Andy Westlake takes a first look at this updated compact, lightweight but fully-featured Micro Four Thirds model
Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III: At a glance
- £1099.99 body only
- 20.4MP Four Thirds sensor
- 121-point phase detection autofocus
- 10fps shooting with continuous AF
- 5-axis in-body stabilisation
- Cinema 4K video recording
It’s now almost eight years since Olympus introduced the original OM-D E-M5, and with it, the concept of a small, fully featured and weather-sealed mirrorless camera aimed squarely at enthusiast photographers. Its successor, the E-M5 Mark II, brought a whole slew of updates and improvements early in 2015. But the market has moved on considerably since, with other manufacturers offering multiple new models in the meantime. So news of the latest iteration feels long overdue.
In essence, the Mark III retains most of the core characteristics that have made the E-M5 range so appealing. Its petite body measures just 125 x 85 x 50mm yet finds space for an extensive complement of external controls, along with full weather sealing and Olympus’s class-leading 5-axis in-body image stabilisation.
Compared to its predecessor, the E-M5 III gains key features from the flagship OM-D E-M1 Mark II, most notably the same 20MP sensor that includes on-chip phase detection for radically superior autofocus, along with the TruepicVIII processor. Despite this, it’s 55g lighter, thanks mainly to the body shell being made from polycarbonate rather than metal – something that is sure to be a controversial change for existing E-M5 lovers.
Olympus E-M5 III: Features
In almost every other respect, the Mark III looks like a well-judged update, with a range of internal improvements and external design tweaks that aim to bring its core capabilities up-to-date with the competition. Perhaps the biggest practical improvement that users will notice straight away is the phase-detection AF system, which on the E-M1 Mark II we found it to be extremely capable of keeping up with fast-moving subjects. This, in turn, promises continuous shooting with AF tracking at 10 frames per second – double the rate the E-M5 II could hit at the best of times. Updated control algorithms are designed to make the focus less likely to jump from the desired subject to the background.
In-body image stabilisation (IBIS) has long been one of Olympus’s biggest strengths, and a new downsized but more efficient mechanism is said to deliver up to 5.5 stops stabilisation on its own, or 6.5 stops when used with one of the firm’s optically stabilised lenses. In practice, this gives an unmatched ability to shoot hand-held at slow shutter speeds, often in the order of seconds. This in turn allows you to keep the ISO low in poor light to offset the noise disadvantage of the smaller sensor, or use creative motion-blur effects.
There are plenty more advanced features on board, many of which you won’t find elsewhere. Pro Capture mode buffers up to 14 frames from before the shutter button is fully pressed, and up to 85 afterwards, all at 30fps using the electronic shutter. This enables you to capture fast, unpredictable action when you wouldn’t normally have time to react. There’s also Live Composite for light painting or shooting light trails, and focus bracketing and in-camera focus stacking for close-up photography.
Other features include optional in-camera rectilinear conversion when shooting with the M.Zuiko Digital ED 8mm F1.8 Fisheye Pro lens, and anti-flicker shooting under fluorescent lighting. A tripod-based 50MP high-resolution composite mode constructs images from 8 exposures, using the IBIS unit to move the sensor precisely between each to sample the scene in higher detail. Built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi enables automatic transfer of images to your phone, even when the camera is switched off and packed away in a bag.
The Mark III also gains a major upgrade to its video abilities, and is now capable of recording Cinema 4K footage at 24fps and 237Mbps. In combination with the IBIS, this should provide a seriously capable option for ‘run and gun’ videographers who like to shoot on the move with lightweight kit. Other features include Full HD recording at up to 120fps for slow-motion work, and a built-in microphone socket for higher quality audio.
Olympus E-M5 III: Build and handling
Olympus has made plenty of external design tweaks, which together give an improved shooting experience straight out of the box. The firm has made a virtue of placing all of the key exposure controls at your fingertips, which isn’t always the case with small cameras, even at this price point. The exposure mode dial has moved beside the twin electronic control dials to match the other models in the OM-D range, and gains both a dedicated B position for quicker access to the firm’s uniquely useful Live Bulb, Live Time and Live Composite modes that preview the build-up of long-exposures in real time, and a C position for saving custom user set-ups for quick recall.
There are also new dedicated buttons for ISO, exposure compensation and drive mode, and the AEL button is much better positioned, as is the surrounding switch that’s used to select between focus modes. Disappointingly, though, there’s no AF joystick, so users still have to make do with using the d-pad to move the focus area, which is never quite as fast.
The Mark III sports a large 2.36m-dot electronic viewfinder, which is just fractionally smaller than that in the Mark II. But it’s now of the OLED type rather than LCD, which Olympus says provides improved brightness, while an extended eyepoint of 27mm should allow more comfortable viewing for those who wear glasses. Below it, the fully articulated touchscreen LCD provides excellent flexibility for shooting at unusual angles. Unlike the tilt-only screens commonly found in other cameras around this price point, it’s equally useful when you turn the camera 90 degrees to the portrait orientation.
One notable change is that the Mark III uses the BLS-50 battery, which is slimmer than the BLN-1 employed by the previous E-M5 models. Its rating of 310 shots per charge matches the E-M5 II for stamina, but it now supports USB charging, which is always useful when out and about. Olympus has been using this battery for years, including in its PEN and E-M10 ranges, so spares are easy to come by.
Olympus E-M5 III: External grip
For those who wish to shoot with larger, heavier lenses, Olympus is offering a new matched grip, in the shape of the £179.99 ECG-5. Superficially similar to those made for previous E-M5 models, it screws into the base of the camera to provide a significantly deeper and taller grip, topped by its own shutter button and electronic control dial. However it differs from previous iterations in not supporting the addition of a vertical grip for portrait format shooting.
Having used it briefly, the ECG-5 certainly provides a really comfortable hold that should substantially improve handling with telephoto lenses. But it moves your forefinger uncomfortably far away from the top-plate exposure compensation and movie button, and I’m not entirely convinced that it was styled by the same team as designed the camera itself, either. Those interested in video work will also be disappointed to learn that unlike the Mark II’s HLD-8G grip, it has no headphone socket for monitoring audio during recording.
It also appears that Olympus won’t be producing an equivalent to the E-M5 II’s alternative ECG-2 grip. This is essentially a smaller, but still very useful grip extension, built onto an Arca Swiss-type L-bracket that allows the camera to be fixed directly onto many tripod heads. But I suspect – and hope – that enterprising third-party makers will jump at the opportunity to provide such a handy accessory.
Olympus E-M5 III: Pricing and availability
The E-M5 III is due to go on sale in the middle of November, in a choice of silver or black finishes. It’ll cost £1099.99 body only; £1399.99 with the M.Zuiko Digital ED 14-140mm F4-5.6 II; £1599.99 with the M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-200mm F3.5-6.3; and £1699.99 with the premium, large-aperture M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm F2.8 PRO. All three of these lenses are weather-sealed to match the camera.
Buyers placing pre-orders prior to 15th November will receive a £100 trade-in bonus and a free spare BLS-50 battery.
Olympus E-M5 III: First Impressions
In many respects, the OM-D E-M5 Mark III appears to be just the update that Olympus needed to make. The improved AF system and 4K video capabilities bring the camera more into line with current expectations, while the layout tweaks improve what was already one of the best-handling small mirrorless cameras on the market. The plastic body shell is bound to disappoint Olympus fans, but on a more positive note, the Mark III retains the tactile controls and weather-sealed construction of its predecessors. Once you get past the idea that it should have a metal body, it feels just like an E-M5 should when you’re shooting, with well-placed controls and a wonderfully soft, discreet shutter.
Indeed there’s plenty here to induce existing E-M5 II owners to update, with functional continuous AF perhaps being more important in practice than the resolution boost from 16MP to 20MP. Other little conveniences such as Bluetooth and in-camera USB battery charging are also nice to have. In effect, you get most of the E-M1 Mark II in a smaller, lighter and less expensive body. But you don’t get any of the neat new features debuted on the E-M1X earlier this year, such as subject-detection autofocus, hand-held high-resolution shooting, or Live ND. It seems that Olympus’s TruPicVIII processor is starting to show its age.
For those looking to buy into mirrorless for the first time, perhaps DSLR users looking to upgrade while lightening their kit, the E-M5 III offers a combination of compact size, light weight, high-end handling and weatherproofing that you’ll struggle to find elsewhere. It also give access to one of the most comprehensive lens ranges of any mirrorless system. But the big question is whether it will still stand out sufficiently in an increasingly crowded market. We’re looking forward to addressing this in our upcoming full review.