October 24, 2019

My thoughts about the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III

Life of a photographer

In my work as a full-time Weddings and Portrait photographer, I’ve always been handling big and heavy DSLRs, as those are our go-to workhorses. While I started out as a hobbyist, an enthusiast of street photography, I lost touch with the genre I fell in love with initially, when my professional work got too hectic. Even on the occasional off days with my family, I’d much rather not bring my DSLR out with me as they are just way too heavy and bothersome to lug around, considering the fact that they are on me almost every other day. As such, many great moments and memories were lost as a result.

In this day and age, I’m sure the majority of us will not want to be lugging a heavy DSLR around. I for one have been clamoring for a pocket-sized camera that can fully replace full-frame DSLRs or even medium format cameras. While we are not quite there yet, in terms of such miniaturization technology, Olympus gave us tease of that light at the end of the tunnel when they launched the original OM-D E-M5 circa 2012.

When I got my hands on the original OM-D E-M5, I was over the moon. The very decent image quality with the ultra-portable size meant I had a camera in the bag every day once more. I was back doing what I loved every day of the year again. Recording all the things I love around me daily. That little camera changed my life, literally.

I kind of skipped the OM-D E-M5 Mark II as my original version was still going strong after all those years. Instead I got myself the flagship OM-D E-M1 Mark II for my work in the interim years.

After Olympus launched the OM-D E-M5 Mark III last week, I must say I am seriously tempted to run out there and grab one for myself.

Thanks to Olympus Singapore, I had the chance to try out a pre-production unit for a short while before the launch and I’m impressed.

Disclaimer coming up. Yes, I am an Olympus Visionary, so you might very well take what I say with a pinch of salt. But I’ve always tried to be as truthful as I possibly could to everyone, so I won’t sugar coat things if I see an issue. I don’t really do product reviews, so I’m not particularly scientific or great at it. What I have to say in the following passages is just some quick summary of how I feel about the new camera from a street/wedding/portrait photographer’s point of view, in my short time with it.

So how do I feel about the camera in 2 words? Love it! And if I need to use 2 words to summarize what I think of the camera, it will be “capable” and “compact”.

Like I said, I have been using the flagship OM-D E-M1 Mark II for a couple of years now for work, and it’s a workhorse for every possible environment you can imagine. Features like the tough, weather and dust resistant body. The hybrid contrast+phase detect focusing system is one of the best I’ve tried. The fantastic image quality I could get out of that 20-megapixel sensor, on top of that the added ability to do 50 Megapixel High Res Shots when mounted on a tripod. The Pro-capture function which is super useful for sports and wildlife photography. Need I even mention the class-leading in-body image stabilization that can do wonders for both photography and when recording 4K videos.

Olympus has taken (pretty much) all those features and squeezed them into the OM-D E-M5 Mark III, which is just amazing if you ask me. Some of these features are pared down a little, like a less pre-shot buffer of 14 frames for the Pro-capture function and only one SD card slot instead of 2 on the flagship models. But the most important professional features are all there inside the new kid on the block. And those features that were pared down, were not even that critical in the first place. Take the Pro-capture for example, 14 frames pre-shot buffer is way plenty and I’m sure you won’t miss a beat at any form of photography. For me that makes the E-M5 Mark III an ultra “capable” camera. Some would even call it the OM-D E-M1 Mark II Junior.

The OM-D E-M5 Mark III has almost the same number of buttons as the flagship with rather similar position placements too. Thus it took me a very short time to get accustomed to the OM-D E-M5 Mark III. As all the buttons and dials are highly customizable, every user’s needs and preferences can be easily catered to.

With so many features jammed in, the most beautiful aspect for me is that Olympus managed to maintain the smaller and more beautiful (the OM-D E-M1 series design is too utilitarian in my humble opinion) form factor of the OM-D E-M5 series. In fact, I could be imagining things here, but it felt even lighter than either of its 2 previous iterations. So, a ton of features in a lighter than ever body makes it ultra “Compact”.

I don’t think there’s anything broken or badly done with the OM-D E-M5 Mark III. Of course we can and will always wish for more even in the absolute best. For example I have been wishing for a bigger and more detailed EVF for years, not getting it still. I would love if the Eye-tracking works better than it already does. I would love if this camera can do handheld high res mode. I wish we can have battery life that matches a DSLR. I wished for 4K60P video recording. But I understand why some of these are not possible so I wouldn’t really term them as cons.  Plus, with some luck, some of our wants/needs might just be improved/introduced over the course of a few firmware updates.

As it stands, the OM-D E-M5 Mark III is the camera to get. Much like the original, I believe it’s going to change the way people perceive and practice photography. As they always say, the best camera is the one you have with you, and having such a fantastic camera in your bag, is going to make photography fun again. Considering and comparing all the cameras available in the entire Olympus line up at the moment, the OM-D E-M5 Mark III is quite possibly the one camera that I would always want to have with me.

(Please note that all images below are made with the pre-production units, with edits made to the out of camera JPGs)

Flagship level Auto-Focus system makes sure you lock on to your subject in an instant. In my time with the camera, the Single-AF mode was on point 99% of the time.
The focusing is apparently good even at -6EV, which is awesome for night/low light photography. No more focus hunting in low light is always a win.
Continuous AF is also very good, locking on easily and giving very good results. Again not a slouch in that department, and very much on par, if not better than the OM-D E-M1 Mark II
Face and Eyes Tracking is a little bit of a hit and miss for me, though I must say it could really just be a problem with me or my pre-production unit as some of my fellow visionaries managed to get amazing results from the feature.
I myself managed to get pretty good hits most of the time as you can see from the above photos, but there were a couple of times when the focus was thrown off mid way through a series of burst shots either due to my subject perhaps moving too fast, or perhaps because the subject moved out of the track-able area. Then again, I personally don’t care too much about face & eyes tracking as I’m more of a Single AF, “I control what I shoot” kinda guy.
It’s a very responsive camera. Operation and image reviews are very snappy and shutter lag is completely negligible, which makes it a formidable tool when capturing the right moments.
Excellent dynamic range even though I was only working on the JPEGs. I managed to get what I needed out of the files and I’m sure more can be done when I start playing with the RAW files.
The top-notch IBIS means I can drag the shutter and shoot without the need for a tripod.
This is 3 seperate High Res Mode shots (50 megapixels) made at different exposures, blended into 1 manually in Adobe Photoshop.
This is a 100% crop from the above High Res Shot, of the car park just to the left of image center, showing us just how stunning the level of details we can achieve with such a compact camera.
Last but not least, all the nifty tricks up Olympus’s sleeves, like live composite, live time and various creative modes are all here in this wonderful camera.
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