A Practical Review of the new Olympus E-M1 MKIII - It's the Bat's Nuts!!!!
22nd January 2020

Executive Summary

Welcome to the Rouse random world of product testing. I had the pleasure of having the E-M1 MKIII for an extended test period when there were only a couple in Europe. So I had a bit of time to stress it and see how it handled. 

Now some of you mouth breathers won’t want to read until the end as you’ve got better things to do in your life involving traffic wardens and a melon called Fred. So here’s my executive summary for you. Ready?


Buy the M3. It’s the Bat’s Nuts



40-150mm f2.8 with 1.4x, ISO 1000 (in case it flew), f9 @ 1/2500th, -1 compensation, hand-held


What a marketing slogan that is, the MK3 is the Bat’s Nuts! I can see the corporates groaning now head in hands and my career dissipation light flickering on and off!!!  But this fruitbat agrees, how much pleasure that would be to let it all hang out in the sun, ah yessss. Unfortunately only in the 70's, a decade where I seem to be stuck permanently - Yessir I can Boogie and all that (I told you it was random). Baccara, class act, look them up on the tinternet children and see the way music was before bieber.

Now then...fanfare of trumpets...the M3 has got a JOYSTICK. Putting it in bold is called shouting these days, I’m just making easy for spurs fans to read with their fingers. It’s got a JOYSTICK. There I said it again. It’s got AF that works great too, sticks to anything, is reliable and doesn’t have 4500 options to make its work when the day is a Wednesday and the milkman comes (a 70’s concept where a bloke with big sideburns actually delivered milk to your door in a very unsafe unroadworthy vehicle for the blue tits to drink before you got up in the morning then proceeded to have naughties with the wife and give you a ginger sibling). Plus it’s got other shiny bits that are all nice like. For those under 20 it’s “sick”, perhaps with a “yo” and “bro” too and something about “homies” and ”cribs”. It works, it’s great, I have one and you should too even though I get absolutely sweet nothing if you do. Nope not even an old slipper. Just the knowledge that you’ve spent an hour in your day reading my drivel, scaring the people on the train opposite when you laugh out loud and that I’ve probably stopped you dribbling for that time too. Now who could want more than that? Me.



Disclaimer 

A brief disclaimer before we begin. I am not any kind of official Olympus Ambassador as they don't have a word to describe me (answers on a postcard please) so I am saying what I want and will always do so. The folks at Olympus UK, who are the coolest bunch I’ve ever known, would expect nothing less to be honest but it’s only fair to set this out now to you. This is an unofficial review, which has been checked by Olympus lovelies for accuracy, but it remains my words that I want to say as I'm not and never will be a mouthpiece for anyone. I’m not being paid for this. I don’t apologise for any language used or for offending #snowflakes, if you don’t like it read something else. Don't complain to me, talk to mummy, I'm not listening!

It’s random, I will make jokes that are funny to me and no one else. So just understand what this is - a field review from a working professional Olympus userl publishing in the real world, and what it is not - a spec based review with pictures of clock faces showing image quality etc. Why am I doing this? Simply because I believe in the Olympus system, it has really changed my photography and made it fun again. I get irritated by the spec obsessives who write so much equine manure about the system without knowing anything about it other than words. We love our Olympus systems. You can keep the expensive big and heavy systems, when someone says to me “Oooooo that’s a big one” it’s not my lens I want them to be talking about. So if you are using another camera system and are happy with it then that's great I am very pleased for you and you have no need to say anything negative about me, Olympus or anything else. Be happy as a bat with warm nuts! Disclaimer over.


Naming

For my sanity I cannot be bothered to continually type the official names so from now on:

E-M1X becomes EM1X

E-M1 MKII becomes EM2

E-M1 MKIII becomes EM3 or the "bats nuts" ( see below)

Also if you decide to naughtily download the images, which is pointless as they are postage stamp size, you will see that the EXIF says it's shot on the EM2. That's because I had to change the camera's EXIF name so I could trick Capture One to process the files as I can’t use the Workspace software without wanting to track down the software developer who wrote it with a pack of wild, ravenous dogs for the rest of my natural life. And probably beyond. And if you are the developer who wrote this don't worry you aren't alone, the same goes for the manufacturer's software for all the other camera systems I have used!!!

Now for no other reason other than it's a beautiful shot in corking red light shot with the EM3 here's the first pic! Note the unsharpened sharpness of the image...


300mm f4, ISO 400, f4.5 @ 1/320th, -1 compensation, hand-held


How beautiful is he? Nature at it's finest, brought in stunning detail by the MK3 and a little bit of red evening light. And my pair of lucky underpants, which have been so lucky in many things including photography.


Olympus Primer

For those of you not using the Olympus system, shame on you, there are a few bits to add about why we love it as it's not mentioned specifically below. Being an M43 sensor system everything is much smaller and easier to carry around, I use a 300mm f4 lens that is really a 600mm yet I can hold it in one hand. Olympus glass is superb. The EM1X is the professional flagship camera and the one that I want, oooo oooo oooo (cue John Travolta gyrating hips). With it I can shoot silently upto 60 fps, which makes a real difference, use tools like Pro Capture to nail dynamic action shots and have a host of other great features. To the wildlife photographer though it's the flexibility, the lightness, the silent blazing drive speed and the trustworthy AF that makes all the difference. So that's why professionals like me use the Olympus system and that's why the EM3 is so interesting as it has 99% of the capability of the EM1X at half the weight (and less price too).


First Impressions

It’s small yet very nice to hold in the hand. The camera is good too...god I crack myself up. The JOYSTICK is now added (did I mention that yet?) and nicely positioned on the back, perfect for horizontal shooting. For portrait mode it’s a bit of a struggle to be honest, you either learn to live with it or buy the grip. The menus are the same as the EM1X, yes we all know and love them so dearly right? No we don’t.

I tested the camera for the first time at Slimbridge WWT with tape covering the name to stop prying eyes getting on the internet and spilling the beans - damn Geese these days have their own social media and they are complete gossips. Anyway I lurked and managed to find these Hooded Mergansers on a pond with some lovely colours towards sunset. Here’s two images I took:




300mm f4, ISO 800, f4 @ 1750th, -1 compensation, hand-held


Beautiful birds, all hood and attitude. Now the keeper rate here was very very good, on a par with the EM1X. I am very very selective as my publishing clients are picky. It was a tough job for the AF tracking against contrasty water, so I limited the AF to 5 points and, as with the EM1X, the AF was “sticky”. This means that it only takes a few frames to lock on right and then it holds on very well. Colours were nice but it was the sharpness that stood out. With no extra sharpening the images really jumped out. Now there is NO reason why they should stand out compared to the EM1X, as I have been told by Mr Mikey Olympus Guru that the processing is the same; the new processor is used for memory intensive functions like Live ND and High Res and not image quality. It's weird as the Cheetah a few paragraphs above ( remember you saw it when you were still awake passing through Swindon on the train - which is the best way to treat Swindon), is ridiculously sharp. And these Mergansers are very sharp. Perhaps the smaller body is easier to hold and keep steady with the great market leading image stabilisation?  So it could be just me.....or.....they aren't telling us!! It's a conspiracy!!!! 


A Mini EM1X

My first impression is that the EM3 is just like a mini EM1X. It has 99% of the features as far as I can see (apart from a vertical joystick, two batteries and Intelligent Subject Detection) of the EM1X just in a super compact body that is the size of the EM2. Now whilst there will be a fair few people buying the EM3 when converting from another system, it's fair to say that the majority will be upgrading from the EM2. So for the benefits of completeness I will now show the differences between the two as best I can and then talk about why you might choose an EM1X over the EM3. 


EM3 Image Quality

Yes the sensor is the same as the EM2 but just like the EM1X there are small improvements to the processing of the EM3 which offers slight improved image quality in low light and certainly more shadow detail with less noise over the EM2. This has been quite obvious to me processing in Capture One, the files are just better and that’s that. Note my comments on EM3 sharpness above, no idea why apart from having old, tired eyes. Judge for yourself.

I know some will be disappointed that it's not a new sensor and that's understandable. Olympus have their reasons of course and they don't have to share them with us so we just work with what we have. Of course the bleating brigade of keyboard warriors will bemoan this as they are never very nice about the M43 system. Being an outdoor camera of course they don't use it, as their mummies won't let them out yet, but they still go on and on about image quality etc. Well listen my old fruits, the quality of these camera files are perfectly great for my professional clients of calendars and magazines. They make great A1 sized prints too. Therefore I work with the current sensor on the EM1X and now the EM3 and get results that are well good enough. So please don't bleat on about your 400 Megapixel camera as a) you don't need that many pixels and b) I'd rather have a system I don't need my mate Boris the Nutter to lift. Please go away and leave us alone, we are happy bunch at Olympus and it's been so refreshing talking to users who universally love their kit. Here's a few snaps showing nice quality and all that:

300mm f4, ISO 800, f9 @ 1/640th, -1 compensation

300mm f4, ISO 800, f9 @ 1/640th, -1 compensation


300mm f4, ISO 800, f5 @ 1/2500th, -1 compensation, hand-held


Good unsharpened sharpness (it's my new phrase) throughout, especially in red light above where detail is usually lacking.


EM3 Image Stabilisation

7 stops of image stabilisation as opposed to 5.5 stops, that's what you get with the EM3. Yes it makes a huge difference as you can shoot confidently at lower shutter speeds than you would otherwise, hand-holding is more reliable which means you can shoot from more interesting positions (like the Yoga low-boat position I do with Tim's Yoga from YouTube - well I try to do it anyway and usually need a beer after to recover). Anyway you can be assured that the EM3 image stabilisation is a lot more advanced and efficient than Rouse Yoga. One particular area is macro of course. I have zero interest and ability with macro but fellow M3 tester, ambassador and Wales finest close up specialist Geraint Radford tells me it's great, and he's got tattoos so I'm not gonna argue!!!

Here's a few images where the IS came in really useful to me...


40-150mm f2.8, ISO 400, f4.5 @ 1/3200th, -0.7 compensation


Such cuties!!! Spotted Owlets from Ranthambhore. We'd seem them for a few days running but never all out together like this. The angle was tight and very limited so I did the chivalrous thing (my mother has dragged me up right) and allowed my clients to have the clear view. They duly snapped away but I was blocked by a huge branch. So I slowly, ever so slowly like an uncoiling cat with a tubby stomach. I stood up and held the camera as high as I could reach. My shirt rode up showing my abs...or it would have done if I'd had any, once I had 1/2 an ab I think, like a mini ab. Anyway back to reality I flipped out the LCD and used that, alongside CAF Tracking, to compose the shot. I was very off balance and on tip toe so really wobbly, so I set a high shutter speed to compensate. Anyway the resultant shots were sharp, which I put down to the superior 7 stop IS of the EM3 and my mini ab.


12-100mm, ISO 400, f4 @ 1/8000th, -0.7 compensation


For this image of the local lapwings I had to hold the camera with one hand down the side of the vehicle and again angle the screen so I could see to take the shot. Again wobbly, please don't worry about my health, apart from being a chocohlic I'm fine, it was the IS that kept the shot nice and stable.


300mm f4, ISO 800, f5 @ 1/1250th, -0.7 compensation


Tiger encounters are fast and furious, On this occasion we had barely come to a stop when tigress Arrowhead turned and walked to us. Amoungst all the dust and confusion I know I can rely on my 7 stop IS to keep my 300mm still and allow me to take world class tiger images - which I am doing for my next book!


EM3 Autofocus

The AF is amazing, it’s so “sticky”. Once it acquires the focus of something moving it rarely loses it and I love it. It's what I really like about the EM1X and the EM3 is identical here as far as I can see. The big plus too is that there aren’t a myriad of confusing options to choose from, I just set my sensitivity to 2 and forget about it. That’s all I have ever wanted a camera to do, forget all the options, just work without faff. 

Absent from the EM3 is the EM1X's Intelligent Subject Detection for airplanes, motorsports etc which I understand is really great. I don’t use it because it doesn’t have an animal mode…YET. A note on that. If I go through Crewe station and see ANYONE with an Olympus camera photographing passenger trains using this mode then writing the number of each carriage in a little book I will personally shave your head off. Please don't do it.


12-200mm, ISO 800, f2.8 @ 1/200th



300mm f4, ISO 400, f4 @ 1/1600th, -0.7 compensation


Two simple examples here, the top one is a running tiger that was in very very poor light yet the AF held it and tracked it. You can see from the settings that I was not quite prepared for the motion at all as you don't expect tigers to just start trotting! So the combo of the great AF combined with the 7 stops of IS really allowed me to nail this one.

The other image simply shows a normal territorial tiger walk. 

I didn't have much chance to do any bird photography or high action unfortunately during the testing as nothing much happened!!! But the EM1X handles this brilliantly and I am sure the EM3 will. I will post on this as soon as I have anything worthwhile.


EM3 Video

Lots of stuff here of a technical nature that I have zero interest in as I just set it to 4K and press the record button. But it does allow you to adjust the strength of the Movie IS, has amazing sound in-camera, improved face eye detection (not for wildlife though I might add) plus numerous improvements to focus and usability. So whilst the sensor has not changed Olymous have made the video capability more usable by non filming genius's like me!! There are a lot better video genius’s that shoot Olympus so please listen to them for more detailed stuff rather than my rather simplistic approach. All you need to know is that it works well and looks good with the minimum of effort.


EM3 Internals

My internals are fine thanks, around 8am every morning just after a coffee. I've Viz in the loo to read too. Oh right back to reality, the EM3 has a bigger and more efficient buffer for bursts but the drive speeds are the same (well 60 fps is pretty good don’t you think!!). Lots of other tweaks under the hood, like the EM2 on Viagra. Hey that's two great slogans now for the EM3:

BUY THE EM2 IT'S THE BAT'S NUTS

THE EM3 IS LIKE THE EM2 ON VIAGRA

I am a marketing person's dream / nightmare all in one toothy package!


EM3 Hires Shot mode

Lots of naughty keyboard warriors always say that the EM1X only has 20 MP (that's mega pixels not military policeman as that's another dream). Yes it’s true but this still gives a big 57 MB Tif when processed which its well big enough for me. For those landscape types (defined as those trying to get two rocks in focus 5 miles apart) the HIRES Mode been greatly improved over the EM2, as it now actually works great. Using some clever dark arts sensor trickery in tripod mode you get a 80MP file and for hand-held mode you get 50MP, albeit both with some processing times which you can use constructively to buy a nurses uniform online. The resultant RAW files are very clean of noise, easier to post process and have more tonal latitude than the ones produced by the EM2. This is a cool feature and allows you to easily get big files provided you allow for the 10 seconds processing time and your subject doesn't move:



12-100mm, ISO 400, f11 @ 1/160th, -0.7 compensation


Of course it isn't just landscape types that can use this, macro specialists will love it too. I have used it for close up portraits, luckily the great image stabilisation helps to keep my wobbling at bay and results in a sharp image. But I am perfectly happy with the default size that the sensor produces anyway so rarely use this; like all the features that Olympus provide they are ready to use with the minimum of fuss when and if you need them.


EM3 Live ND Mode

Now I am putting this bit in for completeness as I have not used it on the M3 and only once on the EM1X. Basically you can use a clever internal ND filter to slow down shutter speeds to create interesting blur (waterfalls, rivers, me stealing your Porsche etc ) without the need to use a cumbersome external filter. Yeah I know it’s trendy to have an external filter as you are considered a “real craft photographer” with one inside your man-bag, for my world I would rather carry around nothing extra I don't need to and like HiRes mode it's nice to know it is there if I want to use it.  

So when combined with the ace Image Stabilisation shooting LIVE ND and seeing the preview in the viewfinder makes the whole thing more fun. Just like hanging upside down with it all hanging out. And since you didn't have this on the EM2 it's an awesome addition to your armoury.


EM3 Sensor Cleaning

What's this about? Well I can tell you that with my Olympus system dust spots are a thing of the past. I can honestly say hand on heart that since I have been using the EM3 and EM1X I have never had to clean a single dust spot from the sensor. Not one. This is particularly noticeable when I shoot videos, so many in the past have been ruined by dust spots on the sensor - well so far not one I have shot with the Olympus has been ruined by this, just bad video technique on my part!!

The EM3 has I understand made some improvements in this area over the EM2 as well, but I cannot verify this as I haven't had a single dust spot!!!


EM3 Astro Mode

Now I didn't test this but I wanted to mention it so you can head off and try it. There is an astro mode in the EM3 where you can take hand-held pictures of the sky at night. Yes I know it sounds improbable but I've learnt to trust Olympus engineers as they are damn clever. So I would say that this is worth a look!!


EM3 Things to moan about

In the interests of balance I wanted to put a few moans in here too!!!!

  • EVF - the EVF is still not the best and I was hoping for a change here. You do get used to it but it could be a lot better with more detail. It doesn't stop me shooting as I am used to it but I thought I would mention it.

  • Animal Face Tracking - again I am disappointed that this hasn't been included as it seems obvious considering the target market. The existing AF works great anyway, but it would be nice to this as a firmware update so please get to it Olympus and let me test when it's ready!

  • Plastic packaging - I can't confirm this yet for the EM3 as I haven't seen the box but the EM1X comes with a mixture of recyclable packaging and plastic. Yes I know all camera manufacturers are the same but please set the standard for others to follow and make the packaging 100% recyclable. It's not hard so please show others the way as we have one planet.


300mm, ISO 400, f5.6 @ 1/640th, -1.7 compensation



Conclusions

Well done for getting this far, you are nearly there. I will keep it short. If you have an EM2 now then the EM3 is a great upgrade as it does give you more stuff that is useful across all genres of photography. So I would not hesitate. It's the bat's nuts.

The next question is whether you should buy an EM1X or an EM3? Ooooo a tough one. Functionally they are very very similar and when I swopped between them I noticed no difference at all in what they could do. Of course if you are an aircraft or a motor car photographer then you might need the Intelligent Subject Detection Mode offered by the EM1X; although there is a train option I don't want to even mention using that!!

So apart from that it really comes down to aesthetics I think. The EM1X is well balanced in the hand, has vertical / horizontal shutter buttons / joysticks and dual batteries; the latter is certainly a consideration as using the excellent Pro Capture etc drains batteries. For the photographer coming from a system where they are used to using a bigger camera then the EM1X may be a better transition path and of course there are those who will want to "look" more professional by using a bigger camera, wearing a neck scarf and exclaiming "it's art darling" at everything they see. BUT the EM3 has it's own advantages over the EM1X and mainly it's the size and weight. It's great for using in places where space is restricted, for shooting where you don't want to be noticed and for generally cutting down weight in your kit. Certainly for travel it makes massive sense and here's a few more India shots with it before I wrap this up with my recommendations...



Final Thoughts

I think the EM3 delivers on all levels and as an upgrade to the EM2 it's a no brainer. When it comes to the choice between the EM3 and EM1X I think that is down to personal photographer preference but I can see arguments for having both, i.e. one of each. Right now I have two EM1X and an EM2 and I am immediately replacing the EM2 with the EM3. I like to have identical cameras on all my lenses ready to shoot, and apart from the size they certainly are that. Why am I keeping the EM1X you ask? Well I have times when I need the double battery pack and two joysticks as I need to be able to shoot portrait and horizontal seamlessly and for that I need joysticks. Plus I like the balance on the 300mm that the EM1X gives and I want to see what else Olympus might offer this year lens wise before making any decision on that. No doubt though that there are times when I will only take out the EM3 as I trust it completely and I don't trust many things in this life!


Olympus Test Drive

Did you know you can try before you buy? No you can't take a Porsche to a destruction derby much as you'd like to, but you can try out Olympus kit for free with their test drive. I did it and they are still talking to be despite the condition I returned it in! So why not click here to take a look at the Enjoy.Photo page and look into the various ways you can try out the kit. If you are worthy enough (i.e. have enough expensive heavy gear and agree that West Ham are the finest club in the land) , my best mate Clare may even sort you out with a Pro Loan. Go on give it a shot!


Buy the M3. It’s the Bat’s Nuts






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