Olympus PEN E-PL3 Optics


Kit Lens Test Results

Typical zoom range for a kit lens, with very good performance.

14mm @ f/8 42mm @ f/8

The Olympus PEN E-PL3 is available bundled with an Olympus M.ZUIKO 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R Micro Four Thirds lens. The kit lens possesses a very typical optical zoom range of 3x, and the 35mm equivalent focal range is about 28-84mm, because of the E-PL3's 2x "crop factor." Results are very good at 14mm, with strong detail and good contrast across the frame, though some chromatic aberration can be seen in the corners and edges. Results are also very good at the 42mm setting, with good sharpness and contrast, though some chromatic aberration is still visible. Overall, well above average performance here for an inexpensive kit lens. See below for comments on macro performance, geometric distortion, corner softness, etc.

An average sized minium area, with good detail. Flash exposure is dim.

Macro with 14-42mm II kit lens
42mm @ f/8
Macro with Flash
42mm @ f/8

As with zoom performance, the Olympus PEN E-PL3's macro performance will depend entirely on the lens in use. However, with the 14-42mm II kit lens set to 42mm, the Olympus E-PL3 captured a fairly average minimum area measuring 2.93 x 2.19 inches (74 x 56 millimeters). Sharpness is quite good over most of the frame, though corners are moderately soft. (Most lenses have some softening in the corners at macro distances.) Extreme corners show a very small amount of light falloff, though that's not unusual. The built-in flash throttled down too much at this close distance, resulting in a underexposed image.

Geometric Distortion
Low to moderate geometric distortion with the 14-42mm II kit lens in JPEGs, much higher in uncorrected raw files.

In-Camera JPEG: Barrel distortion at 14mm is 0.8 percent
In-Camera JPEG: Pincushion distortion at 42mm is practically nonexistent
Uncorrected RAW: Barrel distortion at 14mm is 2.6 percent
Uncorrected RAW: Barrel distortion at 42mm is is practically nonexistent

When shooting JPEGs, the Olympus PEN E-PL3's 14-42mm kit lens produced about 0.8 percent barrel distortion at wide-angle, which is about average but noticeable in some of its images. At the telephoto end, there is almost no visible distortion, only about two pixels. This is the tendency for the lens to bend straight lines outward (like a barrel -- usually at wide-angle) or inward (like a pincushion -- usually at telephoto).

To see how much correction is taking place in the camera, we converted raw files from the above shots with dcraw, which does not correct for distortion. As you can see, at wide-angle, barrel distortion is very high at about 2.6%, though pincushion distortion at telephoto is very low, almost nil. We expect to see high distortion at wide-angle from smaller interchangeable lenses though, so it's nothing to be concerned about unless you are using a raw converter which does not understand the embedded "opcodes" to perform distortion corrections automatically. Most raw converters these days are capable of applying distortion correction automatically, as specified by the manufacturer. (There is however going to be some loss of resolution as a result of such correction, because pixels in the corners of the frame are being "stretched" to correct for the distortion. Obviously, a lens that doesn't require such correction, and is also sharp in the corners to begin with would be preferable, but relaxing constraints on barrel and pincushion distortion likely brings other benefits in the lens design, such as cost, size and weight.)

Chromatic Aberration and Corner Sharpness
Moderate chromatic aberration at wide-angle and telephoto with the 14-42mm II kit lens. Some mild corner softening wide open.

Aperture: maximum
14mm @ f/3.5: Lower left
C.A.: Moderate
Softness: Slightly soft
14mm @ f/3.5: Center
C.A.: Very low
Softness: Sharp
42mm @ f/5.6: Lower left
C.A.: Moderate
Softness: Slightly soft
42mm @ f/5.6: Center
C.A.: Very low
Softness: A hint soft

Chromatic Aberration. Chromatic aberration in the corners with the E-PL3's 14-42mm II kit lens is moderate and slightly noticeable at both wide-angle (14mm) and telephoto (42mm) when wide-open.  In both cases, the color fringing gradually reduces in brightness and width as it approaches the center of the image, where it is practically nonexistent.

The Olympus E-PL3 does not appear to be reducing C.A. in its JPEGs, as uncorrected raw files have similar amounts.

Corner Softness. The Olympus E-PL3's 14-42mm kit lens produces only slightly soft corners at full wide angle, and the center is very sharp. Corners are also only slightly soft at full telephoto, though the center is not quite as sharp as wide-angle. There's also some mild vignetting (corner shading), as indicated by the darker corner crops compared to the center.

Very good performance for a kit lens here, especially considering the lens was wide-open for these shots. (Corner sharpness generally improves when a lens is "stopped-down" a couple of f-stops below full aperture. See below.)

Aperture: f/8
14mm @ f/8: Lower left
C.A.: Moderate
Softness: Fairly sharp
14mm @ f/8: Center
C.A.: Low
Softness: Sharp
42mm @ f/8: Lower left
C.A.: Moderate
Softness: Fairly sharp
42mm @ f/8: Center
C.A.: Very low
Softness: Sharp

Chromatic Aberration. With the aperture stopped down to f/8, chromatic aberration in the corners is still moderate.

Corner Softness. Corner sharpness improves at both wide-angle and telephoto when stopped-down to f/8, and sharpness improves in the center at full telephoto as well. Vignetting also improves to the point of being negligible. Again, very good performance for a kit lens.

Shading Compensation
The Olympus E-PL3 features optional Shading Compensation to reduce vignetting in JPEG images.

Shading Compensation:
(14mm @ f/3.5)
Off On

Mouse over the links above to compare thumbnails, and click on the links to load the full resolution images.

As you can see, the Olympus E-PL3's Shading Compensation reduces corner shading with the 14-42mm kit lens, so it's a useful feature at wide-angle when shooting wide-open. There's little corner shading to correct at telephoto.

Shading Compensation is off by default, not available when shooting video or when burst rate is set to SH, and is not available with all lenses. It may also produce more visible noise in the periphery at higher ISOs.


Olympus PEN E-PL3 Viewfinder


Viewfinder Test Results

Very good accuracy from the LCD monitor.

50mm, LCD

The Olympus PEN E-PL3's LCD monitor proved very accurate in record mode, showing just slightly over 100% coverage with our Olympus Zuiko Digital 50mm f/2.0 low distortion prime. Very good results here. Since the electronic viewfinder is optional, we didn't test its accuracy with the E-PL3, but we expect similar accuracy.


The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Olympus PEN E-PL3 Photo Gallery .

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