Budget Camera Review — $155 Olympus E-P3 and 17mm f/1.8

$155? Yup. How? Craigslist of course! I’m always on the hunt for a good deal with regards to photography gear. Once or twice a year, I get a good deal, play with the equipment, and then sell it. Sometimes I make money, sometimes I lose, sometimes I get taken. There have been a few deals that sounded too good to be true and I walked away from them — my suspicion is that the items were stolen / hot and I refuse to be a party to that.

This particular deal is one where I made out OK. The terms of the sale were the Olympus E-P3 (plus extra battery), silver 17mm f/1.8, 14–42mm lens, and a Panasonic 45–200mm lens all for $300. The guy that sold it to me said that this was his wife’s camera and she never really used it. I believe it since it looks and feels to be in new condition. Sounds like a killer deal, but caveat emptor, I should have examined things a little more closely.

The Panasonic 45–200mm had a chip in the front element, the front of the lens (not the glass) but the actual front had damage to it (I didn’t notice this until yesterday), and there was an imperfection behind the front element. None of this was disclosed to me, and I really didn’t look at the lens other than superficially when I bought it from the seller. I noticed the imperfections upon closer inspection once home. Still, it focused ok, and had some value. I sold it yesterday on Offer Up (with pictures and full disclosure) for $145. Hence bringing the rest of the package down to $155.

The E-P3 looks and works flawlessly. There is nothing wrong with it at all!

There is something wrong with the 17mm f/1.8 though. The older Olympus 17mm f/1.8 lenses have a known issue — that is the motor will start making a terrible clicking noise that is most noticeable during video shooting. I first discovered this years ago when I had a similar issue with a previous 17mm I owned. It took much time, but Olympus finally replaced that lens. However, since this one was bought used and out of warranty, I’m stuck. Here’s a sample of how that previous lens sounded (this new/used one exhibits the same behavior).

Even though the lens cannot be used for video in autofocus, it can be used in manual focus just fine. Also, for stills, it doesn’t seem to matter. In fact, this silver 17mm I picked up with this deal happens to be SHARP! It might even be the sharpest copy of this lens that I’ve ever used (I’ve owned and used a few of them). However, I’m upset that I didn’t realize this before the purchase. I knew about the possibility of this issue, and should have asked the seller about it, and tested the lens more thoroughly. I’m sure the seller knew about the issue. Luckily, it still works just fine for photos.

The package also came with the 14–42mm kit lens, and it’s just fine, nothing to report there.

So, just how good are the photos you from a six year old camera and a semi-busted lens? Quite good! All of these photos below were shot with the 17mm lens. I used the RAW files and processed them using Alien Skin’s Exposure and then ran them through Ahtentech’s Perfectly Clear. I’m actually quite impressed with the results!

Of course, no review is complete without photos from a ramen restaurant.

Now let’s talk about the pros and cons of this budget combo:


  1. Cheap.
  2. Good quality images.
  3. Small and compact setup.
  4. Tap to focus and shoot autofocus.
  5. Face detection.
  6. Ability to shoot in low light.
  7. The out of camera JPEGs are quite nice.
  8. RAW support.
  9. Relatively quick AF even by today’s standards.
  10. Battery life even for this used one is quite nice. I took about 250 shots yesterday on one charge.
  11. Good looking setup.
  12. Built in flash.


  1. No EVF, although you can buy an external one.
  2. Video itself actually sucks and wobbles.
  3. Video autofocus noise as mentioned previously.
  4. 12 megapixels is much lower than most modern cameras.
  5. Dynamic range isn’t the best, but not the worst either.
  6. High ISO noise — up to 3200 is useable though.
  7. Low resale value.
  8. The controls and GUI are outdated, but work one you figure them out.

Bottom line, if you’re looking for a budget camera, then this is a great option! I plan on playing with it for a little bit, maybe I’ll let my kids use it, and then I’ll sell it for the next good deal.

Thoughts, opinions, comments, please post below!

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