With the arrival of the PEN E-PL3, Olympus moves further away from trying to ape the styling of its 1960s and 70s film cameras. Instead it has adopted the understated design of its XZ-1 and the result is quite attractive. More significantly, the overall design appears much more coherent than that of the E-PL1, which appeared to have had the front and rear panels of two different cameras glued together. With sleeker, more rounded edges, a thinner top plate and a less dense button layout, the latest PEN Lite shares a decidedly more compact-camera aesthetic than its predecessor, the E-PL2.
The most obvious physical change from the E-PL2 is the lack of a hand grip on the E-PL3. The rear LCD screen has also undergone a makeover and is now in a 16:9 format. This new screen shape fits rather nicely with the E-PL3's sleek, streamlined design and provides full screen coverage when recording and playing back HD video. The sacrifice, however, comes when previewing or viewing still images in the camera's native 4:3 aspect ratio.
In a nod to the first-generation E-PL1, the PEN Lite's Fn and Magnify buttons have been placed along the upper portion of the rear camera plate, where they sit with the Record, Playback and Delete buttons. Despite its smaller size, the E-PL3 manages to retain all of the direct controls seen on previous E-PLx models.
Clip-on flash unit
Part of the PEN Lite's size reduction comes from the loss of the E-PL2's built-in flash. Instead, a clip-on unit is included with the E-PL3. It's a compact accessory that occupies both the hot shoe and the accessory port (from which it draws its power).
Like the bigger E-P3, the PEN Lite gains an AF illumination lamp. This can be disabled if you're trying to be unobtrusive in your shooting but can really help with low-light focusing.
The PEN Lite retains the AP2-spec accessory port, that allows use of add-ons such as the PENPal WiFi image sharing unit.
It also means you can use the excellent VF-2 electronic viewfinder, which can be handy when working in bright light or when shooting video, where the 'eye to the viewfinder' stance provides additional stability.
The E-PL3 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-PL3 is compatible with both the newer BLS-5 battery and BLS-1 model seen in several previous PENs and E-system cameras. The camera can ship with either type depending on region. CIPA standard testing suggests a lifespan of around 300 shots per charge.
The memory card slot as usual is beside the battery, and accepts SD, SDHC and SDXC types.