Which PEN for your pocket? EP3 vs. EPL3 vs. EPM1…

In a move that’s stirring the micro four-thirds pot, Olympus recently announced three new PEN models: the EP3, the EPL3 and the EPM1.  The internals of all three cameras are largely the same, but they offer distinctly different form factors.  So, which is it going to be: Papa Bear, Momma Bear, or Baby Bear?

First though, I’ve written about the advantages of and likely future of the camera line that’s taking the market by storm (see the conclusion of the three-part series here).

2 Guys Photo featured photographer, Ray Sachs, recently commented favorably on the flagship model, the EP3 (see here), though confided in us that he was at the same time playing around with its baby brother, the EPL3.  One was going to be a keeper and one was going back.

Read on to see which he chose…

First of all, what’s the difference between them?  From top to bottom below (all photos courtesy Olympus Corporation), the EP3, the EPL3 and the EMP1.

The short version is as follows:

  • EP3 has the maximum number of external controls, a meaty (and interchangeable) grip, and feels a bit beefier to hold.  It also has a built in flash and the screen is touch enabled if you’re into that sort of thing.
  • EPL3 (L for “light”) is smaller and lighter, has a decent number of external do-hickeys and has a nice moveable LCD screen.  It comes with an add-on flash which is cool, but just not if you want to use the attachable electronic viewfinder at the very same time.
  • EMP1 (M for “mini”) is diminutive and quite pocketable (unless you have a biggish lens onboard) and possesses the bare minimum number of external controls, requiring a good bit of menu diving to fiddle with settings.

The EMP1 strikes me as a good second camera if you’re already into m4/3.  If you want to head out to the nightclub, pop on one of the nice pancake fixed lenses and you’re good to go.  I don’t see it as a main system shooter because I presume that anybody interested in an interchangeable lens cam is going to want to change up some lenses, thus adding to bulk.  If you’re going to have bulk, get the more featured and easier to adjust body.

So then, I think the real question: which shall it be: the EP3 or the EPL3?  Here’s what Ray Sachs had to say about it… at different points during his decision process…

Ray:  My initial reaction was that it’s (the EPL3) too small and unbalanced to be my primary camera.  Which would mean I either sell it or keep both the EP3 and EPL3 (hey, I had an EPL1 and EP2 for a while – having two bodies isn’t a bad way to go, particularly when traveling).  But having used it for a couple of days, I’m really not sure.  It’s growing on me to some extent.  It’s certainly every bit as capable as the EP3 – I think the performance and IQ are nearly identical with a slight edge, if any at all, to the EPL3 because of its new shutter and faster burst rate (which is roughly meaningless to me).  But the EP3 just feels so right in my hand (as the EP2 did) – it just feels like my CAMERA in some indescribable way where the EPL3 feels like a cool little gadget that I can use to take photographs.

But after shooting yesterday morning with the EPL3, I really really really like that flip up screen, like I did on the (Sony) NEX.  The EPL3 looks and feels weird with any sort of big lens on it, but I took some shots back to back with the (Panasonic) 100-300 yesterday, with the VF2 on both cameras, and there’s no real difference.  They both feel OK since you’re mostly supporting the lens anyway.  And for the limited amount I shoot with a long lens, that shouldn’t be a deciding factor.

So I think the bottom line is I’m gonna have to live with both for a while and see which one I pick up most of the time. 

Fast forward a few days, and Ray commented:  I took the EPL3 into Philly for some street shooting this morning.  I think I like the EP3 more as an all-around camera but the flip screen is so nice for street shooting that I think the EPL3 is my street camera of choice now, along with the (Ricoh) GRD3. Here are some shots:

A few days hence, Ray states:  My thinking is evolving.  I’m still planning to hold onto both to see which I grab when, but for me, the flip screen on the EPL3 is just too important to part with.  So, even though I prefer the feel of the EP3 for anything where I wouldn’t be using the flip screen, my only decision at this point is whether to sell the EP3 or keep both.  For folks who don’t use the flip screen much, I’d strongly recommend the EP3 as an all-around nicer, more solid, and more ergonomic camera.  But if the flip screen matters, as it does to me, it’s the only game in town…

And finally, today, Ray tells us:  So the EPL3 is gonna be it for m43 until and unless some long-rumored “pro” model actually shows up.  Actually, I doubt I’d upgrade unless its sort of the m43 version of a NEX 7, with the flip screen, a somewhat updated sensor, and the nicer feel and ergonomics of the EP3.  And if they can stick a great EVF in the flash hole without making the camera bigger, that would be nice too, but far from essential for me.  Essentially an EP3 with the flip screen would have done it for me, but Olympus didn’t see fit to do that.  But the ergonomics of the EPL3 are fine, just not AS nice as the EP3, which fit my hand like a glove.

Thank you, Ray, for your assessment and for the wonderful images.  We’ll be interested to hear about your future experiences with the EPL3.

Note: We hope you’ll consider purchasing your equipment at B&H Photo, our favorite on-line destination for all photographic gear and accessories.  B&H sponsors 2 Guys Photo and your clicking through on our links won’t cost you a penny more, but it will provide a small financial benefit to us… a benefit that will allow us to add features and keep bringing fresh content.

The Olympus EP3 can be found here.

The EPL3 is here and the EPM1 is here.

Thanks!

Posted by Rey

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29 Responses to Which PEN for your pocket? EP3 vs. EPL3 vs. EPM1…

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  2. Pingback: EP3 vs. EPL3 - customization differences? - Page 2 - Micro Four Thirds User Forum

  3. vivien says:

    Initially was planning to get the panasonic lumix dmc gf2 but i saw these series. Do one of these series have the pop up flash and the touchscreen together?

  4. Rey says:

    Vivien – Glad you found us here at 2 Guys Photo. Welcome.

    The EP3 (i.e., the flagship) DOES contain a pop up flash and the touch screen, so that would be your choice. At this point in time, only the EP3 has a touch screen.

    The GF2 is a fine camera… and a bit less expensive. I’m more a fan of the Oly, but you won’t go wrong with the Panasonic. Best to handle both if you can as they do feel quite different in the hand and the Oly gives you some more external controls if that’s important to you. Also, I found the Panasonic implementation of the touch screen to be a bit clunky and imprecise. On the Olympus, it’s accurate and well implemented, though it does less. Panasonic allows you to modify menu items and camera settings via the touch interface. Not supremely useful in my experience. The Oly focuses on touch focus and shutter activation and it works well. So, it depends on what kind of touch interface you’re looking for.

    Best of luck… and let us know what you decide!

    Thanks,

    Rey

  5. vivien says:

    Wow, thank you for those details and opinion. I’m still debating what to purchase, all these series are making it difficult for me to decide lol. I usually go with the later releases because i think it is more updated, etc but i also like vintage-looking cameras which made me opt for either the gf2 or one of these pen series. However, I think i’m most likely to purchase the EP3 :) I also read Ray’s experience with the camera and it helped a lot. Thank you for putting a great review.

  6. Rey says:

    Thanks, Vivien. Check out:

    http://www.youtube.com/user/DigitalRevCom#p/u/21/7wSXu6YsJRs

    and

    http://www.youtube.com/user/DigitalRevCom#p/u/92/0kUfgCmUeyo

    If you can get past this guy’s odd hit or miss sense of humor, you’ll find he offers a lot of information about these two cameras. And you’ll get a better sense of the look and feel of the cameras as well.

    Thanks,

    Rey

  7. Nice review. I only use these cameras with small fixed lenses and optical view finders. I find the lcd screen annoying and wish it would stay off. It is the same with all the 4/3 cameras. I know i can turn the screen off by programming the fn button but I only have to touch the controls with my clothes and on it comes. My wish is for a lcd off/on switch which stays in the same position even when the camera is swiched off and on. The Fuji x100 will do what I want but it is a slow fussy camera and the Pan/Olym are much faster for candid work. Cheers Julian Ward New Zealand

  8. Ron says:

    These monochrome photos look awesome. If you don’t mind, can you confirm if they are single-shot HDR? Would you mind sharing a bit of the workflows? Thanks in advance

    • Ray says:

      Thanks Ron,

      They’re not single shot HDR – they’re just processed in Nik’s Silver Efex Pro version 2. I’ve developed a few presets I generally use as starting points and then tweak from there. When I say “I developed” I think I pretty much started with a few of their presets and changed them to my liking and then use those as my starting point for most of my photos. I have the Nik HDR plugin as well, but have never gotten past the experimentation stage with it.

      -Ray Sachs

      • Domo Kun says:

        Hello i got one question please can you give me your tips or explain me how you do to got this picture effect?

  9. Jess Lantz says:

    I went with the EPL3 because of the tilt screen and price. I have the nex-3 which i bought a month ago but went and touched the Oly and fell in love! It is such a sweet camera to use, and i am only using a tenth of what it can do. Wish there was some tutorials to help me with using some of the settings quicker though. I am sure there will be more of this in the future. Being a camera junkie (have canon 5d, xti, t1i, nex, and an office full of film stuff) i want to carry everything but its getting to be a pain in the neck, literally….. With the oly epl3 i find that it goes everywhere i’m going and the Canon 5D been staying home more. I plan on using the nex for my large collection of slr film glass such as pentax takumar’s and other fun glass…. That is if the Oly lets it come along!

    • Rey says:

      Jess -

      Smaller mirrorless cameras can have a tendency to do that… make you want to keep the big guns at home. The sensors are coming along as are the AF engines. At some point, I think there are a lot of DSLR shooters who are going to consider trading in their cameras for something smaller and lighter…

      Best of luck with your EPL3.

      Rey

  10. Kevin says:

    I just ordered this –EPL3– camera last week and am expecting it next week. I was starting to have some buyers remorse when I saw some of the image ratings in comparison to some other cameras in it’s class. This write up gives me confidence. Love the sample shots on this review. I was wondering if you could let us know what lens you were using?

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  12. mrchefpooh says:

    Whoa, many thanks for the great reviews. Was very informative. Thumbs up!

  13. loverbean says:

    Hi There,

    Just took my EPM for a test spin today and instantly wished I had the flip screen. I like to do close up nature shots and the flip screen would have allowed me to more easily shoot under low blooms and over higher up blossoms, for example.

    Might have to exchange…

  14. John says:

    I totally disagree about getting a more featured and easier to use body, The EPM-1 defines it. Without a doubt the easiest and most feature packed camera (and I have owned many) that I have ever used. It is packed with them to the point where even a first timer wouldn’t take long to figure this sweet little camera out. Olympus again knocked it out of the park.

    • Rey says:

      John – the EPM1 is a great camera, particularly when Olympus runs instant rebates on them, which has been fairly often. You can’t get a better interchangeable lens camera for that kind of money. As far as how it stacks up to the other PENs, I’d say that’s a subjective matter. Diving into menus to change the mode vs. having a mode dial can be a big deal to some. Also, some shooters (like me) very much prefer using a mounted EVF on the PEN cameras. The EP3 allows for use of an EVF while still allowing for use of a small flash for fill purposes – that’s a deal breaker for me. Some (not me) really like the tilting screen of the EPL3. To each his/her own, right?

  15. Rory says:

    Hi there,

    I’m really liking these M4/3 cameras, never had a M4/3 cam before but thinking about the EPL3. Would you recommend it for night photography? For instance, is the image sensor large enough for great qual night shots? aperture range good enough?

    • Rey says:

      Rory – in a word… YES. I’m going to post some evidence. Thanks for your question – look for a dedicated response on Monday, 8/20.

      Thanks,

      Rey

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  17. arthur koh says:

    there is a typo of your camera. Instead of EPM1, you wrote EMP1.

    In a move that’s stirring the micro four-thirds pot, Olympus recently announced three new PEN models: the EP3, the EPL3 and the EMP1

  18. RMW says:

    Thanks for the great review. I was very excited and about to take the plunge when I realized these cameras do not have a built-in viewfinder. So it’s back to my slow Oly SP-350 point & shoot… so slow that the sun sets and the moon rises between shots… and my clunky Canon DSLR… but I’m not willing to give up that viewfinder. Is it so difficult to build in a viewfinder, I don’t get it.

  19. Rey says:

    Many have been wishing for a built-in VF for the PENS (you do know that there are add-on VF options?) for some time and once again, rumors are surfacing that Olympus may oblige. Of course, there’s anyways the excellent OMD which, though SLR styled, could be mistaken for a PEN with a VF.

    Rey

    • RMW says:

      I lost track of this post, happy to find it again… right after this I met a photographer who had one of the PENs… can’t remember which one…. he had the add-on VF and an additional battery pack on the bottom and some pretty hefty looking lenses… kind of loses the purpose of a compact camera, methinks! I am now learning to take pics with my new smartphone (last person in the universe to own one) so that will suffice for now. I always enjoy your posts!

  20. Guillermo says:

    Hi all, here every one is sharing such experience, thus it’s fastidious to read this website, and I used to go to see this webpage everyday.

  21. melanieylang says:

    What a great post! It’s probably a bit weird, commenting a few years after it was written, but I came across it while looking for something else. I’ve been using the E-PL3 since the start of this year when I got a fantastic deal on one (it was cheaper than the Olympus XZ-1 it superseded), and there’s something so *perfect* about the click of the shutter, and I couldn’t shoot without a tilting screen after using this. It’s a beautiful, understated, little camera.

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