Olympus Tops Off A Year Of New Camera Announcements With A Winner
A few days ago I returned from my fifth trip to Iceland this year. During my most recent trip, some other journalists and I had a chance to work with the new Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II camera and two new lenses — the 25mm f/1.2 and 12-100mm f/4 zoom. I’ll cut right to the chase and let you know this is an exceptional camera that takes the OMD series to a whole new level.
If you read and watched my article from earlier this week, you’d know that I own some Olympus bodies and a wide range of lenses. I tend to purchase cameras I like and use them in various photographic practices. The Olympus system has pretty much been claimed by my wife — an excellent photographer — as her camera of choice. She likes it for the size, built-in features and especially for the quality of images it delivers.
The end of October is an unusual time to visit Iceland because the light and weather presented challenges, but it was also a good proving ground for some the touted features of the OM-D E-M1 Mark II.
The following is a run down of features and images captured during our visit to Iceland. I’ll make a note of some of the features I didn’t get a chance to try. I’ll tell you this before I even begin — I was impressed.
One of the things I have enjoyed for years about the Olympus cameras is the build-quality and feel in your hands. This camera is no exception and has even improved.. Since my early days with Olympus and using film, I have always been surprised at the features they can include in their cameras.
First and foremost, like the Olympus Pen-F announced earlier this year, the OM-D E-M1 Mark II has a 20.4 megapixel live MOS sensor. This one, however, sports 121 points of cross-type on-chip phase and contrast AF detection. The cross-type sensors are the newest technology in AF systems and were also recently used with the Sony α99 camera.
It’s amazing that this chip with a silent electronic shutter can shoot 6O frames per second using AF and AE lock. Yes,RAW image files, and you have to experience it for yourself to truly believe it. Using C-AF and AE tracking, you can shoot 18 fps. I took a few images trying this out but want to give it a run for its money when we get a review unit for extended testing. More on this further in this article.
Let’s Look At The Rich Features
IBIS — In Body 5-axis Image Stabilization — has gotten even better with this new OM-D E-M1 Mark II release. Olympus claims 5.5 extra stops of shooting capability, and they claim 6.5 stops with lenses that have In Lens stabilization. I have no way to measure this, but I did some slow shutter speed shots and was very surprised with how well this feature performed.
The new 20.4 MP sensor yields a 25% higher resolution performance than previous OMD cameras. It is also supposed to help with dynamic range. However, I am unable to process RAW files to verify these claims, and all of the images in this review are JPEG files straight from the camera. As you may know if you read my articles, I am a Capture One user. I have sent my files to Phase One, and I hope to get a beta version of C1 with an early release for processing Olympus files in the near future. There are many images in this article that would have benefited from highlight and shadow recovery not to mention adjustment layers and such. So, this is in no way a final review.
Everything happens faster with this camera than previous versions, and that is because Olympus has put new TruePic VIII image processor into the camera. This allows for high-speed capture, in-camera RAW to JEPG processing as well as focus stacking and 50 MP high-resolution shooting. Olympus claims this processor is 3.5 times faster than what was in previous models.
Pro Capture mode is one of the coolest things I tried out. This new mode allows for 30 fps or 60 fps capture. This is great for fast, moving objects. We tested it out on a geyser in Iceland, and I did this at 30 fps. Sixty fps is such a fast capture, it is ridiculous. I found a terrific feature that happens if you focus and hold the shutter button down causing the camera to loop 14 fps of pre-capture. This means that if something happens so fast that you can’t push the shutter quickly enough, the camera has already captured 14 frames before the full shutter release. This would be great, for example, if you were doing macro-photography of flowers and bees. Let’s say you see a bee about to land on a flower. You press the shutter, and the camera has already captured 14 frames before the actual push. Hold the shutter button down for a few seconds, and you will have a ton of images to select from and even a few from before the shutter was pushed. I would like to test this further.
High-Speed EVF — The viewfinder, like many recent camera releases, has taken a giant leap. These electronic viewfinders are becoming more useable for fast-action auto-focus. The OM-D E-M1 Mark II EVF boasts a refresh rate of 120 fps with a minimum response time of 5 milliseconds (Who’s counting?) In real life shooting, I saw no lag time and was able to follow fast, moving subjects. This is another feature that needs further tests with flying birds or fast, moving cars and bikes, etc. When we do our final review, we will test this even further. I can report the viewfinder is bright and sharp and pleasing to work with.
AF — The auto-focus is amazing. I tested shooting in SAF and CAF, and I can honestly say I was (again) impressed by the speed and ability to track moving subjects. This feature is leaps and bounds ahead of the previous version. There are new algorithms that perform predictive focusing and are also trained to ignore distractions. This means if I was doing a pan and following a subject, and as I was panning, an object like a telephone pole popped up then the pole would be ignored, and the AF would use predictive focusing to continue and reacquire the subject. From my initial trial where I used people walking on the street and bicycle riders, I can report that it works. Because the rear screen is touch-sensitive, you can set focus points by just touching the screen or using the track pad to move the focus area to where you want. It’s not as easy as a joystick like on some camera models, but it’s perfectly workable. You’ll also find the ability to customize some of the CAF features. There is also an AF limiter to set minimum and maximum AF ranges to speed up auto-focus. I enjoyed the clutch on the lens manual-focus too. The viewfinder has a magnification feature when manual focusing, and it can be coupled with focus-peaking too.
New batteries — The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II has newer and larger batteries. I have a ton of batteries for the older system and was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t use them, but the benefit of more shots per battery certainly outweighs the fact that I will need to invest in a new inventory of batteries. There is also a new rapid-charger, and it can charge batteries in much shorter time. I was charging nearly depleted batteries in about 90 minutes.
Dual Card slots (finally) — Olympus has caught up with everyone else and is offering dual SD card slots with this camera. The slots are staggered and behind a well-sealed door. The slots can be set up in several configurations such as sequential, dual capture (same on both cards), RAW files on one card and JPEG images on another. One slot uses UHS-I cards, and the other slot uses both UHS-1 and UHS-II. This is particularly good if you’re shooting 4K video. Why both card slots couldn’t be UHS-II capable puzzles me, but at least there is an option.
Weatherproof — We certainly had a chance to test this, and I will say the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II passed with flying colors. We had hail, snow, sleet and drenching waterfalls. Look at the cover photo to see just how wet the camera got, and it did not falter once. All ports and doors are well sealed. Cold weather didn’t seem to bother the camera either as we experienced some very cold weather when we were shooting the Northern Lights.
ISO — The OM-D E-M1 Mark II has a new low setting of ISO 64. This allows more flexible shutter and f-stop ranges than the previous default of 200. Noise is supposedly improved also. This was one of my issues with previous versions where images were noisy at higher ISO or longer exposures. This has been improved. I would like to be able to test this using RAW capture and Capture One, and thus I can’t confirm just how big difference this is right now. When I get a review unit, I will do a comparative image from the E-M1 and the OM-D E-M1 Mark II. From looking at JPEG files, I would say the useable range is up to 6400.
High-Res. Shot mode is one the coolest features that Olympus has and is usually found on higher-end medium format cameras. The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II can take up to eight shots, shifting each shot by half a pixel and then assembling the resulting images into a 50 MP file. Obviously, you need a still subject and a good tripod and a locked-down camera, but the results are cool. When we get the review model, we will try this out and share the results. We did not have the right conditions to do this during the trip. Olympus has said that this new version can compensate for certain movement between exposures. Say, for example, I want to go outside and shoot a landscape, and there are some trees with leaves moving. The algorithm can determine this and reduce the blur of the movement of leaves. We won’t be able to confirm anything until we can do real world testing.
A short video made with the Olympus OM-D E M1 Mark II in 4k of the surf at one of the beaches
4K Video — I tried this feature on a windy day with a very rough surf at one location we visited. The video looks really good but isn’t worthy of sharing here. Chris and I will do some real world video with a review unit. The OM-D E-M1 Mark II has some good video specs, though. The camera can produce DCS 4K at 4096×2060 pixels at 24P and a bit rate os 237 Mbps. There is also a flat mode setting which allows for color grading. With IBIS and 4K we are anxious to test this out in the future to see if it can be part of our video toolbox. Especially, since we already have quite the m4/3 lens inventory. There is also an HDMI monitor connection for hooking up an external capture or monitor solution. We were shown examples where the video has reduced Jello and rolling shutter effects. Once again we didn’t test it here but will look at it when we get a review system.
Silent shutter is one of the coolest and strangest things to experience. We are so accustomed to hearing the click of a shutter that when using silent mode, we were often left wondering if we even caught an image. This is a great feature for a wedding photographer who does not want to draw attention to themselves or candid shooting in general. Personally, I like the sound of the shutter, but I did find this to be cool to use.
Some Other Cool Features
The following features I did not get a chance to test but have used on previous versions of Olympus cameras. We will text these on our review unit and report back.
Focus Stacking and Focus Bracketing — This feature I tested on the Phase One XF camera, and it was very cool. I found it to work beautifully on the Olympus. I see using this to shoot macro such as a flower where I would want to extend the depth of field for what is in focus on the image. Setting this up is a breeze, and the results are way cool especially when you combine them in post processing. In stacking mode, you shoot a variety of images at different focuses, and then they are combined to give an image with a greater depth of focus. Focus bracketing takes a series of exposures at different focus points, and you can select the one that is your favorite. With both of these settings, you should use a tripod to make it work properly.
Art Filters — The OM-D E-M1 Mark II, like its predecessors, has a wide range of art filters. While I am not necessarily a fan of these, I do find them pretty cool. My wife uses them a lot when she shoots. These filters allow for special effects like watercolor, dramatic tones in BW or color, toy camera look and a lot more. You can set up the camera to shoot a RAW image file, and then produce the art filter images as JPEGs. Or you can select a RAW file to push the OK button and convert them in-camera after shooting. The ones included in this article were created that way.
Auto ISO — This is a handy tool and one I use all the time. You set an ISO range for auto ISO and then as you use the camera it selects the best ISO for the camera shooting mode you use. I shoot aperture priority a lot of time so I set the camera to f/8 and then the camera picks the exact shutter speed and ISO. It’s a pretty great tool when shooting in a variety of lighting conditions. Although, I miss auto ISO in manual mode. Last summer, I was shooting bears in Alaska. The camera I was using allowed me to set the shutter speed and F/stop and then would select the right ISO for the lighting conditions. I could set the high and low ISO range. I wish Olympus had this on the OM-D E-M1 Mark II. It should be an easy to add firmware update.
Menus – The menu systems notoriously on cameras these come under the most scrutiny and criticism. The OM-D E-M1 Mark II because there are so many features has a very deep (to say the least) menu system. It is tough a menu system that you can use without picking up a manual except in very few instances. The menu works with a left-hand tab and then choices you scroll down to. Pushing the OK button or right arrow key takes you to a more in-depth menu for that selection. Also, there is a menu section that is quite deep and adds a second column next to left-hand tabs. As you scroll down you get a secondary selection and then you scroll down to the selection to your choice. I know it sounds complicated but if you use it you figure it out pretty quickly. Many choices will only be set once and not referred to again.
The manual will come in handy when trying to use the features like focus stacking, Focus bracketing, Pro Shutter and CAF choices. I suggest you try these and become familiar with then and don’t get intimidated. Once you sue them you’ll see how they can be useful in many types of photography.
My Experience With The OM-D E-M1 Mark II
I am very familiar with the Olympus cameras, and, as mentioned before, I own several. My experience, as I expected, was overall pretty good except for a few things I’ll mention that I hope Olympus can improve on.
I love the rear touch screen. I can swipe images in playback mode, and in shooting mode, I can touch where I want to focus and touch to shoot an image. This is touch screen done right. The screen is a swing-out, tiltable version and can be twisted so you can see it from the front of the camera for selfie-type images. I use this mode a lot when doing my videos.
The super menu is one of the best out there. By pushing the OK button I get a menu on the rear screen that allows me to set just about anything the camera is capable of. You can either touch a selection or use the scroll keys to select a function. Then you can use one of the dials to scroll to the selection you want and push OK. This makes changing ISO, color balance, focus points, and more a breeze.
There is a function called Live Bulb mode, and during long exposures, it allows for the screen to refresh and show you how the images look. I used this and a similar function to shoot the Northern Lights images. The shutter would open, and the screen would be black. Then every few seconds, the screen would refresh, and you could monitor how the image looked while the shutter is open. Then once the image looks good, you can close the shutter. I used noise reduction, and then the camera would do another exposure for the same length to shoot a calibration file to eliminate noise. This feature gets a cool rating from me.
The camera set up had a power grip with it. There is a battery in the power grip as well as a battery in the camera. It was set to use the power grip battery and then switch to the battery in the camera. The camera itself is small, and with my big hands, I prefer the grip. Especially for shooting vertical images. Many of the functions on the camera, dials, and shutter release are on the handle and allow you to control the camera when shooting vertically. This can be locked so that the buttons don’t function. The battery is rated for 400+ images, and that is typical of what I was finding while shooting. I had only two batteries, and even on days where we were doing some heavy shooting, I never ran out of juice on the second battery. I would certainly purchase extra batteries.
All the buttons on the OM-D E-M1 Mark II can be customized, and while I didn’t customize anything, it’s nice to have that option. When doing firmware upgrades, these customized settings and buttons can be saved and restored. This is something new. What I don’t like is that the firmware upgrades are still done by connecting a USB cable from a computer to the camera. I much prefer to upgrade from an SD card as many other systems do. In the past, you also had to use a proprietary USB cable, but with the OM-D E-M1 Mark II, you can use any USB cable.
A constant issue I had were that the top dials were too easy to rotate by accident and thus changed exposure compensation and f/stop. On some occasions, I would be ready to take a photo and then I’d see that the screen was bright due to exposure compensation being moved or the f/stop was down to f/22 or wide open. I did share this with the tech team at Olympus and was assured it would be brought to the attention of the engineers. The Fuji X-T2 can lock all buttons and dials by simply holding the OK button for three seconds to lock and another three seconds to unlock. Something so simple is so beneficial.
On the Pro-Capture feature, it would have been nice to have a counter of the number of images made in the sequence. Because this mode operates silently, you have no feedback that images were captured or how many.
For the most part, shooting with the Olympus was fun and the images produced were surpassingly good quality. I used the new 12-100mm lens as well as the 25mm 1.2 lens. The 25mm lens is what I would call Olympus’ perfect lens. It’s a stunner — both in it’s size and coverage — but the quality of images were exceptional. The 12-100mm lens is going on my to-buy list. It’s a great lens with a nice zoom ratio. It’s equivalent to a 24mm to 200mm zoom as far as coverage in full frame. As I mentioned in my report the other day, the Olympus is a lightweight system. The OM-D E-M1 Mark II and the 12-100mm lens would make a perfect one camera one lens system.
One of the things I like about the Pro lenses verses many of the competitors is the ability to have a manual focus stop at infinity. Doing astrophotography is a big thing these days, and being able to focus to infinity by use of a stop in focusing is a big deal. It made doing the Northern Lights images a lot easier.
The Bottom Line
The OM-D E-M1 Mark II will be available and shipping by the end of the year. The price is $1999.00 USD and $2499.00 CAD. The vertical grip goes for $249.00 USD, and as far as I am concerned, it’s a must. Batteries are $69.99 USD. I was hoping for a price closer to $1400.00. Seems to be a trend lately — like with Apple — to increase the prices on products. The pricing for Olympus will make a lot of people consider if this is the format they want to be in. There are a lot of less expensive alternatives especially in larger camera formats. However, there aren’t too many cameras with all the power this camera has or the performance. Many people will never use art filters and they’ll be perfectly happy shooting JPEGs. The big selling point as I pointed out in my other article this is a lightweight camera system and if you are traveling and are concerned about weight and want a powerful system than the OM-D E-M1 Mark II should be high on choices for consideration.
No question — this a great camera. It’s loaded with features that some people might never use. However, if one takes the time to become familiar with the camera and its many features, then a photographer would find this to be a very versatile camera that can produce nice images in a small, lightweight camera.
Yes, I will buy it. Somewhat reluctantly because of the price, but I am vested in the lenses, and this camera will just make my investment that much better.Plus, it will be a nice Christmas gift for my wife (Don’t tell her). I hope that we see some firmware upgrades in the future to fix the minor but important concerns I have pointed out.
We’ll report more on this camera once we can shoot and process RAW files as well as try out some of the features mentioned above.
Good job, Olympus. You listened and delivered a well-built and functional camera.
This camera and lenses are available at B&H Photo
More Images Made With The OM-D E-M1 Mark II
All images below and in this article were from in-camera JPEGs. As of this writing, there is no RAW processor that can process OM-D E-M1 Mark II RAW files. The Olympus RAW processor should be available today, though. I am hoping by release date that both Lightroom and Capture One will support these files as they surely will do. I feel I could have pulled a lot out of the RAW files to make even better images, especially under some of the conditions were photographing in.