Olympus Announces OM-D E-M1 Mark III / Hands-on First Look

MarkIII

DISCLAIMER: I am an Olympus Visionary. I try to share my honest opinion of Olympus gear regardless of that status, but want all readers to know going in, I have a professional relationship with the company.

Black-CrestedTitmouse Photo by Scott Bourne
Photographed with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III

 


NOTE: If you want to see higher-resolution versions of the sample images included in this post, visit my Flickr account at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/scottbourne/.


When Olympus released the OM-D E-M1X, there were some complaints that it was too big and heavy for a Micro Four Thirds camera body. Those complaints came from people who appeared to misunderstand the target market for the X. It is aimed at professional wildlife, bird, and sports photographers. I own three X bodies and absolutely love them. The ergonomics are perfect for me and the IQ, processing speed, AF, are all top-notch. Not heavy or too big for me at all.

That said, I do understand the concerns from those who don’t want a larger, heavier camera body. And so does Olympus.

Enter the OM-D E-M1 Mark III.

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Let me start by saying that unlike a lot of what you will read about this new camera, I am basing my opinion on personal experience. Back in December, Olympus gave each member of the North American Visionary team the new body. We were sworn to secrecy. I have been using the camera in the field, photographing birds, and my experience ACTUALLY USING THE CAMERA (rather than reading about it somewhere else and then reporting on it) is the basis of what I write here. The pictures you see here were made using the pre-release camera but should be accurate to the models shipping at retail.

The best way to decide where the OM-D E-M1 Mark III fits in the Olympus family is this. Many thought of the OM-D E-M1X as the company’s “flagship” body. Now, with the introduction of the Mark III, there are TWO “flagship” bodies, each with a different target audience.

The OM-D series has always been about compact, lightweight cameras that deliver professional image quality. Compact and lightweight are relative terms. For me, coming from the Canon 1DX MK II, and a Canon 800 f/5.6 lens, I can say with authority that the OM-D cameras and supporting lenses are downright small and feather weight. Your mileage may vary.

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With the new camera launch, the OM-D E-M1 Mark III compliments the OM-D E-M1X. The Mark III is designed for those who want the same performance and image quality of an “X” but in a smaller, lighter, less expensive, footprint.

The big new feature (other than the smaller, lighter footprint) is the new image processor. The TruePic IX is Olympus’s latest and greatest “brain” for a camera body. While some people are hung up on sensor size, etc., many of the future improvements we’ll see in camera technology will be coming in the backend processing. It takes a whole lot of firepower on the backend to get the results you can find using Olympus bodies. While the X has two processors, the Mark III has only one, but it is the new, beefier, TruePic IX. This is where the computational photography happens. Photographers who actually understand gear will know that this is what people should be thinking about, not megapixels or sensor size. Ignore the nonsense on the forums about the need for a new sensor or a better EVF. (The Olympus EVFs are second to none.) The real improvement that pros are looking for is in speed, reliability and image quality. The Mark III delivers on all three counts.

Speaking of computational photography features, one of the benefits the TruePic IX processor is that you can now make HANDHELD High Res shots of 50MP. You can make 80MP High Res shots using a tripod. You can use the in-body Live ND feature. And there is a new, advanced, face/eye priority AF along with Starry Sky AF, which is a feature just for you nighttime sky shooters. This is a new feature not even found on the OM-D E-M1X. All of this is made possible by the new processor.

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BASICS

The Mark III is everything you’d expect in a pro body. It is rock solid. It is dustproof/splashproof/freezeproof and built on a solid magnesium alloy. It has the same AF speed and accuracy as the OM-D E-M1X. As I mentioned above, it offers a new creative feature for night sky shooters, and of course Pro Capture mode, HANDHELD 4K video with OM-LOG, high-quality sound recording and more. With an IS-equipped lens like the M.Zuiko 12-100 f/4 IS PRO, you can get up to 7.5 stops of image stabilization using the Mark III. There isn’t anything from any other manufacturer that can match this level of stabilization. Not Sony, not Panasonic, not Canon, not Nikon, etc. Nobody can match it.

While all of that is cool, since I am a bird photographer, I was mostly interested in how fast and accurate the AF was and how detailed the images would be. On both counts I was blown-away. The Mark III delivers AF and IQ equal to the OM-D E-M1X.

Another feature that migrated from the “X” to the Mark III is the joystick – what Olympus calls the “multi selector.” This thing has helped me to get much better at selecting (and moving) the desired AF points around in the viewfinder while trying to get on to a bird. I was thrilled to see it added to the Mark III.

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I had to walk around with black gaffer tape covering up the model number on the new camera. Occasionally someone would ask me what camera that was and I’d just say OM-D!

GRIP

I want to write a little bit about the grip. This isn’t a sexy thing that gets mentioned on the forums, but Olympus does a better job with their grips than any other camera company. The OM-D E-M1X camera body has a grip that makes it seem much smaller and easier to handle. This is no accident. Olympus spends real time and money researching this stuff. And the good news is that they brought all this know-how to the grip for the Mark III. It’s literally a joy to carry and use. From the thumb to the pinky finger, you will find this camera a delight to hold. I have walked around for hours with it in my hands and felt no hand fatigue. I don’t know how they do it, but Olympus routinely works on seemingly small details that added up make the shooting experience that much better.

VIDEO

Since I have been doing more video these days, I am glad for the video features that are in the Mark III.

The E-M1 Mark III features an IS mode specifically designed for video recording. Electronic stabilization combined with in-body 5-axis stabilization delivers image stabilization that is particularly useful for videographers. This provides a high level of performance for handheld video content creation without using a tripod or other stabilizing device, even when shooting in high-resolution formats, which are susceptible to the effects of camera shake, such as 4K or Cinema 4K (C4K).

I also applaud the addition of OM-Log400 which in layman’s terms, is RAW for video.

There’s another feature for those shooting video which won’t get much press, but which I find useful. By using Olympus Workspace Version 1.3, being released at the same time as the OM-D E-M1 Mark III, it makes it easy to replace the audio files of the recorded video to High res sound recorded by using Slate Tone on the LS-P4 / LS-100 while recording video. Since I use the Olympus LS-100 to record audio for my video, I find this to be helpful.

Northern crested caracara photo by Scott Bourne
Photographed with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III

NEW FEATURES

There are two features I probably won’t use but will mention…

Starry Sky AF, which is new for the OM-D E-M1 Mark III, is a feature that will revolutionize the world of astrophotography. In the past, photographers have traditionally relied on manual focusing. A new algorithm was developed to enable accurate focusing even on the tiniest stars shining in the night sky, enabling ultra high-precision autofocusing.

Face Priority / Eye Priority AF, which automatically detects and focuses on people’s faces and eyes, is now more advanced. The new image processor TruePic IX features higher processing capabilities and improved AF algorithms to better detect small faces and eyes, whilst keeping stable focusing on a subject even in situations where face detection was difficult in the past (such as e.g. focusing on the sides of faces). It is now also possible to use either the buttons or touch operations to select faces when shooting still images or videos, and detection on or off can be changed with the touch of a single button.

Northern Cardinal Photo by Scott Bourne
Photographed with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III

MISC.

There is USB charging on the Mark III and the shutter is rated – now get this – for 400,000 operations. It’s the same shutter you will find in the “X.” This is around twice as many shutter presses as you will find on some of the competition. That makes an investment in a Mark III that much more valuable.

There are now four (instead of three) Custom Shooting Modes available from the mode dial. This lets you save different configurations for the camera and easily switch between them depending on what you want to do. For me I have one for birds in flight, one for video, one for perched birds and one for black and white, since I like to walk around and shoot in monochrome just for fun.

I also want to just mention speed. Speed is an underrated thing. I have tried using other mirrorless cameras and they just feel clunky by comparison. The speed of the Mark III is noticeable. It’s fast to turn on, menus scroll quickly, AF is instant, etc. This is something that you won’t read about in the chat rooms because 1) 99% of those folks haven’t ever touched this camera 2) they don’t understand the value of speed to working pros. I wish I could come up with better words to describe this but I am not that good a writer. The only thing I can say is you have to try to understand it.

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Weather Sealed

Separately Available Accessories

There are two new accessories coming out to support the Mark III. Note – I have not tested these and provide the following as information only.

The Power Battery Holder HLD-9 features a dustproof, splashproof, freezeproof design that delivers the same controls whether held vertically or horizontally. Attach the HLD-9 when shooting scenes with frequent changes between vertical and horizontal positions, or when you need to capture a lot of shots, or remove it for greater mobility. When using one Lithium-ion Battery BLH-1 in the camera and one in the HLD-9, together, up to 840 shots can be recorded.

Shock Mount Adapter SM2 is an adapter designed for absorbing camera noise while the LS-P4 is attached to the camera hot shoe. It prevents vibration and operational noise from the camera, making video shooting with higher quality audio possible.

Green Jay photo by Scott Bourne
Photographed with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III

Pricing and Availability

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III (black) will be available beginning February 24, 2020. The camera body only will have a suggested retail price of $1,799.99 USD and $2,399.99 CAD. The camera body bundled with the M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm F2.8 PRO Lens will have a suggested retail price of $2,499.99 USD and $3,299.99 CAD, and the camera body bundled with the M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-100 F4.0 IS PRO Lens will have a suggested retail price of $2,899.99 USD and $3,799.99 CAD. The shock mount adapter SM2 will have a suggested retail price of $39.99 USD and $51.99 CAD, and the audio cable KA335 will have a suggested retail price of $14.99 USD and $19.99 CAD. These accessories will be available beginning April, 2020.

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CONCLUSION

If you are an Olympus OM-D E-M1 or E-M1 Mark II owner trying to decide if there is enough here to warrant an upgrade, my opinion is yes. The Mark III is just faster, and better all the way around. The TruePic IX processor is more important than you realize. If you are an OM-D E-M1X owner and thinking this would make a great backup body, you’d be correct. If you’re a photographer who needs a pro body, but a smaller form factor than currently found in the OM-D E-M1X, this is your camera.

At the end of the day, all cameras are just tools. And the worst camera in the hands of a great pro will produce compelling images. Likewise, the Cadillac of cameras in the hands of a rank amateur may under-perform. But if you want the best tools in order to give yourself the best chance to express your photographic vision, you owe it to yourself to check out the Mark III.

Olympus is running a trade-in/trade-up promotion so if you have older gear you want to trade in order to get into the new camera, check out the Olympus trade-up program details.

To download the complete and official OM-D E-M1 Mark III Spec Sheet – use this link.

NOTE: The team at Hunt’s Photo & Video are primed to help you get one of these bodies quickly. So call today. The Mark III may be in short supply initially as inventories ramp up. See the contact information below if you are interested.


Picture Methods has partnered with Hunt’s Photo & Video to bring you the best gear at a competitive price and backed by personal service. Call Alan Samiljan at 781-462-2383 or Noah Buchanan at 781.462.2356. If you cannot reach either one try Gary Farber at 781-462-2332. You will ALWAYS get the best prices if you call the store v. Using the web site. You can also email Noah at: nbuchanan@huntsphoto.com or Gary at: gfarber@huntsphoto.com. Hunt’s has been around a long time and you can trust them. Make sure to mention that Scott Bourne sent you. That will get you the best deal.