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Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III review

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III is a distillation of the company’s greatest technology, and is the apex of its professional camera aspirations. The smallest and lightest pro system in the world, it offers an unparalleled 7.5 stops of image stabilization (6.5 as a base), unmatched 60fps shooting bursts (18 with AF / AE), and advanced features that simply aren’t possible on any if its rivals.

However, when its rivals include the just-launched Canon EOS-1D X Mark III and the brand new Sony A9 II, does the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III have what it takes to topple the best professional cameras on the market? 

And exactly why has Olympus given us another pro body when it only released the Olympus OM-D E-M1X just over a year ago? If you’re feeling a little confused about the manufacturer’s current top-tier product line, you’re not alone.  

Whether you’re a professional wedding or events photographer, a wildlife specialist or a pro sports shooter heading to the Olympics in July, let’s find out if Olympus’ latest flagship is right for you. 

SPECIFICATIONS

Sensor: 20.4MP four thirds Live MOS
Image processor: TruePic IX
AF points: 121 cross-type on-chip phase detection
ISO range: Low to 25,600 (ISO200 base)
Max image size: 7,776 x 10,368
Metering modes: ESP, spot, centre weighted, highlight, shadow
Video: C4K at 24fps, 4K at 30fps, 1080p at 120fps
Viewfinder: EVF, 2.36m dots, 0.84x mag
Memory card: 1x UHS-II SD, 1x UHS-I SD
LCD: 3-inch fully articulating touchscreen, 1037K dots
Max burst: 60fps
Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB-C
Size: 134.1.4 x 90.9 x 68.9mm
Weight: 504g (body only; 580g with battery and SD card)

KEY FEATURES

Last year saw the release of the E-M1X – a mirrorless camera the size of a pro DSLR with built-in vertical grip, dual batteries and twin TruePic XIII processors. All of which amounted to a monstrously powerful camera – but also a monstrously sized camera by Micro Four Thirds standards (which are supposed to be about offering much smaller form factors than full-frame systems). 

While the E-M1X isn’t without its place, we’re very pleased to see Olympus return to convention with the Mark III – which, in short, combines the raw power of the X with the smaller, familiar form factor of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II.

Does that mean that the X was a failed experiment? We don’t believe so. There are certainly situations where a bigger body with built-in grip and extra batteries comes in useful – especially if you’re pairing it with Olympus’ line of phenomenal f/1.2 Pro lenses. In most cases, though, users choose Micro Four Thirds because they want to stay small, light and agile. So this new 504g body is a welcome return to form. 

While we’re disappointed that Olympus is trotting out the same 20.4MP image sensor yet again (it is a great sensor, but come on, guys – it came out in 2016!!!), along with the same old EVF and same old screen, this time we do get a brand new processor: TruePic IX. To illustrate how powerful this new processor is, the E-M1X required two TruePic VIIIs to perform its more advanced features – such as Live ND filters, Intelligent Subject Detect AF, and the handheld 50MP High Res Shot. 

The fact that the TruePix IX can perform all these tricks, and more, tells you just how much more beastly it is than its predecessor. Indeed, among its new party pieces are an improved Face Priority / Eye Priority AF algorithm (which keeps a better lock on subjects, even side-on) and the new Starry Sky AF algorithm (which comprises accurate astro autofocus, a fine-tuned scan option for telephoto lenses, as well as a special image stabilization-powered mode for handheld astrophotography shots). 

The E-M1 Mark III carries over other signature features from the E-M1X, such as 80MP High Res Shot for tripod-based photography, 7 stops of image stabilization (7.5 with Olympus Sync-IS lenses), custom AF targeting to create bespoke focus clusters (such as a straight, vertical, person-shaped line rather than a clump of squares), new AF target modes for stills and video, and 4K / C4K capture up to 30fps, with OM Log400 and bespoke movie stabilization good enough to retire your gimbal. 

And of course it boasts all the familiar flagship features, such as 60fps burst shooting (with focus locked, and 18fps with full AF / AE tracking), 1080p video at up to 120fps, in-body Focus Stacking and Focus Bracketing, and world-class weather sealing.

BUILD AND HANDLING

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III is identical in size to the Mark II, and is only heavier by six grams. And while the ergonomics are likewise almost the same, there is one key difference: like the E-M1X, the camera now possesses a Multi Selector (that’s a joystick, to you and us). 

Up until the E-M1X, Olympus bodies relied on either the D-pad or Touch and Drag using the rear LCD screen to maneuver focus points around. However, D-pads are too finicky for fast movement – and if you’ve ever used a camera in cold weather or with gloves on, you’ll know that Touch and Drag is only good until it isn’t. 

So the addition of a joystick is a very welcome one, especially if you’re shooting fast action or sports. To accommodate the joystick, the INFO button now sits where MENU used to be, and MENU now resides at the far left of the camera’s rear. 

Another incredibly useful addition ported over from the E-M1X is a dedicated ISO button, which now resides on the camera’s right shoulder above the rear thumb grip (displacing the Fn1 button). It was only an extra click or two to change ISO settings using the Super Control Panel before, but having a specific button is undoubtedly useful in the heat of the moment.  

Speaking of the Super Control Panel (Olympus’ brilliant one-stop menu for changing any and every critical shooting setting), the E-M1 Mark III now offers the choice of an alternative, pro-oriented control panel. This abolishes less crucial options (such as aspect ratio, IBIS modes and shadow and highlight settings) along with video controls for a cleaner, friendlier interface. 

As with the E-M1X, the Bulb function has been added to the mode dial, giving direct access to Olympus’ brilliant Live Composite, Live Bulb and Live Time modes for light painting and star trails – yet another nod, along with the fascinating suite of Starry Sky AF options, towards professional astrophotographers, whom it seems the company is keen to attract.

The camera supports charging via USB cable, and also supports the USB PD (Power Delivery) standard to enable the camera to be used while charging – which means that you can plug in a power bank and keep on shooting (provided you attach the optional HLD-9 battery holder). And, when you do get back to a proper power supply, the battery can be charged in just two hours.  

Finally, in less exciting but nonetheless important points, the new camera is rated to 400,000 shutter actuations (doubling the Mark II’s shutter life) and also boasts an improved Supersonic Wave Filter that reduces sensor dust by a factor of 10 – both hardware boosts being brought over from the more heavy duty E-M1X. 

PERFORMANCE

As you’d expect, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III confidently outperforms the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II. Everything here feels superior, from the faster and more robust autofocus to a significant improvement in ISO performance, and of course in the video capabilities. If you’re an existing Mark II owner and you’re wondering if this is worth the upgrade, you’ll notice a dramatic boost in its core performance – and that’s before factoring in the wealth of all-new features. 

The camera performs at least on par with the E-M1X (unsurprising, given that many of the same algorithms are running under the hood), and meaningfully outpunches it in a number of areas. In particular, handheld 50MP pixel-shift images are far more consistent (previously it was prone to more errors when rendering), and Focus Stacking / Bracketing autofocus and accuracy feels far improved. 

The in-body image stabilization is truly otherworldly. The E-M1 Mark III delivers 7 stops of stabilization as standard, but when paired with a Sync IS Pro lens (the Olympus 12-100mm f/4, 300mm f/4 and the upcoming 150-400mm f/4.5) that becomes an astonishing 7.5 stops. Bearing in mind the 2x crop factor, we’ve shot rocksteady handheld images at 1,200mm – something that makes this camera a powerhouse for wildlife shooting. The IBIS provides enormous advantages for shooting handheld in general, especially in low light.

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