Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III Review

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III
Review

Price when reviewed

£1599.99

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Our Verdict

In some respects the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III makes a fairly modest step-up from the OM-D E-M1 Mark II, however, it feels more refined and has some great features that make shooting in tricky conditions a little easier. It also enables photographers to travel lighter, not just by being relatively small and light itself, but by allowing tripods and ND filters to be left behind in many situations. Olympus also offers an extensive array of superb lenses and the 2x focal length magnification factor is especially useful for sport and wildlife photographers. While existing OM-D E-M1 Mark II may not want to upgrade, the OM-D E-M1 Mark III makes a very attractive option for enthusiast photographers looking to switch to a mirrorless camera.

For

  • Compact size with vari-angle screen
  • Great feature set
  • Excellent lens range

Against

  • Sub-APS-C size sensor
What is the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III?

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III is a Micro Four Thirds camera, featuring the same Four Thirds type 20.4Mp sensor as its predecessor, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II. It shares joint flagship status with the double-gripped OM-D E-M1X.

While the Olympus OM-D E-M1 III and E-M1X have the same sensor, the E-M1 III has a new TruPic IX processing engine – the E-M1X has two TruPic VIII processing engines. This enables features such as Live ND mode and OM-Log400 for video, that were not seen in the OM-D E-M1 Mark II but are in the E-M1X. There’s also a 50Mp handheld High Res Shot mode.

As it’s a Micro Four Thirds camera the Olympus OM-D E-M1 III has a 2x focal length magnification factor. That means that a 300mm lens captures images with similar framing to a 600mm on a full-frame camera.

Specification

  • Camera type: Mirrorless
  • Lens mount: Micro Four Thirds
  • Sensor: Four Thirds type 20.4 MP Live MOS sensor
  • Announced: 12th February 2020
  • Processing engine: TruePic IX
  • Autofocus system: Hybrid with 121-point all cross-type focus points
  • Max continuous shooting rate: 18fps AF/AE mechanical shutter (C-AF), 60fps in electronic shutter (S-AF)
  • Max video resolution: C4K (4096 x 2160) at 30/25p
  • Viewfinder: 2,360,000-dot electronic viewfinder
  • Sensitivity range: ISO 64-25,600
  • Screen: Vari‑angle 3-inch 1,037,000-dot touchscreen
  • Storage: 2x SD/SDHC/SDXC (1 UHS-I and 1 UHS-II)
  • Dimensions (LxHxW): 134.1 x 90.9 x 68.9mm
  • Weight: 504g body only, 580g with battery and SD card
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III Price and Release Date

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III price tag at launch is £1,599 for the body only. The E-M1 Mark III price rises to £2,199.99 for a kit that includes the M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40 F2.8 PRO lens.

An OM-D E-M1 Mark III kit with the with the M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-100 F4.0 IS PRO lens is priced at £2,499.99.

The camera went on sale in late February 2020.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III review
Features

Olympus is billing the OM-D E-M1 III as a mini E-M1X, which makes sense. It has all the technology of the E-M1 II plus many of the features of the E-M1X. Unlike the E-M1X, however, the OM-D E-M1 III has a standard single-grip design to make it smaller and lighter.

Some of the new features in the E-M1 III come as a result of the uprated processing engine. Live ND mode, for example, uses similar technology to Live Composite mode, but it enables you to preview the impact of a long exposure. That demands a lot of processing power, but it’s a useful feature for landscape and creative photography.

It could mean that you don’t need to carry ND filters with you as the exposure can be extended by up to 32x using the camera’s inbuilt system. However, the smallest aperture available in Live ND mode is f/8 and that really limits the length of exposure you can get.

Unfortunately, Live ND mode is also a stills-only feature and cannot (yet) be used when shooting video.

Olympus has given the OM-D E-M1 III’s sensor a new coating, which was introduced with the E-M1X. This reduces the likelihood of dust sticking, making the advanced SSWF (Super Sonic Wave Filter) technology, which vibrates the filter over the image sensor filter 30,000 times per second, even better at keeping the sensor clean.

Read our Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II review

In-Body Image Stabilisation (IBIS)

Olympus’s image stabilisation (IS) is excellent and it’s been upgraded for the E-M1 Mark III to enable up to 7.5Ev of shutter speed compensation across 5 axis with a stabilised lens. Even without a stabilised lens it’s said to enable up to 7Ev compensation. This has been achieved by using the same gyro as is in the E-M1X.

It’s the sensor-shifting power of the in-body image stabilisation system (IBIS) that enables the OM-D E-M1 III’s High Res Shot mode. The good news here is that in addition to the 80Mp Tripod High Res Shot mode, there’s also a 50Mp HandHeld version.

An option in the menu allows you to select Handheld or Tripod mode. Then all you need to do is set the camera to High Res Shot via the drive settings. One press of the shutter release triggers the camera to shoot a series of images each with the sensor in a slightly different location. The images are then composited in-camera to create one larger picture (raw and/or Jpeg) with more detail.

Read how to use Olympus High Res Shot Mode

Autofocus

Like the OM-D E-M1X and E-M1 Mark II, the E-M1 Mark III has a hybrid autofocus (AF) system with 121 cross-type phase detection points.

The focus points cover 75% of the vertical space of the sensor and 80% of the horizontal area.

These points can be selected individually or in groups of 5, 9, 25 or 121, with a group of 9 points being the best choice with moving subjects. In addition, there’s a Custom AF mode that allows you to change the shape of the AF area to suit your subject or it’s location/movement within the frame.

Face Priority / Eye Priority AF is also on hand to detect and focuses on faces and eyes in the scene automatically. Thanks to the new TruPic IX processing engine and improved AF algorithms, the E-M1 III is better at detecting small (distant) faces and eyes than its predecessor.

It’s also said to maintain focus more consistently than its predecessor when a face is harder to detect, such as when it’s side-on to the camera. In addition, the detection system can be turned on or off with a press of a button and a tap on the screen or a button press allows a specific face to be used as the focus point in still images or video.

Olympus has introduced a new algorithm to aid focusing on stars at night. The new Starry Sky AF option has two modes, Speed Priority mode (the default setting) and Accuracy Priority. The first prioritises the speed of focusing while the second is designed for use when photographing specific stars with a telephoto lens.

Subject Detection

Oddly, Olympus hasn’t given the E-M1 III the Subject Detection modes that were introduced with the E-M1X. These proved useful when shooting specific subjects (Motorsports, Airplanes and Trains). It’s possible that this feature will be added with a firmware update, but I’ve also been holding out for people and wildlife to be added to the list of detectable subjects on the E-M1X and over a year later, we’re still waiting.

Continuous Shooting

In Pro Capture High mode the OM-D E-M1 Mark III can shoot at up to 60fps (frames per second), however the focus and exposure are set at the beginning of the sequence. If you need to focus continually, the maximum shooting rate is 18fps.

Pro Capture mode makes the E-M1 III start shooting as soon as the shutter release is pressed halfway. It begins to write images to the memory card as soon as the button is pressed fully-home. The camera can be set to record up to 35 images before the shutter button is fully-pressed and up to 120 afterwards. Full-resolution raw and Jpeg images are recorded with no blackout.

It’s good to see that Focus Stacking and Focus Bracketing modes are available and, according to Olympus, they’re now quicker and more accurate. In a further bid to put tripod manufacturers out of business, it’s possible to shoot a focus-stacked image hand-held.

Video

There’s some good news on the video front, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 III can shoot C4K video at 25/30p in OM-Log400 mode. OM-Log400 was introduced with the E-M1X and it sets the camera to record very low contrast footage to capture greater shadow and highlight detail. It gives more flexibility manipulate the contrast and colour post-capture.

Helpfully, there’s also a View Assist function that previews the footage in Full HD standard BT.709 equivalent to make it easier to assess what is being captured in OM-Log400 mode.

It’s also possible to record Full HD video at a range of frame rates, topping out at 120fps, which is great for slow motion playback.

In addition, there’s a video-specific stabilisation mode that uses electronic stabilisation combined with in-body 5-axis stabilisation.

Further good news is that the E-M1 Mark III includes a feature that was surprisingly absent from the Mark II, the ability for the sensitivity (ISO) to be set automatically when shooting video. There’s also a port to connect an HDMI monitor and a mic port for better audio quality.

USB-Charging

As well as being able to charge the BLH-1 lithium-ion battery in-camera in around 2 hours, the E-M1 III’s USB port can be used to connect a power bank to power it during use. That’s very useful for astrophotography or anyone making extensive use of the Live Time and Live Composite modes to shoot long exposures.

It’s especially useful now that the maximum exposure time possible in Live Composite has been doubled to 6 hours.

Read our Olympus OM-D E-M1X review

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III review
Build and Handling

Overall the OM-D E-M1 III looks very similar to its predecessor with plenty of buttons, dials and switches giving control over the key features.

However, Olympus has made a couple of very significant changes in comparison to the older camera. For instance, about where the Info button is on the Mark II camera, the Mark III has a multi-selector control – or a joystick as I prefer to call it. This makes it easy to shift the AF point while the viewfinder is in use.

It’s a nice fat little joystick with a textured surface, so it’s easy to locate and operate with your thumb.

There’s also an ISO button on the top of the thumb ridge on the back of the camera. That’s very handy for making quick changes to the sensitivity setting.

According to Olympus, the new camera’s grip is also slightly larger. I can feel this rather than see it.

Other tweaks include a more positive feel to the front control dial, a slight repositioning of the menu button and a simpler (but non-interactive) information screen to accompany the usual Super Control Panel.

Look carefully and you’ll spot that there are four Custom modes on the exposure mode dial. What’s more, you have the option to save any changes made when using one of the Custom modes. The means that you can quickly switch a whole raft of settings and continue to tailor the camera’s set-up to your preferences.

There’s also a B setting on the exposure mode dial which gives quick access to the Live Composite, Live Bulb, Live Time modes.

Viewfinder and Screen

Olympus has used the same electronic viewfinder and vari-angle screen for the E-M1 Mark III as it did for the Mark II camera. Both perform pretty well and provide a clear view, but the resolution figures suffer in comparison to some other cameras.

I’ve been shooting with the E-M1 Mark III at the same time as the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III, and while an electronic viewfinder offers some clear advantages, the image in the Olympus camera’s 2,360,000-dot viewfinder suffers in comparison. It doesn’t look natural. It also does’t compare especially well to the EVF’s in other flagship mirrorless cameras. It’s fine, but not great by modern standards.

As I’ve said many times, I’m a fan of vari-angle screens because they’re useful whether you’re shooting in landscape or portrait format. I like to shoot at low angles and it’s nice to be able to tip the screen so I can compose images without having to crane my neck or see a foreshortened image.

As usual, the screen is touch-sensitive. Annoyingly, you can’t navigate the main menu by touch, but the settings in the Super Control Panel can be selected and adjusted by touch-control.

Rugged Construction

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II is a very rugged, weatherproof camera that has taken a fair bit of abuse in my hands. This durable build continues with the Mark III camera which is also made from magnesium alloy and has a dust-, splash- and freeze-proof construction. In fact it’s weather-sealed to the same standard as the E-M1X and it survived a downpour during my testing.

Read more: Using the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II for wildlife photography

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III review
Performance

The venue for my initial test was Kew Gardens on a very overcast January day. This meant that the autofocus system had to contend with low contrast and generally dull conditions. And it coped very well, getting everything I directed it towards sharp in a flash. There weren’t many fast-moving subjects but a passing goose enabled me to check the Tracking AF briefly, and again it worked well.

Autofocus Performance

After shooting a football match, I think the AF system is just a little faster and more decisive than the E-M1 Mark II’s.

When the camera is left to select from the 121 AF points, it does a reasonable job of spotting the subject, but I found that using a group of 9 points is more reliable. The camera did a great job of keeping up with players as they ran towards or away from me.

I tried using the AF Tracking mode, and again it was pretty good, but using a group of 9 points is just a bit more reliable as long as I can keep the active area over the subject.

Occasionally, the Face Detection system put a box around a player’s head, but it’s not consistent enough for it to be relied upon for sports photography – or at least football in which the subject moves erratically.

Image Stabilisation

Thanks to Olympus’s Image Stabilisation system it’s possible to capture sharp handheld images with the E-M1 III at shutter speeds measured in whole seconds. That means you can blur water movement and the like without needing to put the camera on a tripod.

With the 12-100mm f/4 lens mounted, I’ve been able to get sharp images at the 12mm with exposure of over 3 seconds in length. And if I rest my elbows on a railing, I can get sharp shots with 8-second exposures.

Close to the 100mm end, I’ve even got sharp hand-held shots with 2-second exposures!

The IS makes the Live ND mode even more useful. However, it can be a little disorientating to see blurring on the screen or in the viewfinder as you move the camera to compose a Live ND shot.

The Handheld High Res mode also does a great job, enabling a larger (50Mp) image with greater detail to be captured from the 20Mp sensor.

Similarly, the E-M1 III’s Focus Stacking system performs well, creating images with greater depth of field than normal. The shots are then very quickly before being merged into one image.

Image Quality

Olympus hasn’t made any bold claims an improvement in the quality of the images from the E-M1 III over the E-M1 III and there’s been no mention of improved noise reduction algorithms. And looking at the images I’ve shot on the E-M1 III, they seem on a par with those from the Mark II.

Consequently, I’d still recommend sticking to ISO 3200 or lower if possible and not using the extended ISO settings.

The OM-D E-M1 III also produces good 4K video, however, I was expecting a little more from the IS. It does a reasonable job of reducing shake and wobble from run-and-gun shooting with the 12-100mm f/4 lens at 12mm, but the OM-D E-M5 Mark III seems better.

Also, in continuous autofocus (C-AF) mode, the sound of the M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-100 F4.0 IS PRO lens continually adjusting the focusing is picked up by the internal mic. An external mic is generally recommended anyway, but this is essential with this camera and lens combination unless you focus manually.

Read our Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III review

Colour and Exposure

As with other Olympus OM-D cameras, the E-M1 III has a selection of Picture Mode that determine the processing of Jpeg files, plus an extensive list of Art Filters for more creative effects. I generally use the Natural Picture mode, it’s a good all-rounder.

I also like many of the Art Filters and the fact that you can customise some of their impact. It’s handy to be able to bracket the Art Filters occasionally to get several different looks with one press of the shutter release.

Throughout my testing, I found no reason to switch from the general-purpose ESP metering system. It’s generally reliable and is backed by a decent preview in the viewfinder.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 III review
Sample Images

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Olympus OM-D E-M1 III Image Gallery

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Sample Video

The video below was shot using the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III in 4K 30p and hand-held with the 12-100mm f/4 lens at the wider end. The stabilisation was on throughout. The audio was recorded using the built-in mic and if you listen carefully, you can hear the autofocus, which was set to C-AF generating a quiet pulsing sound in places.

In the video below the E-M1 III was in C4K mode without the digital stabilisation. The IBIS was on apart from when indicated in the footage.

Verdict

Although it doesn’t really break any new ground, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III is a good camera. I had expected there to be a new sensor but Olympus has stuck with its tried and tested 20.4Mp chip and boosted the processing power.

The new processor enables some great new features that were first seen in the E-M1X to make a more refined camera.

Olympus has also paid attention to the control layout and the addition of the joystick on the back of the camera is a nice improvement.

The OM-D E-M1 II is a very versatile camera, with a great combination of features and technology that makes shooting some normally difficult images easy. Olympus has evolved this further with the E-M1 III, giving it most of what the E-M1X has but in a smaller form that seems more in line with the Micro Four Thirds message.

For those who want a bigger camera that seems better balanced with long telephoto lenses, Olympus offers either the E-M1X or the E-M1 III with the optional HLD-9 battery holder which adds a vertical grip and is dust-, splash- and freeze-proof. This grip also gives the camera same controls whether the OM-D EM1 III is used vertically or horizontally.

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