What is the Olympus E-M5 Mark III?
Of the three main types of mirrorless camera – full-frame, APS-C and Micro Four Thirds – it’s the latter that has been somewhat left behind in 2019. But now its sole champion, Olympus, has released a reminder that the format is still very much relevant in the smartphone age. That camera is the OM-D E-M5 Mark III.
A mid-range system camera for travellers and vloggers, the E-M5 Mark III sits in between Olympus’ flagship E-M1X and E-M10 Mark III. It combines the series’ signature retro styling with some big performance upgrades, but the traditional OM-D advantages remain the same – small size, fast burst speeds and, crucially, in-built image stabilisation (IBIS).
While larger sensors traditionally outperform Micro Four Thirds in terms of high ISO performance, IBIS can help offset this issue in low light situations (by allowing you to shoot at longer handheld shutter speeds) and is handy for video recording too.
So is there still a place for a Micro Four Thirds camera like the E-M5 Mark III? I spent a couple of hours with one at its launch event to find out.
Design – The Olympus E-M5 Mark III packs an unrivalled feature set into a small body
The E-M5 Mark III’s physical design isn’t a radical reinvention of the series, but there are a few improvements.
It’s lighter than its predecessor, which wasn’t exactly chunky, thanks to a smaller in-built image stabilisation system and battery. The E-M5 Mark III is similar in size and weight to a Fujifilm X-T30, but unlike that camera manages to pack in IBIS and weather-sealing.
Another much-needed improvement is a refreshed viewfinder – the E-M5 Mark III’s EVF has the same 2.36-million resolution as before (which is standard for this size and price), but is now OLED. That helps image previews pop a bit more, which is useful considering the relatively small 0.69x magnification.
What about handling and controls? The E-M5 Mark III has the slight edge over its predecessor here too. The grip and thumb rest are a bit bigger, which makes it feel a bit more comfortable in the hand, but if you want DSLR-like handling in a small body then the new Nikon Z50 is a better bet.
One benefit cameras like this have over smartphones is their manual controls, and Olympus has doubled down here by adding extra buttons to the top plate. There’s still a mode dial plus two control dials for changing your aperture or shutter speeds, but it now also has a dedicated ISO button plus a new control on the left for changing drive mode and AF settings.
The real trump card for vloggers and videographers, though, is the fully articulating screen, which is another feature that’s rare on a camera of this size. This is something you can only really find on larger bodies like the Panasonic G90 and Canon 250D. The E-M5 Mark III has a new mic input too, making it a real rival to the Panasonic G90 in the vlogging stakes.
Overall, the E-M5 Mark III is a really fun camera to use with a huge range of lenses to choose from. It’s also boosted its feature set too…
Features – A new AF system and pro shooting modes boost the EM-5 Mark III’s versatility
In some ways, the E-M5 Mark III is the ideal middle ground between a smartphone and a more pro-friendly camera. It’s small and easy to use, but also inherits some watered down versions of the E-M1X’s pro-level features that make it a versatile little camera.
These include the useful Pro Capture burst technology, which starts shooting when you half-press the shutter and gathers 14 frames at full resolution when you fully press the button. That’s not quite as many frames as the ludicrously fast E-M1X, but should still be useful for wildlife fans.
There’s also a High Res shot mode, which only works on a tripod rather than handheld, but still merges 8 sequential shots into a 50-megapixel image.
Perhaps more importantly, though, the E-M5 Mark III inherits the same sensor, TruPic VIII processor and AF system as the E-M1X. It has a 20.4-megapixel Live MOS sensor with dust reduction tech, which Olympus says means you’ll never need to get your sensor cleaned.
And another big bonus over the E-M5 Mark II is that presence of a phase detect autofocus system (rather than the contrast-only system of its predecessor), which includes 121-point cross-type AF points and is apparently better in low light.
It certainly seemed very snappy and responsive in my brief play with it, but I’ll need to do some proper testing on a full production model to see how it compares to rivals like the Sony A6400 and Fujifilm X-T30.
Image quality – The E-M5 Mark III produces strong out-of-camera shots, but it’s too early for conclusions
One of the traditional downsides of Micro Four Thirds cameras is that they don’t perform quite as well as APS-C and full-frame models when shooting at high ISOs.
That’s something I didn’t have time to test conclusively on the E-M5 Mark III, but Olympus says the new image sensor and processor have both improved noise performance in low light. In fact, the ISO Auto upper limit is now ISO 6400 (two stops higher than before), which shows Olympus’ confidence in the E-M5 Mark III’s performance in gloomier conditions.
One thing that was clear from my early JPEG shooting, though, is that the E-M5 Mark III retains the series’ traditional strength of producing great out-of-camera photos.
The OIS helps with handheld shooting and the ‘natural’ colour profile (which I used the most) produces punchy colours that don’t go too far into over-saturation. There are plenty of other photo modes to play with too, including black-and-white options.
While I didn’t have much time to test its video powers, these have certainly been boosted on paper – you now get 4K shooting at 30fps, plus new 120fps slo-mo shooting in Full HD.
With IBIS and an articulating screen, plus a new autofocus system and mic jack, Olympus has built a very strong case for the E-M5 Mark III becoming the vlogging camera of choice for YouTubers.
We’ll give you our definitive verdict on this vlogging performance, and the rest of its features and stills capabilities, in our full review before it hits the shelves in mid-November.