Olympus E-M1 Mark III: Hands-on in Costa Rica

About a week before officially unveiling the E-M1 Mark III, Olympus invited a small group of journalists to test-drive its latest toy on a field trip to Costa Rica. Despite my reluctance to leave the cold New York winter behind, I decided to brave the tropical weather and crystalline waters to give the camera a rundown below launch. We go into more detail in our announcement post; what follows are my first impressions after using the camera for a few days.

Disclaimer: Olympus paid for travel and lodging for this trip. Despite this, the company had no say in the contents of this article, and it is my goal to remain as objective as possible.

Still, I can’t say I’m totally unbiased; I pretty much started my journey as a photographer on Micro Four Thirds, and have been shooting on Olympus bodies for nearly a decade. The E-M1 MKIII is a great reminder of both how far Olympus‘ performance has come – and how I wish it would reach a bit further.

It was easy enough to get my bearings around the Mark III once I got my hands on it, though there are a few changes that might make those upgrading from the Mark II do a double-take. The addition of a joystick for setting your AF target is the most obvious one, also allowing the camera to replace the previous AF target button with a dedicated ISO button.

A few other buttons have moved around too, but it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes for Olympus users to get acclimated.

The E-M1’s menus are also as dense as ever, making the camera extremely customizable – nearly every button, knob, or dial can be reconfigured – at the expense of some simplicity. It’s a trade-off I’m happy to take though; my preferred settings and control configurations are quite different from Olympus‘ defaults, so I appreciate the ability to customize the camera to work for my particular shooting style.

The customizability makes for a camera on which nearly every feature you could want is a button-press away, while I find the ergonomics hit the sweet spot between handling and portability. The chunky grip was appreciated when using larger lenses like the 40-150mm F4, but without being so bulky as the E-M1X (let alone traditional DSLRs).

Overall, the body is a case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but I really wish Olympus had gone with a new viewfinder and touchscreen. They do the job – especially with the viewfinder set to its high refresh rate mode – but the competition has moved ahead.

It’s a similar story with autofocus performance, long a double-edged sword for mirrorless cameras. While Olympus has always offered some of the fastest and most accurate focusing in the business, it’s autofocus tracking has largely been a weak spot.

Unsurprisingly, the camera‘s “Continuous Autofocus + Tracking” mode was one of the first things I tried when I received the E-M1 MKIII. This is the autofocus mode that follows objects within a frame rather than the more traditional one requiring you to aim the camera at your object of interest.