Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk.III vs E-M1 Mk.II

June 06, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

My collection of E-M1 cameras I've had the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk.II for several years, and the original E-M1 (now sometimes called Mk.I) before that.  It's an amazing camera and I really appreciate features like the Pro Capture mode, Live Composite, in-camera focus stacking, and Hi Res mode.  But when the E-M1 Mk.III was released earlier this year I couldn't resist the additional features so bought one pretty quickly.  It was delivered just before lockdown started, which means that I've not really been out with it as much as I would have liked - most of my shots with it have been indoors in my home.

Then a photographer friend told me that she was thinking of trading in all her Nikon gear and switching to micro four-thirds.  She asked me for my opinion of the differences between the E-M1 Mk.III and the Mk.II.  This is what I told her...

The Olympus E-M1 Mk.II, it’s a very fine camera.  I bought the Mk.III because I was attracted by some of its features (and because, as my family tell me, I’m just a geek who always has to have the latest thing!).  To be honest the Mk.III is not a huge step up from the Mk.II – it’s the same image sensor, exactly the same size body, and most features are the same.  It has a faster processor which means some things happen faster, such as a very fast burst rate if you’re doing sports or action shots, although the Mk.II is already fast!  They say the autofocus is faster, but I can’t say I’ve noticed in practice.  It is extremely fast, but so was the Mk.II.  Face detect is also supposedly improved in the Mk.III, and I do notice it's better at finding an eye when a face is turned to the side.

The main features that attracted me to the Mk.III were:

Handheld hi-res mode.  Now you can take a 50 Mpixel image handheld at normal shutter speeds.  It is extremely effective, on the rare occasions you need such high resolution.  If I’d had it when I shot a large group photo at a recent wedding I would have been able to make a really huge print of it, if needed, although in truth the 20 Mpx image is perfectly adequate.  But I find I am still mainly using the tripod-mounted hi-res mode, rather than hand-held.  The tripod hi-res mode is the same as in the Mk.II.  It gives you an 80 Mpx image and is very effective (see my earlier blog about shooting large art works).  

The example handheld hi-res shot shown here was taken with the 60mm f/2.8 lens; the chimney stack in the crop is about 10 km away.

The joystick.  This is very handy for moving the focus point around with your thumb without taking your eye away from the viewfinder.  I’ve not used it a lot yet (but that’s because in lockdown I’ve been mainly shooting indoor set-up shots with the camera on a tripod).  It might take a bit of getting used to, but I can see that it will be very useful, and already it has been helpful when shooting birds from my window.

Built-in ND filters.  I’ve not used this yet, except for testing that it works.  I’ve not yet had the chance to go out to any location with, say, a waterfall or moving water.  But I expect to use this from time to time, even though I used “real” ND filters when I needed to with the Mk.II, so this is just a convenience, not additional capability.

Update: I used this feature when taking shots of poppies in a field of tall grass.  I wanted to catch the grass swaying in the breeze, but it was very bright, my slowest shutter speed for a good exposure was 1/125.  By using the built-in ND filter at ND8 (3 stops) I was able to get exactly the shot I wanted at 1/15.  I wouldn't have thought of taking ND filters with me on this occasion, so the feature was really valuable.

Starry sky AF.  Focusing on the stars has always been a challenge.  But this feature does it well.  I look forward to going out to somewhere with no light pollution and using it to capture a night sky.  So far I’ve tried a few star-trail shots from my balcony, which worked surprisingly well considering that with the naked eye I could see no stars at all, due to the local light pollution, but the camera captured hundreds of them!  And focused on them correctly!

The joystick helped keep the focus on this guy's eye as he moved around. (1/160s f/2.8 ISO 200) WiFi tethering.  Doing studio shots I do sometimes tether the camera to a laptop so that, using the Olympus Capture software, I and the model can instantly see how a shot is looking.  It will be nice to do away with the tether cable and use WiFi (it works well, I’ve tested it), so that’s one less cable for me or the model to trip over.

My menu.  The Olympus cameras are so configurable that the menu system is really extensive (i.e. complex).  Finding things can be a challenge!  So I find it useful to be able to put my most frequently used options into a separate menu, so I can get to them quicker.

Shot with my original E-M1. 1/25s f/2.8 ISO 1600 Unless any of these are “must-haves” for you, I’m sure you’d be happy with the Mk.II.  I’ll be keeping mine as a spare/second camera.  Actually I still have my Mk.I although I’ll be passing that on now.  I need to have a spare body when I’m doing an important shoot.  For example in February I shot a wedding (with the Mk.II) and used the Mk.I for some of the shots – I kept a long lens on the Mk.I so I could quickly switch from one to the other when needed, such as at the exchange of rings where I wanted a wider shot as well as a close-up of the ring going on the finger!  It worked well.

Summary.  Am I glad I bought the Mk.III?  Yes!  Once this pandemic is over and I get out to take some proper photos, I'll update this blog with my findings.  I'm expecting to be happy!


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