January 14, 2020

The Olympus E-M1 Mark III is Coming

A few predictions about the upcoming flagship.

The market seems to have forced Olympus to reconsider its 4-year lifespan of the flagship E-M1 Mark II. We find ourselves anticipating the E-M1 Mark III a year early, which leaves me wondering what we can realistically expect.

What I Expect

If I were a betting man, this is what I’d expect to see in the upcoming camera:

  • A very similar body. Similar enough to allow for compatibility with existing accessories like the battery and even the battery grip.
  • The same resolution. It will cause a lot of internet fury, but I have a feeling the 20MP threshold will remain in place, though Hand-Held High Res (like we saw on the E-M1X) is very likely to make its way into this camera to compensate.
  • Upgraded video specs. This is an increasingly key component of any camera, but it will be especially important for Olympus since this camera will eventually share the M43 flagship seat with the GH6—and you can be sure Panasonic will make another video monster.
  • An improved EVF. I think it’s about time that Olympus put in an EVF that isn’t just smooth, but is also punchier, with a higher resolution. Essentially every other camera’s EVF these days is more pleasing to look through, even if Olympus’ remain among the most responsive for action/movement.
  • Software features from the E-M1X. This is hopefully a given, but I expect to see Hand-Held High Res shooting, Live ND, and customizable AF patterns in the E-M1 Mark III.

What I Would Love to See

If it were up to me, I’d really want to see at least some of these things in the upcoming E-M1 Mark III:

  • A higher resolution sensor. Count me among those who would appreciate a few extra megapixels. We’re unlikely to get this as I’m not sure Sony has made a newer sensor that would make sense for Olympus to use, but in a perfect world I would love to see M43 settle around 26MP. A lot of the burden of image quality falls to the processor, which they’ve been improving dramatically over the years, but there’s only so far you can push a 4-year old sensor. Sensor technology doesn’t move quickly these days, but it does move.
  • Better control of AF point placement. This would ideally be something like the AF-On button on the upcoming Canon 1DX Mark III that uses optical sensing to allow for quick movement of the AF point even using gloves. A joystick would be fine too, like on the E-M1X, though that still feels very slow to me compared to a well-implemented touch-based system like using the touchscreen with your thumb while your eye is to the EVF. Of course that doesn’t work with gloves, so for Canadians like me that makes it a compromised solution.
  • A repositioned on/off switch. I have no idea why Olympus (and Canon, to be fair) put their power switch on the left side of the body, but the fact that I can’t pull the camera out of a bag and turn it on in a single, seamless motion like you could with a Fujifilm or Nikon body is frustrating. I shouldn’t need to use my other hand just to turn the thing on.
  • Addition of GPS and improved wireless. The wireless stack from the E-M1X would be nice to have. On the software side, I would love to be able to wirelessly transfer raw files, not just JPGs. Currently only Canon allows this, and only on their newest bodies that shoot CR3 raw files—I hope it spreads.
  • Support for shooting HEIF/HIF/HEIC files. Admittedly this is unlikely since only Canon has introduced them on their upcoming 1DX Mark III, but the format is well established and objectively superior to JPG and deserves to supplant the old standard sooner rather than later.
  • Customizable camera/film profiles. Though Fujifilm gets all the acclaim for their baked-in film simulations, it’s actually Canon’s approach that I admire most. Using their Picture Profile Editor software, you can develop your own picture profile using core editing tools like curves, HSL, etc. and then install it onto the camera. I’m always going to prefer making my own edits to using the manufacturer’s, no matter how good they are, and being able to have my basic editing already applied to in-camera JPGs means much quicker sharing of shots on the go.
  • Base ISO of 100. If the sensor is improved in some way that allows for a lower, cleaner base ISO, that would be a terrific improvement for shooting in controlled lighting situations.

Looking Forward

The camera market continues to change and shrink, forcing everyone to change plans, constrain their efforts, and double down on their core competencies wherever possible.

For Olympus, their strength has always been providing top-notch build quality, innovative software, and compact system size—I want to emphasize system size there, not body size. My hope is that they continue to push the envelope on software especially because that’s where the future of imaging technology is clearly heading.


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