• Part One: LCD, New Menu Layout, Art Filters.
Last Friday, when I first switched the Olympus PEN E-PL3 on, I uttered, “The LCD on the E-P3 is much better!” But three hundred and thirty nine shots later, the E-PL3′s 16:9 LCD monitor won my heart. Yes, the E-P3′s LCD is nicer with 614,000 pixels and two color viewing modes; however, it doesn’t offer the tilt function like the 460,000 pixels LCD on the E-PL3. The tilt LCD alone brings more pleasure to candid street photography. With the Olympus PEN E-PL3 at the hip level and its high resolution 3 inches LCD screen tilts up 80°, the E-PL3 brings back the memory of shooting with a classic medium format. It’d be fantastic if Olympus designed a folding 16:9 hood to go with the E-PL3′s LCD. Since DPreview already wrote an in-depth review of the E-PL3 with technical details and comparisons, this review is going to base on the notion of a street photographer.
On top of the 16:9 format and tilt function, is a layer of Anti-Reflection Coating. It doesn’t remove the reflection entirely, but if you look at your iPhone LCD or another compact camera’s LCD, you will see the reflection on the E-PL3′s LCD is less noticeable. The AR coating layer also helps me to see colors a bit better than the LCD monitor on my Olympus XZ-1—its LCD has the same 614,000 pixels like the E-P3. The 16:9 LCD monitor works admirably with the 16:9, 4:3 and 3:2 ratio, but the viewing area for 6:6 and 3:4 will be smaller if you compare to a 4:3 LCD monitor. This is normal since there is a significant difference between 16:9, and the 6:6 or 3:4 ratio. Your eyes will eventually adjust to the scale down proportion; however, this will get on your nerves if you need to see details while shooting with one of the two aspect ratio that I mentioned in the earlier sentence. For me, the LCD monitor is just as important as the lens. If the LCD monitor doesn’t show what the lens sees, your eyes will send fault information to your creative mind and you may lose opportunities to capture some great shots.
The Olympus PEN E-PL3 is not only an elegant design but also a powerful compact digital camera for street shooting. With it’s tilt LCD feature, I sometime feel like I’m shooting with a miniature Hassy.
The new PEN cameras get a new face lift for their Menu system. The new Menu layout is more pleasant to the eyes with black letters on white background. If you press the Info button while the Menu is displaying on the LCD, a small window with illustrative text will pop up and explain what each function does. All features and settings are logically grouped in page-style interface, which allows users to quickly browse through the Menu.
Concealed behind the elegant Menu layout are quite a few useful features that will transform this digital compact camera into a remarkable photographic tool for street shooting. Before I show you these features, let me go over the buttons in the back of the E-PL3 since there are connections between these buttons and features.
The first set of buttons are right behind the shutter release. I can easily access these buttons with my thumb while holding the E-PL3 with one hand and my index finger on the shutter release button. Except for the Zoom button, both Function button (one on the left) and Record button (one on the right) can be assigned with different features. The second set of buttons which can be customized are the Flash (Right) and Selftimer (Down) buttons where the Control Dial is. These buttons are impossible to access with one hand so I assign less important features to them. Compared to the E-PL2, I think the new layout for these buttons on the E-PL3 help me to gain control to the camera much faster.
With the Function button, I can assign it to Depth of Field Preview, Movie Start/Stop, AEL/AFL, Digital Tele-Converter, Underwater, Backlit LCD On/Off, My Set 1/2/3/4, Test Picture without Saving, Changing RAW/JPEG qualities with the Control Dial, Manual Focus, Home Position Setting for AF Area, Custom WB. The same custom modes can be assigned to the Record button, plus a Live Guide mode.
For the Right button on the Control Dial, I can set it to go directly to the Exposure Compensation mode, Lock/Unlock the Control Dial, WB settings, Selftimer and Sequential Shooting mode or Flash modes. ISO settings can be assigned to the Down button as well as Exposure Compensation mode, Lock/Unlock the Control Dial, WB settings, Selftimer and Sequential Shooting mode.
To change these settings, you just go to Camera Options page>Button/Dial>Button Function and change the setting of the appointed button. My choice is DoF Preview for the Function button, My Set 1 for the Record button, WB setting for the Right button and ISO settings for the Down button. I also turn on the SCP (Super Control Panel) for PASM modes and the Art Filters mode. There are four useful features on the Menu that I often use to capture color photographs. They are the Exposure Shift, Custom WB, WB Compensation in All Modes and the WB Keep Warm Color. By combining these four features, I can create shots with any color hue and contrast I like. Talk about creativity.
As for the Art Filters, I can turn on/off each filter in Menu>D>Picture Mode Settings—the same for i-Enhance and other Picture Mode. Since I only use the Grainy Film and Pin Hole Art Filters, I turn the others off so I don’t have to fumble through all of them while I’m on the street shooting. When an Art Filter is in used, I can adjust the shutter speed with either the Control Dial or the Up/Down buttons after pressing the Exposure Compensation (Up) button once. The Flash (Right) and the AF Target (Left) buttons will allow me to fine tune the Exposure Compensation by opening or closing down the aperture.
Olympus extended the Art Filters with a number of variants, which can also be combined with a range of effects like soft focus, frames and starburst, etc. Although the E-PL3 doesn’t come with Pale & Light Color, Light Tone, Cross Process, Gentle Sepia filters like the E-P3. I can still combine the Custom WB, WB Compensation and Exposure Compensation to push some cool colors out of the new TruePic VI Image Processor. Olympus claimed that TruePic VI Image Processor was specifically designed for the new PEN generation with the Real Color Technology to improve colors like emerald green, yellow, gold, as well as color gradation. The new TruePic VI Image Processor also reduced the recovery time between shots.
Since this is going to be a long review, I’m going to split it into different posts. Low light performance, Auto Focus and Noise will be on my next report. If you have any question or suggestion, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line or two. Until next time, folks.