Early this morning, Olympus officially announced details of its upcoming OM-D E-M5 Mark III camera — the third iteration of their mid-range mirrorless micro four-thirds camera. The feature list is impressive and includes many of the specs currently seen on the E-M1 Mark II camera. If you haven’t already read our announcement piece on it, be sure to check that out for full specs.
I was able to join Olympus for a press experiential event in Moab, UT, where we visited several locations to try out the camera. Places like Arches National Park provided opportunities to photograph portraits and stunning landscapes. In addition to several other landscape opportunities, I was able to test out high-action shots, portraits and still life at Red Cliffs Lodge. Below are my initial impressions of using the camera.
Ergonomics and body styling
The look and feel of the E-M5 Mark III have been improved quite a bit over the Mark II version. The camera feels really good in the hand, despite being pretty small. There’s an expanded thumb rest on the back of the camera, which does wonders to improve ergonomics. While the grip isn’t nearly as deep as the E-M1 Mark II or E-M1X, it’s still very comfortable and easy for anyone to hold.
The top of the camera has seen the biggest transformation, with the mode dial moving from the left side to the right, matching the E-M1 Mark II. The HDR and Display buttons have been moved atop the On/Off switch. There’s also a new dedicated ISO button on the thumb rest.
The body comes in two colors — silver and black. The silver color looks like a historic film camera, creating a bit of nostalgia. The camera also receives the ability to have in-body charging via USB.
The E-M5 Mark III performed beautifully with landscape photography. It was able to capture the color depth quite well at Arches National Park and dealt with highlights and shadows as you’d expect. Because we often photographed with the sun overhead, there was definitely some shadow and highlight adjusting to do once home, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much detail I was able to bring back.
Tripod High Res Shot was quick and worked well, too, providing a 50-megapixel JPEG or 80-megapixel RAW image. This mode takes multiple photographs and shifts them by a half pixel for each frame, resulting in a single higher megapixel image. One thing to note — High Res Shot is limited to f/8 and ISO 1600. In talking with Olympus, this limitation is due to diffraction, as smaller apertures will not provide the same results as f/8 and larger. Panasonic Lumix cameras have similar limitations.
I did a bit of camera customization, too, adding bracketing to the On/Off dial on the top left of the camera. That provided me with the options I was used to and made it much easier to shoot brackets rather than searching through the menus. As an Olympus user, I’m used to the menus, but I will say they’re somewhat cumbersome. If you can create shortcuts, you’re definitely going to have a much smoother and quicker experience.
Bracketing worked great, but because the mechanical shutter tops out at 6 frames per second, it was a bit trickier to get bracketed shots to line up exactly — especially given the 20-30 mph winds we were dealing with.
When it came to astrophotography, we didn’t exactly luck out. The bright moon shone upon the rocks, but the clouds were certainly a distractor. Nevertheless, it provided for some interesting Live Composite photographs, including these, taken for 10 and 30 minutes, respectively.
As I’ve said in past articles, Olympus’ development of the Live Composite feature is truly a standout feature for the system and one that no other camera can match. It allows you to create a very, very long exposure (up to four hours), but to only add in new light. This is perfect for things like star trails, as it only brings in what is moving, instead of adding light to the entire scene. You generate a base exposure (in this case, 10 seconds), and then it just continually adds to that every 10 seconds going forward. When there are clouds, it creates a cool staggering effect that develops over time to create its own motion-like look.
I had two very different experiences making portraits at Moab. One, at Arches National Park, provided for some nice smooth sunlight given the direction I was photographing. The second location, at Red Cliffs Lodge, was a bit trickier, as there were much harsher shadows. Still, the results were phenomenal. When I took the camera indoors, in a dark room with a single lightbulb, I was surprised to see the E-M5 Mark III work as well as it did. The photos were crisp and the noise was manageable.
Speaking of higher ISOs, the E-M5 Mark III features an expanded Auto ISO range, with the ability to now go up to ISO 6400. Additionally, the ISO performance was significantly better compared to the previous generation. It was identical to what I’ve experienced on the E-M1 Mark II (with the latest firmware) and E-M1X.
I used a variety of lenses for the portraits, including the 14-150mm f/4-5.6 II and 45mm f/1.2 PRO lens. While the 45mm is one of my favorites, I was surprised at how well the 14-150mm performed. Even shooting at f/5.6, I was able to get a nice blurred background because I was zoomed in all the way.
Finally, photographing action is what I was most curious about. I’m not a sports photographer, but there are certainly cases when I do need those types of skills to be present for my work. When using Silent Sequential Low, I was able to achieve 10 fps, and I used that throughout my time at the ranch.
Starting out, I shot at high shutter speeds to freeze the action. The results were perfect, providing a crisp view of the cowboy and steer. Then I took my shutter speed down significantly, to 1/60s, and tried out some panning. This was quite the test, as I never knew where the action would end up. The camera kept up with its shooting speeds, and I was able to achieve getting the cowboy’s face pretty sharp.
I also tried out using Pro Capture mode, something I really haven’t experimented with much previously. By holding the shutter button down halfway, it put frames into the buffer. When I fully pressed, it started recording the frames like usual. When I was finished I got the regular frames, but I also got the frames when the button was half-pressed.
This allowed me to get my camera in a ready position and follow the action. It meant I didn’t have to guess as much as to when the main point of action would happen. Like Tripod High Res mode, Pro Capture is also limited to f/8, but when it comes to action, this typically isn’t a negative.
As long as I used appropriate settings, I never once had an instance where a shot was completely out of focus. The camera kept up very well and exceeded my expectations in this space. If it can keep up with running horses and steers, imagine what it could do on the soccer or football field?
Finally, the weather sealing in the E-M5 Mark III is just as good as the E-M1X, meaning that you don’t have to worry about taking your gear into the elements. While the camera and several lenses got dusty during our trip to Red Cliffs Lodge, the camera performed just fine, and there was no sign of dust or dirt on any of my photographs — even with several lens changes.
And for those blurred background lovers out there, the E-M5 Mark III certainly holds its own. The shots below were taken at f/1.8 and f/2.8, respectively, with the 45mm f/1.2 PRO lens. You’ll notice a lot of the photos above, too, provided for a creamy, blurred background as well.
While I haven’t tested the video on the E-M5 Mark III extensively, initial impressions are that it’s vastly improved, especially with autofocus and stabilization. I took the camera on a Hummer 4×4 trip across Arches National Park, encountering several bumps and 60-degree inclines along the way. While you can certainly see the bumps in the video, it’s not jagged and it follows the Hummer in front of us perfectly. It’s very smooth, and it’s like you were there! Here’s a small sample directly out of the camera.
Back at home, I also tried out autofocus tracking on video. It did pretty well, but I noticed it to be most effective at a more closed down aperture (like f/4), as opposed to wide open at f/2.8. I sprinkled in a dog entering the frame and some background objects to see if it could trip up, but as soon as I turned the corner in the video, it locked on my face and kept tracking me effectively.
Compared to the E-M1 Mark II, not much. The E-M1 Mark II has a bigger buffer and faster shooting speeds. But other than that, the differences are minor.
What is missing is a vertical battery grip. Olympus will offer the ECG-5 external grip, which extends the front grip depth and bottom slightly, making the camera even more comfortable to hold. I was able to try this briefly, and I have to say it really helped in terms of having my hand clasp around the camera, but I still miss the option of having a vertical grip.
You also won’t find a second SD card slot, but that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, given that it’s a mid-range camera.
When you compare it to the top-of-the-line E-M1X, however, there are many more differences. You won’t find Live ND or Handheld High Res Shot, for instance. There’s also no Intelligent Subject Detection Autofocus. There’s only one Custom mode on the dial (though more can be set in the menus), compared to four on the E-M1X. Of course, there are more buttons on the E-M1X as well, however all of those settings are pretty easily accessible through the Super Control Panel on the E-M5 Mark III — especially given its customization options.
Despite not introducing any groundbreaking features, the E-M5 Mark III is quite the upgrade for current E-M5 and E-M10 users. Given its feature set, it’s a great first camera for someone looking to dive right in. It would also serve well as a backup or travel camera for professionals, especially given its performance and size.
Lead photo by Cathy Seaver