Olympus E-M1 Mark III Review

Camera Reviews / Olympus Cameras / Olympus OM-D i Now Shooting!
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
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 -- Now Shooting!

by William Brawley
Preview posted: 02/12/2020
Updated: 03/01/2021

Table of Contents

Click here to jump to our in-depth E-M1 III Product Overview

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Capturing wildlife with the Olympus OM-D Camera System
Note: Please be aware that while Olympus sponsored this project, we conceived of the piece in its entirety, wrote the script, and were given complete editorial freedom throughout the process.

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Olympus E-M1 Mark III Field Test

Just as portable, but now even more powerful

by William Brawley | Posted 03/20/2020

300mm f/4 IS Pro + 2x TC: 600mm (1200mm eq.), f/8, 1/125s, ISO 800

Note: Given that a large portion of my E-M1 III shooting experience was covered in our previously-published Hands-On Preview, I've re-incorporated elements of this earlier content into my Olympus E-M1 III Field Test below. Read on for my in-depth Field Test, which includes shooting notes and images from the Olympus-organized Costa Rica press trip, as well as additional, more recent personal field shooting experience.

At long last, the Olympus E-M1 Mark III is here! At the beginning of 2019, we saw the debut of the big and burly E-M1X, and towards the end, the long-awaited E-M5 Mark III received its unveiling. Meanwhile, the E-M1 II from 2016 was still hanging around, but now that's fortunately changed.

Yet when I say "change," there's actually not a ton of changes to the E-M1 III compared to its predecessor (particularly with the latest firmware updates). The body design is largely the same, and the camera shares the same 20MP sensor. Of course, we loved the E-M1 II, so this is a good thing for the most part. The E-M1 III does, however, use an all-new image processor, bringing over the vast majority of features and performance of the E-M1X. So, you get most of the goodies and horsepower of the E-M1X, including better IBIS, yet in a smaller, lighter yet still incredibly robust camera body.

300mm f/4 IS Pro: 300mm (600mm eq.), f/4, 1/2500s, ISO 640

For those hoping to see an all-new imaging pipeline for one of Olympus' most popular OM-D camera lines, this might sound a bit disappointing. The 20MP sensor has undoubtedly been around for a while. But, despite that, the E-M1 III still manages to capture excellent images, shoot terrific 4K video, and provide top-notch AF and burst shooting performance. Plus, its image stabilization system is absolutely out of this world!

I've been shooting with the new E-M1 Mark III over the past month or so. Initially, I was invited to get some hands-on time with it at an Olympus-organized trip down to Costa Rica back in February. Still, I managed to keep my hands on our review unit afterward and have been continuing to shoot and test the camera here at home.

So, are you looking to upgrade your aging OM-D camera? Or perhaps you're ready to embrace the benefits of the smaller, lighter Micro Four Thirds system, but still want a camera with lots of controls, customization, durability and features? Well, the new Olympus E-M1 Mark III might be just the thing! Let's dive in...

Handling & Ergonomics

First things, first. What does the Olympus E-M1 Mark III feel like in hand? Well, it feels just like an E-M1 Mark II. That's pretty much it. Olympus changed very little about the camera's overall size, shape and ergonomic features. Even my precision-designed Really Right Stuff tripod base plate and L-bracket for the E-M1 II fits onto this new model just fine.

Olympus changed a lot going from the original E-M1 to the E-M1 II, but kept most things the same here with the Mark III. At first, that might seem somewhat disappointing, as we tend to like or expect some noticeable or major physical changes on a brand new camera. However, for me personally, I'm pleased that the E-M1 III hasn't physically changed much. As an owner of the E-M1 II, I felt right at home when picking up the Mark III for the first time. The learning curve for this new model is practically nonexistent. This is great, as you can get up and going and start capturing images right away.

The majority of the controls are identical and in a familiar place, although Olympus has moved a couple of buttons around. The most notable (and noticeable) physical change to the E-M1 III is the addition of the multi-directional joystick control. First seen on the larger E-M1X, this handy control is a personal favorite of mine, offering a nearly-instant way to move your AF point around. You can also use it to navigate menus, but I find the standard 4-way buttons to be more useful for those tasks. While you can also simultaneously use the 4-way buttons to move the AF point/grouping, just like on the E-M1 Mark II, the joystick allows for diagonal movement as well as instantly resetting the AF point to the center spot by pressing the joystick. I find the joystick control is faster to both move the AF point and reset to the center. It may not sounds like a huge deal, but I am constantly moving my AF point to fit the composition of a particular shot -- and I still hesitate to let a camera decide where to put the AF point -- and for fast-paced moments, be it wildlife or candid portraiture, for example, I appreciate the added precision and speed of this type of control.

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

Olympus also rearranged a few of the buttons compared to E-M1 II. They moved the Menu button up to the top left corner and put the INFO button in its former location to make way for the new joystick control. New users of the camera likely won't have any issues, but my muscle memory the E-M1 II kicks in when I try to access the menu, and I find myself pressing the INFO button by accident. Additionally, the Mark III now has a dedicated, or labeled, ISO button on the top rear corner, replacing the "Fn1" button of the Mark II. The E-M1 II did not have a dedicated ISO button, so I assigned the top-deck Fn2 button as my ISO button. Again, my muscle memory of the customized control layout of my E-M1 II throws me off a little when out shooting with the E-M1 III, but it's only a minor inconvenience. Thankfully, as before, you can customize the function of many of the camera's exterior controls, so it's easy work to get the camera set up exactly the way you want it.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn't at least mention the weather-sealing of the E-M1 Mark III. The E-M1 II, for me, has been an absolute beast of a camera, and from the look of things, the E-M1 III is even more so thanks to its upgraded IPX1-rated weather-sealing. As I said, in the hand, the Mark III feels just like its predecessor. The build quality here is fantastic. The body is sturdy and robust, and everything feels incredibly solid. My personal E-M1 Mark II has been thorough a lot, from accidentally falling waist-high onto tile flooring to being fully dunked (briefly!) into a rushing river, as well as countless rainy days and water slashes from kayaking. Through it all, the camera has kept on ticking without issue! Now, I haven't subjected our E-M1 Mark III review unit to anything like that kind of "abuse," but I see no reason to suspect it lacks in the durability department.

Overall, from a physical standpoint, the E-M1 Mark III has to be one of my favorite cameras to use and carry around. It's comfortable and familiar; the dials and buttons are plentiful and easy to use, 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. If you do plan to upgrade from the Mark II, it's certainly an easy swap from an ergonomics and accessories standpoint. However, the E-M1 III 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 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 battery grip.

That said, even without a grip attachment, using the E-M1 III with long lenses, such as the 300mm f/4 Pro, is entirely doable and comfortable to use for long periods of time. Sure, the E-M1X is better suited for such a lens, but the E-M1 III plus the 300m f/4, with and without the teleconverters, is my new go-to setup for wildlife photography. True to Olympus' claims, this camera and lens setup is extremely portable. It packs down into a small camera backpack, and I can hike around with it for hours, hunting for various small critters and birds to photograph. Not having to bother with tripods or pounds and pounds of long, heavy lenses is quite nice!

300mm f/4 IS Pro + 2x TC: 600mm (1200mm eq.), f/8, 1/1000s, ISO 800

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 in both the predecessor and 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, I am pleased that there's not a new sensor with more megapixels, as 20MP is 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 TruePic IX image processor -- an all-new image processor making its debut here on the E-M1 III. While the E-M1X utilized a dual-processor setup using two TruePic VIII chips, the E-M1 III can make do with a single processor yet offer the vast majority of features and performance capabilities of its larger sibling, including Low ISO Processing and Handheld High-Res Shot mode thanks to the faster processor and improved gyro sensors. Despite the new processor, the E-M1 III maintains the same ISO range, with the native range spanning ISO 200-25600 and two extended low ISOs of 100 and 64.

40-150mm f/2.8 Pro: 67mm (134mm eq.), f/2.8, 1/200s, ISO 200
(Edited from RAW in Adobe Lightroom. Click for Original.)

However, as mentioned in our product overview, the only major missing feature with the E-M1 III, due to the lack of secondary processor, is the A.I.-based Intelligent Subject Detection AF feature (a.k.a. the "planes, trains, and automobiles" AF tracking feature). According to our understanding from discussions with Olympus, this sophisticated subject detection feature is simply too processor-intensive to be handled by a single image processor (at least at this point in time, I'd imagine). Thus, the Intelligent Subject Detection AF feature remains exclusive to the E-M1X.

Based on my shooting experience, the E-M1 III offers excellent overall image quality for a top Micro Four Thirds camera -- with quality not dissimilar to the E-M1X and E-M1 II, which is expected given the imaging pipeline. Up to around ISO 3200 -- the highest ISO I typically found myself needing during my shooting -- images offer lots of crisp detail and well-controlled noise levels with the default (Standard) and "Low" in-camera noise reduction (Noise Filter) settings. In general, ISO 3200 is about the highest ISO I like to use with Micro Four Thirds camera. I'll hit ISO 6400 in a pinch, but image quality starts to take a noticeable dip at this IS0 due to the heavier noise.

300mm f/4 IS Pro + 2x TC: 600mm (1200mm eq.), f/8, 1/160s, ISO 1600

Generally, in my personal photography, I shoot in RAW and process images after the fact, but for Field Testing, I'll use RAW+JPEG and typically leave in-camera processing at the default settings to provide a more even baseline for image quality performance right out of the box. This time around, however, I did explore a few in-camera processing settings, namely the Noise Filter (what Olympus calls their standard noise reduction processing) and Picture Style.

While very subtle, I found myself preferring the "Low" setting for the camera's Noise Filter processing. The default "Standard" level still does a pleasing job at producing crisp, detailed images with low noise, but the Low setting just eeks out a bit more fine detail. At mid-range ISO settings of 800-1600, the noise overall is pleasingly minimal to begin with to my eyes, and the slight boost in fine detail is a win-win for me.

ISO 1600 - Noise Filter Off
ISO 1600 - Noise Filter LOW
ISO 1600 - Noise Filter STANDARD

I also tend not to play around too much with in-camera picture styles, but sometimes I find the Natural (default) picture style on the E-M1 III and its predecessor can seem a bit bland for my tastes. Switching over to the Vivid preset not only offers a noticeable boost in saturation and contrast but also ups the sharpness. For most images shot using the Vivid preset, the colors appeared bright and, well, vivid, but not overly saturated. Red tones, however, did tend to feel a bit too saturated, as you can see from these cardinal photos below. The Vivid preset also boosts the sharpness setting for in-camera JPEGs, which for the most part, produced pleasing results though it might be a bit on the strong side. The sharpness here might be tad too intense, but I was generally quite pleased with the images straight out of the camera.

300mm f/4 IS Pro + 2x TC: 600mm (1200mm eq.), f/8, 1/160s, ISO 800
Vivid Picture Style - straight from camera

300mm f/4 IS Pro + 2x TC: 600mm (1200mm eq.), f/8, 1/200s, ISO 800
Vivid Picture Style - straight from camera

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.

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.)

The E-M1 III is my favorite wildlife camera!

As you can probably tell based on the array of photos included throughout this Field Test, wildlife is one of my favorite photo subjects, and the E-M1-series has become my favorite camera system for such an endeavor. Not only is it lightweight and confidently weather-sealed, but the lenses are also significantly smaller than the equivalent counterparts on larger-sensor systems, especially when it comes to telephoto lenses.

The Olympus E-M1 III + 300mm f/4 IS Pro + MC-20 2x teleconverter makes for an ultra-portable & ultra-powerful wildlife setup!

When Olympus announced they were having a press trip to Costa Rica, I was supremely excited to test out the new E-M1 III down there. Not only is Costa Rica a fantastic place with incredible biodiversity, making it an excellent spot for wildlife photography, but at the same time, it offers some challenging shooting locations, which can really put a camera through the paces. Now, I've been very fortunate to visit Costa Rica once before, nearly five years ago, and back then I used the original Olympus E-M1 as my go-to wildlife camera. Costa Rica can be hot and very humid, and if you go during the wet season, rain will definitely be an issue. Factor in lots of hiking and exploring, the E-M1 and its successors, proved to be excellent photographic tools for this environment: compact and easy to carry, but with top-notch durability and weather-resistance, so you're protected no matter the weather.

300mm f/4 IS Pro + 2x TC: 600mm (1200mm eq.), f/8, 1/400s, ISO 800
(Edited slightly in Photoshop. Click for Original.)

The rainforests in Costa Rica (and forested areas in general) can be very difficult locations in which to photograph, as it's much darker than you might expect. Back during my first trip to Costa Rica with the original E-M1, I, therefore, found myself using high ISOs very often. And my image quality suffered. With the new E-M1 Mark III, I am very pleased by the improved higher ISO performance in general, but also the upgraded image stabilization. The improved IBIS allowed me to use longer exposure times and thus lower ISO settings even in these darker, forested locations.

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

Furthermore, the impressive image stabilization built into the E-M1 III combined with the optical IS of the 300mm f/4 IS Pro makes for a truly wonderful wildlife rig. With this combined Sync IS setup, you can get up to 7.5 stops of stabilization, which is just incredible. I've also been able to try out the new MC-20 2x teleconverter, and when combined with the 300mm f/4 IS Pro lens, you have some serious telephoto reach in your hand! We're talking 1200mm-eq. in 35mm terms that you can easily handhold and hike around with. That's amazing, and you can capture some spectacular results. And from my experience so far, I don't see any image quality degradation when using the 2x TC, mirroring our experience with the earlier 1.4x TC. I will say, however, that despite the excellent IS, framing shots handheld at 1200mm-eq. is still tricky. The stabilization system smooths out the framing quite a bit, but trying to maneuver around, compose my shot and steadily place my AF point right on a bird's eye can still be very difficult; the scene through the viewfinder can still move around a lot since it's such a long, magnified view.

300mm f/4 IS Pro + 2x TC: 600mm (1200mm eq.), f/8, 1/100s, ISO 800
Being able to shoot at 1200mm-eq handheld with an exposure time of just 1/100s and still capture shart images is testament to the performance of the E-M1 III's image stabilization system!

300mm f/4 IS Pro + 2x TC: 600mm (1200mm eq.), f/8, 1/125s, ISO 800

Now, when using the E-M1 III in low-light situations, using the IBIS system and longer shutter speeds isn't ideal for all subjects or types of images. If you need faster shutter speeds to stop motion but are in lower lighting situations, you'll have to crank the ISO higher for a good exposure. All things being equal, the E-M1 III and its smaller Four Thirds sensor is at a noticeable disadvantage in this situation compared to camera systems with larger sensor areas. Fortunately, the majority of birds and other wildlife I spotted were perched or otherwise moving slowly (or in the case of a sloth, moving extremely slowly). Overall, you have to weigh the pros and cons. For me, I'm okay with a slight disadvantage when it comes to pure higher ISO performance if I can use the image stabilization to my benefit in many situations. Plus, I very much prefer the compactness and portability than the OM-D system offers; I'll gladly grab this over another camera systems that's heavier and bulkier.

Other shooting modes: Putting the powerful IBIS system to work

Besides standard image stabilization features, such as allowing for handheld shooting at slower shutter speeds and smooth handheld video, the more powerful IBIS system inside the E-M1 III offers some additional shooting modes, some new, some improved, over the previous E-M1 II.

First, the E-M1 III offers an updated High-Res Shot mode, allowing for not only tripod-based high-res multi-frame shooting, but now also a handheld high-res mode. High-Res Shot made its debut back in the E-M5 II and was also included in the E-M1 II, but it was restricted just as tripod-based shooting mode, despite that camera's already-great image stabilization system. As before, the E-M1 III's High-Res Shot tripod mode can capture up to 80MP RAW files. If you want to free yourself for some more mobile High-Res shooting, however, the updated handheld High-Res Shot mode -- first introduced on the E-M1X -- offers up to 50MP in image resolution (in RAW or JPEG). Thanks to the updated, more precise gyro sensors in the E-M1 III's IBIS unit, the camera can quickly capture multiple frames and precisely move the image sensor around -- for a total of 320-megapixels of pixel information from 16 total frames. It will then composite the final high-res image in-camera.

Handheld High-Res Shot mode doesn't work so well if there are moving objects in your scene.

However, like other cameras with multi-shot composite high-resolution shooting modes, the Olympus E-M1 III High-Res Shot mode -- both handheld and on a tripod -- are still rather limited in usefulness. While you absolutely can create images with vastly more detail and resolution than a standard 20MP image, you still need to hold the camera fairly still, though the powerful IBIS system here really does a nice job of combatting camera shake. More importantly, your subject(s) or other objects in your scene need to be absolutely still, or otherwise, you'll get noticeable compositing artifacts. And if there's too much camera movement or subject movement, the camera might be unable to produce a final composite image altogether. For subjects like product photography, macro or architectural, I can certainly see the appeal and benefit to this High-Res mode, and the ability to shoot these types of shots handheld makes the process much more approachable. I don't find myself using High-Res Shot mode all that often, but it's a nice feature to have should the right type of scene or subject present itself.

One of the other big additions to the E-M1 III -- again borrowed from the E-M1X -- is Live ND. This live-composite-esque shooting mode lets you capture slow-shutter speed images without the need for a physical neutral-density filter. Like the similar Live Composite feature, Live ND effects can be seen in real-time in the viewfinder or rear display 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).

Live ND -- 12-45mm f/4 Pro: 45mm (90mm eq.), f/9, 2s, ISO 64

In practice, I enjoyed using the Live ND mode. I love long exposure shots, but traditionally, you need a tripod and physical ND filters, which boils down to more gear to haul around. I really appreciate the convenience of not having to use those extra pieces of equipment thanks to the E-M1 III and pull off similar shots with just the camera in-hand. Live ND does have its limitations, though. The maximum "ND" effect is only down to 5EV, so you still run the risk of getting over-exposed images if you attempt to do really, really long exposure photos. Also, while the ability to see the long-exposure effect build in real-time is clever, I found it distracting and disruptive to setting up my composition. The effect happens immediately and can get in the way of seeing or focusing on the subject. Luckily, you can simply turn off the real-time effect preview in the menus.

Autofocus & Performance

Last but not least, let's talk about autofocus and performance. As mentioned, the E-M1 Mark III is in many ways an E-M1X in a smaller camera body, and with that, the camera offers practically the same impressive array of autofocus and performance features minus, of course, the A.I.-based Intelligent Subject Detection system. The E-M1 III uses the same 121-point AF system seen on the predecessor and in the E-M1X and offers excellent AF point across the vast majority of the frame with a variety of different AF point sizes and grouping configurations.

300mm f/4 IS Pro Pro: 300mm (600mm eq.), f/4.5, 1/2000s, ISO 640, +0.3EV

Performance-wise, the E-M1 III's AF system offers no real surprises; it's as fast and as agile as the predecessor and the E-M1X. I expected great autofocus, and the E-M1 III doesn't disappoint. The hybrid AF system, while not all that new, still performs admirably, handling a variety of subjects from static subjects, low-light situation, slow-moving wildlife, birds in flight, surfers and more with ease. Single-shot AF is swift and accurate, and I found the camera's continuous AF tracking to be just as impressive and responsive as I experienced with the E-M1X and E-M1 II -- excellent tracking capabilities using the standard "C-AF" mode with very good keeper rates.

300mm f/4 IS Pro Pro: 300mm (600mm eq.), f/4, 1/2500s, ISO 640

Shooting far-off wildlife amongst densely packed trees with a high-powered supertelephoto lens, 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 these often heavily obstructed subjects.

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 by any means, and 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.

300mm f/4 IS Pro + 1.4x TC: 420mm (840mm eq.), f/5.6, 1/1250s, ISO 1600, -0.3EV

In addition to excellent general-use AF performance, the E-M1 III does have one new trick up its sleeve: Starry Sky AF mode. This standalone AF mode gives the E-M1 III the ability to easily autofocus on a starry night sky, making astrophotography much more accessible and letting you avoid having to manually focus (something that's often tricky to do in the dark and with these focus-by-wire mirrorless lenses). There's even a "speed priority" mode that lets you use shoot handheld (again, thanks to that awesome IBIS system).

Although the weather conditions in Costa Rica and strong light pollution back home in urban Atlanta weren't conducive for proper astrophotography, I did try the Starry Sky AF mode, and it works quite well. At night, it's best to enable Live View Boost so you better see the dark sky scene through either the viewfinder or rear LCD. Then, change the AF mode over to the dedicated Starry Sky AF setting. And while the first reaction is to simply point, half-press to focus and fire a shot, it works a bit differently than typical shooting. Instead, aim the camera and put an AF box over a prominent star in the sky. Then, use the rear AEL/AFL to start the Starry Sky AF focusing process. This mode uses a different focusing process or algorithm than the camera's traditional AF modes. On the screen, you'll notice the stars in the sky slowly shift into a focus, and then in a matter of seconds, the AF point lights up green and you can then use the shutter release to fire off a shot. The exposure modes and shooting settings are all separate, and you're free to create your shot as you see fit. You could use a bright lens and higher ISO, lean on the IBIS system to give you a slightly longer exposure time, or use something like Live Composite to build a scene (although this is likely best done on a tripod). As mentioned, the Speed Priority setting allows for easier handheld shooting, while the Accuracy Priority option is best for tripod-based astrophotography and the autofocusing process here is slower.

12-45mm f/4 Pro: 12mm (24mm eq.), f/4, 1/800s, ISO 200
The new 12-45mm f/4 Pro lens features excellent close-focusing capabilities, especially at the widest-angle.


Overall, the E-M1 Mark III feels like yet another excellent addition to Olympus' OM-D family. The E-M1 Mark II was already a great camera, and with additional firmware updates, it's become even better. The Mark III isn't drastically different but rather a refinement to an already excellent camera model. It's true that I and I'm sure a lot of other photographers out there were hoping for some more major changes to the E-M1 III; perhaps a newer sensor, better high ISO performance and maybe dual UHS-II card slots? Yes, all those features would be nice, but at the end of the day, the E-M1 III is still extremely capable of capturing fantastic, high-quality photos in a variety of shooting environments. The durability is out of this world, the updated control layout is a welcomed improvement, and the improved IBIS system offers even more shooting freedom and flexibility. It really is a solid, versatile camera system.

If you're already an owner of an E-M1 Mark II, the new E-M1 III might not offer a significant amount of new features and improvements to warrant an upgrade -- unless you're looking to add a second body to your kit. But if you have an original E-M1, another older OM-D camera, or were still holding off from the E-M1X perhaps due to its size or price, then the Olympus E-M1 Mark III is most certainly an enticing upgrade option to consider.

300mm f/4 IS Pro + 2x TC: 600mm (1200mm eq.), f/8, 1/2000s, ISO 800


• • •

Elevate your bird photography with these 8 tips and techniques
Note: Please be aware that while Olympus sponsored this project, we conceived of the piece in its entirety, wrote the script, and were given complete editorial freedom throughout the process.

• • •


Olympus E-M1 Mark III Review -- Product Overview

by William Brawley
Preview posted: 02/12/2020
Revised: 03/20/2020

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!

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.

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. The learning curve of this new model is practically nonexistent from a physical standpoint. 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.

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.)

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.

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.

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

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.

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 E-M1 Mark III 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.


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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