I managed to get my hands on an E-P3 to do some comparison shots between that and my old trusty E-P2, which has been one of my favourite cameras for a long time.  I never bothered upgrading to the E-P3 because from what I read in online reviews, the image quality wasn’t significantly improved and the only real difference was the touchscreen and the faster focusing.  I had decided that for the cost of upgrading, it just wasn’t worth it.

As we’ll see from the samples I’ve been taking side by side with the E-P2, the E-P3 is a significant upgrade to the E-P2.  Studio review shots may have them not far apart, but in real-world use there is just no comparison between the two.

For the M43 system I only have the 12 and 45mm primes, which suit me well, although I am considering getting hold of a 20mm or 25mm Panny lens when I can.  The tests below are done using both these lenses out in the wild.  I know studio tests would be done with exactly the same settings in both cameras, but that is not how we actually use cameras day-to-day, so to get a better idea of how they perform when out and about I shot with the two cameras as I do everyday.  I use aperture priority mode for 99% of my shooting and leave the rest of the settings up to the camera. When shooting JPEGs I tend to prefer the Oly ‘Vivid’ setting, so both cameras are set to that.  Other than that, they are left to themselves to choose the ISO and shutter speeds.

I will be doing a side-by-side comparison of both models in a more formal review page later so I’m not really going to get into the details here other than to show you sample images from both cameras. If you’re anything like me, that’s what counts at the end of the day.  I will say however that the screen on the E-P3 far outclasses the E-P2, and the auto-focusing is in a different league – I hadn’t realised it was that much better!

Below are a variety of shots from both cameras taken at the same time (or as close as you can get whilst swapping out lenses!).

I’ve imported the JPEG images into Lightroom straight from the camera with no adjustments, and blown each shot up to show the differences.  I took several shots in each situation and chose the best one from each camera.  Click on the images for full-sized versions.  I’m not a big fan of showing 100% crops as that is not how we actually look at photos, but I think in this instance it warrants showing them off to display just how different the cameras are.

Early morning, high ISO comparison with the 45mm prime.

Olympus PEN Compared E-P2 E-P3

Olympus PEN Compared E-P2 E-P3

Olympus PEN Compared E-P2 E-P3

Interesting to note that the E-P2 tends to favour a lower ISO where the E-P3 pushes it to ISO 1600, despite the higher ISO, the E-P3 manages to outperform the E-P2 every time.  IS was turned on for both cameras and shutter speeds in all cases were more than adequate to allow steady hand held images so hand shake blur isn’t likely to be an issue here, but even if that does count for some of the fuzziness in the E-P2’s images, that is how the camera is used and performs in real life situations and that is the difference you will get out of them.

The bark shot for me is the most significant, that crop was taken from the centre of the image.  Looking at the entire photo on screen it is hard to say that the E-P2 has produced a bad image because it looks fine until you zoom in, only then is the difference so pronounced.  I suspect with a little sharpening applied within Lightroom we could get the E-P2 quite close to the E-P3, but a better image to start with is always going to look nicer when printed up.

Daytime comparison with the 12mm prime.

Olympus PEN Compared E-P2 E-P3

This shot is just to show you the entire image, click on it to bring up a larger version.  It is hard to pick between the two when presented like this – the E-P2 is on the left.  Blow blown up, we can start to see the differences.

Olympus PEN Compared E-P2 E-P3

The differences between the two cameras are not as pronounced in a shot like this, but we can see that the E-P3 is slightly shaper across the frame.

In a harsher environment such as the one below, shot straight into the sun with the light streaming through the trees, we can see that the E-P3 really shines in comparison to the older E-P2.

Olympus PEN Compared E-P2 E-P3

Just see on this crop how the E-P3 has handled this difficult shot much better and produced a much cleaner image with far more detail.

Olympus PEN Compared E-P2 E-P3

Towards the edge of the image we can see that the E-P3’s processing engine deals with CA better than the E-P2.  The E-P2 doesn’t fair badly by any means when you step back and view the entire image, but it is outdone by its younger sibling.

As I said at the start, these images are shot as I (and I suspect many people) shoot with their cameras when out and about.  Perhaps the E-P2 could have got closer to the E-P3 had I used exactly the same settings on both cameras, a tripod, and a controlled environment, but that is not how they are used every day by real people.  I can quite confidently say that the E-P3 is a significant upgrade from the E-P2, despite what I read online and looked at in the studio comparison shots – in fact on dpreview website (which I admire!) to my eyes the E-P2 appears to even out-perform the E-P3 in terms of sharpness on their comparison tool, but on the streets that is most certainly not the case!

Was I ever wrong to dismiss the E-P3 as a cosmetic upgrade to the E-P2!  I will be doing a proper side-by-side review on these two cameras soon, but suffice to say the differences don’t end at better image quality, the whole PEN camera system suddenly feels so much more useable, and that’s coming from a big E-P2 fan!

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About The Author

Matthew Maddock is a commercial photographer based in the Lake District, UK. Specialising in the hospitality and outdoor sports industry. He is a Fujifilm X-Photographer and Getty Images contributor. His portfolio can be viewed at memaddock.co.uk

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