Today I am going to share my Olympus OMD EM5 III review with you.
I have been waiting for what seems like an age for the release of the Olympus OMD EM5 mark III camera. As an avid Olympus user over the years I have been fortunate enough to try out all of their top tier cameras since the original EM5 right through to the EM1X. I used the EM5 II as my main camera for around a year and you can see my review of that here
Yet somehow while I was caught up in our recent house move from the Philippines to the UK I missed the official release. It was only when I got back to the UK and had time to settle that I picked up that the third iteration of the Olympus EM5 had been announced, released and was on sale. The orignal EM5 was the camera that lured me away from shooting DSLR’s for my professional work way back in 2012. The competition has come a long way since then with Sony flooding the market with 35mm sensor sized options and Fuji providing attractive APS-C options.
I had high hopes that the OMD EM5 III would bring together everything I love about mirrorless cameras, small form factor, beautiful design, advanced features. ease of shooting and hopefully, an upgraded sensor.
On reading the specs there are two ways to look at it… We didn’t get a brand new sensor from Olympus as some had hoped but we did get the excellent one out of the EM1 II. This along with phase detect auto focus, improved image stabilisation, OLED viewfinder, 4k video and that beautiful form factor and design was enough to have me clicking the buy now button and ordering one to test.
For this Olympus OMD EM5 III review I have purchased the camera myself and will be using it in depth to see if the EM5 III is worth the money and can compete in todays even more competitive market place.
Olympus OMD EM5 III Review – Handling
The Olympus EM5 and mark II had a metal construction which gave them a really substantial feel in the hand. Yes they were tiny but they felt well built and easily capable of surviving the daily scrapes our gear sometimes has to deal with. The new Olympus EM5 III has dropped the metal construction in favour of a lighter poly-carbonite shell. I must admit this had me a little concerned when I first read it as I wondered if they had shifted the EM5 series further down their product lineup and were aiming it at a different, less demanding audience.
Well in all honesty I prefer the feel of the mark III over my original and mark II versions. It feels noticeably lighter at 414g down from the mark II at 469g. It also feels a little smaller but it is actually more comfortable to hold thanks to a thumb rest that protrudes more from the back of the body. This allows for great purchase on the camera and I have no issues with the balance of the camera when combined with larger Olympus lenses like the 12-40mm Pro. There is an optional grip which would be welcome if using the pro telephoto lenses although I note that a full battery grip is no longer going to be offered as an optional accessory. I presume because Olympus wants you to purchase an EM1 series body if you require this functionality. I can understand that and although I would like the option of a battery grip I, like most other buyers probably value the light weight and compact nature of the EM5 bodies more.
When I did my Olympus OMD EM5 III unboxing video I was so interested in the feel of the camera that I didn’t even initially notice some standout changes that Olympus has made to the body of this EM5 III. I’ll go over these now in this Olympus EM5 III review.
Firstly, the control dial is now on the right hand side freeing up space for dedicated buttons to select the shutter mode (single, burst, Timer etc) and another that by default switches the LCD display from showing a live display or the Olympus Super Control panel. Damn, no single handed switching the camera on then.. A quick play around in the menus and I found my trusty option to use the function lever to turn the camera on and off, problem solved.
Another addition that I’m happy to see is a dedicated ISO button just to the right of the thumb rest. It’s not ideally position with my thumb (at least) having to stretch slightly to reach it but it works and its there, so again I’m pretty happy.
For any existing Olympus users the handling will be very familiar and now more in line with that found on the EM1 series bodies which will offer better continuity when switching between bodies. I can envisage people (myself included) using the EM5 III when they want to be lightweight and discreet (think street photography, candid portraits, family outings, long treks etc) and the EM1 series body with larger lenses for more serious work.
The Olympus EM5 III still has a 3 inch fully articulating screen (unchanged from the previous model) and it does its job more than adequately for my needs. Yes there are larger screens with more resolution available but is it really needed? In my eyes not really. Yes, more is often a good thing but this screen shows me the information I need quickly and clearly.
One change on the EM5 III that I do really appreciate is the new 2.36 million dot EVF. Although the magnification has decreased slightly (0.69x ) it is a vast improvement over the old model and provides a clear rich image. Yes higher resolution EVF’s are available on more expensive models from other brands but while these are nice I honestly don’t see them as essential as long as they are good enough to clearly frame your shots. One thing to note for those among us that wear glasses is the 27mm eye point.
Overall the handling of the Olympus OMD EM5 Mark 3 is almost exactly what I want in a small mirrorless body. Its buttons offer good tactile feedback (no more squidgy buttons here) and the front and rear control dials are the best in the business offering just the right amount of resistance to feel solid and assured in use.
I now do quite a lot of video both in my work and for my Youtube channels and I’m pleased to see that Olympus kept the mic input on the EM5 III. This along with the ability to record in 4K at 24 and 30 FPS, as well as 120 FPS in 1080 make it a pretty good option for casual video.
Having looked at the video quality produced by the EM5 III I would be quite happy using it for my Youtube channels. Combined with the excellent IBIS as well as vastly improved video AF I found it easy to get good results straight out of camera.
The colours are beautiful as I would expect from Olympus and I believe it would be more than capable of putting together very nice looking travel videos and vlogs, aided by that fully articulating screen.
I currently use a GH5 for video work which as we all know has a plethora of options but for less demanding users I believe the EM5 III will be more than good enough in terms of output quality, colour and usability as long as you don’t need 4k60 which is sadly missing.
The only issue I would mention is that the headline bit rate of 237mbps is only available for cinema 4k (including fast motion up to 8x speed) and then drops down to 102mbps for 4k at 24,25 and 30 FPS.
If slow motion is your thing the EM5 III can shoot at up to 120FPS in 1080 but the bit rates drop off significantly from the numbers above which could cause quality issues, particularly if you may grade the footage. The 120 FPS high speed option shot and re-timed in camera only offers 26 MBPS.
The highest bit rate when shooting in IPB is 52 MBPS for 1080 , regardless whether the frame rate is 24, 25, 30, 50 or 60. You can shoot 24, 25 and 30 FPS footage in All Intra at 102Mbps.
Sample video will be available once I upload my Video review to Youtube.
Olympus have put the sensor (including Phase detection AF) from the EM1 II into the EM5 III and it really does show. Now let me just clarify one thing, I am not a sports shooter. I hate firing away like a madman in the hope that if I spray enough bullets I’ll hit the target. Not to mention I don’t have the will to go through thousands of pictures just to find the one good one. So I have not tested the EM5 III AF for sports or birds in flight which are arguably the most demanding tasks for an auto focus system.
However I have shot a variety of subjects from portraits to my 3 year old daughter tearing around on her bike.
Single AF, S-AF in Olympus’ language is as fast as the fastest cameras out there. If you can’t get in focus shots with this camera then I’m afraid it’s not me, it’s you says the EM5 III. The focus is snappy, assured and never skips a beat. That’s to be expected these days although some do better than others and of the cameras I have used Olympus is easily up there with the best for single AF.
The interesting thing with the EM5 III is that it now has phase detect AF for the first time so in theory its continuous AF and tracking modes should be vastly improved over its predecessor. In short yes they are.
Shooting multiple portraits of my wife using eye AF and C-AF the camera locks on to her face and eyes and nails the focus almost every time. It is also doing a better job of following the subjects face even when they are not face on to the camera.
I also tested out the tracking AF using my daughter riding her push bike. The results were pretty impressive, especially when compared with previous generations of the EM5.
With the subject riding straight towards me at a jogging pace the camera picked up focus immediately and followed her through until she filled the frame and exited to the side. The last couple of images were out of focus but 80% of the remaining series were all perfectly sharp with 15% being acceptably so and just 5% being unusable.
When tracking a subject across the screen the results are better still. In fact they were all perfectly sharp.
So for normal use photographing people, kids, pets, the Olympus EM5 III is more than up to the job in terms of AF. The only issue and one I would like to see improved in a firmware update is that when several faces are in the scene I couldn’t find a way to select which face to focus on. The AF is also very usable for video and certainly better than my GH5.
Olympus OMD EM5 III Review – Image Quality
I will add a few test shots below for those of you who want to compare ISO in a more controlled manner but for the most part I find that the biggest test for a sensor in terms of high ISO performance is capturing skin tones. The smooth skin of a models face really does show up issues when using higher ISO’s and this is something that the EM5 II had started to fall significantly behind with compared to the competition.
Of course a Micro 43 sensor does have an inherent disadvantage in low light performance due to its smaller size compared with APS-C and 35mm. However whenever I have tested this I am always surprised just how close to APS-C it gets. Don’t get me wrong if you want and need killer low light performance then you need a larger sensor but I am yet to produce an image at ISO 3200 or above on any camera which I would consider a true keeper. If an image is that important then I am generally shooting at lower ISO or controlling the light. I understand that some people (documentary photographers, nightlife and wedding photographers etc) do genuinely need the best possible high ISO performance but for the rest of us, is a very usable ISO 6400 not enough? If it is dark enough to need ISO 12800 or more then I honestly doubt the image is going to be that good anyway. I know I will get some angry responses and justifications to that last comment but for how and what I want to shoot I rarely go above ISO 1600 and if it’s a landscape I’m at base ISO anyway.
With that said I am pretty happy with the high ISO performance of the Olympus OMD EM5 III. ISO 3200 is very good and 6400 looks very usable too. I would even say it is a little better than my EM1 II at high ISO as the 12800 shot below doesn’t fall apart as badly on the EM5 III as it has on my previous Olympus cameras. The magenta cast that the EM1 II sometimes suffered with at high ISO’s is also no longer present on the EM5 III. Below I shot an image in near darkness as I prefer to test ISO performance like this rather than shooting in daylight and raising the ISO for the sake of it.
To be perfectly honest, this is the first time I have been totally happy with ISO 6400 on the Micro 43 platform. I always thought it was usable with a bit of work in post production but with the Olympus EM5 III it has now edged over into perfectly satisfactory and ISO 3200 looks very clean. Of course when shooting with the EM5 III you’re only going to need to use those higher ISO values if you need to use a faster shutter speed to stop action. Otherwise you can hand hold this camera in almost any situation thanks to the incredible in body image stabilisation. All the test shots above were shot handheld with the 45mm Pro lens. The ISO 200 shot used a shutter speed of 1 second and was almost perfectly sharp. That would usually require a shutter speed of 1/100th to be sharp. That’s over 6 stops of image stabilisation working right there and to be honest I didn’t bother about my technique, I have so much faith in Olympus’ IBIS that I just fired away without really thinking about it. It is unlike any other IBIS system I have ever used and yes I have owned the Panasonic G9 but the EM5 III, EM1X and the EM1 II are all much better in my opinion. I know some test results put them close but that was not my personal experience.
So if people say that you need a large sensor to shoot in low light I would say it depends entirely upon what you are shooting. Yes there are scenarios where the larger sensor will be of benefit if you are shooting moving subjects and need to freeze the action but for anything else the EM5 III can shoot at ISO 200 and give you great results.
One thing I had noticed on the EM1 II and previous Olympus bodies that I have owned (so most of the higher end ones) is that the red channel was prone to becoming over saturated and clipping. I can say that this issue seems to have been resolved on the EM5 III.
This is especially true if you shoot in Raw rather than JPEG as the raw files hold substantially more detail and information as you can see below.
If you want to see all the full resolution images from this review then they are all available over on my Flickr page.
As you can see from the above image the raw files are holding substantially more detail and colour information. When I zoom in 100% on the Jpeg file here I can just see a few areas where the red channel is starting to clip slightly. However there are no such issues in the raw file. The raw file also shows more fine detail such as the veins of the petals which are not visible in the Jpeg. It should be noted that I turned in camera noise reduction down to the minimum setting but it can also be turned off altogether.
High resolution mode
The Olympus EM5 III now gives us 80mp raw files and 50mp Jpegs in high resolution mode thanks to the new 20mp sensor inside the camera.
At first glance the hi res shots show a noticeable improvement in detail but is this simply due to the larger file size?
I wanted to see how they compared with a standard raw file that was up-rezzed on my PC to match the file size of the in camera hi resolution image.
The in camera hi resolution image contains more genuine detail than the standard raw file up rezzed to match. The other main benefit that is quite obvious is that the in camera hi resolution image is giving a noise benefit too. Olympus themselves claim 2 stops improvement when using the high resolution mode. I believe this to be pretty accurate. The file is cleaner and contains more detail so if you really want to get the best output possible then it is worth using the high resolution mode. Just make sure that you take the time to ensure you are using the camera on a rock steady tripod and use a shutter delay. My first attempt to capture this hi res image resulted in softness caused by the vibrations when I pressed the shutter release. A delay of 8 seconds was sufficient to get perfectly sharp images.
I still have to test the hi resolution mode for landscapes to see if it deals with movement any better than previous generations. I’ll report back once I have thoroughly tested it.
Olympus OMD EM5 Mark 3 – Conclusion
The Olympus OMD EM5 III has been a long time coming so was it worth the wait? On the one hand if you look at the technical specifications and price some may argue that there are no standout features in such a competitive marketplace. However it is only when you actually get the camera in your hands and use it that you can appreciate all the little improvements that in the end add up to one of the best handling and performing mirror-less cameras on the market. Let’s not forget that Olympus’ IBIS is definitely still the best available.
The build quality still feels reassuringly good, the new thumb rest gives just that little more purchase to make it more comfortable to shoot with. The new EVF is crisp and clear and little additions such as the dedicated ISO button improve the handling to the point that this camera simply gets out of your way and lets you shoot. For me this is more important than an extra stop of dynamic range, a few more megapixels and being able to fire off a million shots a second. That is just the way I prefer to shoot though. I prioritise the experience when using a camera as long as it is able to give me the end results that I need.
In the last year I have heard quite a few people predicting the demise of Micro 43 and in particular Olympus, citing Sony’s A7 line as being far superior. I don’t deny that the Sony A7 series are great cameras, I have owned the A7R, A7II, A7R2, A7III and A7rIII.
While the Sony A7 series bodies are in the same size and weight bracket as the higher end Micro 43 offerings like the EM1 II and GH5 the professional grade lenses are no smaller than those on full frame DSLR’s. Yes they will get you better low light performance and more megapixels to play with and if you genuinely need those things then no doubt you will already know so.
However for the rest of us who want a fast responsive camera with good AF, a big step up in image quality from your phone, more features than pretty much any other camera on the market and a range of high quality lenses from super wide angle to super telephoto then I think the EM5 III offers that. All wrapped up in a lightweight package that you will be much more likely to carry than a bulky DSLR.. I know that I will take my Micro 43 cameras out with me on trips where I would leave the Sony cameras behind and in the end as the cliche goes, it’s the camera that you have with you that’s the best.
I get to try out a lot of cameras and I usually know which ones I would be happy to keep pretty quickly. For me the Olympus OM-D E-M5 III ticks all the boxes for what I want in a camera and I’ll be keeping mine for some time to come. In future articles on this website and videos on my Youtube channel I will be putting the EM5 III up against my Panasonic GX9 and a Fuji XT30 so be sure to check back soon for those comparisons. I’m also hoping to pick up the recently announced EM1 III and Fuji XT4 to compare those two models.
I’ll be updating this page from time to time when I have more sample images and hopefully get a chance to shoot some proper landscapes (if I ever get the time) over the coming months. I hope this Olympus OMD EM5 III review has been useful for you. Now get out and shoot.