The best feature of this camera is the five-axis in-body stabilization system. It now delivers seven stops of shake reduction, or 7.5 with an IS lens -- more than any other camera out there by a full stop. That delivers some nice benefits for both photography and video, as you'll soon see.
More remarkably, Olympus has fitted that stabilizer into a very small camera. Rather than compromising weight and ergonomics, the E-M1 Mark III delivers on both. It not only handles great, but it's very petite and light, too, weighing a mere 504 grams (1.1 pound). That's about half the weight of Panasonic's slightly more expensive full-frame S1, for example.
That small size is possible because of the Micro Four Thirds sensor, which takes up less space inside the body. However, a smaller sensor also means it's theoretically not as good in low-light as APS-C or full-frame cameras.
Despite that, Olympus sees the sensor as a huge advantage for wildlife or action photographers. With a 600mm f/4 full-frame equivalent lens, the E-M1 Mark III weighs 1,900 grams or 4.2 pounds -- less than half that of a full-frame DSLR with the same lens. That's significant, especially if you're traipsing into the jungle in 95-degree F temperatures, like I am in Costa Rica.
At the same time, the deep, well-contoured grip makes it comfortable and reassuring to hold. On top of that, it has a classically good-looking body that's extremely rugged and delivers "dustproof, splashproof and freezeproof performance," according to Olympus. While I haven't encountered any rain or freezing conditions in Costa Rica, I can confirm that it hasn't overheated or fogged up in the humidity.
Then again, that was true before. The Mark III's body is largely unchanged since the last model, with some exceptions when it comes to the button and dial layout. Namely, the E-M1 III has a joystick. That lets you change the focus point, mostly, though you can also use it to control the menu and other functions: shooting modes, front and rear shutter-speed and aperture settings, autofocus, ISO and exposure compensation.
If you need to hunt for other features, Olympus' menu system is notoriously illogical and a pain to use. However, pressing the OK button opens the "super control," or quick menu. That gives you instant access to common settings like face priority autofocus, video resolution and white balance. Olympus also lets you add functions to the fast-access star menu simply by bringing up the function in the menu and hitting the record button.
Otherwise, things are much as they were before. It still has microphone and headphone ports for video, a USB-C port and dual card slots (the top one supporting UHS-II cards) and a fully articulating display that's great for vlogging. You can also use the 1,720 mAh BLH-1 battery from the last camera, which is rated for 420 shots on a charge. As usual, in reality, I found I could get a lot more than that.
Unfortunately, the E-M1 Mark III also carries over the same 2.36-million dot LED EVF as before. Most other cameras in this price range have 3.69 million dot OLED EVFs, and the difference in resolution is very noticeable, which is a shame. It does have the benefit of blackout-free shooting in silent mode, but the low resolution is not what I expected to find on a $1,800 camera.
The E-M1 Mark III's shooting performance is incredible on paper, at 18 fps in electronic shutter mode with continuous autofocus enabled (15 fps with the mechanical shutter) and 60 fps in electronic mode with the AF locked. In mechanical shutter mode (which eliminates rolling shutter), that's a significant jump over the last model, which could only handle 10 fps with continuous AF. It can also capture a very respectable 101 RAW frames in 15 fps shooting mode before the buffer fills.
Since it packs the same sensor, it has the same autofocus specs, too. As before, you get 121 hybrid contrast- and phase-detect points, but everything works faster now thanks to the new TruePic IX processor. Plus, you can now shift the autofocus region around using the new joystick while shooting. Oh, and it has more custom AF modes, including face/eye detection and object tracking for different types of shooting.
Like the larger E-M1X, it has face- and eye-detection autofocus, but it's not quite as fast as on Sony's cameras. And while the object tracking works very well, it lacks the plane, train and car detection functions available on the E-M1X.
However, the E-M1 III does have a feature that the E-M1X lacks: Starry Sky autofocus. This feature is long overdue on full cameras -- smartphone makers have been dabbling in astrophotography for some time. Focus can be a real challenge for this type of shooting and is usually done manually, but this feature completely automates it. During my limited tests (in poor star-gazing weather), I found it worked well, nailing autofocus even on a single star.
The E-M1 III's forte is action and wildlife photography, so how does it work for that? While it does shoot quickly, I found that, in the real world, it can't quite keep up with rivals or even its own burst speeds. While shooting surfers, fast-moving birds and a person walking toward the camera at a brisk speed, it occasionally failed to lock focus quickly enough. The result was the odd blurred shot. By comparison, Sony's cheaper A6600 (which also has a larger sensor) rarely failed to nail focus.
On the other hand, a feature called Pro Capture makes it less likely you'll miss something that happens suddenly. When enabled, it captures up to 35 frames when you half-press the shutter, before you start actually snapping. That way, if you react a fraction too late, you still might nail the shot. Again, this is a feature we've seen on smartphones but not many cameras.
As I mentioned, the E-M1 III delivers seven stops of shake reduction, or 7.5 stops with a compatible image-stabilized lens. That gives it a huge advantage over other cameras on handheld shooting. For example, while you can't crank the ISO up like you can on Canon's EOS R, you can still shoot handheld in low light just by reducing the shutter speed.
The result was that I was able to shoot wildlife with a very long lens and get sharp photos even at 1/30th of a second. That's impressive if the subject doesn't budge, but it won't help at all for fast moving subjects in a dark jungle, for instance. For that, you'd probably need to spend a lot more on a DSLR with a better low-light-capable sensor and a fast super-telephoto lens.