The Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III ($1,199.99) offers some upgrades from the aging Mark II version, a camera we reviewed in early 2015. Its sensor has more pixels, adds support for 4K, and phase detection for more reliable autofocus. The camera, and Micro Four Thirds system, have some appeal for photographers who prioritize light and compact lenses, as well as in-body stabilization. But it doesn’t offer as much versatility or value as the Sony a6400 or Fujifilm X-T30, our co-Editors’ Choice winners in this class.
Plastic, But Still Protected
The E-M5 Mark III’s exterior is largely plastic—the sturdy, composite type, not anything flimsy. It’s a change from the Mark II’s magnesium alloy exterior, though, and one that will ruffle some feathers. Weather sealing is better, however—the camera boasts an IPX1 protection rating, so you can use it in rainy weather, assuming your lens is protected too.
It’s sold in black or silver versions—we received it in silver for review. The body measures 3.4 by 4.9 by 2.0 inches (HWD) and weighs 14.6 ounces without a lens attached. The handgrip is fairly modest. This is a body I recommend using with a smaller zoom or prime lens. If you frequently use larger lenses, like those in the Olympus Pro series, think about the larger E-M1 Mark III or E-M1X instead.
Olympus didn’t put a flash in the body, but it has a standard hot shoe and ships with a small external one, the FL-LM3. The flash is powered by the body, so you don’t need to fumble with batteries, and can point up to add softer, indirect light to indoor scenes.
You can buy the camera on its own, ideal for photographers who already have a stash of Micro Four Thirds lenses. It’s also sold as a kit along with the compact, weather-sealed 14-150mm zoom for $1,799.99, though there’s no savings, unless you happen to catch a sale.
Micro Four Thirds
The E-M5 is a mirrorless camera—one that drops the flipping mirror and optical viewfinder. The electronic viewfinder (EVF) shows the view from the lens as the sensor sees it, and shortens the distance between the lens mount and sensor.
The sensor and lens mount are Micro Four Thirds, a format with a 4:3 aspect ratio and dimensions smaller all around than the APS-C and full-frame designs. It means that many of the lenses are very compact, but don’t offer as shallow depth of field as ones for larger sensors. Olympus has some big lenses with f/1.2 designs to overcome this, but using them makes the E-M5 decidedly less small.
Pixel count isn’t as high as competitors either. For most shots, 20MP is plenty, though. If you specialize in landscapes, there’s a multi-shot mode that shifts the sensor to net 50MP resolution, but you’ll need a tripod and static subject to make it worthwhile.
The E-M5 Mark III has an Automatic mode, but is really built for photographers who want some level of manual control. Its body is packed to the gills with dials and buttons, and sports a strong on-screen interface to supplement them. Most buttons can be customized, so you can really tune the E-M5 to handle the way you want.
The lone front button, next to the grip, previews depth of field by default. On top you’ll find the On/Off switch, Drive/Self-Timer, and Display buttons to the left of the hot shoe. The Mode dial, with push-button lock, is to the right, along with front and rear control dials, the shutter release, and two buttons, one for EV compensation and Record to start and stop video capture.
The ISO button is angled atop the rear thumb rest. To its left is the 1/2 toggle, used to swap out the functions of the two control dials or focus settings, and AE-L/AF-L button. The Menu, Info, Play, and Delete buttons are below the thumb rest, arranged in a cluster around the four-way directional pad. The OK button it at its center.
The tight surface area between the LCD and below the the thumb rest doesn’t leave a lot of room. I would prefer a small eight-way control instead of the four-way directional pad, as it’s a bit clunky to move the focus point around without diagonal adjustment. If you like, the touch LCD can serve as a control surface to move the area of focus too, but it’s not turned on by default.
Pressing OK brings up the Super Control Panel, a set of on-screen options navigable using the d-pad or touch. Here you change focus modes, video quality settings, color settings, and more. There’s plenty of options, but you can’t customize it. Fujifilm and Sony both have similar menus, but give control over what functions are included.
The touch LCD is a 3-inch panel. It’s sharp, 1,040k dots, and bright enough to use outdoors without worry. It’s mounted on a vari-angle hinge, so it can swing out to the side to face forward, up, or down. If you prefer to use the EVF full-time, the screen can face inward, also useful to protect it during transport.
The viewfinder is a 2.4-million-dot OLED. It’s crisp, shows motion smoothly, and is in line with competitors in size, with a 0.68x magnification rating. I’ve got few complaints; the EVF will reflect your processing settings, including black-and-white looks, and a wide swath of Instagram-style Art filters available in-camera.
Power and Connectivity
The E-M5 Mark III uses a different battery than the two earlier entries in the series. It switches to the BLS-5 pack, of slightly lesser capacity. The camera is rated for about 310 images per charge, lagging a bit behind the Fujifilm X-T30 (380 images) and Sony a6400 (360 images). In-camera charging is available, but it’s via a micro USB port, rather than the newer USB-C interface. There’s a single UHS-II SD memory card slot.
Other connections include a PC Sync port, useful for photographers who still rely on cables to trigger off-camera lighting, micro HDMI to connect to a field recorder, a 3.5mm microphone input, and a 2.5mm remote control port. There’s no headphone jack, though, so you won’t be able to monitor audio when recording video.
Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are built in. The camera works with the Olympus Image Share app, a free download for Android and iOS, for file transfer and remote control. It’s useful for on-the-go sharing to social networks, and the remote function shows a live view from the lens on your phone’s screen, a step above a basic wireless shutter release.
Focus Speed and Performance
The E-M5 Mark III starts and focuses quickly. It’s able to capture an image within 0.7-second of flipping on the power switch. Autofocus acquisition is also quite quick, about 0.05-second, in line with its competition.
The sensor adds phase detection focus, absent in the Mark II. But the benefits aren’t as apparent here as we’ve seen in competitors. Continuous shooting is available at 10fps with the mechanical shutter and 30fps via an electronic shutter, but in both cases focus and exposure are locked in at the first shot—they’re no good for moving targets or changing light.
See How We Test Digital Cameras
The burst rate is roughly cut in half, to 5.3fps, if you want focus for every shot using the mechanical shutter. We saw a few misfocused shots in our moving target focus test, but the camera recovered with the next in the sequence. It does better with the electronic shutter in its Pro Capture Low mode—it focuses between every shot at 10fps, and netted sharp results in all of our tests. But competitors do better—the Sony a6400 (11fps) and Fujifilm X-T30 (8fps) both shoot quickly with mechanical shutters, with excellent accuracy.
There are a number of focus modes available, including a wide area with support for face and eye detection. You can select your own point, or group of points, or switch to a tracking mode that identifies a subject and follows it.
The shooting buffer is a little short—you get 25 shots at 30 or 10fps before the capture rate slows. Dropping to the 5.3fps mechanical shutter mode extends the duration to about 45 shots for either Raw or JPG capture. The buffer clears quickly, in about six seconds when using a 300MBps Sony Tough UHS-II memory card.
The E-M5 Mark III sports a 20MP Micro Four Thirds format sensor mounted on a five-axis stabilization system. Its quite effective—you can net 1-second shots at wider angles if you take care, and I was able to get sharp results with a 1/30-second exposure and 200mm lens with consistency.
The camera shoots images in JPG or Raw format. When using the former, expect perfect detail from ISO 200 through 800. Image quality takes a step back starting at ISO 1600, where fine lines are slightly smudged, but results are still quite good through ISO 3200. Pushing the camera to ISO 6400 introduces some blurring, and it worsens at ISO 12800 and 25600.
Raw capture kills in-camera noise reduction, shifting the responsibility to your Raw software. When looking at test images in Adobe Lightroom, the E-M5 Mark III’s sensor nets crisper detail all the way through ISO 6400, albeit with some grain. Detail suffers when you push to ISO 12800 and 25600.
If you prioritize image quality at very high ISO settings, an APS-C camera will net better results. But if you want one that has offers an in-body stabilization system, you’ll need to budget for it. The Sony a6600 ($1,400) and Fujifilm X-T4 ($1,700) are both priced higher.
Olympus includes some features not offered by its competitors, though. With the E-M5 Mark III you get Live Composite and Bulb, features that show you a preview of your long exposure image as it’s made, and the aforementioned 50MP multi-shot capture mode. It’s doesn’t go as far as the pricier entries in the series, the E-M1 Mark III and E-M1X, though; those cameras extend the multi-shot capture to handheld use, and add a Live ND mode for long-exposure photography without the need for neutral density filters.
There are also a number of in-camera filters available if you want to shoot photos with some artistic flair. The Art setting offers dozens of looks, including grainy black and white, bleach bypass, selective color, and others. Raw capture is available when using the Art mode, so you’re not locked into a single choice of processing. If you do utilize Raw, you can reprocess any image with any filter from the playback menu, a nice touch.
The E-M5 Mark II supports 4K UHD capture at 24, 25, or 30fps and a 102Mbps compression rate. You can opt for 17:9 DCI as well, but only at 24fps, with a 237Mbps rate. Various color profiles are available, including standard, vivid, and black and white. There’s no true Log profile, but there is a flat, low-contrast look available via the poorly named Picture Mode option, buried in the menu.
There’s some appeal as a vlogging camera—the forward-facing screen, microphone input, and stabilization system are all pluses. Competing cameras from Panasonic, including the G9 and GH5, offer a bit stronger feature set for more serious video work, and use the same Micro Four Thirds lenses.
More Iterative Than Innovative
The original E-M5 was a bellwether entry for Olympus. It ushered in the company’s modern, retro-inspired design philosophy, and was its first mirrorless model with a built-in EVF. The Mark II introduced the high-resolution multi-shot mode, and was the first to include the Live Bulb and Composite modes.
The Mark III doesn’t offer any new, innovative features. Instead, it catches up with what’s offered in the E-M1 Mark III and E-M1X, bringing many, but not all, of their features to a smaller, less expensive model. It’s backed by a huge swath of Micro Four Thirds lenses, including some excellent zooms and small primes.
There are some disadvantages, though. To get a really shallow depth of field, you’ll need to reach for bigger f/1.2 primes. Meanwhile, APS-C and full-frame cameras are able to blur backgrounds without having to resort to ultra-bright optics, and typically net more resolution and superior imaging when pushing the sensor to its extremes.
The E-M5 Mark III doesn’t do enough to move the needle to recommend it to photographers not already invested in the system. It’s a good camera, but one that doesn’t offer the same level of imaging quality, video features, or autofocus acumen as competitors. The Sony a6400 and Fujifilm X-T30 cost less and perform better, though you will miss out on a stabilized sensor and, in the case of the X-T30, dust and splash protection.
Moving up, Olympus has the E-M1 Mark III, with two memory card slots, a sturdier build, and larger battery for about $1,800, and Fujifilm has its dual-slot, stabilized X-T4 for $1,700. Both models are set to ship this spring. Sony’s stabilized a6600 is on sale now for $1,400, but it doesn’t have as robust a control layout or dual memory card support.