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Hands on: Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III review

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III has the tech, but how does it stack up against the best pro cameras?

Hands on: Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III review
(Image: © Digital Camera World)

Our Verdict

We still need to test the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III on the court. However, In terms of sheer specs, this camera is a winner. The 20.4MP sensor may be old, but it delivers great image quality with more megapixels than the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III. The new processor makes incredible tech possible, including Live ND Filters and 50MP handheld imaging – not to mention its unparalleled 7.5 stops of in-body image stabilization, handheld astrophotography shooting and 60fps burst shooting. If it can keep pace during play, this could be something very special indeed.

For

  • • 7.5 stops of IBIS with Sync IS
  • • 60fps (locked) / 18fps (with AF)
  • • Handheld astrophotography
  • • Up to 80MP shooting

Against

  • • Only 1 slot supports UHS-II
  • • Old sensor
  • • Old EVF
  • • Old screen

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 unparalleled 7.5 stops of image stabilization, unmatched 60fps shooting bursts, and advanced features that 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. 

Preorder the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III at Adorama

Preorder the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III at Park Cameras

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III returns to the compact form factor of the Mark II (Image credit: Digital Camera World)

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)

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 Macro (1/40 sec, f/3.2, ISO200) (Image credit: Lauren Scott / Digital Photographer)

Key features

Last year saw the release of the E-M1X – a mirrorless camera the size of a pro DSLR (think Canon 1D X) 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 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!!!), 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 new Olympus E-M1 Mark III (right) is dwarfed by last year's Olympus OM-D E-M1X (left) (Image credit: Digital Camera World)

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 that might make you toss out 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.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 12-100mm f/4 Pro (1/400 sec, f/4, ISO640) (Image credit: James Artaius / Digital Camera World)

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 really 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 to change ISO settings using the Super Control Panel, but having a specific button is undoubtedly useful.  

The E-M1 Mark III boasts a joystick and an alternate, streamlined, 'pro' Super Control Panel (Image credit: Digital Camera World)

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, shadow and highlight settings and so on) 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 boasts an improved Supersonic Wave Filter that reduces sensor dust by a factor of 10 – both hardware boosts brought over from the heavy duty E-M1X. 

The camera now features a dedicated ISO button, and Bulb has been added to the control dial (Image credit: Digital Camera World)

Performance

NOTE: Our initial test conditions did not accommodate shooting in an action or sports environment. We are currently conducting a more thorough field test of the camera, including sports and video, and will update this review with our findings – along with adding full lab data. 

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III performs very much on par with the Olympus OM-D E-M1X – which is unsurprising, given that many of the same algorithms are running under the hood. If you’ve used and been impressed by the X, you will know exactly what to expect here – albeit in a smaller form factor, with a few new tricks and even some improved performance. In particular, handheld 50MP pixel-shift images are far more consistent, and Focus Stacking/Bracketing autofocus and accuracy feels far better. 

It confidently outperforms the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, as you would expect. Everything here feels superior, from the faster and more robust autofocus to an 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, we think you’ll notice a definite boost in terms of its core performance – and that’s before factoring in the wealth of all-new features. 

The in-body image stabilization truly is 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, that means you’re able to shoot handheld images at 600mm – something that makes this camera a powerhouse for wildlife shooting. Not to mention the enormous advantages for shooting handheld in general, especially in low light.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 Macro (1/100 sec, f/5.6, ISO400) (Image credit: Mark Wilson / TechRadar)

We mentioned that 50MP handheld shots are far more consistent, and we feel that the 80MP images are a real force to be reckoned with. Yes, other modern cameras have caught onto the pixel-shift trick now (with the Fujifilm GFX 100 promising 400MP images in a future firmware upgrade), but the ability to shoot super hi-res imagery is quite incredible – and it’s worth noting that the edge-to-edge sharpness is, anecdotally, superior to natively hi-res sensors, which might be be a deal-maker for archivists and other detail-focused shooters.

Pro Capture mode remains one of our favorite features in the camera industry – and it's something that not even the mighty Sony A9 II or Canon EOS-1D X Mark III are capable of. If you’re unfamiliar, Pro Capture records 35 frames when you half-press the shutter and up to 120 frames (a new improvement) after you’ve pressed it – meaning that, even if you’re half a second slow on the draw, you never miss the critical moment, whether it’s a bird of prey taking off or a runner bolting from the starting blocks. 

The face detect AF and tracking feels decidedly more ‘sticky’; even when your subjects turn their face, the AF is able to keep track of and focus on the sides of faces. There is also the handy ability, if the camera detects more than one face in the frame, to select which one to track – definitely a boon for social, event and wedding photographers!

As mentioned, Olympus appears to be gearing the E-M1 Mark III towards the astrophotography market (something of a trend, perhaps, given the recent release of the dedicated stargazer Canon EOS Ra) and this is also born out in the improved Live Composite mode. You are now able to keep the shutter open for six hours – doubling the three-hour maximum of the Mark II – to capture starry skies and light trails. Between this, and the fact that you can plug in a power bank to keep the camera running, opens all kinds of creative possibilities. 

The sensor may be small, but it's capable to 50MP handheld or 80MP images on a tripod (Image credit: Digital Camera World)

Early verdict

As it stands right now, we’re impressed with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III. However, as it also stands right now, we haven’t been able to test it in the critical arena of sports and fast action shooting. Its AF acquisition and tracking are certainly up to snuff in other areas, particularly the much improved Face and Eye Priority. The E-M1X proved that this tech can track fast-moving vehicles, so if it can do the same with fast-moving people then Olympus could be onto an absolute winner. 

The 20.4MP sensor may be five years old, and we certainly wish Olympus had pushed the boat out for its flagship camera to give us something truly cutting edge, but it still delivers great image quality with more megapixels than the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III.  

Every last iota of resolution is squeezed from the Micro Four Thirds sensor thanks to High Res Shot, which delivers impressive 50MP images handheld and 80MP images on a tripod, making this a unique pro camera that can match speed with size. 

And with its unparalleled 7.5 stops of in-body image stabilization, not only does it offer the most sturdy shooting of any camera on the market, it also opens a gateway to options like handheld astrophotography shooting – something that not even dedicated astro cameras can offer. And not even other sports cameras can offer the 60fps maximum burst or Pro Capture capabilities.

In terms of sheer specs, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III is a winner. And if it can keep pace with the A9 IIs and 1D X IIIs of the world on the court, this could be something very special indeed.

Preorder the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III at Adorama

Preorder the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III at Park Cameras

Read more: 

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Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III: world-best 7.5 stops IBIS, handheld astro, 60fps burst + 80MP images!
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