Olympus OM-D E-M10 III
With a new easy-to-use interface and uprated autofocus, is Olympus’s latest OM-D the perfect choice for first-time camera buyers? Andy Westlake finds out
Is this the perfect camera for first-time buyers? andy Westlake finds out more about the latest oM-d
Over the past decade, the camera industry has changed dramatically. Casual photographers now overwhelmingly use smartphones rather than compacts, and share their photos instantly online. Yet some budding photographers inevitably find their artistic ambitions outstripping the limitations of their phone cameras, and look to upgrade to a ‘proper’ camera. So the challenge facing the traditional camera manufacturers is how best to appeal to these potential customers, who are used to touchscreen-driven operation and always-on connectivity.
It’s into this market that Olympus has introduced its latest mirrorless model, the OM- D E- M10 Mark III. On the surface, it looks like a minor update to the two-year- old OM- D E- M10 Mark II, with essentially the same body design and feature set. It gains an updated 121-point AF system and 4K video recording, thanks to Olympus’s latest TruePic VIII processor, but that’s pretty much it. More interestingly, though, Olympus has radically overhauled the camera’s interface and firmware in a bid to appeal to smartphone upgraders. Incidentally, the Mark II will be remaining in Olympus’s line- up for now.
The OM- D E- M10 Mark III is available in black or silver for £699.99 with the slimline 14- 42mm f/3.5-5.6 EZ electronic zoom lens. Opting for the larger mechanical-zoom 14- 42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R will save you £50, and the camera is also available body- only for £629.99.
Olympus has based the camera around a 16-million-pixel Four Thirds sensor similar to those used
in the previous two E- M10 bodies. Its sensitivity range runs from ISO 200-25,600, with an extended low setting equivalent to ISO 100. The continuous-shooting rate of 8.6fps drops to 4.8fps when you need focus and exposure to be adjusted between shots. Using a high-speed UHS- II card, the camera will keep shooting JPEGs until you run out of battery or card space, or record 22 raw files before it slows down. Even with a standard UHS-1 Class 10 SD card, it shot a burst of 10 raw frames at full speed, or more than 30 JPEGs.
One crucial feature is Olympus’s five-axis image stabilisation, which works with every lens you can mount on the camera (although you have to programme in the focal length manually with non- electronic lenses). The system is extremely effective at reducing blur from handshake when shooting still images with long shutter speeds, and Olympus’s claim of up to four stops of stabilisation is perfectly realistic.
As expected, the camera has built-in Wi- Fi for connecting to a smartphone, using Olympus Image Share for Android and iOS. This well- designed app makes it easy to copy your favourite shots to your phone for sharing on social media: simply start up Wi- Fi by tapping a small touch button on the top-left of the screen and fire up the app. It also enables full remote control of your camera from your phone, complete with a live-view display. The app can even use your phone’s GPS to record a track of your location, then use this data to geotag your photos.
In perhaps its biggest update, the E- M10 Mark III gains the ability to record video at 4K resolution (3840x2160) and 25fps, and it’s possible to extract 8MP stills from the resulting footage during playback. Alternatively, you can shoot in full HD (1920x1080) resolution at up to 50fps, with a variety of in- camera effects. There’s also a high-speed (slow motion) mode at 120fps and HD (1280x720) resolution. However, there’s no option to attach an external microphone.
Outside of this core set, the E- M10 Mark III has a healthy array of additional features that should keep more creative and ambitious users happy – and they’re far easier to access than before. Olympus has essentially re-used the existing body design of the E- M10 Mark II, with all the same buttons and dials in all the same places. However, many of them have been re-purposed, with the aim of making the camera easier for beginners to use. As a result, the newcomer operates somewhat differently to its predecessor.
Some things haven’t changed, though. The masterful retro design is reminiscent of Olympus’s 1970s film SLRs, and a careful choice of materials makes it look and feel more expensive than it is. You might not get the weather-sealed magnesium-alloy construction of its more expensive E- M5 Mark II sibling, but the camera still feels sturdy. An enlarged grip gives a secure hold, aided by a prominent rear thumb pad, and the control dials click precisely. Compared to similarly priced DSLRs, it’s simply a more tactile and desirable object. If you buy it with the retractable 14- 42mm EZ zoom, it’s also slimmer and easier to carry.
Two electronic dials on the top-plate are used to change
exposure settings, and are perfectly placed for operation by your forefinger and thumb. The exposure-mode dial alongside them is raised to make it easy to operate, and provides a full array of modes from full auto for novices to PASM modes for enthusiasts. Its SCN position gives access to a large range of subject-based scene modes, but these are now organised into six categories using a new touchscreen-based interface. Olympus’s signature art filters are also on board, offering highly stylised image processing.
Many of the camera’s buttons have changed functions, and in a marked change of tack from Olympus, only two are customisable. So while the D-pad was previously used to move the focus point directly, you now have to press the left key first; the other keys now give direct access to ISO, flash and drive modes.
You can use the touchscreen to move the focus point instead, which works even with your eye to the viewfinder. This can mean it’s all too easy to reset the focus point by inadvertently pressing the screen with your nose. However, Olympus has come up with a fix: doubletapping the screen turns the touchpad AF function on and off. It’s a clever idea, and works well. Combined with the EVF’s generous clearance from the screen, this makes the E- M10 Mark III the first camera on which I’ve really been happy to use the touchscreen for focus-area selection.
One key new interface feature is that the button beside the power switch – previously Fn3 – is now used to call up an on-screen menu with options tailored to each mode. For example, in the art position it lets you scroll through all the available filters, with a live preview of how your shot could turn out; in movie mode it selects between recording resolutions; and in the PASM modes it calls up the onscreen Super Control Panel that gives quick access to a large array of shooting settings. This brings a sensible coherence to the camera’s operation.
The only buttons that are still customisable are both on the left side. The thumb- operated Fn1 button engages autoexposure or autofocus lock, and I suspect most users will keep it this way. Meanwhile, the Fn2 button beside the shutter release is set to engage the 2x digital teleconverter. Smartphone users are very familiar with such an idea, and the 4MP effective resolution is more than adequate for social-media use. Personally, I’d set it to operate something more useful, such as focus peaking or magnification. Another option is to use it to toggle the touchscreen on and off.
In a very welcome move, Olympus has also finally stripped back its notoriously complicated menus. The firm has done a really good job of trimming things down to the essentials: I was able to tweak the camera’s set-up to my personal taste, without finding any key options had gone missing. Some of the more advanced features have inevitably been removed as part of this process: the built-in flash can no longer wirelessly control off- camera units, and you can’t save ‘MySet’ custom set- ups. But you still get broadly the same feature set and customisation as you’ll find on mid-range DSLRs.
One area where I think Olympus has oversimplified, though, is with in- camera raw conversion. On its other models you can adjust settings such as colour mode and white balance for each individual image, and preview the results before conversion, which is great for tweaking shots before sharing them using Wi- Fi. On the E- M10 III, though, Olympus has reverted to its bad old ways, as you have to
‘In a welcome move, Olympus has stripped back its notoriously complicated menus, trimming things down to the essentials’
make the changes to the camera’s current shooting settings to apply them to an in- camera raw conversion. This is clunky and is liable to leave you with the camera incorrectly set up the next time you start shooting. It feels like unnecessary dumbing- down.
Viewfinder and screen
Both the viewfinder and screen are similar to those on the E-M10 Mark II. Based around a 2.36-milliondot panel, the viewfinder offers a decent 0.62x equivalent magnification with 100% coverage of the lens’s view, meaning it’s both larger and more accurate than the optical viewfinders in similarly priced DSLRs like the Nikon D5600. It also accurately reflects the image you’ll get in terms of colour and brightness, which makes it much easier to adjust your settings to get your pictures to look how you want. Likewise, it can display a whole host of useful additional information, including a choice of gridlines, electronic levels, exposure warnings and so on.
On the camera’s back you’ll find a touchscreen that tilts 90° up and 45° down, and which offers many of the same operational advantages as the EVF. A sensor beside the viewfinder allows the camera to switch automatically between the two, but is disabled when the screen is tilted so it won’t interfere with waist-level shooting. Crucially, the camera works exactly the same regardless of which viewing method you’re using, unlike most DSLRs, which usually focus noticeably slower when you’re using the screen. However, this fully electronic viewing does come at the expense of battery life.
While the 121-point autofocus system is adapted from that on the pro-level OM- D E- M1 Mark II, it relies on contrast- detection only, which means it doesn’t have the same remarkable high-speed focus tracking. The focus area covers practically the entire frame, and you can either select an individual point or use a group of nine. Face detection is also available, with the option to focus specifically on your subject’s eyes.
With subjects that aren’t moving much, the E- M10 III’s autofocus is superb. It’s fast and accurate, regardless of where in the frame your subject is placed, and it will provide a near-100% hit rate, provided you make sure you place the focus point over an area with sufficient detail. When you’re photographing people, the camera’s ability to identify and focus specifically on their nearer eye is a huge advantage, too.
Once you try to shoot subjects moving towards or away from you, though, the camera begins to struggle. Olympus’s reliance on contrast detection places the E- M10 Mark III at a disadvantage here, as the AF system and lens drive have to work much
Olympus’s Art Filters can give some interesting results: this is the Dynamic Tone II setting
High ISO image quality is perfectly respectable, with good colour retention Tamron 14-150mm f/3.5-5.8 at 35mm, 1/40sec at f/4.7, ISO 6400
The compact kit zoom isn’t especially versatile, but can still give good results Olympus 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 EZ at 27mm, 1/1000sec at f/6.3, ISO 200