“The Olympus E-M1 Mark III makes previously impossible recordings easy.”
Starry sky autofocus
High-resolution handheld mode
EVF could be better
The measurement was somewhat unpredictable
Same sensor as Mark II
Some photographers are pixel peepers. They reach for the largest sensors with the highest resolution and are only looking for the sharpest optics in order to reproduce a test card perfectly. The $ 1,800 Olympus OMD E-M1 Mark III won’t please these photographers. in fact, it completely ignores them.
This is the camera for everyone else, especially for those who value a compact, adventurous system. Photographers who want long zoom and short size lenses; and photographers looking for a camera that will make even the most difficult shots fun.
Olympus suspends the full-frame race, sticks to the smaller Micro Four Thirds format that it developed, and focuses on usability with features that no other brand offers. For the most part, it works.
This includes brand new features like Starry Sky AF, an autofocus mode specially designed for focusing on the stars (those in the sky; this is not a paparazzi mode). This includes a stabilization system with 7.5 apertures and integrated ND filters (neutral density), with which you can leave the tripod and the screw-on filter (at least in most cases) at home.
We spent four days testing the limits of the E-M1 Mark III on the beaches and jungles of Costa Rica, and then put the camera through its paces in a northeastern winter for a few weeks. While the E-M1 Mark III isn’t the best camera you can buy for $ 1,800, it’s the best interchangeable camera on the go.
Design and build quality
The E-M1 Mark III offers functions similar to the E-M1X, but in a smaller form without the built-in battery handle. With the 12-45mm 1: 4 PRO, the smallest weatherproof combination that Olympus offers. I was able to put the camera, four lenses, two teleconverters – enough for a range of 600 mm – and an iPad in a backpack. I even had enough space to put my tripod in my backpack instead of strapping it out. A difference that allowed me to pack everything in hand luggage for a four-day international photo tour.
Despite the smaller size and weight – around 20.5 ounces – the handle of the E-M1 Mark III is comfortable and there is still plenty of room for physical controls, including dual controls and an autofocus joystick. Olympus was also able to use two SD card slots, although only slot is UHS-II compatible.
The control layout is solid, if not perfect. I love the programmable mode switch that can be used to quickly switch between two camera settings. Although it can do much more, I used it to quickly switch from simple to continuous autofocus when photographing wildlife.
A joystick, two dials, and an ISO button near the thumb provide easy focus and exposure settings. The key combinations for focus modes, measurement, burst, timer and flash are located in the top left.
On the less positive side, the record button and exposure compensation are right next to each other on the top of the camera near the trigger. With the same size and shape, I accidentally started recording several times when I wanted to adjust the exposure. These two controls take a little more time to use the camera comfortably without having to pull the viewfinder away from my eye.
For more controls, a quick menu contains less frequently used options. The full menu is known to anyone who previously shot Olympus, but it takes time to look for options for lesser-known people.
The E-M1 III uses a 3-inch, 1.037 million dots touchscreen that is tilted to the side of the camera, so you can rotate the screen in selfie orientation without being blocked by a tripod.
As with the E-M1X, however, I was not impressed by the electronic viewfinder. The refresh rate was solid, but the images had less contrast than the LCD screen. With 2.36 million points, there are several EVFs on the market that offer a higher resolution.
The magnesium alloy case is sealed against dust and splashes and feels firm in the hands, which is no surprise to anyone who previously used a high-end Olympus camera. It even survived my accidental durability test when the tide came in a little faster than expected while the camera was on the beach. Although it is more of a partial immersion than a simple splash, both the E-M1 and the new 12-45mm kit lens were no worse to carry. A small amount of beach sand penetrated directly into the battery compartment, but if the camera survives being hit by a sea wave, it should be able to withstand the announced splashes and dust without any problems.
The E-M1 Mark III does not have the double batteries of the E-M1X, but the battery life of a mirrorless camera is solid. I didn’t have to replace the battery until the end of the day, about 800 shots later. (My preference for burst mode usually allows me to achieve more than the specified battery life – the CIPA rating is 420 shots or 900 in quick sleep mode).
Features and performance
Shot with Starry Sky AF and a tripod, edited in Adobe Lightroom
Compared to larger cameras, taking pictures with the E-M1 Mark III is liberating. While most mirrorless cameras are easy to carry, the E-M1 can leave both the tripod and the ND filters in most cases. With a 7-stage stabilization system (7.5 with the M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-100 mm f / 4.0 PRO lens) and the built-in NDs, I took several long-term exposures of ocean waves during the day without removing my tripod from the take backpack.
Olympus has the best stabilization system of any manufacturer, and says that most people can take 6-second wide-angle shots without a tripod. This is impressive. But with a firm grip it is possible to get even more out of it. Although I love long exposures, I hate taking my tripod anywhere, and I’ve taken long exposures much more often because I could hold them in my hand.
Starry Sky AF is a new feature that is not known by other brands. It worked surprisingly well.
Long-term handheld exposures aren’t new to the E-M1 Mark III, but a handheld photo of the night sky without a tripod – or manual focus – is definitely. The camera’s new Starry Sky AF mode does not use contrast detection, phase detection, or even a hybrid of the two systems. Instead, luminance is used to look for the points of light that create stars against a black sky.
The system has two modes: speed priority for hand shooting and accuracy priority when working on a tripod. The mode is also set up to use focus with the back button instead of focusing with half a press on the shutter button. So you can easily keep the focus while reformulating the recording.
Photographing stars is one of the more difficult types of photography, since a tripod is usually required and the sweet spot must be found on the manual focus ring, which can take multiple test shots before it is just right. The combination of stabilization and starry AF of the E-M1 III simplifies the shooting of stars, makes it easier for advanced photographers and is accessible for beginners. I would still prefer a tripod to get the best results, but the fact that one isn’t required is very impressive.
Starry Sky AF is a new feature that is not known by other brands. It worked surprisingly well. While not as fast as the camera’s usual autofocus, it surpasses manual focus. And because the system is based on luminance, it also works with other types of light sources that are surrounded by darkness, such as night cityscapes.
While the Starry Sky AF is the star of the show, the E-M1 Mark III’s 121-point phase detection autofocus system – a system almost identical to the E-M1X – does a good job. The focus speed is not record-breaking, but has kept pace with everything from surfers to birds in flight. The auto focus in low light is also respectable, if not the best in its class, with a sensitivity of up to -3.5 EV.
Eye AF is comparable to other mirrorless systems from competitors.
Face and eye AF also worked well and quickly recognized and fixed the eyes. While probably not fast enough for sports, eye AF is comparable to other mirrorless systems from competitors. Some systems, such as the Nikon Z 6 and Z 7, require the use of automatic AF for eye AF to work. The E-M1 Mark III can use Eye AF in Group AF mode, which means you don’t have to switch between focus modes as much as your subjects change. Eye AF for animals, a feature that is becoming increasingly common with other brands, is also missing.
Tracking autofocus worked just as well as any camera I shot with – which means that sometimes it works and sometimes it’s junk. I managed to take a few sharp shots, but with group mode and simple continuous autofocus I had better results. However, I don’t really count this as a negative because I haven’t yet met a tracking autofocus camera that is good enough for quick actions (newer Sony models like the A6600 might be an exception).
The E-M1 Mark III also didn’t inherit the E-M1X’s motorsport focus mode (which actually works quite well for tracking). The niche function requires two processors to function and therefore remains exclusive to the high-end flagship model. However, the single processor of the E-M1 upgraded to TruPic IX still manages to achieve the same performance.
The E-M1 III is fast enough for most photographers too. It can shoot with the mechanics at 10 frames per second or with the quiet electronic shutter at 18 frames per second. If you don’t need continuous autofocus, You can increase this speed up to 15 or 60 fps. The frame buffer limits approximately 76 RAW shots when shooting at 18 frames per second. However, we have found that this is sufficient to accommodate everything from birds to surfers.
The TruPic IX processor also enables a new high-resolution handheld mode that uses the image stabilization system and the tiny movements of your hands to combine 16 photos into a 50 megapixel file. The mode is only suitable for perfectly calm subjects, but offers the possibility of achieving a higher resolution if the 20.4 megapixels of the sensor are not sufficient.
The E-M1 Mark III has the same sensor as the Mark II with the same resolution of 20 MP. Given the small size of the sensor, increasing the resolution will eventually reduce the return, so 20 MP is fine. However, there is no way around the fact that this sensor, which is now many years old, has limitations compared to larger, more modern sensors. The E-M1 Mark III is still good enough for most photographers, but don’t expect a jump in image quality over older models.
However, this smaller sensor has advantages. One of the biggest advantages of the 2X crop factor makes it easier to achieve a longer focal length. 600 mm equivalent range, a groundbreaking focal length in full screen mode, can be easily taken along.
The excellent image stabilization is also of great help with these long lenses. Even with relatively slow shutter speeds, the details remained sharp when shooting with a 600 mm handheld.
And while the sensor remains unchanged, a new detail priority mode processes high ISO images twice, slowing the camera down but increasing the level of detail. When processing with speed priority, the noise creeps in around ISO 800, and details and sharpness tend to go down around ISO 3,200. Fortunately, the excellent stabilization for still subjects can help keep the ISO low.
The camera’s metering system felt less predictable than most of the others even in spot metering mode, and I was regularly on the exposure compensation dial to get the exposure right in aperture priority and shutter priority mode.
This alligator was silent enough for high-resolution mode, though it took a few tries.
If you need additional resolution, the high-resolution handheld mode can be of great help. The photo above was taken in this mode and even cropped in the mail. The subject must remain still, and the camera takes a few extra seconds to put everything together, but provides detail for some subjects.
The video follows a similar pattern with good color and excellent stabilization. Taking even wide-angle shots without a tripod was easy, with just a little movement in the video. The detail is excellent thanks to the 4K resolution of the cinema.
Price and availability
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark IIIand was released on February 24th.
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III is a small camera, but it is also a camera that works in a way that other cameras cannot. Features like Starry Sky AF and the high-resolution handheld mode are unique advantages. Since you pack a weatherproof camera and smaller lenses, leave the tripod and the ND filters at home and still get solid images, the E-M1 Mark III is an ideal camera for on the go.
But it is not perfect. The viewfinder resolution is out of date for several generations, the measuring system feels inconsistent and many other basic systems such as the 121-point autofocus and the 20MP Four Thirds sensor are adopted by the Mark II.
Is there a better alternative?
For $ 1,800, you get a lot of camera, including the recently announced Fujifilm X-T4, which has a larger APS-C sensor but is similar in size to the E-M1. Even the Sony A7 III in full-screen mode is the better choice for photographers who are more concerned with the highest image quality than with large zoom and a lot of stabilization.
But no competing camera has 7-stage image stabilization (the Fuji comes close to 6.5, but only with selected lenses). No other camera can focus on the stars or take astrophotography without a tripod. And no other format can pack a 600 mm range in a 300 mm lens.
So whether there is a “better” camera depends on your definition of “better”. Is there a camera with better picture quality for the price? Absolutely. But is there a better alternative for travel photography? Probably not.
How long it will take?
The weather seal makes the E-M1 Mark III a tough machine. The updated shutter is one of Olympus’ best with 400,000 operations. My test device survived being partially submerged in sea water. Aside from more extreme disasters, the camera should last for many years and even beyond if Olympus chose the Mark IV.
Should you buy it
Yes, if you want a great interchangeable lens camera on the go or are obsessed with long exposures, but hate to carry a tripod around. Image stabilization, built-in NDs and Starry Sky AF are all great.
The smaller sensor is less suitable for genres like portraits, weddings, and fashion, where you can spend a similar amount of money on a full-frame body and where the advanced features of the E-M1 III just don’t work.