Andy Westlake takes a close look Olympus’s updated, super-fast Micro Four Thirds flagship
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III: At a glance:
- £1600 body only
- £2200 with 12-40mm f/2.8; £2500 with 12-100mm f/4
- 20.4MP Four Thirds sensor
- 18fps shooting with C-AF
- 121-point phase detection AF
- 5-axis in-body stabilisation
- Extensive weather sealing
It’s been a little over three years since Olympus released its high-speed E-M1 Mark II, making the time ripe for a replacement. After last year’s behemoth E-M1X with its integrated vertical grip, it’s revisited the smaller body design with the new E-M1 Mark III. The previous version was a fine camera, and the firm has carefully updated it without making wholesale changes.
Indeed I suspect even keen Olympus fans will struggle to quickly identify many differences. Externally, the main update is the welcome addition of a joystick for repositioning the focus area, which has the knock-on effect of moving the menu button across to the left shoulder. Aside from that, buttons, dials and switches are found in all the same places, although a few have changed their default functions to more closely meet the expectations of serious photographers. The button behind the shutter release is now earmarked for exposure compensation, while that on the right shoulder is given over to ISO, as on the recent E-M5 Mark III. But this is Olympus, so everything can be re-configured according to your personal preferences anyway.
The biggest upgrade is actually internal, because the E-M1 Mark III debuts a brand new processor, the TruePic IX. This allows the inclusion of some of the best features from the E-M1X, including LiveND that mimics the effect of using neutral density filters to achieve long exposures, and a hand-held high-resolution multi-shot mode that outputs 50MP images. There’s also an 80MP tripod-based multi-shot mode. More generally, Olympus says that the new processor provides up-rated all-round performance, including improvements in such areas as face and eye detection AF.
In general, though, the headline specifications are mostly unchanged. Olympus has stuck with the familiar 20.4MP Four Thirds sensor, with a standard range of ISO 200-6400, and extended settings covering ISO 64-25600. On-chip phase detection supports 121 autofocus points covering most of the frame, all of which are cross-type. However as on the E-M1X, users can now define custom AF-area groupings, not just in terms of the number of points used, but also how finely the groups can be moved around the frame. A new Starry Sky AF mode promises accurate autofocus on even the tiniest stars for astrophotography.
The E-M1 Mark III boasts the same blistering speed as its predecessor, being capable of shooting at 18 frames per second with continuous AF, or 60 fps with focus fixed, using its electronic shutter. In its Pro Capture mode, it can continuously buffer 35 frames from the moment the shutter button is half-pressed, then record them to card when it’s fully depressed, allowing users to record fleeting, unpredictable moments. Even when using the mechanical shutter, it’ll shoot at about 10fps with C-AF.
Olympus has also placed a strong emphasis on durability. The body is comprehensively weather-sealed, with IPX1 certification, and can be paired with a good range of similarly protected lenses. The shutter is rated to 400,000 cycles, while the firm’s Super Sonic Wave Filter has proven to be remarkably effective at keeping the sensor clean of dust. Dual SD card slots are included, allowing files to be backed up on important shoots; however only one is of the high-speed UHS-II standard.
One of Olympus’s most noteworthy features is its 5-axis in-body image stabilisation (IBIS). Thanks to the use of the same gyrosensor as the E-M1X, this is claimed to be world’s most effective, being rated to a barely believable 7.5 stops with the firm’s optically stabilised lenses, and 7 stops with other lenses. As a result, it should be possible to shoot hand-held at shutter speeds that would be impossible with most other systems.
Turning our attention to video, 4K recording is available at up to 30fps, with a new OM-Log400 option for easier colour grading in post-production, aided by a View Assist function which displays a standard colour gamut onscreen. Both headphone and microphone sockets are built-in. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity supports both pairing with a smartphone or tablet, and wireless tethered shooting from a computer running Olympus Workspace software.
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III: Notable Features
The E-M1 Mark III is compatible with the same HLD-9 vertical grip as the Mark II, which replicates the main shooting controls, but users will have to make do with a d-pad to move the AF point when shooting in portrait format.
The camera can be powered during shooting using a USB-C Power Delivery compatible powerbank, and the battery can be charged using any 3A USB supply.
A new B position on the mode dial gives easy access to Olympus’s uniquely useful long exposure modes, and there’s a fourth user-customisable C position too.
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III is due to go on sale in late February, with its body-only price of £1,600 at launch being £250 lower than its predecessor’s. Pre-orders placed before February 29th will receive a complimentary copy of Capture One Pro 20, while stocks last.
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III review: First Impressions
The EM1 Mark III may appear to be evolution rather than revolution, but don’t let the similarity of its spec sheet to its predecessor’s fool you. I’ve been shooting with one for a couple of weeks before its official release, and it’s an astonishingly fast camera with exceptionally refined handling. The large handgrip provides a positive hold with large telephoto lenses, while the addition of a joystick elevates it to one of the very best handling cameras in its class.
Full frame may be flavour of the month at the moment, but the Micro Four Thirds system offers very real advantages of its own, particularly in terms of size and weight, and especially if you regularly shoot with telephoto lenses. The E-M1 Mark III delivers this better then ever before; indeed it’s arguably the camera that the E-M1X should have been all along. Look out for our upcoming full review.
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-45mm F4 PRO: a lightweight, high-spec standard zoom
Olympus has also revealed a compact, lightweight premium standard zoom, in the shape of the M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-45mm F4 PRO. With a zoom range equivalent to 24-90mm on full-frame, its 12-element, 9-group optical design is said to be derived from the highly regarded 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro, with aspherical elements to minimise aberrations and Zuiko Extra-low Reflection Optical (ZERO) coating to suppress flare and ghosting. It’s claimed to be the word’s lightest constant-aperture zoom, at just 254g, and accepts 58mm filters. With a compact size of just 63.4mm in diameter and 70mm in length, it looks like it could be an ideal companion to last year’s travel-friendly E-M5 Mark III.
Like the rest of Olympus’s Pro range, the 12-45mm f/4 benefits from dust- and splash-proof construction, with sealing at nine points of the barrel. However one concession compared to the larger Pro zooms is the lack of a focus clutch for switching to manual focus. The minimum focus distance ranges from 12cm at wideangle to 23cm at telephoto, giving 0.5x equivalent magnification across the entire zoom range, which should make the 12-45mm an intriguing option for close-up shooting. On this note, it’s also compatible with the in-camera focus-stacking feature found on the E-M1 Mark III, E-M1X, E-M1 Mark II, and E-M5 Mark III, although the latter three cameras will need a firmware update. The 12-45mm f/4 is due in the shops in late March for £599.
Price cuts for the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II
According to Olympus, the OM-D E-M1 Mark III doesn’t directly replace its predecessor, and the two will be sold side-by-side for the immediate future. However the Mark II will drop in recommended retail price by £200 to make space, to £1,300 body only compared to the current £1,500.
If this is reflected in the street price, it could see the camera drop beneath the £1000 mark. Meanwhile the 12-40 F2.8 PRO lens kit drops in price to £2000, compared to £2200 previously, while the double zoom kit that adds the 40-150mm F2.8 PRO telezoom will be £3000.