Olympus says E-M10 Mark III is the cameraphone alternative you’ll actually use

There’s an interesting paradox in consumer tech today: Phone manufacturers are continually working to make the cameras in their products work more like “real” cameras, while camera manufacturers are finding ways to make their products behave more like phones. The new Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III mirrorless camera features a revamped touchscreen interface with controls “similar to a smartphone,” the company says. Olympus is marketing it directly to phone photographers, pointing out the camera’s ability to capture blur-free and “like-worthy” images even in dark scenes, where phone cameras typically fail.

Olympus has always geared the compact, budget-friendly E-M10-series toward casual users, and said it had difficulty keeping the E-M10 Mark II in stock. But first-time users looking to step up from smartphones found Olympus cameras to be complicated, Olympus told Digital Trends during a press briefing, and that the Mark II aims to demystify that, and is designed, in part, as a response to user feedback.

The company acknowledges the camera isn’t a huge evolution from its predecessor, but the E-M10 Mark III does gain a few worthy features for serious shooters, namely 4K video, five-axis stabilization of video, increased ISO (from 1,600 to 6,400), and the 121-point autofocus system from the flagship E-M1 Mark II. It also inherits the E-M1 Mark II’s TruePic VIII image processor, which helps with noise handling and bumps the continuous shooting speed up modestly to 8.8 frames per second from 8.5 in the E-M10 Mark II. Battery life is rated at 330 shots per charge (versus 320 for the Mark II)

For the most part, however, the OM-D E-M10 Mark III closely resembles the camera that preceded it, in both appearance and specifications (it’s just slightly larger). It uses the same 16-megapixel Micro Four Thirds sensor, five-axis sensor-shift stabilization with four stops of shake reduction, 2.36-million-dot electronic OLED viewfinder, and tilting LCD. Olympus is re-advertising the touchscreen autofocus and shutter controls, but those, too, don’t seem to be any different, at least on paper. Users will have more control thanks to the higher AF point density, but, from a technical standpoint, there are few features here that are genuinely new.

All said, the Mark III would appear to be an incremental update over the Mark II, and likely not one that is worth the upgrade for current Mark II owners — except those who really want 4K video. This isn’t necessarily bad: The OM-D E-M10 Mark II was already a very capable camera, and Olympus probably prefers that current E-M10 users to upgrade within the product line, to the midrange E-M5 or flagship E-M1 series. The job of the E-M10 Mark III, apparently, is to attract phone photographers into the world of interchangeable-lens, larger-sensor cameras, and it certainly has the features and performance to do that.

The E-M10 Mark III will begin shipping in late September for a price of $650 for the body only or $800 with the M.Zuiko 14-42mm EZ lens.

First impressions

We had a moment to try our hands on a E-M10 Mark III during a press preview. We aren’t able to comment on image quality, as we weren’t able to review any photos, but since it uses similar components as the Mark II, we expect still image quality to be just as good. And with 4K onboard, the Mark III eliminates one of the cons we had in our Mark II review.

The retro-inspired design gives the camera good looks. Like the Mark II, the Mark III is very compact and lightweight. Paired with a small lens, it’s comfortable to carry around. The grip has been re-engineered to provide a better hold. Olympus said the optional grip for the Mark II wasn’t popular, so it improved the actual grip and eliminated the accessory. Dials are also larger and clearly labeled. Overall, Olympus said the Mark II and Mark III are similar, but the Mark III has been rearranged in a way to allow the consumer to operate the camera and access more advanced functionality than they had previously.

Although we never found the Mark II to be difficult to operate, the Mark III does have a redesigned Auto mode that can detect the type of scene you’re shooting, including subjects and exposure. It can even detect moving subjects faster. While we weren’t able to test this out (we were inside a small dining room in the basement of a restaurant), Olympus said scene detection should be substantially faster thanks to the TruePic VIII processor. What we do like is a new shortcut button that gives you quick access to shooting parameters.

If you like scene modes, the Mark III introduces a few new ones, including light trails, HDR, backlight HDR, silent, backlight, and multi-focus shot for close-ups. Also new is a Bleach Bypass Art Filter that gives a faded metallic look. For video, besides 4K at 30p, there is also a 120-frames-per-second slow-motion video option, in-camera video editing, and 10-second advance during playback. The companion smartphone app has also been redesigned, although we didn’t get to try it during the briefing.

We have no doubt the Mark III can capture beautiful images with accurate colors, as we’ve seen in the Mark II, but we will hold judgment until we can do a proper review. We will also check out performance including the 121-point autofocus system. While this is an increase from the Mark II’s 81-point system, the Mark III’s uses contrast detection instead of the Mark II’s phase detection.

Les Shu contributed to this article.