There's no doubt that the E-P3 is, like its forebears, a very pretty camera indeed. Olympus has managed to add the built-in flash unit without breaking the clean, elegant lines of the front plate, and has tidied-up the design of the EVF port and hot shoe as well. The slightly cheap-feeling recessed plastic mode dial has been replaced by a neatly-milled metal version beside the shutter release, and the metal body shell reinforces the overall impression of quality. Overall the result is arguably the best-looking PEN yet.
But while the E-P3 is very much a continuation of the E-Px line in terms of design and styling, if you look a bit more closely you'll see that the control layout is now much more closely related to the E-PL range. Indeed aside from the excellent vertical thumb dial and the Fn2 button on the top-plate, the E-P3's button and dial functions are identical to its cheaper stablemates. In many respects this is very welcome - most notably the adoption of dedicated movie and 'magnify' buttons - but in others less so (the direct ISO and white balance buttons have disappeared).
A special mention has to be given to the new OLED screen, which at 614,000 dots is leaps and bounds beyond any previous PEN. It's bright, sharp and colourful with anti-reflective and -fingerprint coatings, which seem pretty effective. Olympus has also re-drawn much of camera's displays and screens to take advantage of the extra resolution, including a rather pretty menu interface. Given that the previous PENs' GUI could (conceivably) be traced back to Neolithic times, this couldn't be more welcome. But most importantly, from our initial experience it's much more usable in bright light, even with strong summer sun shining directly onto it.
The built-in flash pops up out of the top plate, released by a push-button on the back of the camera. Like all such units it has sufficient power for a blip of fill in daylight.
The flash doesn't share the E-PL1/2's (unofficial) ability to be pulled back and bounced off the ceiling, but it can be used to control external units wirelessly.
One very welcome addition is the bright orange AF illuminator - previous PENs have been somewhat notorious for struggling to focus in low light. It can be disabled if desired, of course.
The E-P3 gains a couple of new buttons on its back - a red direct movie recording button, and a 'magnify' button (especially useful when working with manual focus lenses).
The other buttons have also been re-purposed, although as on the E-P1/2, Fn1 can be assigned to autoexposure lock. Both it and the record button can be customized from a wide range of options.
The E-P3's accessory port is now much more cleanly-integrated into the body's lines than the E-P2's somewhat tacked-on version. It's also upgraded to 'AP2' standard, meaning it can be used with a wider range of attachments, including the PENPal Bluetooth image sharing unit.
The main use for the accessory port is still likely to be the excellent VF-2 electronic viewfinder. It's a relatively bulky device, but it can be a godsend in bright light.
The quality of the live view feed to the VF2 has been visibly improved compared to older PENs such as the E-PL2, with higher resolution and fewer artefacts (e.g. moire).
The E-P3 uses the same connectors as the other PENs; a multi-purpose USB/AV out/remote control socket, plus a mini-HDMI connector for connecting to your TV.
The E-P3 is CEC-compatible, so basic playback functions can be controlled using the remote controls of many recent TVs over the HDMI connection.
The E-P3 is powered by BLS-5 battery as used in all the recent PEN models, but is also fully compatible with the older BLS-1 type as used by the E-P1/2.
The memory card slot is beside the battery as usual, and accepts SD, SDHC and SDXC types.