Hands-On Review: The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III and 12-45mm f/4 PRO Lens

15Share

Building upon its legacy of compact, professional Micro Four Thirds cameras, Olympus now delivers an update to the E-M1 line with the announcement of the OM-D E-M1 Mark III Mirrorless Camera. With a new processor and loads of added features, this release should unlock even more possibilities for all types of photographers. Also released was a compact M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-45mm f/4 PRO Lens, which will serve as a quality and lightweight general-purpose zoom for the system. After hitting the streets with E-M1 Mark III and the 12-45mm lens, it was easy to see they were agile, feature-rich units that helped create solid images in a range of conditions.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III and the M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-45mm F4.0 PRO Lens
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III and the M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-45mm f/4.0 PRO Lens

In general, when you're talking about Micro Four Thirds, portability inevitably enters the discussion—and the E-M1 Mark III delivers just that. The first thing you'll notice about the E-M1 Mark III over the previous Mark II is that it's still very compact and lightweight, with a well-balanced and ergonomic feel. Weighing 1.3 lb, the Mark III is about the same weight as its predecessor.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III

OM-D E-M1 Mark II

SENSOR
20.4MP Live MOS Micro Four Thirds
SENSOR
20.4MP Live MOS Micro Four Thirds
IMAGE PROCESSOR
TruePic IX
IMAGE PROCESSOR
TruePic VIII
MAX CONTINUOUS SHOOTING
Mechanical: 15 fps for 101 Raw / 134 JPEG
Electronic: 60 fps for 50 Raw / 50 JPEG
MAX CONTINUOUS SHOOTING
Mechanical: 15 fps for 84 Raw / 117 JPEG
Electronic: 60 fps for 48 Raw / 48 JPEG
VIDEO
DCI 4K up to 24.00 fps
UHD 4K up to 30p
Full HD up to 120p
VIDEO
DCI 4K up to 24.00 fps
UHD 4K up to 30p
Full HD up to 60p
AUTOFOCUS
121-Point All Cross-Type
AUTOFOCUS
121-Point All Cross-Type
IMAGE STABILIZATION
5-Axis Sensor-Shift
7.0 EV
7.5 EV with IS Lens
IMAGE STABILIZATION
5-Axis Sensor-Shift
5.5 EV
HIGH RES SHOT MODES
Handheld High Res Shot: 50MP
Tripod High Res Shot: 80MP
HIGH RES SHOT MODES
High Res Shot: 50MP
ELECTRONIC VIEWFINDER
2.36m-Dot 0.74x-Magnification LCD
ELECTRONIC VIEWFINDER
2.36m-Dot 0.74x-Magnification LCD
DISPLAY
3.0" 1.04m-Dot Tilting Touchscreen LCD
DISPLAY
3.0" 1.04m-Dot Tilting Touchscreen LCD
SPECIAL FEATURES
Starry Sky AF Mode
Live ND Mode
Custom AF Targets
SPECIAL FEATURES
-
BATTERY
BLH-1 Lithium-Ion;
Approx. 420 Shots per Charge
BATTERY
BLH-1 Lithium-Ion;
Approx. 440 Shots per Charge

As for the 12-45mm f/4, which is a solid 24-90mm equivalent general purpose zoom lens, it's also very small and weighs less than 9 oz. When you consider the miniature size of the E-M1 Mark III body, along with impressive features such as a weather-sealed body, image stabilization up to 7 stops, 50MP handheld high-res mode, 60-frames-per-second continuous burst, and 4K video, and add it to the tiny-yet-versatile 12-45mm f/4 with its super-close focusing distance of 4.7", and 1:2 magnification ratio macro capabilities, you've truly got a ton of power in a small package.

The E-M1 Mark III features 7 stops of in-body image stabilization.  M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-45mm f/4 PRO at 13mm; 1/6 second; f/22; ISO 1250; handheld
The E-M1 Mark III features 7 stops of in-body image stabilization. M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-45mm f/4 PRO at 13mm; 1/6 second; f/22; ISO 1250; handheld

Before we get into how the E-M1 Mark III performs in the field, let's get the obligatory nerd talk out of the way. Although the camera features the same 20.4 MP Live MOS sensor as its predecessor, it sports an all-new TruePic IX image processor. The TruePic IX brings exciting new features to the table, such as improved eye/face detection autofocus, Starry Sky AF, 50MP handheld hi-res mode and Live ND mode. The new processor also adds improved tripod hi-res mode, which delivers 80MP images in raw and JPEG, as opposed to the 50MP tripod hi-res images from the Mark II.

M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-100mm f/4 IS PRO @ 44mm; .8 second; f/14; ISO 2000; tripod
M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-100mm f/4 IS PRO @ 44mm; .8 second; f/14; ISO...
M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-45mm f/4 PRO @ 45mm; 1/200 second; f/11; ISO 200
M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-45mm f/4 PRO @ 45mm; 1/200 second; f/11; ISO 200
M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-45mm f/4 PRO @ 19mm; 1/800 second; f/11; ISO 200
M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-45mm f/4 PRO @ 19mm; 1/800 second; f/11; ISO 200

On my first trip out with the E-M1 Mark III, I decided to head to the High Line elevated park, on the west side of Manhattan. Eager to test some of the new features, I spotted a prime subject for a detail shot using the new handheld hi-res mode—a leaky drain at the bottom of one of the stairwells leading up to the park. The camera limits your smallest aperture to f/8 in hi-res mode, and was able to achieve surprisingly good results at various ISOs and shutter speeds. Even at f/8, 1/25-second at ISO 4000, I was able to capture a very sharp 50MP handheld image, with relatively minimal noise. The raw file responded very well to noise reduction and sharpening in post, leaving me with the impression that this powerful and convenient new feature would be something to which I could definitely get accustomed. I should note that there's about a 13-second processing delay that happens after you take a shot in this mode, which makes it less than ideal for shooting fast action, but it won't make much of a difference for inanimate objects, and the results are definitely worth the wait.

Handheld hi-res mode 50MP image; M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-45mm f/4 PRO @ 24mm; 1/25 second; f/8; ISO 4000
Handheld hi-res mode 50MP image; M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-45mm f/4 PRO @ 24mm; 1/25 second; f/8; ISO 4000

The next feature on my "must try" list was the Live ND (Neutral Density) mode, which is new in the E-M1 Mark III, but also found on the feature list of the flagship E-M1X. In any case, the feature was certainly new to me, and being a landscape/cityscape shooter who loves long exposure, I'm used to lugging around a real 100 x 100mm square ND filter set, a holder, and adapters every time I go out, so I was excited to try Live ND, to say the least. I decided to make DUMBO, Brooklyn, my next destination, to shoot some boats crossing under the Manhattan Bridge. But before I show you my results, what is Live ND mode exactly?

Olympus's Live ND is a clever mode that virtually extends the exposure time and allows the capture of images with a long exposure effect by merging multiple sequential images together. There are five ND filters to choose from between ND2, which cuts the light by 1 stop, and ND32, which cuts 5 stops.

Live ND mode on the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III

This is a very cool feature not only because it will save you from carrying extra equipment and changing filters, but because the final long exposure image can be previewed live in the viewfinder or on the LCD screen before capturing. I certainly can't tell you how Olympus achieves this, but I certainly can tell you that it's useful and fun in practice.

Example of Live ND mode on the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III

Also, it's truly neutral, and doesn't leave any cast on the image whatsoever. While some real ND filters are more "neutral" than others, there are quite a few out there that will leave a slight blue or magenta cast on the image, which Live ND won't.

Live ND mode; ND32 (5 stops); M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-45mm f/4 PRO @ 12mm; 2.5 seconds; f/14; ISO 64
Live ND mode; ND32 (5 stops); M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-45mm f/4 PRO @ 12mm; 2.5 seconds; f/14; ISO 64

As evening fell, I figured it would be a good time to test the in-body image stabilization, which compensates up to 7 stops of shutter speed. I ended up finding a composition I liked, facing Jane's Carousel, a landmark in Brooklyn Bridge Park, and at this point I decided to replace the 12-45mm f/4 PRO with the much larger and heavier M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-100mm f/4 IS PRO Lens, just to up the ante a bit. At 29mm (58mm equivalent), 1/8 second exposure, I was able to capture sharp handheld images with a surprising degree of consistency.

The E-M1 Mark III in-body image stabilization definitely shines. M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-100mm f/4 IS PRO @ 29mm (58mm equivalent); 1/8 second; f/6.3; ISO 4000
The E-M1 Mark III in-body image stabilization definitely shines. M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-100mm f/4 IS PRO @ 29mm (58mm equivalent); 1/8 second; f/6.3; ISO 4000

Since I still had the E-M1 Mark III and M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-45mm f/4 PRO in my possession for another day, I decided to go back out to try some of the other features. Since the E-M1 Mark III increases the image resolution, and it can produce in tripod hi-res mode to 80MP (up from 50MP in the Mark II), I thought this would be a good place to start. As promised, the EM-1 delivers a beautiful image in this mode, perfect for detail shots in architecture, product, or fine art.

Tripod hi-res mode 80MP image; M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-100mm f/4 IS PRO @ 47mm; 1/3 second; f/8; ISO 200. Image at right is zoomed in.

Finally, I wanted to give the in-camera focus stacking a shot. Since the 12-45mm f/4 has such close focusing (12cm at 12mm), I thought it would be cool to shoot the Brooklyn Bridge through a tree, and try to get all of the close leaves in the shot in focus, as well as the bridge off in the distance. Although it was pretty windy (and cold, but that's beside the point), the E-M1 Mark III did a fairly good job doing the focus stack automatically. There were a few dodgy spots due to the moving leaves, but I was able to correct them pretty easily in Photoshop by blending-in a few of the focus bracketed images that the camera used for the auto-stacked image.

In-camera autofocus stack using 8 focus-bracketed images
In-camera autofocus stack using 8 focus-bracketed images
Autofocus stack corrected for moving leaves in Photoshop
Autofocus stack corrected for moving leaves in Photoshop

One thing I didn't have the time to test thoroughly was the 4K video capabilities. There aren't many surprises here, since it matches the specs of the top-tier E-M1X with up to DCI 4K at a true 24.00 fps. UHD is available up to 30p, as well. For the best post-production results, Olympus has packed in OM-Log, and the HDMI output can support 4:2:2 output for improved color fidelity. Improved audio is also possible via a 3.5mm mic input, and Olympus has helped users find a new solution by releasing an official KA335 Audio Cable and the SM2 Shockmount for the LS-P4 Recorder.

I found the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III and the M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-45mm f/4 PRO to be rugged, feature-rich, and versatile. There are a few features I didn't get to test, most importantly the Starry Sky AF, a new feature that, as the name suggests, promises improved autofocus accuracy when shooting the night sky. But, I definitely tried enough of the camera and the lens to say that Olympus fans are going to be impressed.

Olympus fans interested in another type of camera, perhaps something better suited for everyday shooting should check out John Harris's review of the other camera Olympus released today: the PEN E-PL10.

Any questions or comments? Please feel free to hit the Comments section, below.

15 Comments

I am interested in buying the OM-D em1 Mark iii and not sure whether to get the 12-45 or 12-100 lens. 

Hi Kenneth - The 12-100mm f/4 IS PRO is a more versatile lens than the 12-45mm f/4 PRO due to the longer focal length, and also features built-in image stabilization, which will yield an extra .5 stops of IS when used with the E-M1 Mark III for a total of 7.5 stops of IS.  However, the 12-100mm is more expensive than the 12-45mm, and considerably larger.  So it really depends on your budget, and what you're shooting.  What do you shoot primarily? 

One question, who on earth will name a camera: OmD em1 mark3 kfc ? What the hell are they trying to prove here, absolute favorite idiots doing marketing, you look at nikon =D500, canon=D####, Sony=alpha####, and those idiots going for that name as Olympus wasnt long enough, I know you will tell me theyre building on an old success, my answer is that there success doesnt show from a market share point of view

Anyway thanks for the review, i was interested in a more thorough section about low light and its not there

I’ve been happy w/ my several E and OM cameras.  However, I would buy a regular 4/3 size sensor camera with big time tech to use with all the 4/3 lenses I purchased.  A man’s hands are almost too big for some of the micro 4/3’s cameras.  You can fumble around and change something you did not mean to change.  

I'm not sure why people freak out over the name of the OMD series of cameras. OMD designates the line or series -- it is not specific to the model name which is E-M1 Mkll. How is that any worse than Sony Alpha a7lll, or Canon EOS 5D MklV?

Jad B. wrote:

One question, who on earth will name a camera: OmD em1 mark3 kfc ? What the hell are they trying to prove here, absolute favorite idiots doing marketing, you look at nikon =D500, canon=D####, Sony=alpha####, and those idiots going for that name as Olympus wasnt long enough, I know you will tell me theyre building on an old success, my answer is that there success doesnt show from a market share point of view

Anyway thanks for the review, i was interested in a more thorough section about low light and its not there

Thanks for your comment Jad.  I was very impressed with the E-M1 Mark III in low light, especially handheld.  The noise is very manageable at higher ISOs and the image stabilization is the best I've tried.  

What would be the difference worth buying an e-m1x over this model?

Hi Jim - The main differences are that the E-M1X features an integrated grip, some extra dedicated physical controls, and a built-in GPS. Thanks for your question!

Is the viewfinder actually OLED? I keep seeing contradictory descriptions.

Hi Barry - Yes it is a 2.36M dot OLED electronic viewfinder indeed! Not sure why there would be conflicting info on that point. Thanks so much for your question.

Good to know. I've checked the Olympus site, and they agree with you. However, I would note that they also say the Mark II EVF is an LCD, contrary to what you say in the article. For Mark II owners like me, the possibility of an improved EVF is quite enticing, as the Mark II EVF doesn't do all that well in contrasty light (shadows just turn a muddy gray).

CORRECTION: Both cameras have an 2.36m dot LCD viewfinder. I have confirmed this with Olympus. There was an error on the Olympus site in regards to the Mark III. The chart above will be corrected shortly, as well as our product listing page. Thank you for bringing this up Barry!

Hi Doug... thanks for the review! Very helpful. Do you know if the MKIII is physically identical to the MKII in terms of size? Button Layout? and Functions? The reason I ask is that I have a Nauticam NA-EM1II Underwater housing that is designed around the MKII body. I am trying to figure out if I can use the MKIII having recently sold the original MKII body.

Hi Andrew! Hope you don't mind me fielding this while Doug is over at our Depth of Field conference. The Mark II and Mark III are very very similar when it comes to dimensions. However, the Mark III does have a slightly different button layout. The most significant change is the addition of a joystick in place of the Mark II's Info button. Your current housing wouldn't be able to operate that. Also, a couple other buttons have slightly moved and I could guarantee complete compatibility.

OK... good to know. Many thanks for the help!

Close

Close

Close