7 reasons I won’t be buying an EP-3

I tried out the Olympus EP3 specifically out as a street photography camera. The streets are a natural home for the EP3 because it’s smaller, lighter and less try-hard than a DSLR. But it’s not perfect. In fact it’s far from perfect…

Olympus EP3 Review

For a premium camera there is a lot missing from the EP3.

Shooting blanks: On my second day out with the EP-3 I was swapping memory cards and didn’t put a card back in the EP-3. It shot away happily for the whole morning, with no indication that there was no memory card inserted. This seems minor, but wait until it happens to you. Especially for street shooting, you need a camera that works with you not against you.

Image quality: The high ISO performance is only marginally better than the other micro four thirds cameras. If you’re contemplating your first M43 camera then this would be a good contender, but as an upgrade its disappointing. The image quality is good but, tests have found that the sensor is pretty much the same as the other cheaper Olympus PEN cameras. Even so, it does take great street photos, just not any better than its competitors.

Street Photography Camera Review

The EP3 blows out a little like every other M43 but it’s still great.

Focus: Obviously the focus speed is good. It’s one of the fastest autofocus in the M43 family. But it doesn’t play that nicely with the Panasonic Primes like the 20mm or 14mm. Occasionally failing entirely to find focus. Just hunting away backwards and forwards. Even with Olympus lenses, the autofocus had a tendency to focus on the wrong things. For example often preferring to focus on the background than the subject. Seemingly regardless of what focus mode it was in.

Build quality: It’s bigger and heaver than the other Micro43 range-finder style cameras like the GF1,2,3 or the GX1 and Olympus EPM1 or EPL3. This extra size doesn’t bring any real improvement in controls, weather proofing, or image quality. The build quality jump from cheaper cameras like the GF2, or EPL2 simply isn’t worth it. The build quality is solid. The metal body is great, but the buttons are cheap and the shutter feels tacky.

E-P3 Street Photo Sample

The EP3 is heavier than most, but it

Menu settings:The ISO maximum setting forgets itself each time you change modes. This would be fine on some cameras, but the EP-3 has a worrying tendency to bump the ISO more aggressively than aperture or shutter speed to balance for a shot. As a result, you can find yourself shooting at an almost unusable ISO 1600 without knowing it. It’s also fiddly to change amongst the art modes. You often have to reset back to manual and then back into art filters just to choose a different filter setting. Which is a pity because the straight-out-of-the-camera high contrast B&W art filter is actually pretty nice.

High Contrast Black and White Filter

once you get them dialled in, the art filters do give some excellent results.

Buttons: Click button on the back wheel is unpredictable and makes the second wheel less useful. I’m sure with some customisation you could settle on control settings that you like but the EP-3 is not as natural a full manual camera as I was expecting. The Canon G 12 with it’s multiple wheels manages to squeeze DSLR controls into a small space so the EP-3 dials feel mean and lazy.

EP3 Buttons

The EP3 controls aren

Battery: The battery compartment accepts the battery just as easily the wrong way around as the right way. Again it’s a small thing but this is a premium product. You deserve better.

Overall, this is a top shelf camera. If money is no object then you’ll get great street photos out of the EP-3. But if you’re shooting a GF series Panasonic or a ‘lessor’ Olympus then don’t take any shit from EP-3 fanboys. Because it’s not all that. I won’t be getting one.

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8 thoughts on “7 reasons I won’t be buying an EP-3

  1. Interesting. My E-P3 seems to be a different one from yours. For example, when I leave the memory card out, it flashes “no card” at the top of the screen. Touch screen focusing has nailed the focus for me nearly every time. There’s an option to limit the auto ISO, or disable it entirely. I’ve never lost settings that make sense when switching modes (for example, going to iAuto does what it says and pushes everything to auto). You don’t need to switch out of Art mode to change filters, just hit the “ok” button. One press gives you the menu. Better yet, turn on art filter bracketing and you never have to enter art mode again.

    There are some reasonable gripes about the controls and dated sensor, but my sense is that you really haven’t taken the time to really learn what this camera is capable of.

    • Thanks Jake. It was the sensor and controls that killed it for me. But I’m glad that given enough time, people can make the EP3 work for them. There’s no doubt that it’s a great camera. It’s just not nearly as good as it should be.

      • Agree about the sensor. I may trade in the E-M5 if they come out with a E-P4. But I do like the E-M5 viewfinder, just may get used to that.

  2. What about the EP3 versus GX1? Even with your quibbles, the EP3 is obviously a great camera, as is the GX1. Which one should I get?

    • Which one to get depends on your needs. There are lots of online debates about the merits of image quality out of these two cameras. So far, it seems that high ISO goes to GX1 and white balance goes to EP3. They both have impressively fast autofocus. As a street photographer I’d ask which will take better photos for you. The answer will come down to your personal ergonomics. Try out the controls on both and compare them. Also try out the weight and balance of each one.

      The IBIS doesn’t make as much of a difference to street photography as you’d expect.

      For me, the GX1 is lighter and easier to manoeuvre. But you must test drive it to decide for yourself. You can’t go wrong with either.

      • Funny, I find IBIS indispensable and shy from otherwise wonderful Panasonics because they lack it. On the E-M5 it’s amazing. Stabilized pancake lenses, simply wonderful!

  3. Really enjoy Your site. Beeing new to SP/PJ, though no newbe (20yrs travel/landscape), I am most interested in a Leica alternative, a “decisive moment camera”. I love Leicas for their instant reaction and simplicity, but hate them for their way to periliously set back my account. As I understand it, overall image quality in street photography is a secondary issue, but missing the action through shutter lag or “in-camera discussion” sucks. Galen Rowell once said, that even his highly sophisticated Nikon F5 knew more ways not to make a photograph than he could remember creating them. This became definitely worse in digital. Have You ever tried a digital camera as responsive as a Leica M ?

    Kind regards,

    Buddy

    • Good question. For me the GF and GX series are Lieca Fast. The EP3 is also pretty damn fast. In fact, all the micro 43 cameras are fast. The new EM5 is apparently world class.

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