Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III Review

For those in Malaysia, you can pre-order Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III directly from Olympus Malaysia here (click). 

Edit 12/2/20 – 6.15pm: Correction on specification of EVF – EVF has 0.74x magnification, not 0.83x as previously mentioned. 

Olympus has just announced the much anticipated OM-D E-M1 Mark III, a direct successor to their E-M1 Mark II which was released in 2016. The new E-M1 Mark III has a new Truepic IX image processing engine, porting over useful shooting features from the E-M1X such as hand-held high res shot 50MP and Live ND shooting, while also featuring a few new features such as starry sky AF and reworked eye/face tracking AF. I have been shooting with a review unit loaned from Olympus Malaysia for about 2 weeks and I am sharing my full review of E-M1 Mark III with plenty of image samples in this blog entry. I have also made a video review, for those who prefer to watch than read. 

Before we go further, here are some important disclaimers.  I am an Olympus Visionary, an ambassador to the Olympus brand. The E-M1 Mark III camera was loaned from Olympus Malaysia, and will be returned after this review. This is a non-technical review, there will be no graphs, charts or numerical comparisons. This is a user-experienced based review, and I am sharing my experience using the E-M1 Mark III, subjecting it to various shooting environment. The images were all shot in RAW and post-processed in Olympus Workspace with minor adjustments. 
You may find all the FULL RESOLUTION images with full EXIF data intact shown in this blog as well as the video in my Google Photos online album here (click)
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III shares a lot of similarities with both E-M1X and E-M1 mark II. The E-M1 Mark III has many features ported over from E-M1X but packed into the smaller body closely resembling the E-M1 Mark II. The E-M1 Mark III is essentially a mini E-M1X and more. 
The body design of E-M1 Mark III is almost identical to the E-M1 Mark II, and here are the similarities shared between the two cameras:
1) Battery holder grip, HLD-9. 
Those who already own the HLD-9 for E-M1 Mark II can share the battery holder grip with the new E-M1 Mark III. 
2) 20MP Live Mos Micro Four Thirds image sensor
The new E-M1 Mark III shares the exact same image sensor used in E-M1 Mark II, E-M1X and E-M5 Mark III. I can foresee this as the main point being attacked by ALL photography reviewers. I shall comment on this in my later part of this review. 

3) Battery BLH-1
The BLH-1 is quite a high capacity battery, and was a joy to use on E-M1 Mark II. Glad that the E-M Mark III shares the same one. 
4) Full Weather-sealing 
Splash, dust and freeze proof (down to -10 degrees Celcius)
5) Magnesium alloy body construction
The body design looks 99% identical, I am not surprised if the E-M1 Mark III used the exact same mold of E-M1 Mark II, with some minor tweaks.

6) Same Electronic Viewfinder
Exact same EVF panel from E-M1 Mark II is used – same resolution 2.36M dot, same magnification 0.74x and same refresh rate. 
7) Dual SD card slots 
Slot 1 is UHS-II compatible, slot 2 is UHS-I, and this will be another point that is attacked by reviewers. I do wish Olympus has included both UHS-II capable slots. 
8) Shooting  speeds and buffering
Silent Shutter burst sequential shooting 60FPS, mechanical shutter burst sequential shooting 15FPS. While I initially wished for faster speeds, the 60FPS is still the fastest in market today, with 15FPS being almost on par with even the fastest cameras. 

Although the E-M1 Mark III practically re purposed the original design of E-M1 Mark II, this was not necessarily a bad decision. In the mirrorless system camera world, E-M1 Mark II was highly regarded when it comes to camera ergonomics and handling, perhaps the best in class for professional use. 
Here are some physical changes notable on he E-M1 Mark III, as follows:
1) Addition of AF Joystick 
There is a new AF Joystick placed near the thumb-rest area for easy access and quick selection and movement of AF points. A lot of people will welcome this addition for better control over focusing points. This will also help those who operate using gloves, a physical joystick to control focusing point is easier than pressing the small buttons or using the touch LCD screen in colder/snowing areas. 
2) Elimination of “Fn1, Fn2, Fn3” labels on the customizable function buttons. 
Instead the labels were a mix of direct function or icons, such as ISO, exposure compensation sign, and the red recording movie button. This was a good move to give an overall cleaner and more minimalist look to the camera, rather than cluttered with unnecessary and redundant labels everywhere. 
3) The top plate design changed 
In terms of button and dial placements, the E-M1 Mark III changed in design to be more consistent with newer OM-D cameras like E-M5 Mark III and E-M1X.
4) Some changes to the mode dial
There are now 4 Custom settings (C1 to C4) instead of 3 in E-M1 Mark II and also a dedicated B (bulb) mode for quick access to live time and live composite shooting. 
5) Change of “Menu” button position
To accommodate the new AF Joystick, the menu button has been relocated from the bottom right corner of the camera to the top left corner – I find this to be quite frustrating, I much prefer an important button like the menu to remain in closer reach of my right hand/fingers for quicker single hand operation, while I use my left hand to solely hold the camera, usually by gripping the lens. 
6) USB-C Charging and Power Deliver
Finally, the USB-C port in E-M1 Mark III supports power delivery and charging! I wish E-M1 Mark II had this 4 years ago, it could have been a life-saver in some tight situations. 
There are some changes to the top plate of the camera, the placement of dials and buttons are more similar to newer OM-D cameras like E-M1X and E-M5 Mark III. There are no longer Fn labels, resulting in cleaner overall look. Near the shutter button, there are ISO, EV Comp and movie record bittons, all are fully customizable. 

Not really sure about the huge oh look at me E-M1 Mark III showy logo at the bottom corner of the camera, but this is the easiest way to tell apart from the predecessor E-M1 Mark II.

A big welcome, highly requested by many photographers, now E-M1 Mark III has an AF Joystick positioned strategically near the thumb hook area for quick AF point selection. the AF Joystick can adjust the AF points diagonally as well. 

My first complain on the new camera design was the relocation of menu button to the top left corner of the camera. 
E-M1 Mark III features a host of upgrades when it comes to camera internals, and is quite a different camera in comparison to E-M1 Mark II. The following list of features include some existing features ported over from the big brother E-M1X and a few new features introduced in E-M1 Mark III. 
1) New Image Processing Engine TRUEPIC IX
Olympus claimed that the new Truepic 9 engine used in E-M1 Mark III is as powerful as dual Truepic 8 processors found in the E-M1X, allowing thte E-M1 Mark III to have similar shooting features as the E-M1X. However, Olympus did not mention about any improvement when it comes to image quality output from the E-M1 Mark III, perhaps the images from the 20MP image sensor has already been optimized and every little bit of the sensor capability is squeezed out by the Truepic 8. 
2) SSWF Filter from E-M1X
New supesonic wave filter, Olympus claimed the best in class dust reduction system, similarly used in E-M1X.
3) Shutter life rating – 400,000
4) 5-Axis Image Stabilization up to 7 EV Stops effectiveness
With a new Truepic 9 image processor and similar 5-Axis IS mechanism found in E-M1X, the E-M1 Mark III can stabilize shots up to 7 stops using only in body stabilization. 
I have tested the image stabilization extensively, I was able to hand-hold at wide angle 12mm down to dangerously slow shutter speeds of 4-5 seconds confidently. I was able to shoot at 8-10 seconds shutter speeds or beyond, but those are more dependent on luck and how much coffee I have consumed before testing. Olympus carries on the champion slot when it comes to image stabilization department, being the best in the industry. Having powerful image stabilization inspires confidence when shooting – you know without a shadow of a doubt that you have nailed the shot and the slight hand movement can be effectively compensated by the powerful 5-Axis IS. Having one less thing to worry about during shooting allows me to focus more on other more important aspects of photography such as composition and lighting. 

12-45mm PRO, F5, ISO64, 1 second, 12mm

12-45mm PRO, F11, ISO200, 4 seconds, 12mm, hand-held

12-45mm PRO, F5.6, ISO200, 1/3 sec, 12mm, hand-held

12-45mm PRO, F14, ISO200, 4 seconds, 12mm, hand-held

12mm F2, F4, ISO200, 2.5 sec, hand-held

12mm F2, F5.6, ISO200, 4 seconds hand-held,

25m F1.8, F2.8, ISO200, 1.6 sec hand-held
5) Hand-Held High Res 50MP Shot
Using the new processor Truepic 9, new SSWF filter and upgraded 5-Axis IS system, hand-held high res shot 50MP is possible with the E-M1 Mark III. Once this mode is activated the camera takes 16 images at varying positions in quick succession based on hand movement during shooting,  and subsequently merged all images into a super high resolution 50MP shot. Image can be shot in RAW or JPEG. I have tested the hand-held high res shot extensively with very high hit rate. I have shot mostly buildings, landscape and some close up food photography. I was shooting with fast shutter speeds mostly, but I also tried at slower shutter speeds down to 1/25 second and the hand held high res shot still works with no issue. 
Do bear in mind that the hand-held high res shot works differently than the tripod high res mode. I have discussed about tripod high res mode before, and I won’t repeat them in this review. Also, it is crucial to ensure no subject movement during shoot, else the stitching of the images won’t be ideal. 
I personally think that the hand-held high res shot comes in really handy in situations when we know we need heavy cropping, or simply more resolution is required. Having more details captured within an image also result in more realistic looking appearance. I admit for most cases the native 20MP resolution is sufficient, but knowing the hand-held high res shot is ready to use at any moment is an advantage to the system. 
Reminder – for full resolution files please to to the online album here (click). 

50MP Hand-Held High Res Shot
12-45mm PRO, F5.6, ISO200, 1/25sec, 24mm

Crop from previous image

50MP Hand-Held High Res Shot
12-45mm PRO, F5.6, ISO200, 1/30 sec, 30mm

50MP Hand-held High Res Shot
75mm F1.8, F2.8, ISO200, 1/4000 sec

Crop from previous image

50MP Hand-Held High Res Shot
75mm F1.8, F4, ISO200, 1/1600 sec

Crop from previous image

50MP Hand-held High Res Shot
45mm F1.8, F4, ISO200, 1/1600sec
Crop from previous image
6) AF Performance with New Features
Generally, after using the E-M1 Mark III for a few weeks, the AF behavior is very similar to E-M1X and E-M1 Mark II, it was difficult to tell a difference if any. Single AF mode, which I used most of the time was blazing fast and super accurate, I did not miss any shots, if I did it was not the camera’s fault, it was my own for not responding quick enough. 
Continuous AF was also similar in terms of performance to E-M1 Mark II and E-M1X, employing full use of Phase Detect AF system built onto the image sensor for more efficient C-AF shooting. The predictive AF algorithm using in C-AF/tracking on E-M1X was also similarly found in the new E-M1X. 
There was a new eye/face tracking AF, or rather an improved version over the previous one, with active tracking locking onto the face of the human within a frame. Once activated, all you have to do is just press the shutter button, you don’t  have to worry about the position of the focusing point, it will stick onto the human face. 
If there are more than 2 faces, you can use the touch screen to select the faces by touching the face that you want the camera to actively track, or assign one of the many custom buttons to use as face/eye tracking selection if you shoot through the viewfinder. While I don’t think that the eye/face tracking detect AF is an absolute necessity when it comes to AF modes, this was also a direct response to the audience demands. I am sure because other camera manufacturers have included this feature (which worked well to a certain degree), Olympus has included their own version. 
I have my beautiful friend, Carmen Hong whom you have seen several times before, she almost always appears here whenever there is a new camera review. She was such a sport and agreed spending some time with me to test out this new Olympus eye/face tracking feature. 
I shot the entire portrait session of Carmen using the eye/face tracking AF on E-M1 Mark III, and every single shot came out perfectly sharp in focus. There were shots of her far away, and if the head of the person is too far the camera will not show a box tracking the eye, and only has a box on the face. To me, that was not an issue, because for the subject to appear that far away, the Micro Four Thirds having more depth of field should be able to compensate for any focus issues, and will surely be still in perfect focus. There was a case where Carmen was wearing her rose colored sunnies, and the camera can still track her effectively!
Once Eye/Face Tracking AF is activated, the camera will stick to a box onto the human face. 

If there are more than two faces in the frame, you can tell the camera which face you want to lock onto by using the LCD screen and touch the selected face. Also, you can use an assigned function button to select which face you want the camera to lock onto. 

Even when Carmen was wearing her sunnies, the camera cans still track her. 
Special thanks to Carmen Hong for helping out this part of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III review. Please do follow here on her blog (click) and Instagram (click). She is also an Olympus shooter, 

75mm F1.8, F1.8, ISO200, 1/640 sec

45mm F1.8, F1.8, ISO200, 1/2500 sec

75mm F1.8, F1.8, ISO200, 1/250 sec

75mm F1.8, F1.8, ISO200, 1/400 sec

45mm F1.8, F1.8, ISO200, 1/2500 sec

75mm F1.8, F1.8, ISO200, 1/3200 sec

75mm F1.8, F2.5, ISO200, 1/640 sec

75mm F1.8, F1.8, ISO200, 1/640 sec
In another scenario, I had Carmen walking straight to the camera, I set the AF to eye/face tracking, and used C-AF with low sequential burst mechanical shutter mode at 10 frames per second. Every single images (more than 50) came out perfectly sharp!

Besides the Eye/Face AF, there is also another new AF mode called Starry Sky AF. 


I have not tested the Starry Sky AF extensively, but during my short test I was able to nail the stars in perfect focus very quickly and easily. The sky as you can see from the image was cloudy, and it rained heavily a few minutes after I took the shot above. To find out more on how the Starry Sky AF works, go to Olympus’ official video here (click). 


7) Live ND Shooting
E-M1X introduces an interesting new feature, the Live ND which prevents overexposure when using slow shutter to shoot in bright situations, and at the same time showing live preview of the slow motion in LCD/EVF before pressing the shutter button. This same feature is also now available in E-M1 Mark III. 
8) My Menu
I am probably more excited about this My Menu than any other features mainly because I can fully recreate my own menu system. We all know how complicated and messy the menu system is in Olympus OM-D bodies, and Olympus is  not going to change their menu system anytime soon. If they can’t give us the menu system that we want, then let us redesign our own menu system! With the My Menu, we can rearrange and reorder the menu to our own preferences, and decide what to include and show first, all sorted in tabs. I personally think ALL Olympus cameras should have My Menu!
CAMERA HANDLING
Honestly there was no need to test the camera handling, because the E-M1 Mark III feels exactly like the E-M1 Mark II in hand. They both use the exact same beefy hand-gripping area. Nevertheless, I did subject the E-M1 Mark III to my usual camera handling torture test – insect macro photography. My insect macro technique requires me to hand-hold the E-M1 Mark III with the M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 Macro lens attached single-handedly on my right hand, while my left hand was holding the external flash to be fired wirelessly. This effectively tested how well the camera handles as it was not easy to even shoot extreme macro close up with both hands without the aid of tripod!
The macro session went out for about 3 hours, and it was a fruitful session. I saw a yellow damselfly for the first time in my life!  I have seen red, green and blue damselflies, and I have not seen a yellow one before. What an experience!

60mm F2.8 Macro, F11, ISO200, 1/160 sec, Wireless Flash used

60mm F2.8 Macro, F9, ISO200, 1/160 sec, Wireless Flash used

60mm F2.8 Macro, F10, ISO200, 1/160 sec, Wireless Flash used

60mm F2.8 Macro, F7.1, ISO200, 1/160 sec, Wireless Flash used

60mm F2.8 Macro, F11, ISO200, 1/160 sec, Wireless Flash used

60mm F2.8 Macro, F8, ISO200, 1/160 sec, Wireless Flash used

60mm F2.8 Macro, F9, ISO200, 1/160 sec, Wireless Flash used

60mm F2.8 Macro, F13, ISO200, 1/160 sec, Wireless Flash used
IMAGE QUALITY
After rigorous testing of the E-M1 Mark III over the past few weeks, I have come to a conclusion that the image quality from the E-M1 Mark III is similar to E-M1 Mark II and E-M1X. If there are any improvements, I failed to see them, and honestly not worth writing about. 
This was not surprising as the image sensor used in the E-M1 Mark III was identical to E-M1 Mark II and E-M1X. Nevertheless, having used the E-M1 Mark II for many years how, I have not encountered a situation where the dynamic range was not sufficient, or I did not have enough resolution for large prints, or struggling in extreme low light shooting. The 20MP image sensor in the E-M1 Mark III is sufficient to deliver fantastic results in most photography situation, except for some extreme environment. 
At the same time, I do wish Olympus has developed or introduced a new image sensor to coincide with the release of their new flagship, the E-M1 Mark III. While the image quality is more than sufficient, we do want to see progress and improvement especially when it comes to the image quality aspect of the camera. 
BATTERY LIFE
The battery life of E-M1 Mark III, using the BLH-1 battery (shared with E-M1X and E-M1 Mark II) is excellent. I can get about 800-1000 shots within a single charge. I believe the E-M1 Mark III (together with E-M1 Mark II) has the best battery life in the mirrorless system camera category. 

25mm F1.8, F1.8, ISO200, 1/320 sec

45mm F1.8, F1.8, ISO200, 1/80 sec

45mm F1.8, F1.8, ISO200, 1/60 sec

12mm F2, F2, ISO800, 1/640 sec

25mm F1.8, F1.8, ISO200, 1/125 sec

12-45mm PRO, F4, ISO500, 1/1600, 39mm

12-45mm PRO, F4, ISO400, 1/640 sec, 26mm

12-45mm PRO, F4, ISO200, 1/250 sec, 26mm

12-45mm PRO, F5.6, ISO200, 1/160 sec, 12mm
MOVIE RECORDING
I must say I am quite a noob when it comes to videography, and I am not the best person to comment about the video shooting features of the E-M1 Mark III. I am not aware of any significant changes, at least not on paper. The E-M1 Mark III can shoot up to Cinema 4K at 24p and UHD normal 4K at 30p. Also there is 120fps slow motion video shooting built in, and the 5-Axis IS works well to stabilize the video shots. The E-M1 Mark III also has the OM-Log 400 for better color grading. I can predict some disappointment from the video community on the E-M1 Mark III for not having 4K 60p, or better video features. 
There are some notable changes I have noticed when shooting video with the E-M1 Mark III. When shooting in full manual exposure, the ISO can now be set to Auto. Also, the face detect AF box disappeared during active recording mode in E-M1 Mark II previously, now in E-M1 Mark III, even during recording, the box sticking to the human face still remains in the recording screen, showing that the face detect is working during recording. 
CONCLUSION
I personally think the E-M1 Mark III is not a revolutionary upgrade from E-M1 Mark II. This is reflected by both cameras sharing almost identical bodies and many internals including the same image sensor. It was great seeing many E-M1X shooting features being included in the E-M1 Mark III, such as the hand-held high res shot, live ND, and more powerful 5-Axis Image Stabilization. Indeed, the E-M1 Mark III felt like a mini E-M1X in an E-M1 Mark II body. 
I do like that the camera handles just like the E-M1 Mark II, if it works, keep it. I welcome the upgraded eye/face tracking AF which worked flawlessly during my test. I treasure the reliability that E-M1 Mark III brings, having robust construction, weather-sealing and boosting confidence in shooting with the improved 5-Axis Image Stabilization. Having the ability to shoot 50MP high res shot hand-held at any time is handy indeed. The addition of an AF Joystick was a nice touch. I particularly loved the My Menu allowing me to recreate the camera menu system. 
On the other hand, I did wish Olympus made a new image sensor with some improvement over the image quality output in the E-M1 Mark III. The 20MP image sensor is aging now. I also disliked the relocated menu button, and also dual card slots that only has one that is UHS-II compatible. To me these are not the deal breakers, and I find the E-M1 Mark III to be an enjoyable camera to use and I can nail critical shots with confidence. After all, that is all that truly matters when it comes to choosing a camera. 
Coming up next – Olympus M.Zuiko 12-45mm F4 PRO Review.  
Stay tuned!

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III retails at RM8199 body only. You can enjoy RM900 cash back and some freebies if you pre-order from Olympus Malaysia here (click).  

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