Olympus PEN Lite / E-PL3 Review
With its adoption of a 16:9 screen on the E-PL3, Olympus has taken the opportunity to redesign the camera's display menus. The actual operating behavior hasn't changed much - E-PL2 owners will still be completely at home - but the E-PL3's interface has a decidedly sleeker, more modern look. The Custom D menu lets you choose exactly which of the many screens on offer you want to use.
Record mode displays
As usual Olympus allows you the option of seeing lots of information on the screen while you're in the process of shooting. Sadly, though, the PEN Lite still forces you to cycle through multiple screens using the Info button, and you simply can't combine options even when it makes perfect sense to have them shown at the same time (for example the highlight/shadow warning with the histogram). This type of behavior dates back to Olympus's early live view DSLRs, and is now looking distinctly dated in the face of increasingly-slick interfaces from the likes of Panasonic. Luckily the various screens can all be enabled or disabled via the Custom menu, so you only have to cycle through the ones you actually use.
|From the simplest live view option which shows the image only...||...pressing the info button presents useful shooting details.|
|In addition, you have the option of displaying grid lines over the image preview to aid with composition and alignment.||You can view a luminance histogram; the white version represents the whole image, with the area under the active AF point shown in green.|
|There's also a shadow/highlight exposure warning screen. Blown highlights are shown in red, blocked shadows in blue. You can even customize the levels the camera will use as the cutoff (0-10 for shadows, 245-255 for highlights).||A 'Multi View' screen allows live on-screen comparison between a range of exposure (shown above) or white balance variants, so you can pick the one you like best.|
|Pressing the 'Magnify' button enters a new display mode for zooming-in to a selected region of the image. You can move the highlighted area freely around the screen with the arrow keys...||...then press Magnify again to zoom in. The rear dial is used to change the magnification, allowing you to check critical focus. You can autofocus on the selected area in this mode too.|
Live Control and Super Control Panel
In terms of its on-screen operation and controls, the E-PL3 works in almost exactly the same way as the E-PL2, with not just one, but two methods of providing quick access to commonly-used functions that don't have their own direct-access buttons. A 'Live Control' menu is on hand for rapid access to key shooting settings via a compact-camera-like interface.
The Live Control screen is activated by pressing the 'OK' button at the center of the camera's 4-way controller. Also available is the 'Super Control Panel' (SCP) which was first introduced in Olympus' E-series DSLRs. The Super Control Panel gives you a slightly expanded selection of camera settings in a single screen, overlaid semi-transparently onto the live view display. You navigate through the parameters using the 4-way controller, and can change their settings using the rear dial. Whether you prefer Live Control or the SCP is ultimately a matter of taste, as both provide an excellent interface for changing those less-accessible options. Live Control is active by default. Confoundingly, the custom option which enables the SCP is bizarrely well hidden.
To enable the SCP, you must enter the main menu and scroll down to the custom settings line, then across to the 'D' section, which deals with display/live view functions, and then across again to 'Control Settings', then across to whichever exposure mode you want to allow the Super Control Panel to be visible in (you can't select 'all'), then across again, and down to the teasingly abbreviated 'SCP', and then - finally - across again and you'll see an option to turn it 'on'.
|By default, changing 'top level' shooting controls in PASM shooting modes is achieved using the 'Live Control' screen. Just press 'OK' to display the screen then navigate using the 4-way controller.||The Super Control Panel offers a DSLR-like at-a-glance status screen. Once enabled, pressing the INFO button cycles between this and any other options you've activated in the custom menu.|
Independent Shadow /Highlight Tone Control
As with its predecessor, the E-PL2, the PEN Lite offers the ability to tweak independently the shadow and highlight tone curves used by the camera's JPEG processing, with the result previewed live on screen. It's still a remarkably well-hidden feature, but one we could see being useful for dedicated JPEG shooters. Shadow and highlight adjustments can be freely combined, which can result in some odd combinations if you're not careful.
|To access the tone curve adjustment controls, you first have to press the Exposure Compensation button and then press 'Info' to bring up this tiny tone curve adjustment icon. Initially the control changes shadow tone.||You can change the tone curve to either open or deepen the shadows, with a wide range of adjustment from +7 to 7. Your chosen adjustment value is displayed below the icon.|
|Press 'Info' a second time to access the highlight tone control. Its adjustment value sits above the tone curve icon.||You can change the tone curve to either brighten or darken the highlights, with a range of adjustment from +7 to 7. Your chosen adjustment value is displayed above the icon.|
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