Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III First Look & Review

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III falls short for underwater photography
By Nirupam Nigam

Four years ago, Olympus had a dominating hold on the mirrorless camera market. Micro four thirds sensors were high-quality, compact, and inexpensive. Now, in 2020, there are many more options out there that rival Olympus micro four thirds systems, and many of them are full frame/APS-C releases. In order to compete with cameras such as the Nikon Z6, Nikon Z50, Sony A6400, Sony A7R III, and Canon EOS R, Olympus needed to do something drastic. Unfortunately, Olympus's newest high-end micro four thirds camera, the OM-D E-M1 Mark III is a huge disappointment for underwater photography. There are many mirrorless options on the market for the same price point that vastly outperform the E-M1 Mark III. 

That being said, if you're already invested in Olympus lenses, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III does offer some cool features for topside photographers that it initially introduced with the Olympus EM1X. If you're thinking about upgrading from the OM-D E-M1 Mark II just for underwater photography, probably don't. The features aren't worth the price. Look at other, better APS-C options like the Nikon Z50 or the Sony A6400. But if you really want the best that Olympus has to offer in a camera, the OM-D EM1 Mark III is it.

Status: Available now

U.S. MSRP Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III: $1,800

 

 


 

Jump to Section

 

E-M1 Mark III vs Mark II   |   Specifications   |   Key Features

OM-D E-M1 Mark III for Underwater Photo and Video   |   Underwater Lenses

Underwater Housings   |   Conclusions

 


 

Purchase an Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III Housing at Bluewater Photo:

 

 Nauticam E-M1 Mark III Underwater Housing

 

Ikelite E-M1 Mark III Underwater Housing

 


 

 

Olympus O-MD E-M1 Mark III vs E-M1 Mark II

As far as underwater photography is concerned there's no real difference from the O-MD E-M1 Mark II and the Mark III. The sensor, body, autofocus system, image stabilization, and video are all esentially the same. There are a couple of difference. The gyro sensor in the EM1 Mark III is the same as the one in the EM1X and can recover 7 stops instead of the 5.5 stops in the EM1 Mark II. So it is a little better in that regard. The EM1 Mark III also allows you to create custom target AF area modes. The body is essentially the same with a few button changes. 

 

Olympus O-MD E-M1 Mark III Specifications

  • 20.4 Megapixel Live MOS Sensor
  • TruePic IX Quad Core Processor (faster upgrade to Mark II)
  • 121 point cross-type phase detect AF system
  • 5 axis image stabilization up to 7 stops
  • 2.36M dot electronic viewfinder
  • 3 inch touch LCD
  • Weathersealed
  • 15fps [H]/10 fps [L] burst shooting with mechanical shutter
  • Topside features including handheld high res shot mode, live ND filter, electronic shutter
  • 4K video @ 30 fps with an OM-Log mode
  • 440 shot battery life rating
  • 90.9 mm X 68.9 mm X 134.1 mm
  • Weight: 580 grams

 

Features

Build and Ergonomics

The build of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III is almost identical to the Mark II. They share dimension and weight. However, a few buttons have been moved around and the dial changed a little. Due to these changes, it is likely that new housings will need to be designed for the Mark III. Like the Mark II, the EM1 Mark III is solid, weatherproof, ergonomic, and a little larger than historic micro four thirds cameras except the EM1X.

 

Image Quality

The sensor on the Mark III is essentially the same as the Mark II, with a couple of upgrades. It still has the same micro four thirds, 4:3 aspect ratio and a resolution of 20.4 megapixels. The new sensor performs better when it comes to shadow recovery and worse when it comes to highlight recovery. This could actually be a detriment to underwater photographers who are shooting wide angle and want to recover details from sunballs. As an underwater photographer, I often find myself recovering highlights as much as I do shadows.

 

Autofocus System

The 121 point phase-detect autofocus system is the same as on the Mark II. It covers 75% of the vertical and 80% of the horizontal area of the sensor, which is actually quite small for most modern mirrorless cameras. The O-MD E-M1 Mark III does have a couple of improvements however - the camera can analyze images that have been previously captured to improve accuracy. The Mark III aslso allows you to select custom autofocus target areas which can be beneficial when switching between a quick or slow subject. It also allows you to differenciate the subject area from the background. 

 

Video

Olympus isn't known for it's video capability, and they didn't try to improve the video capability of the Mark II at all. The E-M1 Mark III has the same 4K video @ 30 fps resolution with no sensor crop. The OM-Log profile available in the Mark III is also available for the Mark II for a firmware update. For any micro four thirds user who wants excellent video, the Panasonic GH5 is still the camera of choice. However, 4K video is still 4K video, and will be quite an excellent option for the casual user.

 

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III for Underwater Photo and Video

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III is a great camera as far as micro four thirds cameras go. For underwater photography it's the top of its class. It features great 20 megapixel image quality, quick autofocus, and decent video. However, it's also priced at point far above cameras of a much higher caliber - and much larger sensors at that. There really hasn't been much of an upgrade from the Mark II for underwater photographers and videographers. You'll get the exact same image quality, video quality, and autofocus speeds. It just doesn't make sense to upgrade to the Mark III for underwater photography. If you want the topside gimicks such as high-res hand held shooting or built in ND filters, then the Mark III is a good option. Otherwise it's better to upgrade to the Mark II if you have Olympus lenses or take a look at other brands if you don't. 

 

Best Lenses for Underwater Use

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III features a standard Micro 4/3 lens mount, allowing it to use all Olympus 4/3 lenses, plus those from 3rd parties like Panasonic. Below are our recommendations for fisheye, wide-angle and macro lenses.

Fisheye Lenses

There are two choices for fisheye lenses, ideal for capturing reefscapes, big animals, wrecks, close-focus wide-angle and other large underwater scenes. The new Olympus 8mm Pro fisheye offers the best image quality and lightning fast speed of f/1.8. The Panasonic 8mm fisheye lens has long been our go-to lens, delivering great photos with a full 180 degrees of coverage and widest aperture of f/3.5. Both lenses have a very close focusing distance, you can practically focus on the dome port!

If you are unsure about getting a fisheye lens because of its limited topside use, the good news is that the E-M1 Mark III includes in-body distortion correction for the Olympus Fisheye lens. You can view the effects of the distortion correction in Live View while taking your photos, allowing you to use the fisheye lens as a wide angle lens as well.

 

Wide-Angle & Versatile Lenses

The E-M1 Mark III has many different wide-angle and mid-range zoom lenses to suit every underwater photographer. For wide-angle shooting, helping capture subjects like whales, sharks and sea lions, the newer Olympus 7-14mm Pro lens and the classic Panasonic 7-14mmare your choices. Similar to the fisheye lenses from these brands, the Olympus will deliver slightly better image quality, but at a higher price. Wide-angle shooters will love the Olympus or Panasonic 7-14mm; choose Olympus for the best possible optic quality. The Olympus 9-18mm lens is a great choice for those on a budget who still want a good wide-angle lens.

Kit lenses are an affordable way to get your camera in the water while also providing mid-range focal lengths ideal for shooting models in a pool. The Olympus 12-50mm is a great choice for ocean shooting, with a nice zoom range as well as built-in macro mode for capturing those small subjects.

The Panasonic 12-35mm F/2.8 lens is popular for underwater videographers, as it is a great focal length for underwater video, and the bright F/2.8 aperture is important for video. The Olympus 12-40mm Pro captures high quality images with an F/2.8 aperture and professional level glass and is another great option for underwater videography.

 

Macro Lens

The best option for shooting macro with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III, is the Olympus 60mm macro lens. This lens delivers sharp 1:1 macro images and can be used with wet diopters outside your port in order to magnify your smallest subjects into great supermacro images. If that lens is too much, or you like shooting slightly larger macro, we recommend the Panasonic 45mm macro. This lens is a bit more money than the 60mm, but offers more flexibility in larger subjects. However, it is not ideal for super macro.

 

Underwater Housings Options

Unfortunately, due to the relatively minor differences in controls layout, housings for the E-M1 Mark II cannot be re-used for the E-M1 Mark III.

There are a few housing options available, which are listed below.

Ikelite Housing

Ikelite E-M1 Mark III Underwater Housing

The Ikelite housing is compact and offers Ikelite's latest upgrades and ergonomic controls. The housing is built from ABS-PC which provides strength and corrosion free performance with minimal maintenance. The Ikelite housing is the most affordable and lightweight option with the best underwater buoyancy.

Purchase the Ikelite E-M1 Mark III housing

Nauticam housing

Nauticam Olympus E-M1 Mark III Underwater Housing

As is typical with Nauticam, this is a high quality aluminum housing which provides full camera control. Although the housing is more compact it does not sacrifice anything with functionality or ergonomics. More importantly, buttons and dials have the same quality and feel as with Nauticam's DSLR housing offerings. 

As is standard in previous housings, this one includes the option for a vacuum monitoring system along with the built-in leak detection. A new feature is an option to reset the vacuum detection system directly from the port mount, making lens changes that much easier. It also gives access to Nauticam's wide range of useful accessories. 

Purchase the Nauticam E-M1 Mark III housing

 

Conclusions

After an almost 4 year wait, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III's release was a long time coming. But we would have been happy to have waited a little longer for a little more. The EM1 Mark II was a great camera, but the Mark III isn't really anything more than a firmware update. Yes, it inherits some interesting topside features from the Olympus EM1X, which was a flop. But for underwater photography and video, the EM1 Mark III is lackluster, out dated, and overpriced. 

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nirupam Nigam is a dedicated underwater photographer and fisheries scientist. While growing up in Los Angeles he fell in love with the ocean and pursued underwater photography in the local Channel Islands. He received degrees in Aquatic and Fisheries Science and General Biology, as well as a minor in Arctic Studies, at the University of Washington. Now he works as a fisheries observer on boats in the Bering Sea and North Pacific. When he is not at sea, he is traveling with his fiancee and taking photos. Check out more of his photography at www.photosfromthesea.com!

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