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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.