Olympus Pen VF-3 electronic viewfinder reviewed

The new VF-3 is smaller and more affordable than the VF-2 but is it better value?

The new VF-3 electronic viewfinder mounted on a Pen Lite E-PL3.

If you are interested in an electronic viewfinder upgrade for your Olympus Pen, the new VF-3 from Olympus could be what you have been waiting for. It's smaller, better looking, better designed, and more affordable than the original VF-2. But it's not as high resolution as the VF-2, so is it good value?

The VF-3 (left) is narrower than the bulky-looking VF-2 (right).

When Olympus introduced the VF-2 electronic viewfinder with the Pen E-P2, it was welcomed as a high quality accessory for those who required an eye-level viewfinder for their Pen. With its 1.44 million dot resolution, or SVGA resolution 800x600 (480,000) pixels, there were few complaints about the viewing quality. At the time the only match for the VF-3 was the similar specification EVF used by Panasonic Lumix in most of its G-series models with integrated viewfinders. But there were some snags; the VF-2 was and remains a luxury item in terms of cost, with a guide price of £249 and some aspects of its design were not ideal. Spectacle wearers found that the lens on their glasses would flip the VF-2's tilting finder upwards unexpectedly and without a locking mechanism the VF-2 can be prone to being accidentally knocked off the hot-shoe.

From the back, the VF3 has a smaller window into the finder and it's quite recessed.

The new VF-3 addresses these issues. Its guide price is £179.99 compared to £249.99 for the VF-3, it has a secure locking feature to keep it firmly on the hot-shoe, and the clip that holds the finder in the horizontal position is much more positive, making accidental tilting upwards much less likely.

However, Olympus also decided to go for a lower resolution LCD panel in the VF-3, with VGA resolution (640x480 or 307,200 pixels), or 821,600 dots, which is a little less than two thirds the resolution of the VF-3.

Like the VF-2 the VF3 can be angled perpendicularly to serve as a right-angled finder. Neither have click-stops for intermediate positions.

With less dots to display, the viewfinder magnification has been reduced from 1.15x to 1.0x. This means the dots remain almost invisible, as with the VF-2, but the view of the overall frame is smaller. The eye-point distance is virtually the same for both the VF-2 and the VF-3, at around 18mm (17.4mm for the VF-3) and both have diopter adjustment from -3.0 to +1.0.

Note the large diopter adjustment knob and the much-welcomed hot-shoe lock release button.

So what's the VF-3 like in use? One thing you may find at first is that the VF-3 won't work with your camera. A firmware upgrade is necessary for all Pens (apart from the very original E-P1 which is not compatible with electronic viewfinders) up to and including the E-PL2, and the Olympus XZ-1 compact camera, to enable the VF-3 to work.

Compared to the VF-3 the immediate impression is a smaller and less spacious view. The lower resolution also means that the very finest details that are visible with the VF-2 can be lost with the VF-3. But apart from that the experience is quite similar. Refresh and flicker, when present, characteristics are much the same, as are colour and contrast.

The VF-3 is a much neater looking design than the older VF-3.

The VF-3 uses a side-mounted diopter adjustment wheel and the eyepiece is square rather than VF-2'd circular arrangement. The glass of the VF-3 eyepiece is much more recessed than the VF-2 and so is likely to escape finger prints more successfully.

The VF-2 was already a very good EVF and far superior to EVFs in most other cameras, so the VF-3, despite its lower resolution and magnification, still rates well. Your preference may boil down to a relative comparison between the VF-2 and the VF-3, and I would recommend trying them out side by side. The VF-2 can take a detachable EP-9 eyecup and at the time of writing I wasn't aware of an equivalent for the VF-3.

A closer side-profile view of the VF-3.

One more curve-ball for you to consider is that the VF-2 is currently being discounted heavily and it's not difficult to find deals close to the price of a VF-3. Despite the better physical design and looks of the VF-3, for the same money, I would still opt for a VF-2, but I could live with a VF-3 if required.

The new VF-3 on the left compared to the older but higher-resolution VF-2 on the right.


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Check the latest price or purchase options for the Olympus VF-3 Electronic Viewfinder via
Buy through Amazon and you will help fund this site
Each Amazon outlet can ship to most countries in the world.

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