Olympus E-M1 Mark III Review

Camera Reviews / Olympus Cameras / Olympus OM-D i Hands-On Preview
Basic Specifications
Full model name: Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III
Resolution: 20.40 Megapixels
Sensor size: 4/3
(17.4mm x 13.0mm)
Kit Lens: n/a
Viewfinder: EVF / LCD
Native ISO: 200 - 25,600
Extended ISO: 64 - 25,600
Shutter: 1/32000 - 60 sec
Dimensions: 5.3 x 3.6 x 2.7 in.
(134 x 91 x 69 mm)
Weight: 20.5 oz (580 g)
includes batteries
Availability: 02/2020
Manufacturer: Olympus
Full specs: Olympus E-M1 Mark III specifications
20.40
Megapixels
Micro Four Thirds 4/3
size sensor
image of Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III
Front side of Olympus E-M1 Mark III digital camera Front side of Olympus E-M1 Mark III digital camera Front side of Olympus E-M1 Mark III digital camera Front side of Olympus E-M1 Mark III digital camera Front side of Olympus E-M1 Mark III digital camera

Olympus E-M1 Mark III Review -- Hands-On Preview

by William Brawley
Preview posted: 02/12/2020

Table of Contents

A year ago Olympus debuted the E-M1X, a souped-up E-M1 II with higher performance and a gripped body designed for better handling with telephoto lenses. Then, towards the end of 2019, the long-awaited E-M5 Mark III made its entrance into the market. The aging 2016-era E-M1 Mark II, meanwhile, was still around.

But the wait is now over, as the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III is finally here!

Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO: 150mm (300mm eq.), f/2.8, 1/320s, ISO 1000

However, instead of a revolutionary update, the E-M1 Mark III is a fairly evolutionary upgrade, offering E-M1X performance and shooting features (minus one key technology) inside a smaller, more portable camera body. The E-M1 III is now on a more even playing field with the E-M1X, with your choice of camera essentially coming down to form-factor. Do you shoot more sports and wildlife or use heavier telephoto lenses? The E-M1X might be the better choice. However, if you put a priority on compactness and portability or shoot more varied subject matter, then the E-M1 III has you covered without much, if any, downgrade in image quality or performance.

Additionally, the E-M1 Mark III's price comes in at a lower retail launch price than the E-M1 II, with the body-only configuration priced at $1799 rather than $1999 for the predecessor. This is an enticing price indeed.

We were invited to get some hands-on shooting time with the new E-M1 Mark III at an Olympus-organized trip down to Costa Rica last week. And while a more in-depth Field Test is now in the works, I'm going incorporate some of my initial impressions on the design, image quality and performance of this new flagship OM-D camera after shooting with it for a few days.

So, let's dive in to get a look at all of the E-M1 Mark III's new features, performance upgrades and (albeit mildly) improved design.

Key Features & Specs

  • Updated body design with 1PX1-rated weather-sealing & joystick control
  • 20MP Four Thirds sensor with PDAF pixels
  • New TruePic IX image processor
  • 121-point all-cross-type hybrid AF system with phase-detect AF
  • Improved 5-axis IBIS system with gyro sensors from E-M1X with up to 7.5 stops of stabilization
  • 50MP handheld High-Res Shot Mode
  • Live ND shooting mode from E-M1X
  • New Face & Eye AF Algorithm
  • New Handheld Star-Scape shooting mode with AF (Starry Sky AF)
  • 18fps burst shooting with C-AF (60fps with S-AF)
  • Higher-durability shutter from E-M1X (rated for 400K actuations)
  • USB Type-C with Power Delivery (in-camera charging)
  • 4K UHD & Cinema 4K video up to 30fps with IBIS
  • OM-Log400
  • Wireless firmware updating via mobile app
  • $1799 body-only

Design & Ergonomics

At first glance, you'd be hard-pressed to distinguish the E-M1 III from the previous model; the overall body design is drastically similar, apart from the obvious branding on the front of the camera. The camera features the same compact, yet deep and contoured handgrip, front and rear control dials, and a large, center-mounted EVF.

The primary update to the camera body is the addition of the super-handy "Multi Selector" control -- aka the joystick control. A common control on more and more cameras these days, we first saw a joystick control from Olympus on the E-M1X, and now this same multi-selector button makes its way to the smaller flagship OM-D camera. As with the E-M1X, the multi-selector allows for directional movement in horizontal, vertical and diagonal directions, as well as during continuous shooting and video recording.

The E-M1 II (left) vs. the new E-M1 III (right)

On the back, the joystick control is basically in the same spot as the INFO button was on the previous model. So for the Mark III, the INFO button is now where the Menu button was, and the Menu button is now placed up to the left of the EVF, next to the Live View screen button.

Additionally, what used to be the Fn1 button near the thumb grip has now been pre-assigned as a dedicated ISO button -- much like on the E-M5 Mark III. However, like before, this button can be programmed to a whole host of other functions.

Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO + 2x TC: 260mm (520mm eq.), f/5.6, 1/125s, ISO 400
(Edited from RAW in Adobe Lightroom. Click for Original.)

As for the rest of the rear of the camera, the articulated touchscreen remains unchanged, with the same 3-inch, 1,037K-dot monitor. The viewfinder, too, is the same, offering 2.36M dots of resolution, a 1.48x (0.74x 35mm-equivalent) magnification ratio and 100% coverage. As before, it has a fast 120fps refresh rate and a latency of only six milliseconds for excellent subject tracking. While the E-M1 III's LCD and EVF aren't terrible by any means, and they get the job done just fine, they both feel somewhat outdated by today's standards.

The E-M1X offers a larger EVF (though with the same display resolution), but the E-M1 III doesn't even offer that. It's the same viewfinder experience as the predecessor. By comparison, older cameras like the Panasonic G9 or Fuji X-T3 offers higher resolution EVFs with higher magnification ratios. The rear screen feels a bit low-res, in my opinion, too, though again, the rear screen gets the job done in most situations. For checking critical focus, however, it feels too low-res, and I often use the EVF to see if I got a sharp shot.

Moving to the top-deck of the camera, once again there are very few changes compared to the E-M1 II. The buttons and dials are situated just like they are on the predecessor. However, the mode dial has been tweaked to match that of the E-M1X. Gone are the dedicated iAUTO and ART shooting modes, and instead, there is a dedicated BULB mode option as well as four Custom preset modes (up from three on the E-M1 II). Additionally, the small Fn2 button next to the video record button has been changed from the default Shadow/Highlight curve function of the E-M1 II to a dedicated Exposure Compensation function.

The E-M1 II (left) vs. the new E-M1 III (right)

In the hand, the E-M1 Mark III feels exactly the same as the predecessor. As an owner of the E-M1 II, I felt right at home with the Mark III. The learning curve of this new model is practically nonexistent from a physical standpoint. This is great, as you can get up and going and begin capturing images right away. The majority of the controls are identical and in the same place, though Olympus moved the Menu button up to the top left corner and put the INFO button in its former location to make way for the joystick control. My muscle memory kicks in when I try to access the menu, and I find myself pressing the INFO button by accident.

On the one hand, I do like how the physical size of the E-M1 III is the same as the previous model. It's comfortable and familiar; the dials are the same, most of the buttons are too, and accessories such as tripod plates, L-brackets and Olympus' own HLD-9 Battery Grip accessory from the Mark II will fit on the E-M1 III. On the other hand, the camera is not an "E-M1X with its portrait grip cut off," and I sort of wish it was. The larger, more contoured grip on the E-M1X just feels fantastic. It fits my hand really well. Plus, the slightly larger buttons and dials are a nice bonus. But, on the other other hand, I realize the E-M1-series (as opposed to the E-M1 X series) is all about performance and portability, and I truly appreciate the compactness of the E-M1 III and Olympus system overall. I can always add my Really Right Stuff tripod plate to add some height to the body, or of course, add the optional battery grip anytime as well.

Olympus 300mm f/4 IS PRO + 1.4x TC: 420mm (840mm eq.), f/5.6, 1/320s, ISO 800
(Edited from RAW in Adobe Lightroom. Click for Original.)

Image Quality

The heart of the E-M1 Mark III is a 20-megapixel Four Thirds-sized Live MOS sensor with on-chip phase detection pixels. If that sounds familiar, it's because this is the same sensor as the predecessor and in the E-M1X. On the one hand, it's a bit disheartening to see Olympus sticking with the same 20MP sensor that's been around since 2016. However, we are pleased that there's not a new sensor with more megapixels, as 20 is likely more than plenty for a) most situations and b) the relatively small area of the Four Thirds sensor standard.

However, paired with the 20MP sensor is a newer and more powerful image processor, the TruePic IX chip. While the E-M1X utilizes a dual-processor setup, using the older TruePic VIII, the E-M1 Mark III makes do with a single quad-core TruePic IX processor. Despite the new processor, however, the camera's ISO range remains the same, with a native range of 200 up to 25,600, and low extended ISOs of 100 and 64. The imaging specs on the E-M1 III largely mirror that of its predecessor. However, it does feature a few updated amenities brought over from the E-M1X such as Low ISO Processing (Detail Priority) and Handheld High-Res Shot mode thanks to the faster processor and improved gyro sensors.

Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO: 135mm (270mm eq.), f/2.8, 1/250s, ISO 200
(Edited from RAW in Adobe Lightroom. Click for Original.)

Based on my so-far brief shooting experience with the new camera, the E-M1 III offers excellent overall image quality for a top Micro Four Thirds camera -- with quality not dissimilar to the E-M1X, which is expected given the imaging pipeline. Up to around ISO 3200 -- the highest ISO I found myself needing while in Costa Rica -- images offer lots of crisp detail and well-controlled noise levels with default in-camera noise reduction.

I've been fortunate to visit Costa Rica once before, some four or so years ago, and used the original Olympus E-M1 as my wildlife camera. Rainforests are very difficult locations in which to photograph, as it's much darker than you might expect, and I found myself using high ISOs very often. And my image quality back then suffered. With the new E-M1 III, I was very pleased by not only the improved higher ISO quality in general, but also, thanks to the improved image stabilization, I was able to use longer exposure times and thus lower ISO settings even in darker, forested locations.

Olympus 300mm f/4 IS PRO: 300mm (600mm eq.), f/4, 1/640s, ISO 1600
(Edited from RAW in Adobe Lightroom. Click for Original.)

The E-M1 Mark III also now offers the Live ND mode first seen in the E-M1X, allowing for slow-shutter effects without requiring a physical neutral-density filter. Like the similar Live Composite feature, Live ND effects are visible in real-time in the viewfinder/on-screen as you're capturing the shot. You have a choice of five strength levels for the function: ND2 (1EV), ND4 (2EV), ND8 (3EV), ND16 (4EV) or ND32 (5EV).

Further enhancing the imaging capabilities is an updated in-body image stabilization system, which, again, is borrowed from the E-M1X. Using higher-precision gyro sensors, the improved IBIS system is now capable of up to 7 stops of stabilization with the body IS alone, or up to 7.5-stops with Sync IS lenses. The E-M1 II, on the other hand, offered "just" 5.5 stops of stabilization in-body and 6.5 stops with Sync IS lenses. Thanks to the more power IBIS system, Olympus claims you can now shoot with exposure times as long as four seconds handheld and still achieve sharp images. The E-M1 III also allows for stabilized video recording with 4K UHD and Cinema 4K resolutions.

Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO + 1.4x TC: 200mm (400mm eq.), f/4, 1/500s, ISO 500, -0.3EV

In addition to standard shooting, the more powerful IBIS system also allows for Handheld High Res Shot mode that we first saw in the E-M1X. As well as the standard Tripod High-Res Shot (HRS) mode, which offers up to 80MP RAW files (and up to 50MP JPEGs), you can now also shoot multi-shot High-Res composite completely handheld. In Handheld mode, both RAW and JPEG composite images are 50-megapixels. The camera fires off multiple images in quick succession, subtlety moving the sensor after each frame -- for a total of 320-megapixels of pixel information from 16 total frames. The E-M1 III then automatically combines all information in-camera for the final composite image. Beyond just increased image resolution, High-Res Shot mode also allows for additional noise reduction, which Olympus states is about two stops of ISO sensitivity. In other words, you'll get around the same noise performance from an ISO 1600 image in HRS mode as you'd see with an ISO 400 image in standard shooting.

As with most high-resolution multi-shot shooting modes in other cameras, the E-M1 III's High-Res Shot mode -- Handheld or Tripod -- requires everything in the scene to be absolutely still. If you move, or objects in the scene move too much, the post-capture image compositing process may fail altogether or the final image will be wrought with compositing artifacts and glitches.

Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO + 1.4x TC: 210mm (420mm eq.), f/4.5, 1/400s, ISO 250, -1EV
(Edited from RAW in Adobe Lightroom. Click for Original.)

Lastly, I want to touch on Metering. The E-M1 III offers the same set of metering options as the E-M1 II: ESP, Center-Weighted, Spot, Spot-Highlight and Spot-Shadow. The ESP mode, the camera's default, attempts to meter the scene based on the center of the frame as well as surrounding areas of the frame. It works well for most situations, especially in scenes with more even light levels and contrast. In sunny Costa Rican conditions, particularly in the rainforest with bright sun peeking through holes in the canopy and heavy shadow areas, this can really throw off the exposure with the ESP metering mode.

In the shade, shooting upwards at a perched animal in shadow with harsh, bright spots of sun in the background, I found myself really having to crank the exposure compensation, sometimes over +1EV, depending on how bright the background was, in order to get the heavily-shaded animal properly exposed. Conversely, for example, trying to photograph a bird who managed to find a spot of sun, yet is surrounded by darker, shaded areas or objects, I needed to pull the exposure compensation down by at least -1EV.

Autofocus & Performance

As mentioned, the E-M1 Mark III is basically the E-M1X in a smaller camera body, and with that, the camera offers practically the same impressive array of autofocus and performance features. With one main exception: No AI-based subject tracking mode. The E-M1 III lacks the machine-learning-based intelligent tracking system that can automatically detect and track airplanes, trains and automobiles/motorsports. This so-far E-M1X-exclusive AF feature makes use of the secondary image processor, and with the E-M1 III having only a single image processor, the camera simply doesn't have the processing horsepower to handle this AI-based tracking.

Olympus 300mm f/4 IS PRO: 300mm (600mm eq.), f/4.5, 1/2000s, ISO 640, +0.3EV
(Edited from RAW in Adobe Lightroom. Click for Original.)

Other than this one missing feature, the E-M1 Mark III has all the bells and whistles of the E-M1X when it comes to focusing and performance. Based around a similar 121-point all-cross-type hybrid AF system with on-sensor phase-detection, the E-M1 Mark III offers fast AF speeds, wide AF coverage across the sensor (75% vertically and 80% horizontally) plus new focusing features such as advanced face- and eye-detection AF and a Starry Sky AF mode.

The E-M1 III offers a variety of AF point configurations, including single-point, Small AF and various grouped AF points (5, 9 and 25), as well as all 121 points. Brought over from the E-M1X, you can also create custom AF target areas, with varying numbers of horizontal or vertical groupings depending on the subjects your shooting. You can also adjust the grid density of selectable AF points, in both vertical and horizontal movements.

As with the E-M1 Mark II, the new Mark II offers continuous burst shooting at up to 18fps with continuous autofocus (and AE) or up to 60fps with focus locked at the first frames, when using the electronic shutter (Silent mode). With the mechanical shutter, the E-M1 III shoots at up to 10fps with C-AF or 15fps with S-AF. Olympus states that with Single-shot AF (S-AF), autofocus accuracy and stability are improved, while C-AF accuracy when using Center Priority AF is improved.

Olympus 300mm f/4 IS PRO: 300mm (600mm eq.), f/4, 1/2500s, ISO 400, +0.3EV
(Edited from RAW in Adobe Lightroom. Click for Original.)

For fast continuous shooting with unpredictable subjects, the E-M1 III includes Olympus' clever Pro Capture shooting mode. With a High 60fps setting or Low 18fps with C-AF, the camera will retroactively capture up to 35 RAW and JPEG frames while half-pressing the shutter and then continue to capture additional frames after fulling pressing the shutter, all with no frame blackout. This shooting mode helps ensure that you capture the ideal image during decisive or highly unpredictable moments.

Buffer specs are very similar to the E-M1X's, though not identical. At 15fps, the fastest mechanical shutter burst rate, the E-M1 III is said to shoot up to 101 RAW frames or 134 Large/Fine JPEGs., while at 60fps with electronic shutter, the camera shoots up 50 RAW or JPEG frames. At the slower "Low" sequential shooting settings, which offer continuous AF, the E-M1 III captures up to 286 RAW frames or unlimited JPEGs with 10fps Mech. Shutter, or 76 RAW/90 JPEGs with 18fps electronic shutter. Compared to the predecessor, the E-M1 III offers deeper buffer depths, especially with the slower mechanical shutter continuous shooting modes. The E-M1 II shot 84 RAW and 117 JPEGs with its 15fps mechanical shutter burst mode.

Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO + 2x TC: 284mm (568mm eq.), f/5.6, 1/1600s, ISO 200, -0.3EV
(Cropped. Click for Original.)

Olympus has had face and eye-detection autofocus for a while now, but with the new processor and an updated algorithm, Olympus states that detection accuracy and tracking capabilities are noticeably improved in the E-M1 III. The camera should be better at detecting both faces or eyes when the subject is smaller in the frame, and tracking faces or eyes with moving subjects is said to be improved. Additionally, the Mark III has a "Face Selection" feature that can detect multiple faces in a scene; once faces are detected, the camera can automatically prioritize focus on the face closest to your selected AF point, or you can quickly manually select a recognized face.

Low-light focusing is rated down to an impressively-dim -6EVs, but focusing in the dark goes even further with a new Starry Sky AF mode. Incorporating a dedicated starry sky AF algorithm, the E-M1 III can now autofocus on a star-filled night sky -- allowing for astrophotography without needing to manually focus, as is usually the case. There are two modes within Starry Sky AF shooting feature, Speed Priority (the default mode) and Accuracy Priority. The Speed Priority mode emphasizes focus speed; AF operation happens more quickly. Speed Priority uses the IBIS system and allows for handheld star-scape photography without a tripod or when using a wide-angle or standard (non-bright) zoom lens (in other words, handheld longer-exposure shooting combined with quicker autofocusing). The second Accuracy Priority mode, meanwhile, requires a tripod and offers a slower yet more accurate autofocusing operation for more critical or serious astrophotography endeavors. This mode is also useful for shooting astro scenes with telephoto lenses.

Performance-wise, the E-M1 III offers no real surprises; it's as fast and as agile as the predecessor and the E-M1X. I expected great performance, and the camera delivers. The hybrid AF system, while not really new, still performs admirably, handling a variety of subjects from still and slow-moving wildlife, birds in flight, surfers and more with ease. Shooting far-off wildlife amongst densely packed trees, I really came to appreciate the "Small AF point" setting. Combined with the new joystick control, I was able to easily and precisely maneuver the AF point where I needed in order to focus on a heavily obstructed subject.

Olympus 300mm f/4 IS PRO: 300mm (600mm eq.), f/4, 1/800s, ISO 1600
This would have been a very, very tricky subject to focus on without Small AF point mode.
(Edited from RAW in Adobe Lightroom. Click for Original.)

When it comes to burst shooting, the E-M1 III isn't the fastest camera in town, but it's no slouch either. At 18fps with C-AF, that's way more than enough frames-per-second for most any fast-paced action scenario. I'm not a machine-gun shooter my any means, so I was often firing off small bursts of maybe a half-second to one-second at a time at most, and the E-M1 III felt plenty fast for my needs. With that type of shooting, too, I never ran into any buffer-related issues. I was never left waiting for the camera; I could review shots instantly after capturing a sequence, and I could go back to shooting more shots right away. It's a bit unfortunate that the E-M1 III doesn't offer dual UHS-II card slots like the E-M1X, but the performance drawbacks of having one slower UHS-I slot never impacted my shooting.

Video

As expected, the E-M1 Mark III also features the same versatile array of video features as the E-M1X, including 4K video at both UHD (3840 x 2160) and Cinema 4K (4096 x 2160) resolutions. 4K UHD recording is offered at 24p and 30p framerate (and 25p for PAL), while Cinema 4K (DCI 4K) is only offered at the film-specific 24p. Full HD or HD (1,280 x 720 pixels) is offered up to 120 frames per second.

When it comes to bitrates, 4K UHD is offered at a healthy 102Mbps (IPB), while Cinema4K is set to a higher 237Mbps (IPB) bitrate, much like with the E-M1 II. Full HD and HD video resolutions have various levels of bitrates to choose from, ranging from 18, 30, 52 or (ALL-I) 202Mbps for FHD or 10, 14, 26 and (ALL-I) 102Mbps for HD. It should be noted that both 4K video resolutions use IPB (inter-frame compression), while Full HD at 30p/25p/24p and 720p (all frame rates) offer a higher-quality ALL-I (intra-frame) compression option.

There's also a Slow / Quick Movie function, which lets you to vary the capture frame rate of video for slow-motion and speed-up effects; audio is not recorded in this mode.

Like the predecessor, the E-M1 III offers dedicated automatic, aperture priority, shutter priority, and manual exposure modes in video mode. The camera offers additional video features such as focus peaking, adjustable C-AF sensitivity and speed, timecode and clean HDMI out. Audio is recorded from either an internal stereo or external stereo microphone, with optional wind noise reduction. It also sports a 3.5mm headphone jack to allow for monitoring audio.

Storage, Battery & Connectivity

When it comes to media storage and connectivity, the E-M1 Mark III is vastly similar to the E-M1X, with one main exception: UHS-II compatibility is only one of the SD slots (the top one). The bottom slot is UHS-I, just like on the E-M1 II. Why Olympus chose or was forced to not use dual UHS-II slots like on the E-M1X isn't clear; perhaps there is a component/space restriction with the smaller body size, or the single image processor doesn't have the bandwidth to handle the higher data rates of two UHS-II slots.

The Olympus E-MI III draws power from the same proprietary BLH-1 lithium-ion battery packs as did the E-M1 II, and the camera is CIPA-rated for 420 shots per charge with standard shooting mode, or up to 900 shots with its "Quick Sleep Mode" setting.

In other areas, the ports and connectivity features are similar to those on the E-M1X, including in-camera charging using the USB Type-C with Power Delivery. While the camera ships with a dedicated battery charger, having in-camera charging makes it's easy to stay powered up while on-the-go. And by using the increasingly common USB Type-C port, it's easy to charge the E-M1 III with a dedicated USB-C battery pack or even directly charging the camera using a laptop with a USB-C port, such as a MacBook Pro. Capable of up to 100W of charging, it's possible to fully charge the E-M1 III in only two hours with USB Power Delivery, which is awesome.

Additional ports include a Micro Type-D HDMI port that supports clean, uncompressed 4:2:2 video output at up to C4K resolution, as well as 3.5mm headphone and microphone jacks. Aside from power delivery, the built-in USB Type-C port offers fast USB 3.0 SuperSpeed data connection for fast media transfer and tethering functionality.

For wireless communication, the E-M1 III now features Bluetooth for easier pairing and wireless communication with smart devices -- something the E-M1 II lacked. And while the predecessor did include Wi-Fi connectivity, the E-M1 III uses faster, higher-bandwidth 5GHz Wi-Fi 5 (aka 802.11ac). This allows for faster wireless "tethering" and image transfer.

Additionally, for the first time now, the E-M1 III supports wireless firmware update and camera setting backup/restore using the Olympus O.I. Share mobile app. Though not completely necessary, it's a handy feature that lets you update your camera and/or backup and restore settings without the need to come back and fire up your computer.

Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO: 150mm (300mm eq.), f/2.8, 1/320s, ISO 320
(Edited from RAW in Adobe Lightroom. Click for Original.)

Pricing & Availability

The Olympus E-M1 Mark III is scheduled to go on sale beginning on February 24, 2020. It will be offered in a body-only configuration, and for the first time at launch, in a couple of kit varieties, as well. What's more is that the E-M1 III also comes with a lower MSPR at just $1799 USD, whereas the Mark II was originally priced at $1,999.

For the kit lens options, the E-M1 III paired with the 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens is priced at $2499 USB, while a kit with the 12-100mm f/4 IS PRO has a retail price of $2899 USD.

 

 

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