The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II was without a doubt one of the big stars at the Photokina 2016.
It was primarily the remarkable speed of the camera that drew attention. The E-M1 Mark II can photograph at 60 frames per second in full resolution in RAW and jpeg. This astronomical speed is only possible with single auto focus, and the camera only keeps that up for a short time before the buffer fills up. But with continuous auto focus, the OM-D E-M1 mk2 still achieves 18 shots per second. These are speeds that even the most expensive and fastest SLR cameras for professional sports photographers do not achieve. And there is more. Much more.
OLYMPUS OM-D E-M1 MARK II: SIGNIFICANTLY IMPROVED & SPEED TRIUMPH
Even with an extremely long focal length (in this case the Panasonic 100-400mm @ 400mm, 1/640 sec, 200 ISO), it’s possible to catch birds in flight thanks to the fast, continuous AF and the fantastic image stabilization with the OM-D E-M1 mk2.
OM-D E-M1 vs OM-D E-M1 MK2: Switch pays off for lots of reasons
The OM-D E-M1 Mark II is improved in many respects relative to the previous model. The camera has a new 20 megapixel sensor. The Mark II, just like the Mark I, has no anti-alias filter. The difference of 4 megapixels relative to the Mark I is small, but under favorable conditions you can just barely see it in practice. The new sensor ensures that the camera keeps a reasonable pace with the competition in terms of resolution.
The improvements to the auto focus system are bigger. The E-M1 Mark II has 121 phase detection auto focus points, which cover practically the entire image. All those auto focus points are cross-type. The camera can shoot 18 images per second in C-AF with the electronic shutter. That is with auto focus in between. With the—incidentally remarkably faster—S-AF, so with advance focusing on a fixed point, the camera can take pictures at 60 images per second. And we’re not talking about a processed film mode in 4K, but about full-resolution 20-megapixel images in RAW+jpeg. To be able to deliver those unbelievable performances, the camera has a double quad-core processor. The camera has two card slots, one of which is suitable for both UHS-I and the faster UHS-II cards. Another important point is that the screen of the E-M1 can only tilt, while on the Mark 2, you can both rotate and tilt the screen. The new viewfinder has the same resolution, but a higher refresh frequency (120 fps) and a “response rate” of 6 instead of 16 ms. The 5-axis image stabilization of the Mark 2 is also a spectacular improvement relative to the OM-D E-M1. With the OM-D E-M1, you now also have 4K video and in-body image stabilization. The ergonomics are improved, so that the camera sits in the hand better, and the battery lasts longer. The only “minus points” on the Mark2 relative to the original Olympus OMD E-M1 mk2 are that the camera is larger (due to the ergonomics) and is 75 grams heavier. The switch to a Mark 2 results, in short, in so many improvements that naming this new camera Mark 2 sells is short.
In low light, I prefer a low ISO setting (in this case, even 64 ISO) and a relatively long shutter time (1/20 sec) over a higher ISO value (400 ISO or more).
12-40mm oR 12-100mm?
The E-M1 mk2 comes as a kit with the extremely good 12-40mm f/2.8 lens, but for a traveler who wants to change lenses as little as possible, the 12-100mm f/4 is a surprisingly good alternative.
BUILD QUALITY, COMPETITORS & FEATUREs
What Olympus has not changed much is the shape and the build of the camera. The new E-M1 looks like the old one, with the viewfinder in the middle above the lens, like on an SLR. That viewfinder, just like on the first generation, has 2.36 million image points, but the refresh rate is doubled to 120 fps. The original E-M1 was one of the most robust, shock-proof, dust-proof, moisture-proof and cold-resistant cameras that was available, and that is fortunately still true on the Mark II. The camera feels very solid, and all the buttons are well sealed and have good resistance. Due to the dimensions of the camera and the lenses, Micro Four Thirds has become popular among photographers that have to work under difficult circumstances in remote places, like nature photographers, climbers and investigators. With the E-M1 Mark II, you are buying a camera that you won’t soon abandon.
FAST AUTO FOCUs
All the speed of the E-M1 Mark II will not do much for you if the auto focus does not work well. In S-AF, the auto focus is certainly very fast. A typical SLR camera focuses from infinity to one and a half meters in a quarter to half a second. The Olympus OM-D E-M1 mk2 is between two and 10 times as fast. The “slowest” lens that we have reviewed on the Mark2 (75mm f/1.8) was just as fast at 400ms as 85mm f/1.8 lenses from other brands that we have reviewed to date. In C-AF, the auto focus also works very fast, but the tracking is not flawless. In general, it works well. If other objects move through the frame in front of the subject, the camera has the tendency to quickly focus on that instead of keeping the focus on the subject. And if the subject falls just outside the set auto focus points, the auto focus does carry on to one of the extreme settings. Fortunately, the auto focus is so fast that if that happens, the camera usually quickly gets the subject back in focus. Even with these small deviations, the auto focus system of the E-M1 Mark II might be the best available for mirrorless cameras. And perhaps a software update can iron out the last of the wrinkles. An absolute advantage of micro-43 is that you can actually take action photos by hand with lenses with long focal lengths, like the 300mm f/4, as needed with a 1.4x converter.
TERRIBLY FAST FROM INFINITY TO 1.5 METERS
AF speed (incl. release delay):
- 45 ms: Olympus M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO
- 65 ms: Olympus M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 40-150mm F2.8 PRO
- 75 ms: Olympus M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO
- 75 ms: Olympus 12-100mm f/4 IS Pro M.Zuiko Digital ED
- 130 ms: Olympus 30 mm f/3.5 Macro
- 225 ms: Olympus 60mm f/2.8 M.Zuiko Digital ED
- 400 ms: Olympus 75mm f/1.8 ED M.Zuiko Digital
MENU AND A WHOLE LOT OF SPECIAL FEATUREs
MORE PIXELS, LESS NOISE
The improvements in modern cameras are, when it comes to image quality, a continuous process of improvement on all fronts. But because the image quality of the original OM-D E-M1 was already very high, you only see the differences if you compare pictures from the two cameras directly with each other. Even so, it’s great that a camera with more (and thus smaller pixels) on the same sensor surface has a better signal-to-noise ratio and higher dynamic range.
HIGH IMAGE QUALITY
This macro is made with the new Olympus 30mm macro, with which the camera has taken 100 shots with the focal distance automatically shifted. You can have the shots merged by the camera into one picture with a much larger focal depth than is possible even at f/22, but you have to wait a bit for that. In this case, the shots were merged in Photoshop (“focus stacking”).
The sensor of the E-M1 has 20 megapixels, and the camera has no anti-alias filter. For sharpness and resolution, the E-M1 Mark II produces the best results of all the Micro Four Thirds cameras. The dynamic range is high, although that is something that really applies for all Olympus models. Especially at low ISO values, the camera gives little or nothing up to models with an APS-C sensor. At higher ISO values, you will see a bit of a difference. That ranges up to 1 stop at most. What competitors do not have is the Olympus High Res Mode. In this mode, the camera takes a series of shots with the help of image stabilization that are processed into one image with a resolution of 50 megapixels. It works perfectly with still subjects and really produces a visible improvement on the resolution. For moving subjects, the E-M1 can apply a correction by taking an interpolated part of a single photo for some parts of the image. This works well with, for example, running water. If something moves through the image, like a moving car, then this does not work so well. For the High Res Mode, a tripod is needed. For a number of kinds of photography like landscape, architecture and studio work, that is of course not such a problem.
The dynamic range of the Olympus OM-D cameras has always been impressive, but the OM-D E-M1 mk2 is still a quarter of a stop better. The backlit shot above is significantly edited, so that the colors of clothing and shoes become visible. In the original jpg shot, they are completely black. The dynamic range of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 mk2 is comparable with that of the Canon 80D, with a larger APS-C sensor: you can make the darker areas lighter at low ISO values, without any nuisance noise being visible.
The color reproduction of Olympus cameras is not only very faithful to nature, it also looks very pleasant. You won’t need the special “warm” auto white balance setting. You rarely encounter blue hazes in the shadows that you find sometimes with other brands.
SUPERIOR IMAGE STABILIZATION
Creating a theater recording by hand with a shutter time of 0.5 seconds that will look sharp at home is not a future fantasy for Olympus, but reality.
The built-in image stabilization of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II has been improved. In combination with the new Olympus M.Zuiko 12-100mm F4, Olympus claims a profit of 6.5 stops. From our previous review with the M.Zuiko 12-100mm, that claim appears to be true.
With this lens with image stabilization, the camera achieves the same sharpness at a 5-stop longer shutter time as the E-M1 Mark II with 12-100mm with all stabilization off. Without stabilization, the sharpness drops off quickly after a certain point. With the new image stabilization, the sharpness only decreases slowly, even at extremely long shutter times. Even with shutter times of more than one second, sharp pictures shot by hand are possible. A big advantage of the improved image stabilization we have not yet mentioned: the system namely works outstandingly for stabilizing video. Normally, you need some kind of aid to make a good video recording. That can be a tripod or a steady-cam if you want to handle it professionally, or something like a gimbal or a shoulder support to keep it a bit simpler. With the first-generation E-M5, Olympus already showed that with good built-in stabilization, you can film by hand quite well. The lack of good codecs and a high bitrate, however, meant that the cameras were not yet much loved among professional videographers. The E-M1 Mark II is a whole different camera on that point.
4 K Video
The Olympus E-M1 Mark II can film in Cinema 4K (4096×2160 pixels) and has a modern codec and a highest bitrate of 237mbps. The image quality in 4K is outstanding and stands up well to the competition. The quality in 1080P is unfortunately not as good. Those who need really good Full-HD are better off filming in 4K and then converting to Full-HD. Thanks to the outstanding image stabilization, the camera lends itself well to ‘run-and-gun’ filming. With the E-M1 Mark II, you can walk and focus at the same time and still get a great, fluid image, as though a steady-cam was used. If you practice a bit, you can film by hand with the E-M1 Mark II and even create the impression that you used a slider. For the hobby videographer, that saves you a good deal of fuss, while the shots still look very good. For the professional on a small budget, it means that you can work faster and shoot more in less time without losing quality.
The Olympus E-M1 also has the other special shot modes that we know from the earlier models, such as Live Composite. A unique new function is Pro Capture. With this, the camera starts, as it were, with recording at 60 frames per second as soon as you press the release button halfway. When you fully press the release button, it saves the last 14 shots taken plus the shots that you make afterwards. For moments that are very difficult to time, this works very well.
One last surprise was the battery. It is often said of mirrorless cameras that you cannot photograph action or sport with them, and that the batteries do not last nearly long enough. With the E-M1, neither of those things are true. You can photograph action, sport and wildlife quite well, and you will have to work to drain the battery. While testing on an afternoon, we took more than 1500 shots in two hours’ time. We reviewed shots and deleted some of them. After all that, the battery charge was still above 50%. That is in part because the battery is significantly larger than in many other mirrorless cameras. But it also indicates the efficient use of energy by the powerful processors.
You have to wait for a while, but then you have something: modern cameras today all have photo filters in the camera. You can thus immediately place edited shots on Instagram of Facebook, without having to work on them first on your laptop or PC. The great thing about Olympus cameras is that you can automatically—when you so choose—save up to dozens of different edited images, from which you choose the most successful version. Below is an example of a grey, misty shot of Barcelona, with which the Mark2 surprised me when I tried out the filter bracketing.
ELECTRONIC SHUTTER: 1/16,000 AND COMPLETELY SILENT!
If you want to shoot 18 RAW shots per second, you can only do that with the electronic shutter. Those who work at official events will certainly appreciate the completely silent shutter. An additional advantage of an electronic shutter is that you can shoot with shorter times (1/16,000!!) than you can with a mechanical shutter (usually 1/4,000). Those who set the camera to 100 ISO when there is a lot of light can, thanks to that shutter time of 1/16,000 sec, open the aperture two more stops on a sunny day than a photographer with an SLR camera and a mechanical shutter that won’t work any faster than 1/4,000 of a second. That compensates—only in situations with a lot of light—for the difference in bokeh/background blur between a micro-43 camera and a full frame SLR.
ConclusiON Olympus OMD E-M1 mk2 REVIEW
- High shooting speed
- Best image stabilization for photo and video
- Good hybrid auto focus
- Good 4K video
- Double SD-card slots
- Good resistance to wind and weather
- At introduction, the most expensive Micro Four Thirds camera
- AF tracking not yet as good as the best DSLRs
With the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark 2, you will get shots you would have thought impossible.
Click on the product for specifications, prices and test results.
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 is a new generation of mirrorless camera. It is the first real mirrorless camera for sport and action photography. The shooting speed is unmatched. The auto focus is good, although we hope that Olympus can perfect it with some updates. If they manage to do that, then the only point on which the camera is surpassed by much more expensive sport cameras from Nikon and Canon is the performance of the sensor at high ISO values. That is quite a feat. It is not only on price that the E-M1 compares favorably to the speed devils like the Nikon D5 or the Canon 1Dx. The dimensions and the weight of body and lenses also differ enormously. And we haven’t even mentioned then the advantage of unmatched image stabilization, for both photo and video shots. The E-M1 Mark II is very attractive for photographers who like to travel with reasonably complete camera equipment. It is not without reason that the E-M1 Mark II is becoming increasingly popular among nature and landscape photographers.