Date: 04/03/2015 | By: Mathieu
A family affair – Olympus OM-D E-M1 vs. OM-D E-M5 Mark II
With the recent release of the new OM-D E-M5 Mark II, it is fair to ask ourselves the following question: is the flagship OM-D E-M1 still the best OM-D on the market? Can phase detection AF, a faster burst rate in continuous focus mode and an integrated grip still hold its own against technology like the High Res Shot and improved video performance/stabilisation?
As shown in the first chapter of our recent OM-D E-M5 Mark II review, the newest OM-D camera isn’t a minor upgrade. Olympus introduced advanced functions and improved many others which makes the new E-M5 look like the most complete Olympus camera on the market. It is also Olympus’ first serious camera for video shooting thanks to an improved codec and more options to choose from. It has almost everything an advanced user could ask for. On the other hand, the OM-D E-M1 still has a more advanced autofocus system and continues to receive substantial firmware updates that keep the camera on par with the competition.
Does one of these two models really deserve the “flagship” title more than the other? Let’s find out!
As always, please note that with our comparison articles, our main goal isn’t to state which model is inherently better than the other. Instead we’d like to help you understand which camera is better suited to you and your style of photography.
Table of Contents
The two cameras share the same 16 megapixel sensor and the same TruePic VII engine so the image quality is the same.
They also have other features in common like:
- the same ISO sensitivity (200-25600, extended ISO 100)
- the same picture profiles and colour rendering
- Live composite, Live bulb, Keystone compensation and other functionalities
There are also differences of course, which relate to the autofocus system, continuous shooting capabilities, 5 axis stabilisation and movie mode. The E-M5 mark II also has some exclusive features.
The E-M1 has a hybrid autofocus system with 81 contrast detection areas and 35 phase detection areas in the centre. The implementation of phase detection technology also makes the E-M1 better suited to Four Thirds lenses. It has excellent continuous shooting capabilities with 10fps in Single AF and 9fps in Continuous AF (since the release of firmware update 3.0).
The camera also features some of the best functionalities Olympus cameras have to offer like in-body 5-axis stabilisation (4Ev). Its movie mode however isn’t as good as other mirrorless cameras: you are limited to 30fps, the overall video quality isn’t the best and the camera uses only 3 axes for movie stabilisation. You can use either a mechanical or first electronic curtain shutter.
The E-M5 mark II has a contrast detection AF system with 81 AF points. The continuous shooting capabilities go up to 10fps in S-AF but only 5fps in C-AF.
The 5-axis stabilisation has been improved (new hardware) and the camera gains 1 extra EV of compensation over the E-M1 (5 Ev). Its video mode has multiple frame rates, slow motion capabilities and an ALL-I codec. The stabilisation for video has also been improved since the E-M5 mark II uses 5-axis during video recording as well. Finally the camera has an electronic shutter option that makes it completely silent.
- Sensor: 16 megapixel 4/3 Live MOS Sensor
- Lens system: Micro Four Thirds interchangeable lens system
- ISO Sensitivity: 200 – 25600 ISO (extended to 100)
- Continuous shooting: 10 fps (AF-S), 6,5 fps (AF-C)
- Autofocus: Contrast / Phase detection AF (81 contrast detection points, 37 phase detection points)
- Internal Stabilisation: Yes (5 axis image stabilisation)
- Viewfinder 2.360k electronic VF-4 with 0.74x magnification and frame rate up to 120fps
- LCD Screen: Tiltable 3″ LCD touch sensitive monitor, approx. 1,037k dots
- Movie recording:: Full HD up to 30p
- Weatherproof: Yes
- Sensor Cleaner: Yes
- Manual focusing: peaking, magnification
- Built-in Flash: No (but an external flash is provided with the camera)
- Extra Features: Built-in WiFi, Art Filters, Live Time
- Dimensions: 130.4 x 93.5 x 63.1mm
- Weight: 497g (including battery and memory card)
- Sensor: 16 megapixel Micro Four Thirds Live Mos
- Lens system: micro four thirds
- Weatherproof: Yes (Splash, dust and freeze proof down to -10°C)
- Internal Stabilisation: Yes (5-axis)
- Autofocus: Contrast detection AF with 81 autofocus areas
- Continuous shooting: 5 fps (AF-S), 2,5 fps (AF-C)
- ISO Sensitivity: 200 – 25600 ISO (extended 100)
- Shutter Speeds: 1/8000s to 60 seconds, 1/16000s with electronic shutter
- Viewfinder: XGA OLED electronic viewfinder with 2,360k dots, approx. 100% FOV coverage and 1.48x magnification
- LCD Screen: flipping/rotating 3″ LCD monitor (1037k dots) with touch controls
- Movie recording: ALL-I and IPB compressions up to 77mbps, 24fps to 60fps, slow motion, Movie Clips
- Built-in Flash: No (external FL-LM3 included)
- Extra Features: High Res Shot, Timelapse, HDR, Multiple exposure, Wifi
- Dimensions: 123.7 x 85 x 38mm
- Weight: 496g (including battery and memory card)
Ergonomics & Design
Both cameras inherit their design from Olympus OM SLR cameras. The most relevant difference is the integrated grip on the OM-D E-M1.
I consider the E-M1 design one of the best when it comes to ergonomics. The camera is slightly larger and has a very solid grip. The built-in grip makes it more comfortable to reach the shutter release button. The camera is easy to use even with larger lenses like the 40-150mm f/2.8.
The dials and buttons are easy to reach and have an excellent build quality. That quality helps to make the camera feel very professional despite the small size when compared to a DSLR.
The E-M5 mark II has a good design and is comfortable to use. It is slightly smaller and can be very compact when used with a small lens like the 17mm f/1.8. However the grip isn’t as good as the E-M1’s. It is almost as good with the optional landscape grip HDL-8G. The annoying thing however is that you need to remove it in order to change the battery.
I really like the two main dials on the E-M5 mark II as they are thicker than the ones on the E-M1. The only thing I dislike is the function lever on the rear because it is harder to move than on the E-M1 (at least with the sample I tested).
Both cameras have the same build quality:
- their body is made of magnesium alloy
- they are splash, dust and freeze proof down to -10°C.
They also come in two colour versions: black or silver. Whether you choose one or the other is a question of personal taste. I personally find the silver E-M5 mark II very beautiful.
Functionality and ease of use
Since they are both Olympus OM-D cameras, they are very similar when it comes to functionality and ease of use. The menu system is of course the same. Both cameras have a good level of customisation and the main settings are easy to access and configure. One of the things I appreciate the most is the ability to use the main aperture and shutter speed dials to scroll between settings such as ISO, white balance, focus, and more when the lever is switched to 2 or when you press certain buttons. There are some small differences so let’s see what they are.
The E-M1 has two function buttons on the front next to the lens mount. I really like them because you can naturally reach them with your middle fingers. On top there are dedicated buttons for the drive mode and AF mode. On the rear the monitor button allows you to quickly activate or deactivate live view on the rear screen, a function which I appreciate. Moreover the Fn1 button positioned on top of the thumb grip is easy to access. I also prefer the arrow pad on the rear which is slightly larger and incorporates raised bumps on the four buttons to improve your grip.
The E-M5 mark II has only one function button on the front but more Fn buttons on top. It doesn’t have a dedicated button for the monitor but this can be assigned to a Fn button instead. Like the E-M1, you can customise the arrow pad on the rear and the AEL/AFL button on the lever.
Both cameras share the same electronic viewfinder: 2.360k dots of resolution, 100% field of view, 60fps and 16ms of time lag when the Frame Rate is set to High. As for the rear monitor, they share the same screen with the same technical specs but the E-M1 only has a tilting LCD screen while the E-M5 mark II has a flipping and rotating LCD screen which is more comfortable for video shooting. Both monitors are touch sensitive.
There are also some minor improvements within the menu. Certain options on the E-M5 mark II have also been improved. They are the following:
- LV-info (Menu #D / Info Settings): you can choose custom 1 or 2 in addition to other options
- Live View Boost (Menu #D / 2nd page): it can be set individually for manual shooting, bulb/time, live composite and “other”. There are also two different types of live view boosts: On1 and On2. On2 doesn’t slow down the frame rate for darker areas.
- Multi-Function: you can designate which function to include in the multi-function option for the Fn buttons.
- Latest Menu recall: you can choose to recall the most recent menu selection when you exit then go back into the menu later on.
Don’t expect any surprises here as both cameras perform the same in terms of dynamic range and ISO sensitivity.
As I said before, they share the same sensor (no AA filter) and TruePic VII processor. The latter enhanced the ISO performance of the E-M1 and the E-M10 over the E-M5, and it now does the same for the E-M5 mark II as well.
Picture profiles and colour rendering are the same, a quality I’ve always appreciated in Olympus cameras. Colours are vibrant yet natural and the JPG engine is excellent as well. Below you can see a variety of pictures taken at different time and in different locations with both cameras.
The E-M5 mark II has a big advantage over the E-M1 and that is the new High Res Shot function.
The camera can take 40 or 64 megapixel shots by using the built-in sensor shift technology, the same that gives you 5-axis stabilisation. This allows for better rendering of details as well as enhanced colour accuracy even when the High Res Shot is downsampled to 16MP.
How does the High Res Shot function work?
The E-M5 mark II takes 8 shots by slightly moving the sensor position by half a pixel between one shot and another. The camera collects details from the sensor photosites in 8 different positions which means that it also covers micro areas between pixels that would otherwise be lost.
The 8 shots are then merged to get the high resolution photograph. The OOC JPG has a resolution of 40MP while the RAW file has 64MP. The camera also records a 16MP ORI file (the first of the eight shots taken).
Thanks to this technology the camera also collects more colour information because each point on the image is captured by one of the blue, red and green pixels that compose the standard Bayer sensor. But this technology also has some big limitations: you have to keep your camera on a tripod and it won’t work with moving subjects.
Below you can see a few HRS example. You can also check out the first chapter of our OM-D E-M5 mark II review for a more in-depth description about this function.
Another small difference regarding the image quality is related to long exposures, specifically when the noise reduction for long exposure is turned off. On the E-M1 you will have a lot more noise than on the E-M5 mark II. This is related to the architecture of the E-M1 sensor and the presence of phase detection points. This was a concern especially for those who enjoy astrophotography and start trail shots. However I am using the past tense here because, as of firmware 2.0, the E-M1 has the Live Composite function that allows you to capture start trails easily and save both a Raw and JPG file. As such, this problem is no longer really relevant.
Autofocus and Performance
The E-M1 and the E-M5 mark II both have very good autofocus performance but the E-M1 has more capabilities to satisfy even the most demanding of photographers.
When shooting in Single AF mode, I haven’t noticed any particular difference between the two. In fact I have no trouble saying that their performance is basically the same. The cameras use 81 contrast detection AF points and are very quick at focussing in good light conditions. In low light the performance remains excellent but they can both suffer from specular highlights in the background, which can result in the camera not locking onto the subject correctly.
In continuous AF mode, the phase detection system of the E-M1 becomes active and can make a difference especially when you activate AF tracking. You might need to do a specific kind of shoot to notice the difference but it is there. But I must say that the C-AF performance of the E-M5 mark II isn’t bad at all. Both cameras work better when set to the smallest AF point.
In addition to the autofocus system, the continuous shooting capabilities also stand out.
Thanks to the firmware update 3.0, the E-M1 can use C-AF in both High and Low burst modes. C-AF and tracking will downgrade from 10fps to 9fps.
The E-M5 mark II can shoot up to 5fps in the “Low” burst mode which is also the one that will work in C-AF/Tracking. If you choose the High mode, which goes up to 10fps, the camera will lock the focus on the first frame taken.
Phase detection autofocus and 9fps in C-AF mode make the E-M1 the optimal choice for action and sports photography.
The phase detection points of the E-M1 autofocus system are also designed to make the camera compatible with Four Third lenses which are the old Olympus lenses for its now discontinued DSLR system. The E-M1, which was released in 2013, represents the transition for the brand from its DSLR system to its mirrorless system. That’s why Olympus built a camera capable of handling well both Micro Four Thirds lenses (mirrorless) and Four Thirds lenses (DSLR).
The E-M1 is the only MFT camera that will give you a fast autofocus with FT lenses when using the most recent adapter (MMF-3). The camera uses phase detection autofocus in both S-AF and C-AF. You can manually adjust the phase contrast AF focal point for each lens.
The E-M5 mark II has a significantly slower autofocus not only in C-AF but also in S-AF because it lacks phase detection AF points.
Both cameras feature the excellent in-body 5-axis stabilisation but the E-M5 mark II has an updated version, giving it an advantage for both stills and video.
The OM-D E-M1 was already a great improvement over the original E-M5 and allowed me to take lots of shots under 1/10s without any problem. I also managed to take some hand-held shots with a 1s shutter speed.
For video recording however, the camera only uses 3-axis stabilisation instead of 5. It isn’t something that is clearly stated in the manual but it was confirmed by the Olympus Europe product manager.
The E-M5 mark II has 1Ev of improvement over the E-M1. Concretely speaking, I find it easy to use extremely slow shutter speeds such half a second or 1 second without the need of a tripod. I also managed to push the boundaries to 2s a couple of times.
In video mode, the camera also uses the full 5 axis stabilisation and you almost feel as if you’re using a steadicam.
Below you can watch an in-depth explanation about how the 5-axis stabilisation works in video mode on the new E-M5 mark II.
Another nice advantage of the E-M5 mark II is the integration of a fully operative electronic shutter.
The E-M1 doesn’t have an electronic shutter option. Instead it has a first electronic curtain option. You can activate it in the Anti-Shock menu and it helps to reduce vibration caused by the mechanical shutter when using certain shutter speeds and the built-in stabilisation.
The E-M5 mark II has the Anti-Shock/first electronic curtain function like the E-M1 but it also has the advantage of an electronic shutter which makes it very silent. You can increase the shutter speed to 1/16000s. The only limit of an electronic shutter is the rolling shutter issue (vertical lines appearing diagonally while panning) and banding issues under fluorescent lights.
In my eyes, this is the biggest difference between the two cameras.
The E-M5 mark II is the first serious Olympus cameras for video shooting. The difference in image quality is there but not necessarily noticeable at first sight. What makes a real difference are the options available on the newest model.
The OM-D E-M1 can shoot Full HD (1920×1080) video up to 30fps. The highest quality mode don’t go past 24mbps. 30fps is actually the only frame rate available which isn’t an advantage in European/PAL countries.
The E-M1 has a stereo built-in microphone and a Mic input for external microphones. The volume can be adjusted in 10 steps up or down. What is interesting is that you can also adjust the Line-In volume if you want to input an audio line source instead of a microphone. It lacks a headphone output.
The E-M5 mark II has different frame rates available, from 24fps to 60fps. The different quality modes give you the option of an ALL-I codec for the highest quality possible. ALL-I means that all the frame are individually compressed. The frame rates is 77mbps which means a less compressed file. You can also choose an IBP codec and different quality modes from 52mbps to 18mbps. The IBP mode will allow you to choose a higher frame rate (50 or 60fps) or activate slow motion down to 0.4x.
The E-M5 mark II has the same audio settings as the E-M1 (except the Line-In volume) plus a few more settings. It can optimise the settings when using an Olympus PCM recorder (yes Olympus also produces audio recorders). You can also select phantom power for self-powered microphones. It doesn’t have a headphone output unless you use the optional HDL-8G grip.
Do these improved video functionalities finally put Olympus on par with the competition? Well, in my opinion it isn’t perfect yet. You still have unwanted moiré and aliasing issues as well as rolling shutter. The E-M5 mark II is interesting for one aspect really and that is its video quality combined with the 5-axis stabilisation. It allows you to work hand-held with better results than any other cameras. That is the only reason I would choose it over another camera for video purposes.
Below you can watch a video showing the quality of the E-M5 mark II.
The E-M5 mark II also has some extra features:
- Movie Clip: can record multiple clips with a maximum length of 8s. These clips can then be edited in camera and you can create a final movie with all the different clips in the order your prefer.
- Movie + Photo mode: in Mode 1, movie has priority and the image is recorded in a lower quality. In Mode 2, photo has priority and the movie is recorded before and after the photo is taken.
- Display options: You can choose the type of info to display on the screen
- HDMI: the E-M5 II can output 1080p in 4:2:2/8bit meaning you can use an external recorder to save less compressed video files.
There is not much left to say about the two cameras as the other relevant features remain the same. They both have:
- Live time: long exposures with live preview on the screen
- Live composite: combined multiple long exposures
- Keystone compensation: correction for converging lines in-camera
- Art filters
- Multiple exposure (2 frames)
- Photo Story
- HDR Bracketing (up to 7 frames, 2Ev steps) and HDR mode (JPG only)
The E-M5 mark II also has the same “Selfie Assist” feature as the E-PL7. When you rotate the LCD screen by 180° and have an electronic zoom mounted, the camera will set it automatically to the widest focal length.
Both cameras offer manual focus assist (magnification and peaking). However the E-M5 mark II has more options for peaking:
- Four colours to choose between (White, black, red, yellow) instead of 2 colours on the E-M1 (white and black)
- You can control the highlight intensity for the in-focus area (low, normal or high)
- You can turn the live view image brightness on or off. It means that if you turn it off, the EVF or LCD screen don’t darken when using peaking.
Both cameras have good flash capabilities with wireless functionalities (Olympus’s RC). The E-M1 can sync up to 1/320s while the E-M5 mark II can do 1/250s max. Both cameras have a separate little flash unit provided with the camera. The E-M5 mark II comes with a newer version (FL‑LM3) which is interesting because it has a rotating/tilting head. It really looks like a miniature version of a regular flash unit.
As you have probably guessed if you’ve read this far, the two cameras are very similar in many ways. I think the E-M5 mark II can be a splendid second body for someone already using the E-M1 or vice versa. Whether you choose one or the other should be based upon your specific needs:
I would recommend the E-M1 for sports and action shooting. Its ergonomics and button layout as well as its hybrid autofocus system and continuous shooting mode are better suited for this kind of assignment.
The E-M5 II can be really interesting for still life shooting or other applications where a large amount of resolution is required. It also suits movie shooting better thanks to its enhanced stabilisation and video capabilities.
Choose the OM-D E-M1 if:
- You do lots of sports/action photography
- You use Four Thirds (DSLR) lenses
- You want perfect ergonomics without the need of external grips
Choose the OM-D E-M5 mark II if:
- You need high resolution shots
- You want better movie capabilities
- You want a more compact body
Relevant articles about the Olympus OM-D E-M1:
Relevant articles about the Olympus OM-D E-M5 mark II:
Which camera would you choose? The E-M1 or the E-M5 mark II? Leave a comment below!
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