Olympus E-M10 III Conclusion
Olympus E-M10 III Conclusion
A follow-up to 2015's E-M10 II, the Olympus E-M10 III is an attractive, affordably-priced offering aimed at less experienced photographers who want decent image quality in a compact package. Like the camera which preceded it, the Micro Four Thirds-based, 16-megapixel E-M10 III packs plenty of features in despite its trim proportions, and on paper at least it's a swift shooter too.
But we don't do on-paper comparisons around these parts, at least not when we can get our hands on the real deal. So what do we think of the Olympus E-M10 III at the end of our time with this interesting little camera? Let's roll up our sleeves, and get right down to some conclusions.
Loads of controls and a comfortable grip, at least with small to medium lenses
The E-M10 III's compact body nevertheless manages to find room for plenty of controls. They're tightly packed in, which means they're not always the most comfortable in use, especially for the four-way controller with central OK button which sits quite near to the bottom left corner of the camera's rear deck. But as you'd expect from a company with a long history in the camera business, the main controls are well-placed and not unduly prone to accidental changes being dialed in.
And despite its relatively small size, the E-M10 III's newly-enlarged handgrips make it fairly comfortable to shoot with, even for those of us with larger-than-average hands. If you're planning to shoot longer, larger lenses like, say, the M.Zuiko 75-300mm, you may want to look further up Olympus' line for a model with an even more generous grip, in the interests of avoiding some hand cramp. But for many lenses that will prove popular with its target audience, the E-M10 III is very comfortable in-hand, while foregoing a lot of the bulk and heft of rivals.
The new user interface is a lot friendlier for beginners, but limits experienced shooters
Olympus also worked to improve the user interface of the E-M10 III, and in most respects, the fruits of that labor are clear to see. There are some rough edges here and there, sure, and they may cause more experienced photographers to forego this model. But for its target audience of typically less-experienced photographers coming from a smartphone or fixed-lens compact, the E-M10 III's new UI can make it much easier to get the results you're after.
Of particular note are the newly-overhauled Scene mode menu, which now groups related scene types together by category, making it quicker and easier to locate the specific one you're looking for. The Shortcut button also comes in very handy in PASM shooting, surfacing many options in the Super Control Panel. Add in a live guide and the dedicated "Advanced Photo" position on the Mode dial, and we'd wager that more of the E-M10 III's features will be found and used by its owners than with many cameras.
But if you're already an experienced shooter, there are times when all of these ease-of-use features can feel like the exact opposite, getting in your way instead of helping you. Most notably, you can't exposure bracket at all unless you're using Program autoexposure in AP mode. (And even then, only with full-stop exposure bracketing increments.)
Excellent overall performance that's hobbled by subpar continuous autofocus
Despite its affordable pricetag, the Olympus E-M10 III offers pretty excellent performance in most respects. It's pretty quick to start up, even if not quite as fast as was its predecessor. Continuous burst capture performance is also good, matching Olympus' claimed 8.6 frames per second rating in our in-house testing. And single autofocus performance, too, is much faster than average for a mirrorless camera.
Really, there's only one fly in the performance ointment here, but unfortunately it's a biggie, at least if you shoot a lot of sports or similarly active subjects. The contrast-detection autofocus system in the E-M10 III isn't great, often failing to keep up with subject motion across continuous bursts of frames, even if you reduce the capture rate significantly. You can, of course, focus manually instead, or simply fix your focus at a suitable point and then try to keep your subject within the available depth of field. But the E-M10 III's intended customers won't know how to do this, and so they're liable to find themselves frustrated when shooting more active subjects.
Great image quality that will slay your smartphone, especially in low light
But there's one area in which we have no real quibbles, and it's arguably even more important. On the image quality front, the Olympus E-M10 III turns in great results for its class. Images are packed with plenty of sharp detail, and dynamic range is very good. White balance is for the most part accurate, and while saturation tends a little high (a look which typical consumers favor), colors are otherwise accurately represented as well.
There's also a surprisingly even-handed noise reduction system which turns in great results all the way to ISO 3200-equivalent, and reasonably usable results (especially at smaller print sizes) as high as ISO 12,800-equivalent. Make no mistake: The E-M10 III is going to demolish results from your smartphone once the sun goes down.
4K video footage is excellent, but prone to autofocus hunting
The Olympus E-M10 III is also a reasonably capable video shooter, although it does lack many features experienced shooters will expect, such as built-in microphone or headphone jacks. The new 4K video capture mode can provide razor-sharp, attractive footage, and you can also shoot with a 4x slow-motion effect at HD resolution. Really, our biggest concern for video capture is the same as it was for stills: Full-time autofocus on this camera just isn't up to snuff, and even with relatively static scenes, the 4K mode in particular can show noticeable focus hunting.
A great choice for less experienced photographers on a budget
But with all of this, you have to bear in mind this camera's affordable pricetag. Just US$600 or thereabouts will net you a body-only E-M10 III as of this writing, and even a kit with a very compact pancake-style 14-42mm zoom will only cost around US$700 or so. And for that pricetag, it's a lot easier to overlook some of the few flaws we've found in our review, especially if you're looking for a really compact camera with plenty of dedicated controls and features.
If you're an experienced shooter, you'll likely want to look further up Olympus' Micro Four Thirds line instead, and the same is true if you'll predominantly be shooting sports or other very active subjects. But for family documentarians and less-experienced photographers who are ready to upgrade from their smartphones or fixed-lens cameras, the Olympus E-M10 III represents quite a lot of camera for your money, and makes it pretty easy to get good results. And even with a couple of reservations about its user interface and autofocus system, we think the E-M10 III more than merits the title of Dave's Pick, as well!
Pros & Cons
- Superb build quality for its class
- Very compact and light for its feature set
- Nice, large and high-res Organic LED electronic viewfinder
- Tilting, touchscreen LCD (but tilt mechanism isn't designed for selfie shooting)
- Larger, more comfortable handgrip than in its predecessors
- Improved ergonomics and UI (but may feel hobbled to experienced shooters)
- Newly-categorized Scene mode makes it much easier to find what you're after
- Very good image quality for its class
- Sharp, vibrant JPEGs with pleasing colors
- Improved noise processing gives very good JPEG results to ~ISO 3200, or a bit higher for smaller print sizes
- Excellent overall performance
- Improved buffer depths and shutter lag
- 121 point AF system (up from 81) works well for single-shot capture, even in low light
- Five-axis in-body image stabilization
- Two additional Art Filters for fans of bleach bypass processing
- 4K video (at 24/25/30p)
- Slower slo-mo video with 1280x720 at 120p
- Built-in Wi-Fi (but no Bluetooth or NFC for easier, faster connections)
- UHS-II SD card support with fast buffer clearing
- Decent performance from the tiny, light "pancake" kit zoom lens
- Controls are densely clustered together due to compact body
- Both front and rear grips are a bit small to pair well with larger lenses
- Fixed single-stop step size for exposure bracketing
- Bracketing is only available in Advanced Photo mode, so doesn't work in Priority-mode shooting
- Although battery life has improved slightly, it's still underwhelming
- Contrast-detect AF system doesn't perform well in continuous mode, noticeably hunts in videos
- "Pancake" kit zoom lens delays camera startup by a second or so
- Variable-speed zoom on kit lens must be changed through the menu
- Built-in flash no longer supports wireless flash control
- No external mic or headphone jacks
- No longer supports RM-UC1 USB wired release (Wi-Fi remote control only)
- In-camera battery charging via USB is not supported
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