Olympus E-M5 Mark III Review Conclusion

Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro: 34mm, f/2.8, 1/3200s, ISO 200

Well, it was a long time coming, but a new generation of Olympus E-M5 is here at last. For Olympus owners -- or those simply wanting a small, lightweight, yet still rugged mirrorless camera -- the 2015-era E-M5 II was undoubtedly starting to get rather long in the tooth. But now that has changed. The new Olympus E-M5 Mark III brings this compact OM-D camera essentially up to the level of the E-M1 Mark II and E-M1X in terms of image quality and general performance. The refreshed E-M5 III maintains a fairly similar exterior design, but the internals -- the sensor, the processor, AF system and more -- bring significant improvements for this compact yet capable Micro Four Thirds camera. There is a lot to like here, even if you're not already an Olympus owner. However, if you are an existing E-M5 or E-M5 II owner, then boy, oh boy, the E-M5 III offers plenty of upgrades.

Design & Handling

As stated, the exterior design of the E-M5 Mark III looks and feels remarkably similar to the previous Mark II model, maintaining its characteristically compact and lightweight SLR-style design with a fairly minimal handgrip. Yet despite its lightweight design, the E-M5 III is even more weather-resistant than its predecessor, now offering IPX1-rated weather-sealing. The E-M5-series has long been touted for its weather-resistance, and frankly, it's quite impressive that such a small camera has robust environmental sealing to begin with -- and now the E-M5 III is, somehow, even better. All this, too, despite the greater use of polycarbonate plastic in the camera's construction compared to the predecessor. We should add, too, that despite the changes in construction and materials, the E-M5 III is extremely well-built, with solid construction and no "plastic-y" feel to it at all.

Elsewhere around the camera body, the design and handling are quite similar to its predecessors, but there have been slight improvements to comfort as well as button layout. While still much smaller and slimmer than an E-M1-series camera, the grip and corresponding thumb rest on the rear of the E-M5 III are now slightly larger than before, which makes the camera easier to hold. That said, it remains a small camera and can still feel unbalanced and front-heavy when paired with longer, heavier lenses. To help with this, Olympus does sell an optional baseplate attachment with a grip extension. However, the baseplate blocks access to the battery compartment on the bottom of the camera. (Fortunately, the Micro-USB port supports in-camera battery charging.)

Changes around the body in terms of controls and button layout more closely mimic that of the E-M1 II and E-M1 III. It's certainly not a huge difference, however, and there shouldn't be much, if any, learning curve for those upgrading from earlier E-M5 models. However, current E-M1 II/III owners will feel pleasantly at home with an E-M5 III, should they add one of these to their camera bag.

The electronic viewfinder, too, hasn't changed much since the E-M5 II, which is a tad bit disappointing. They have, thankfully, swapped the LCD panel out for an OLED, which is nice. But it's still the same 2.36M-dot resolution display as in the E-M5 II, E-M1 II and E-M1 III, which, given the time span of all these camera models, certainly shows the age of this EVF display. The EVF in the E-M5 III is also slightly smaller than the predecessor's, at just 0.68x. Overall, it's certainly not a bad viewfinder experience -- it more than gets the job done -- but it's definitely not a new feature.

All in all, the E-M5 III doesn't change things up too drastically when it comes to design and handling. The camera remains impressively small and portable yet filled with plenty of buttons, controls and options for user customization. Plus, it continues its heritage of excellent build quality, making it durable enough to handle a wide range of harsh shooting conditions.

Image Quality

Under the hood, the Olympus E-M5 III imaging performance is somewhat of a head-scratcher. On the one hand, the E-M5 III is a clear upgrade over its predecessor, going from an older TruePic VII processor and 16-megapixel sensor to the latest-generation TruePic VIII chip and a 20MP Four Thirds sensor. It's a solid upgrade in both image resolution and processing performance, with improved image processing, a new ISO range and better high ISO performance as well as faster AF and performance features. On the other hand, this is yet another 20MP Four Thirds camera, and it's essentially the same imaging pipeline from the E-M1 II and E-M1X. It's not a groundbreaking camera in terms of image quality, both when compared to the rest of the camera market as well as most of Olympus' other Micro Four Thirds cameras. Nevertheless, it's a very pleasing upgrade over the aging E-M5 II in and of itself, and this camera is smaller than those mentioned above.

Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro: 35mm, f/2.8, 1/6400s, ISO 200

As we saw with the similar E-M1 II, the image quality performance from the E-M5 III is very good for a Micro Four Thirds camera, with excellent detail, color reproduction and dynamic range. Lower ISO images display fantastic resolution, particularly thanks to the lack of an optical low-pass filter. For those wanting even more resolution, the E-M5 III offers an upgraded High-Res Shot mode, with higher-resolution files thanks to the higher-res sensor. However, unlike the E-M1X and E-M1 Mark III, the High-Res Shot in this camera only works on a tripod -- and as we've seen with other multi-shot shooting modes, High-Res Shot mode doesn't work well with moving objects.

At higher ISOs, the E-M5 III is at a disadvantage compared to cameras with a larger sensor, just like other 20MP Micro Four Thirds cameras we've tested. All things being equal, the smaller Four Thirds sensor can struggle with noise and low-light performance compared to other types of cameras. That being said, the E-M5 III's high ISO performance is very good for an MFT camera; In our lab testing, the higher ISO image quality was very similar to both the E-M1 II and E-M1X. Additionally, the impressive image stabilization system inside the E-M5 III -- which also gets a notable performance upgrade over the older model -- lets you keep that shutter open a bit longer, allowing for lower ISOs in darker shooting conditions.

Despite being a stills-centric camera, the E-M5 III comes decently spec’d for video shooting, offering high-quality 4K video -- both in Cinema 4K at 24p and UHD at up to 30p. Plus, it includes other handy amenities such as IBIS support during video recording, including with 4K, a high-speed movie mode at 1080p120 and a built-in 4K Time-lapse movie mode.

Olympus 12-100mm f/4 IS Pro: 12mm, f/4, 1/2500s, ISO 200

Autofocus & Performance

Much like the imaging system, the autofocus and performance features of the E-M5 III essentially make the camera an E-M1 II inside a smaller shell. At long last, the E-M5-series gains on-sensor phase-detection AF, as it uses the same 121-point hybrid AF system from the E-M1 II and E-M1X. The E-M5 III brings over essentially the same level of AF performance and features as the E-M1 II with firmware v3.0. (The camera does not have the E-M1X's cool A.I.-based intelligent subject recognition technology, however.) In our testing, as expected, the E-M5 III offers a more or less identical user experience to what we saw with the E-M1 II. Autofocus performed extremely well, with super-fast and precise single-shot AF along with fast, capable tracking performance for moving subjects.

Alongside the excellent AF system, the E-M5 III's continuous shooting performance is also very capable, with high-speed features such as Pro Capture and up to 10fps burst shooting with the electronic shutter. Unlike the higher-end E-M1 II or X, the E-M5 III isn't as robustly spec'd for high-speed burst shooting. Both the E-M1 II and X cameras offer faster burst rates (outside of Pro Capture modes), with up to 18fps shooting using the electronic shutter and with C-AF. That's understandable, however, as the E-M5 III isn't designed as a top-end sports and action camera. Yet, for all but the most demanding action subjects, the E-M5 III's swift AF speeds, burst shooting rates and improved buffer depths has proven more than capable for most needs.

Olympus 12-100mm f/4 IS Pro: 47mm, f/4.5, 1/2000s, ISO 200


Though it was quite a wait between the previous E-M5 II and this new model, the refreshed Olympus E-M5 Mark III brings a lot to the table for Olympus owners and Micro Four Thirds shooters in general, as well as any photographer looking for a rugged, high-quality yet highly-portable mirrorless camera. While the specs in and of themselves aren't necessarily groundbreaking, the new E-M5 III is now, in many ways, on-par with the rest of the current OM-D models. In a lot of ways, the E-M5 III is essentially an E-M1 II crammed into an even smaller, lighter package, which is quite impressive. With an updated sensor, faster processor, phase-detect AF, better image stabilization and more, the compact E-M5 Mark III offers quite a bit of performance and quality in a form factor that won't weigh you down, nor hit too hard on the wallet.


Pros & Cons

  • Terrific overall image quality for a 20-megapixel 4/3" sensor
  • Competitive high ISO performance for a Micro Four Thirds camera
  • Very good dynamic range
  • High Res Shot mode offers 50-megapixel JPEGs, 80-megapixel RAWs
  • Very effective 5-axis IS system
  • 121 cross-type on-chip phase detection focus points
  • Very fast single-shot autofocus
  • Autofocuses in very low light
  • Excellent C-AF performance
  • 10fps full-res burst mode with mechanical shutter; 10fps with C-AF using elec. shutter
  • Incredible 30fps with electronic shutter (but no C-AF)
  • Generous buffer depths
  • Built-in high-res EVF
  • Fully-articulating touchscreen LCD
  • Flash supported with electronic shutter (up to 1/50s)
  • Pleasing 4K UHD & Cinema 4K (DCI) video with high bitrates (DCI 4K 24p @ 237 Mbps)
  • Dustproof, splashproof & freezeproof
  • Excellent external controls with responsive buttons & dials
  • Built-in Wi-Fi & Bluetooth
  • USB charging
  • No built-in flash (but is bundled with small body-powered external flash)
  • Moiré & aliasing artifacts can be an issue due to lack of optical low-pass filter
  • High Res Shot mode limited to ISO 64-1600
  • High Res Shot mode requires tripod & motion artifacts can still occur
  • Default anti-noise processing can be a little heavy-handed at higher ISOs
  • Menus can still feel overwhelming & confusing
  • Below average battery life for its class
  • Small size can be awkward with long, heavy lenses
  • Only one SD slot
  • No headphone jack

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