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 a full frame camera and using an 800mm lens, I can say with authority that the OM-D cameras and supporting lenses are downright small and feather weight. Your mileage may vary.
With the new camera launch, the OM-D E-M1 Mark III compliments the E-M1X. The Mark III is designed for those who want the same performance and image quality of an E-M1X 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 E-M1X has two processors, the E-M1 Mark III has only one, but it is the new, beefier, TruePic IX. This is where the computational photography happens. The real improvement that pros are looking for is in speed, reliability and image quality. The E-M1 Mark III delivers on all 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.
The E-M1 Mark III is everything you'd expect in a pro body. 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 12-100mm F4.0 IS PRO, you can get up to 7.5 stops of image stabilization using the E-M1 Mark III. There isn't anything from any other manufacturer that can match this level of stabilization.
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 E-M1 Mark III delivers AF and IQ equal to the E-M1X.
Another feature that migrated from the E-M1X to the E-M1 Mark III is the joystick – what Olympus calls the "multi selector." This 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 E-M1 Mark III.
I want to write a little bit about the grip. 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 researching this stuff. And the good news is that they brought all this know-how to the grip for the E-M1 Mark III. It's literally a joy to hold 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 got no 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.
Since I have been doing more video these days, I am glad for the video features that are in the E-M1 Mark III. It 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 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.
There are two features I probably won't use but will mention...
Starry Sky AF 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. Learn more about this feature from Olympus Visionary Peter Baumgarten.
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.
There is USB charging on the E-M1 Mark III and the shutter is rated – now get this – for 400,000 operations. It's the same shutter you will find in the E-M1X. This is around twice as many shutter presses as you will find on some of the competition, making this camera just that much more valuable.
There are now four 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 E-M1 Mark III is noticeable. It's fast to turn on, menus scroll quickly, and AF is instant.
If you are an 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 faster. The TruePic IX processor is more important than you realize. If you are an 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 level body, but are looking for a smaller form factor than currently found in the 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 beginner 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 E-M1 Mark III.
Scott Bourne is a professional wildlife photographer, author and lecturer who specializes in birds. He was one of the founders of “This Week In Photo”, founder of “photofocus.com”, and is co-founder of the new “Photo Podcast Network” (photopodcasts.com). He’s been involved with photography for more than four decades and his work has appeared in more than 200 publications.