Olympus OM-D EM-5 Mark III Review

Introduction

The Olympus EM-5 Mark III, initially release fall 2019, marks the latest release in the EM-5 lineup of mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras. It’s a midrange Mirrorless camera aimed at photography enthusiasts, videographers, and vloggers. The 5 series is designed to sit roughly between the EM-10 and newly released flagship EM-1 series cameras. Its release replaces the predecessor, the EM-5 Mark II, a well-received and loved camera from the manufacturer. It was one many claimed as the perfectly sized camera. It’s only real disappointment was lacking autofocus performance compared to the competition.

The release of Mark III, however, aims to fix this particular problem with the promise of a desperately needed update in autofocus capabilities and a broader feature set. It inherits the same image sensor and processor as the EM1-X, their flagship camera. It is equipped with a 20.4-megapixel Live MOS sensor, their best to date, and the latest TruePic VIII processor. Olympus aims it squarely to compete with the Fujifilm X-T30, Panasonic GX90, Canon EOS M50, Nikon Z50, and Sony a6600. It’s been a long 4 ½ years since the predecessor’s original release.

Olympus has had plenty of time to re-evaluate how this lineup of cameras positions in their ecosystem. The announcement of this camera aims to correct its positioning to provide better differentiation between its existing lineups. However, have they gone too far and now artificially restricted the camera’s true potential? Are the improvements in features worthwhile of an upgrade or for new users to forgo the older cheaper body? In today’s post, we take a deep dive into this retro yet, modern camera from Olympus. 

Olympus-OM-D-E-M5-Mark-III-Mirrorless-Camera-specs

 

What are some of the goods, bads, and uglies of the Olympus EM-5 Mark III?

Pros:

Image Quality

Image quality is a particular strength of this camera. It inherits the same 20.4-megapixel Live MOS sensor from the flagship Olympus EM1 Mark II or EM1 X and their same True Pic VIII image processor. In all, this means that the image quality supplied by this camera is the best Olympus has to offer. Period. Compared strictly to its predecessor, it delivers a 1 stop improvement in dynamic range with better overall contrast and color rendition. Sure it has a smaller sensor compared to its rivals 24-26-megapixel sensor. However, there’s a minor difference in image quality between 20.4 and 26.2 megapixels when shooting at lower ISOs. In real-world shooting, you will never see any difference. Considering it’s smaller sensor size, it does incredibly well.  

Video Quality

Like its imaging abilities, the majority of its video features and larger capabilities come from the flagship EM-1X. It shoots standard 4K UHD 30p video at 102 MBps and even the slightly wider 17:9 ratio cinema 4K 24p at 237 Mbps. For 1080p Full HD, it can now shoot up to 120p. The footage the camera delivers in 4K, particularly, is excellent and surely on par with its competition. Like other cameras in this class, it also has a limited recording time of 29 minutes and 59 seconds, industry-standard. 

Focusing Performance

This camera also inherits the same autofocusing system from the EM-1 Mark II, making it the first in the series equipped with Phase Detection built onto the image sensor. This addition allows the camera to deliver the best overall autofocus and tracking performance of the entire lineup. Its system is both accurate and confident, definitely a trustworthy one. Comparing it to the predecessor, it rarely hunts before reaching critical focus, nor focus wobbles when double-checking focus, making it suitable for tracking movement or action. This new system also brings along with it Face and Eye Detection, both of which work incredibly well, though still not to the levels of Sony’s cameras. This particular system also works best if the subject remains in headshot distance, so the face fills the majority of the frame. And while it includes the same 121-point AF system as the EM-1, an already excellent system, Olympus has made great leaps in improving it with this iteration. 

Display & Viewfinder

 It also features the same 2.36M dot OLED electronic viewfinder with 100% viewfinder coverage as the EM-1. The viewfinder delivers excellent viewing when composing and is sharp with minimal delay or latency. The added OLED panel also provides a brighter display than the predecessor, making it more comfortable during bright sunlight conditions. 

It has a 3-inch vari-angle touch LCD with 1.04M dot resolution. A fully articulating display is the ideal choice for both stills and videos, as it allows users to compose at virtually any angle with ease. The touchscreen implementation here is also well done. It sports both AF point selection, touchpad AF when using the viewfinder, and full menu navigation. 

User Interface

The user interface on this camera is intuitive and well-executed. Olympus is known for its straightforward and easily mastered menus. This camera follows suit. Overall, no complaints here. 

Physical Layout & Ergonomics

Size & dimensions are a resounding strength for this camera. Body only, the camera weighs a meager 366g, a 51g reduction over the predecessor due to the altered construction. Considering it offers equivalent performance to the pricier EM-1 models, it is considerably smaller and makes the more travel-friendly offering of the three cameras. 

Instead of using a magnesium alloy construction similar to the predecessor, Olympus went with polycarbonate instead. At first, this caused questioning and opposition from the community, as this typically means a reduction in build quality. However, in hand, the camera still feels robust. It feels very reassuring, though lacking the “premium” feel of the predecessor. Nonetheless, the camera maintains its full rugged weather sealing and is still dust and freezeproof down to -10°C.

The camera now features a dedicated ISO button, positioned by the thumb rest for more immediate access. 

It features dual adjustment dials to change exposure. 

It features a physical Custom Mode (C) on the mode dial, and accessible C2-C3 via the menu, to quickly access programmable shooting presets. It also provides a total of 35 assignable functions. Nice. Customization overall here is quite excellent for this class of camera. 

It features a deeper and more recessed grip, now producing the best grip out of all the iterations in the EM-5 series to date. The thumb grip is also more pronounced as well, creating a more secure and natural grip. Overall, it has ample gripped surfaces, and the camera is quite comfortable during prolonged use. 

The design stays true to Olympus. In many respects, it looks similar to the original OM film Camera. Stylistically and from a design perspective, the cameras quite attractive. Its button layout follows a rather logical structure, and buttons are strategically positioned, similar to that of the EM1 cameras

Niche Features/Extras

Like the predecessor and several previous Olympus OMD cameras, it too features their industry-leading 5-axis image stabilization system. In this case, much improved, now offering 5.5 stops of stabilization or 6.5 stops with compatible lenses with optical stabilization themselves. This system allows users to shoot 1-second exposures handheld with ease without the need for stabilizing or bracing yourself prior. In all, the performance delivered here is directly comparable to the EM-1 series cameras and sufficiently improved over the predecessor. 

It has built-in Focus Bracketing and Focus Stacking Modes, great options for those shooting macro, still life, or product photography. The Focus Stacking performs the composition by taking eight separate images at different focus points, then combining them in-camera. 

Like other OMD cameras, it too features Live Time Composite Mode. This mode allows users to take a base exposure of the foreground, then have the camera only render new light entering the scene. It’s a fantastic tool for those shooting astrophotography or time-lapses, as it allows you to see the finished exposure develop in real-time. 

It has Manual Focus Assist, Focus Magnification, and Focus Peaking. These three combine to deliver the assistance needed when critically manually focusing. 

It has built-in interval shooting, which provides 24 hours of shooting or 999 sequential frames. It also has a Movie Timelapse mode as well, which shoots in 4K UHD at 5 frames per second. 

It inherits the EM-1’s Pro Capture Mode. This mode allows the camera to store a pre-burst of 14 images before the shutter depresses. This burst ensures that you don’t miss critical moments if you’re late at pressing the shutter. 

It inherits the High Res Shot mode, a feature found on several OM-D cameras now. Nonetheless, this mode takes eight separate images using sensor shift and combines them into a single 50-megapixel RAW or JPEG image. This mode helps deliver a much-needed improvement in resolution if shooting from a stable platform. It’s particularly an excellent option for still life, landscape, or architectural shooting. Note, this mode only works on a tripod. This camera doesn’t also provide the Handheld High Res Shot from the EM-1X. 

It has Keystone Compensation to compensate for shifts in perspective and distortion that occurs to converging lines when shooting, which it corrects in camera. 

It inherits a similar industry-leading dust reduction technology on its sensor from the EM-1X, which shakes the sensor at 30 Hz to prevent dust from sticking to the sensor. 

It features Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity for remote pairing to smartphone devices. Once connected, you can wirelessly transfer images and remotely control the camera.

It has a microphone input.

It supports USB charging. However, the camera still features a Micro USB port, not USB-C. So, unfortunately, it doesn’t offer the faster file transfer speeds available with the newer format. 

It features a UHS-II compatible SD card slot, instead of the slower UHS-I found in the predecessor.

It can shoot up to 10 fps when shooting with the mechanical shutter. However, doing so locks your focus, white balance, and exposure. To perform autofocus and tracking, you will have to do so at a lower burst rate of 6 fps. Thankfully, when shooting with the silent electronic shutter, not only can you shoot up to 10 fps. You also have full control over focus and exposure. However, shooting in this fashion will increase the presence of rolling shutter if panning. But if that’s no concern and you prefer not to have autofocus, you can shoot at a whopping 30 fps using the electronic shutter. The camera also has an incredibly deep buffer depth, 150 RAW, or unlimited JPEG until the card is full. 

Cons:

Video Quality

It lacks Auto ISO when filming in the manual mode. In all, that means that the camera is unable to automatically compensate for changes in ambient exposure, which makes filming in a continually changing environment incredibly difficult. 

While the camera shoots 1080p at 120p, the bit rate in this mode is incredibly low, 25 Mbps. Even at 1080p 60p, the bit rate is only 50 Mbps. With such a low bit rate, the quality of the footage delivered in 1080p makes it challenging for external color grading or recovering dynamic range. And, overall, it is considerably limited in this fashion compared to the competition at this price point. 

Low Light Performance

As with all Micro Four Thirds cameras, the low light performance by default suffers in comparison to equivalent APS-C and Full-Frame cameras due to their smaller size. The camera has a native ISO range from ISO 200 to ISO 25,600, and in this case, experiences noise that requires post-production reduction starting at ISO 3,200. While it delivers a 1 stop improvement in performance over the predecessor when shooting in low light, it still struggles in this particular area. Thankfully, you can overcome this limitation by relying on image stabilization to shoot at slower shutter speeds, to reduce much of the need for higher ISO values altogether. Now, this is dependent on the specific medium you are shooting and whether or not movement occurs in the frame but a possibility nonetheless. Overall, you will need to question how often you’ll shoot in low light conditions that demand higher ISO’s with this camera, as it is an area of weakness.

Battery Performance

It uses the lighter and smaller BLS-50 battery, the same battery used in the Olympus PEN E-PL cameras. And while it delivers the same 310 shots per charge longevity as the predecessor, primarily due to refined power-saving and performance optimizations. The reality is that battery performance is still weak and below the industry-standard of 350 shots expected for mirrorless cameras. Extra batteries will be required. 

Display & Viewfinder

The camera lacks pinch to zoom during image review in the playback mode. Its touchscreen doesn’t inherit the benefit of any multiple touch operations or gesturing on the screen. Strange. We’re not quite sure why these basic features are missing here. 

User Interface

It lacks the customizable My Menu. This feature is only available on the EM-1 series cameras for some odd reason.

Due to size, the camera lacks an AF joystick for AF point selection or menu navigation. 

Features Removed

It lacks geotagging capability, a common feature found on virtually all of its competition in this price range. Again, we don’t understand why these basic features are missing. It appears to be a differentiation point between the lineups in the Olympus range, but it’s completely unnecessary. 

It lacks a headphone input. Previously, you were able to add an accessory battery grip to gain access to this particular port on the Mark II. But now, that ability is gone. Shame  

It lacks a built-in pop-up flash.

Is the Olympus EM-5 Mark III a good starting camera?

Yes, it is an excellent beginner’s camera. By default, it aims to sway enthusiasts and serious hobbyists to the Olympus system. And, overall, it does an admirable job at doing that and makes an excellent entry-point into their system. It’s a camera that features much of the capabilities and performance from their higher-end flagship camera into a smaller and compact form factor. You can tell by the design choices that it was an intentional decision to make a camera that’s a small and light as possible. Overall, these choices work well toward its favor in the end to create an affordable and conveniently sized camera. And one that stays true to the Micro Four Thirds ideal. For the performance it offers, it makes an excellent value. 

What are the best lenses and bundles for the Olympus EM-5 Mark III?

General Photography:

M.Zuiko ED 40-150mm f4.0-5.6 R
M.Zuiko ED 14-150mm f4.0-5.6 II

Specifically for Macro Photography:

M.Zuiko ED 30mm f3.5 Macro

Specifically for Street & Landscape Photography:

M.Zuiko 17mm f1.8
M.Zuiko ED 9-18mm f4.0-5.6

Specifically for Portrait Photography:

M.Zuiko 45mm f1.8
M.Zuiko 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 II R

Is the Olympus EM-5 Mark III a good camera for you?

Yes. It makes an incredibly attractive option for previous Olympus shooters. Especially for those of you who desire the performance of either the EM-1 Mark II or EM-1X flagship cameras, in a smaller and more compact form factor. 

For videographers, considering its competition, it’s competitive, though not industry-leading by any means. We can’t question whether it’s capable, that’s for sure. But, if you’re truly serious about professional cinematic level video, it’s best to look elsewhere as there are better options for significantly less money.

However, from the photography standpoint, it is excellent. Even with its smaller resolution sensor, it remains a better choice in comparison to much of the competition. While it is priced higher than much of its mid-ranged counterparts, it delivers exceptional weather sealing, industry-leading stabilization, and an articulating touchscreen. Not all of these features are present in the competition. There’s simply nothing on the market to date that’s quite like this particular camera, outside of Olympus’s lineup, that is. While on the surface it appears to compete against fierce competition. The reality is that all of these cameras fall victim to lacking features or limitations it merely doesn’t face. In many respects, its primary competitors are only the EM-1 Mark II and EM-1X, not external cameras from other manufacturers. Compared to its competing lineup at this price-point, it delivers the best feature set, versatility, and value. While some of these cameras have larger APS-C sized sensors, their feature sets don’t make as complete of a camera in the end. 

For bloggers and vloggers, this will undoubtedly be a tempting option for you. It’s side-hinged fully articulating touchscreen, excellent autofocusing system, image stabilization, uncropped 4K video, and microphone input lends itself well for this medium. 

In the end, while the Mark III is more of an incremental update to the lineup than a monumental change. Olympus has done quite well with the refined sensor, processor, ergonomics, and handling in this camera. Overall, it makes a notable refresh to an already popular camera. The decision to allow this series to inherit still much of the core feature set from the larger flagship bodies, but repacking into a small form was an excellent choice. All in all, it makes a fantastic enthusiast aimed camera. And though it’s original heritage pushes it towards primarily street photography, it makes an excellent choice for any multimedia shooter. With the appropriate lenses, it’s a compelling option for wildlife, landscape, fashion, or any other medium you feel daring to throw its way. 

Overview
  • Image Quality
  • Video Quality
  • Focusing Performance
  • Low Light Performance
  • Dynamic Range
  • Battery Performance
  • Display & Viewfinder
  • User Interface
  • Physical Layout & Ergonomics
3.9

Summary

Even with its smaller resolution sensor, it remains one of the top choices on the market to date in its price range. Sure, it’s priced higher than much of its counterparts. But, it makes up for this by delivering the goods, namely exceptional weather sealing, industry-leading stabilization, articulating touchscreen, and uncropped 4K recording. The reality is that there’s simply nothing on the market to date, outside of Olympus’s lineup. Compared to its competition, it delivers the best feature set, versatility, and value. In the end, while it is more of an incremental update to the lineup than a monumental change. Olympus has done quite well with the refined sensor, processor, ergonomics, and handling to deliver one of the top cameras in this category for 2020. This is definitely one to watch.