Olympus E-M1 Mark III vs. Olympus E-M1 Mark II: Is the upgrade worth it?

The Olympus E-M1 Mark II was eclipsed by the launch of the E-M1X, which promised even better stabilization, enhanced speed, and a handheld high-res mode but in a much larger, more expensive camera. But photographers no longer need to choose between the more advanced camera or the more portable camera, thanks to the launch of the new Olympus E-M1 Mark III.

As the successor, the E-M1 Mark III is easily the better camera out of the E-M1 series. The question is, is the Mark III worth the extra price now that the older Mark II is discounted? Is the Mark III worth an upgrade for photographers currently working with the Mark II? What’s the difference between the E-M1 Mark II and the E-M1 Mark III?

At a glance:

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III

  • Updated processor with increased buffer
  • 7.5-stop image stabilization
  • Handheld high res mode
  • Starry AF
  • More durable shutter
  • AF Joystick
  • In-camera ND filters
  • Live view through HDMI
  • OM-Log

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II

  • 6.5-stop image stabilization
  • Slightly better battery life (440 shots vs 420)
  • Slightly lighter
  • Cheaper

Sensor & image quality

Both cameras sport a 20-megapixel Micro Four Thirds sensor. That doesn’t necessarily mean image quality will be identical, however. The Mark III has a newer processor and additional options for preserving detail at high ISOs. Essentially, the Mark III can process images twice for better detail at high ISOs, though some speed is sacrificed in this mode. Still, in the real world, you’d be hard-pressed to actually pick up those small differences.

The sensor may be the same, but the E-M1 Mark III gains Olympus’ latest TruePic IX processor, which is partly responsible for the new Handheld High Res mode. This feature stitches several photos together into a 50-megapixel shot, more than doubling resolution. That allows for a lot of detail from the otherwise modest sensor. The Mark II also has a high-res mode, but it requires a tripod.

Autofocus and performance

The E-M1 Mark II and Mark III have the same 121-point autofocus system, but the Mark III uses an improved algorithm for better performance. It also introduces an entirely new AF mode, called Starry Sky AF, that allows autofocus to be used for astrophotography, or any setting where you want to focus on pinpoints of light, such as a night cityscape.

Both cameras have identical speed specifications, shooting 10 frames per second with continuous autofocus or 15 fps with focus locked when using the mechanical shutter. Switch to the electronic shutter, however, and they can reach an impressive 60 fps. However, the Mark III does come out ahead when it comes to how many photos it can shoot in a burst. At 15 frames per second, its larger image buffer takes 100 RAW photos to fill, while the Mark II makes do with a still-respectable 84.

Stabilization and extra features

Olympus previously said that 6.5 stops was a theoretical limit of gyro-based image stabilization due to motion from the rotation of the earth. However, it broke that barrier with the E-M1 Mark III by a full stop. With the right lens, the Mark III can achieve 7.5 stops of stabilization. Even with other lenses, it’s good for 7 stops — still best in class compared to any other camera brand. It’s so good, in fact, that you can shoot seconds-long exposures without a tripod.

Add to this the Mark III’s built-in neutral density (ND) filters, and you can capture handheld long exposures even in the middle of the day.

The Mark II, however, is no slouch. It’s 6.5 stops of stabilization still compares favorably to the best IBIS systems from other brands. However, you don’t get the Mark III’s built-in ND filters.

Video

Both cameras can shoot good 4K video, and both offer a low-contrast logarithmic tone curved (OM-Log) for preserving more dynamic range if you don’t mind doing a little color correction in post (the Mark II needs to be upgraded to firmware version 3 to unlock this feature). The Mark III’s main advantage is that it allows for an external monitor via the HDMI port, although, like OM-Log, this is a niche feature that won’t affect casual video shooters.

Body and design

The E-M1 Mark II and Mark III could be fraternal twins. Both have a similar look and feel, with excellent weather-sealing. They share the same electronic viewfinder (EVF) with a 2.36-million-dot resolution (something we wish had been upgraded on the Mark III, as other cameras in this price range have used higher-resolution EVFs for some time).

The Mark III has two main physical differences. The first is the inclusion of an autofocus joystick, which is a much more ergonomic way to adjust the focus point. The Mark III also has Olympus’ most robust shutter to date, rated for 400,000 actuations.

The Mark II is a bit lighter, but only by a few grams. (If you’re looking for a more compact camera, check out the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III, which is essentially an E-M1 Mark II in a smaller body.)

Which is right for you?

Unsurprisingly, the newer E-M1 Mark III is the better camera, with a more robust stabilization system, updated processor, handheld High Res Shot, and a few other extras. It’s ideal for travel, since you don’t necessarily need to carry a tripod or ND filters with you.

However, there may not be enough reasons for Mark II owners to upgrade. Image quality will be the same, and so will burst speed and much of the user experience. The biggest reason to upgrade is the improved image stabilization for handheld long exposures and Handheld High Res mode.

As the older camera, the Mark II offers a better value and currently sits about $400 cheaper. The added stabilization and extra features  of the Mark III are likely worth the extra cost to some, but many photographers may be just as well putting that money toward a lens and picking up a Mark II.

Olympus OMD E M1

Bottom line

Buy the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III if you need a great travel camera. Its unrivaled stabilization combined with built-in ND filters and new Starry Sky Autofocus make it an unbeatable camera for adventurers. If you don’t shoot astrophotography or long exposures, however, the Mark II will serve you just fine.

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