Review Olympus Om-D E-M5 Mkiii. A rolling Review

saladin

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New Zealand Road Trip with the Olympus Om-D E-M5 Mkiii. Ultimate compact travel camera?

Disclaimer: All photo’s are jpegs transferred via Wifi to a phone, and processed on the road with Snapseed. All taken with the new Om-D Em5 Mkiii other than the product shots of the kit used on the trip.

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Above: Inside the "Green Dragon Inn" at Hobbiton, Matamata.

When my wife made a late call to book us flights for a weeks holiday on New Zealands north island, my mind naturally turned to what camera gear I would take. Much of it hinged on our usual desire to travel light. As in, carry-on-baggage-only light. And then the real curve ball was thrown – “Lets do it as a road trip in a campervan!”


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Above: The final kit for the trip. The flash and ND filter weren't used at all.



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Above: Packed into a small shoulder bag, under the 2kg mark. I could have been lighter still, and I'd suggest the new Pro 12-45 is targeting this sort of use for this camera. If its optically excellent, i'd be interested.




Hmmm. I considered my options and needs. Compact, weathersealed, decent IbIS etc. But the campervan factor suggested that mains power may or may not be available at any time, and therefore the ability to charge from a USB would be very useful indeed. Sure, I could have just charged a few batteries and topped up when possible. But it meant taking more stuff. Which translates to weight. I have two decent sensor sized camera’s that can USB charge. The G9 would have been perfect in so many ways. Rugged, weathersealed, in-camera charging and lens compatibility. But it’s relatively large, and more problematic was the weight. The other was the Fujifilm X100F. Beautiful camera and to be honest I could probably get away with its fixed lens most of the time. But it’s not sealed, and its not stabilised. Not taking extra lenses would have freed up some weight for a small tripod, true. But this had all the hallmarks of a constantly on the move trip, not making my wife and son dawdle around whilst I fussed with tripods and composition. It was, in short, a family holiday to tick some tourist boxes. Not a photography expedition to chase landscapes. So what to do?

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Above: Everything around the volcanic Rotorua region is sulfur effected. You get an intense mix of colour and high contrast bleached area's.



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Above: Coastal view looking North East between Auckland and Whangarei (Wh pronounced as an "F")


I’d actually settled on taking the Gx8 as a compromised body. Sealed, reasonable IbIS and a favourite body layout. But when I started packing a small kit into a small bag, I found I couldn’t fit it all in. The Pen-F body (yes, as mentioned in previous posts, I have WAY too many camera’s) was better without a protruding grip , but again I couldn’t make it fit. Both camera’s suffered a key weakness – I’d need lots of batteries and/or a charger. Out of sheer curious urge, I dug out the old and battered Em5 mk 1. It slotted neatly into the front pocket. Ummm, I wondered if there was a version of the Em5 that met all of my perceived “needs”? Oh dear……….

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Above: Even timber around Rotorua seems to find the endless battle against sulfur fumes exhausting. Yellow and red tinges everywhere.



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Above: Sulfur plumes above an arid landscape, geothermal park south of Rotorua

It just so happened that Olympus had recently released the new EM5iii. Of course they had. It also just so happened that a few stores were running a 15% discount on it. Naturally. And Olympus Australia were offering the 25mm/1.8 as a free lens with any Em5iii or Em10iii purchase. It felt like a conspiracy to force me to buy one! I visited my local camera store who – thanks Tania – price matched the current deals. I didn’t mind the feel of the camera in hand – I’d much prefer a metal body if I’m honest , but the “plastic” feels tough and capable. I wasn’t totally sold on the silver finish lasting though, so I wanted a black one. Tania was good enough to get one shipped from another branch overnight. I bought it the next day, barely five hours before our flight!




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Above: Sandyman's water mill, bridge and Jetty, Hobbiton set.


Now, there is much discussion on these forums right now about various weights, sizes and comparisons. And the value/usefulness of them. As mentioned, I’d much prefer a metal body, even if it meant an extra 40 grams as per the Em5II . MOST of the time , its inconsequential. As is a small gain in dimensions. Perhaps 95% of the time for most of us. BUT. And it’s a big BUT. When you need that compactness, and I mean really need that compactness, and every gram counts when you face a potential set of scales at an airport boarding gate, then you cant fudge that. It’s empirical and it is what it is. Here, the E-M5iii proved its worth before I’d even left the front door. I took the body, the Olympus 40-150mm/5.6, the Panasonic Leica 15mm/1.7 and the Panasonic Leica 12-60. I could have gone lighter with an alternative to the PL zoom, but I wanted something weatherproof and versatile for the body. As an aside, other current board discussions about the upcoming 12-45/4 should keep the weight savings firmly in mind. The lens doesn’t seem to offer a lot over the 12-40 Pro, but if you can live with the F/4 and you NEED a small kit for travel, I now think it could be a killer option. But I digress.

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Above: More barren plains from the superheated Rotorua park.







I also threw in the flash (never used it), the neck strap (never opened it, I preferred the wrist strap), and a 10-stop ND filter for the PL15. In hindsight, I was never likely to use this and it could have stayed at home. At the last moment, I tucked the 12-32 Panasonic pancake into small corner of the bag, thinking it might be nice to have a tiny option on a tiny camera at times. This proved to get some use. I did not take an extra battery, nor the mains charger. I got through just fine on both matters, only once running the battery flat (intentionally) and charging it via the vehicle with no issues. All up, I left home with a kit that could handle almost anything and weighed in at just under 1.9 Kg, bag included.


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Above: An old Citroen seemed to call for a vintage colour pallette via the Olympus filters.





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Above: We found a waterway called Kerosene Creek. You can swim in it, but beware. Its heated by natural volcanic vents to quite unpleasant temperatures. Remarkable. I stayed in for 10 minutes or so , its like an overly hot bath.



If you are heading off on this sort of trip – irrespective of the weight restrictions – I definitely recommend a fast, wide-ish prime. The 15mm is my favourite lens anyway, but it was crucial inside the Aranui Cave at Waitomo with its wide aperture. I’d have loved to have used it for the Waitomo Glow Worms but photography is understandably banned in there. The IBIS of the Em-5iii is outstanding, which gives you a double hit to limit ISO gain. Combined, they produced probably my favourite image of the trip – the internal shot at Hobbiton (the Lord of the Rings set is located not far out of Matamata and I highly recommend a visit) that opens this thread. The tones and colour palette look rich and the clarity detailed to my eye. Just that pic alone has impressed the heck out of me with this sensor. If you really like the jpeg output of your camera, it adds to the allure of a travel camera imo. No time lost at a computer or laptop, just send it to your phone and do whatever you do with it from there.

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Above: As if to counter the typical desolation and aridness, some sulfur pools explode with intense colours.



We had great weather for the most part, only a morning of drizzle, but I valued the sealing of the Em5 and 12-60 combo. Most of the shots at Rotorua, with its geothermal activities, used this combination, the focal range is extremely versatile. I like primes, but there’d have been a few lens swaps needed, which I was trying to avoid. The 40-150 saw some use at a beach and also a few landscapes. When you need the reach, its not always possible to get it done with your feet. The 12-32 weighs almost nothing and allows the E-m5iii to comfortably sit inside almost any jacket pocket, and even some shorts/pants pockets. We didn’t do much urban time – just a brief walk around parts of Auckland – but it would be a perfect pairing for daytime wanders.


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Above: New Zealand roads tend to follow the landscape (which is generally gorgeous) . One minute you're apparently low down at water level and the next the road is traversing a mountain shoulder. Travel is longer than distances on the map would suggest.


Speaking of Auckland, it straddles the narrow waste of New Zealand’s north island, and frankly, we found it an absolute chore to negotiate in the van. We timed it poorly once – trying to pass through from south to north at peak hour – and the traffic was horrible. A population of around 1.5 million people managed to have gridlock every bit as bad as Melbourne’s 4.5 million residents. Even away from peak hour, the inner city is a mass of roadworks and delays. I’d like to go back and do Auckland properly (it wasn’t our priority) but I’ll do it on foot/public transport when we do.



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Above: Inside the Aranui Cave at Waitomo. Stalactite growth is at a rate of roughly 1cm per century and the cave networks in the area stretch for 10's of kilometers.


Dislikes? Having mainly shot Panasonic for the last few years, Olympus’ menu’s are still, well, crappy. Overly complicated and not always intuitive. This bothered me less on the PEN-F , as its external controls and 4 custom settings mean I shoot it more without menu diving. And those 4 custom settings bring me to another dislike – the Em5iii would be better with the Pen-F’s 4 hard positions. For me, at least. There is so much going on within Olympus camera’s that I can get overwhelmed. In the 5’s defence, I’ve only owned it for a week and haven’t had time to sit down and work out how to set it up for my preferences. No doubt I’ll be happier with this aspect once I have. Ergonomically, its all good for me other than my pinky finger struggling to find a comfortable perch. Its ok, I can do it, but its not perfect. I don’t have large hands, either. Probably why they make a grip….


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Above: Outside of MataMata you can find the Firth Tower Museum. Worth a look. If you're in a Campervan, you can also get a powered site and toilet facilities for $12 per night.

I wish it had a joystick but I can see why it doesn’t, the thumb grip or AEL button would be compromised. Which brings me neatly to the fact that I shoot back button focus and the AEL/AFL button is perfectly positioned for my thumb and in relation to the thumb rest. Easy and natural (though I took some minutes to work out where to set it up!), and a billion times better than the original 5 series camera. E-M5II owners probably won’t notice. I haven’t mapped it to do anything yet, but the front face function button falls easily under my third finger. Big tick. The on/off switch on the left isn’t ideal but I generally coped. You can map the function lever to be an on/off switch, I’m still weighing up whether to bother.

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Above: Repetitive but more from the Sulfur den. The clouds could be almost opaque and very unpleasant on the senses, and the heat accompanying the vapours noticeable.


The OLED evf is worthy of the new model and its prime purpose. I had no trouble with polarised sunglasses and evf blackout. Its sharp and contrasty enough. The LCD is a bit dim in full sunlight and I couldn’t find the brightness setting! Cue more sooking about the menu’s. I totally approve that its fully articulating though, for this camera and its aim to go everywhere, it makes perfect sense.

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Above: We found a lovely little beach at Matapouri, approximately 150km north east of Auckland. Its a beautiful stretch of coast, mixing the intimidating and serene. "Pandemonium" seemed an ill name for such a location, but no doubt the Pacific ocean unleashes its fury regularly.


I cannot, as yet, give a valid opinion on the continuous AF or value of the phase-detect hybrid focus systems. Its as fast in S-AF as we’ve come to expect from MFT camera’s. The LCD trackpad AF ability somewhat offsets the joystick absence if that’s how you shoot. The two control dials feel great, the mode dial lock is a good thing to have in my estimation.


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Above: I really did love Hobbiton. A lovely visit.

We hit most of our markers – Lord of the Rings, Glow Worms, Rotorua and surrounds, a beautiful beach north of Whangarei, a night in Auckland. We were on the go constantly, covering over 1,000 km in a week and sleeping in the van. The Em5iii coped easily. You barely know it’s there with suitable glass. It has functions I never even delved into, let alone used. In this use, it felt a bit niche, specialised for the purpose. As indeed it was. But it’ll easily be an everyday camera too, especially if I add the optional grip. When you’re pushing the envelope of travel, going right to the edge of weight savings and portability, I can’t think of another camera from any brand that offers such a versatile and capable mix of features to carry around with you. Its not the best in every way – the EVF isn’t class leading, for example – but it may just be the best overall for 10-tenths travellers. It’s not just a family vacation tool. It will now be my go-to on more “selfish” trips where I’m traveling light and looking purely for photographic opportunities. It should be perfection on a motorcycle tour, or heading for far flung destinations with a backpack and passport.





If you value compact size and count every gram, look no further. If you shoot in all conditions, done deal. This is for you. Nothing crams as much into so little, and you can take an extra lens instead. Even if you don’t need the lightest and smallest, I’d strongly consider the new 5. It returns MFT to arguably its core tenet – big features in a small body – like few recent releases have and should be versatile enough to tackle almost everything. Whether as your only camera, or part of a broader setup, it will have its uses.



I have just one request of Olympus. And I’ve made it before. And its now urgent, because of this body. Build me a small 1.8 prime that is weathersealed. Even just one. Please. Between 15mm- 20mm, ideally. This camera doesn’t just need one, it demands it. Get to it, Olympus-san. Six stops of IBIS, fully weather proofed, rugged enough to go anywhere, technology like Live Composite, a fast aperture, no desperate need for a charger, an extra battery or even perhaps a tripod, and it all fits in a cargo pant pocket in the back blocks of nowhere!? Yes please! You built us the tiny but mighty camera, now just round out the system to suit.


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Above: Whangarei Falls. 23 meter drop over the cliff into a tranquil pool.

Bottom line – I’m very pleased indeed. The photo’s from this sensor look great and I feel confident it can go anywhere with me. Forget the spec sheets, what was or wasn’t included or what the opposition are doing. There's a school of thought that it isn't really offering anything new after four years, a view that i tended to share when first announced. But now I think it does indeed offer something new. Or at least something we haven't had for a while. What it offers in totality is something you can't get elsewhere. So simply ask what you need it to do, where you need it to go and how you’ll get there. The value of the E-M5iii lies in the answer to those three questions, and the ratio of importance you place on them. Now, I'm off to sell some gear to fund this little thing.

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Above: Bag End looks over the Lake at Hobbiton. No sign of Bilbo, Frodo or any Dwarves. Alas, Gandalf was nowhere to be seen either.


thanks for reading.



Edit:. See post further down for small discoveries I make.
 
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sgt08

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Thanks for the detailed report and photos, glad to hear how excited you are about the new camera - it's always great when the gear inspires you to pick it up and get out there.

(and a big "amen" to your call for an Oly weather-sealed prime, I'd love it if they could one-up Panasonic and put out a sealed 20/1.8!)
 
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Wonderful images. Thanks so much for sharing. Once I upgraded from the E-M5 to the E-M1 I didn't look back, but these pics make me rethink that, lol. Nicely done!
 

ac12

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Now you have me curious about the EM10-mk2 vs EM5-mk3.
The EM10-mk2 is my small m4/3 camera. I got the EM10 purely because of its small size, for when I don't want to carry the larger EM1.
 

GBarrington

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Now you have me curious about the EM10-mk2 vs EM5-mk3.
The EM10-mk2 is my small m4/3 camera. I got the EM10 purely because of its small size, for when I don't want to carry the larger EM1.
Well, the "Ten" is going to be a tad bit smaller, though with fewer features. I have both the E-M10 Mk1 and 2. Both are absolutely lovely cameras. Crazy as it seems, I think I like the Mk1 a tiny bit better than the Mk2, but either is a joy to use.
 

saladin

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A few handheld long exposures.

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saladin

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Thanks for the detailed report and photos, glad to hear how excited you are about the new camera - it's always great when the gear inspires you to pick it up and get out there.

It is. It's actually very important because otherwise it sits on the shelf.
 
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Now you have me curious about the EM10-mk2 vs EM5-mk3.
The EM10-mk2 is my small m4/3 camera. I got the EM10 purely because of its small size, for when I don't want to carry the larger EM1.
I went from the first E-M10 to the E-M5 mk III, and I can feel the size difference, not in my hands, but when putting it into any of my previous bags.
It's only a few mm more here or there, and its still fits, but sometimes very tighly, si it's the maximum size I'd want. The next generation E-M5 won't fit :)

Everything in the body is better though. More customizable buttons, better feeling with controls, better performance (only thing I miss is more than 1 custom mode).
So - from my point of view - it's a very good compromise.
 

saladin

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I might continually update this post with things I work out as I go. A lot is probably obvious to most, but it may be helpful for those new to, or returning to, Olympus menus and features.


1) I worked out how to display highlights warning and histogram at same time. You actually have to visit two pages in the settings menu!

Page D1), Info settings, Lv-Info. Tick the options you want in each custom setting, then tick the custom settings themselves.

Then

Page i), Info settings, choose your custom options, tick your custom settings.

Each press of the Info button cycles through the custom evf views you've just made.

Even now I'm not totally clear on what's going on, but it works. Why do they make it so convoluted!?
 

comment23

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I might continually update this post with things I work out as I go. A lot is probably obvious to most, but it may be helpful for those new to, or returning to, Olympus menus and features.


1) I worked out how to display highlights warning and histogram at same time. You actually have to visit two pages in the settings menu!

Page D1), Info settings, Lv-Info. Tick the options you want in each custom setting, then tick the custom settings themselves.

Then

Page i), Info settings, choose your custom options, tick your custom settings.

Each press of the Info button cycles through the custom evf views you've just made.

Even now I'm not totally clear on what's going on, but it works. Why do they make it so convoluted!?
One setting for the rear screen, another for the evf.
 

saladin

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One setting for the rear screen, another for the evf.

Yep, but the weird thing is that the EVF ones didn't seem to work until I'd also set the LV ones. I think. I'm not certain. But that's how it seemed. Oly Menu's, eh?
 

Holoholo55

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Well, the "Ten" is going to be a tad bit smaller, though with fewer features. I have both the E-M10 Mk1 and 2. Both are absolutely lovely cameras. Crazy as it seems, I think I like the Mk1 a tiny bit better than the Mk2, but either is a joy to use.
I did similarly, that is, acquire the 10 II as a small camera. However, the 5 III could replace an EM1 and the 10 II in my kit. That's what I'm aiming for.
 

11GTCS

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Seems like a sweet camera! Lovely photos. Lol just the discussion about the EVF settings reminded me how much I don’t like Olympus menus 😂 it’ll be a tough call between the G9 and this camera if/when I ever decide I actually need WR
 

Julia

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Wonderfully written, thanks so much! I personally wasn't even interested that much in the camera itself, but following along with you as you described your journey, interspersed with the images, was really fantastic. A great read – thank you for putting it together!
 

GBarrington

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The Oly menus are a PITA to learn, but once you learn them, they are as functional as any other. There are NO perfect menu systems. I say this not as a fan-kid of Olympus, but as a guy who has used a lot of cameras. There is a special place in Hell for menu designers of all stripes.
 

bassman

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Mine arrived Tuesday and I’ve been shooting garbage as I work out the setup. It will replace my GX9 and E-M1.1, and is in most ways an upgrade to the M1. I really like the light weight body and the grip is fine with a small prime, for sure. I’ll miss the Myset settings on the mode dial (firmware upgrade, Olympus!) and the loss of the bracketing access on the top left button.

The increased eyepoint lets me see the entire evf with glasses - good deal. And I’m looking forward to seeing thru it with polarized sunglasses if we ever get some sun.
 
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