable degree. There's some slight barrel distortion visible when shooting at maximum wideangle on the provided lens, as most evidently witnessed on our white brick wall test shots, but again this isn't to an unacceptable degree. Mostly results are as pin-sharp as we'd expect from a CSC - meaning sharper than your average compact if not quite as razor sharp as a larger piece of glass and DSLR sensor can provide.

You'll also want to play with the new Art Filters Dramatic Tone and Gentle Sepia if trading up from an E-P1 perhaps, the former for us producing the most striking results with a little experimentation. Generally the digital effects that worked the best were pop art, pinhole and dramatic tome; the others we rarely used.

Using our second-generation 14-42mm test lens, at maximum ISO12800 setting on the E-P3 reveals a uniform dusting of noise plus softened detail not a lot worse than the appearance of ISO6400, the top whack light sensitivity setting on its E-P2 predecessor. By way of contrast, at ISO6400 we're getting a result comparable to what rival cameras offer at ISO1600, which means that while there is some noise visible without zooming in, it's not at an unattractive level and we'd still be happy using this setting if pushed. In other words a usefully broad ISO range is capable of delivering usable results, so in this instance is more than just a way of delivering a more impressive looking spec list.


There are 7 ISO settings available on the Olympus E-P3. Here are some 100% crops which show the noise levels for each ISO setting, with JPEG on the left and the RAW equivalent on the right:


ISO 200 (100% Crop)

ISO 200 (100% Crop)


ISO 400 (100% Crop)

ISO 400 (100% Crop)


ISO 800 (100% Crop)

ISO 800 (100% Crop)


ISO 1600 (100% Crop)

ISO 1600 (100% Crop)


ISO 3200 (100% Crop)

ISO 3200 (100% Crop)


ISO 6400 (100% Crop)

ISO 6400 (100% Crop)


ISO 12800 (100% Crop)

ISO 12800 (100% Crop)

File Quality

Olympus offers two JPEG quality settings - Fine and Normal. Naturally, you may opt to save your photographs in the camera's raw file format (ORF). Raw+JPEG shooting is available.

12M Fine (100% Crop) 12M Normal (100% Crop)
12M RAW (100% Crop)  


Here are two 100% crops which have been Saved as Web - Quality 50 in Photoshop. The right-hand image has had some sharpening applied in Photoshop. The out-of-the camera images are just a little soft at the default sharpening setting and benefit from some further sharpening in a program like Adobe Photoshop. You can also change the in-camera sharpening level to suit your tastes by changing the Picture Modes.

Original (100% Crop)

Sharpened (100% Crop)



The Olympus E-P3 features a pop-up flash that has multiple modes including Forced On, Forced Off, Auto, Slow Sync, Rear-Curtain Sync and almost any of these combined with red-eye reduction. It can also serve as an AF assist light or as a controller for wirelessly slaved FL-36R or FL-50R units. In addition to the on-board unit, the Olympus E-P3 also has a hot-shoe for system flashes, and a PC sync terminal for studio strobes. The pictures below were taken of a white ceiling from a distance of 1.5m, with and without the built-in flash.

Flash Off - Wide Angle

Flash On - Wide Angle

ISO 64 ISO 64

Flash Off - Telephoto

Flash On - Telephoto

ISO 64 ISO 64

And now for some portraits. The pop-up flash of the Olympus E-P3 did not really cause a red-eye effect, so the only noticeable difference between the Forced On and Forced On with Red-Eye Reduction settings is that the second causes the subject's pupils to contract.

Flash On

Flash On (100% Crop)

Red-eye Reduction

Red-eye Reduction (100% Crop)


The Olympus E-P3 lets you dial in shutter speeds of up to 60 seconds and has a Bulb mode as well for exposure times as long as 30 minutes, which is very good news if you are seriously interested in night photography. The shot below was taken using a shutter speed of 15 seconds at ISO 200. We've included a 100% crop to show what the quality is like.

Night Shot

Night Shot (100% Crop)

Image Stabilisation

The Olympus E-P3 comes with a sensor-shift image stabilisation (IS) system, which allows you to take sharp hand-held photos at slower shutter speeds than with cameras that lack this feature.

Focal Length / Shutter Speed

Off (100% Crop)

On (100% Crop)

28mm / 1/10th Second

Off (100% Crop)

On (100% Crop)

84mm / 1/10th Second

Art Filters

The Olympus E-P3 offers 10 different Art Filters, which allow you to quickly apply an artistic effect to a photo before taking it (JPEG images only). The most useful of these is Soft Focus, because the FourThirds system lacks a dedicated soft focus lens, and the effect would require advanced knowledge of layers, blurring methods and blending modes if you were to reproduce it in post-processing. Note that applying the Art Filters slows the camera down somewhat as the camera takes several seconds to process and save the image.

Pop Art

Soft Focus


Pale&Light Color

Light Tone


Grainy Film

Pin Hole

Diorama Cross Process
Gentle Sepia Dramatic Tone

Picture Modes

Olympus' Picture Modes are essentially pre-set combinations of saturation, contrast and sharpness, except for the new i-Enhance mode that aims to optimise each photo individually. You can tailor each Picture Mode to your needs. The following examples demonstrate the differences across the available Picture Modes.