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Date: 08/11/2016 | By: Mathieu

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II: extended second impressions from Andalucia

olympus-om-d-e-m1-ii-spain-featured

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II: extended second impressions from Andalucia

Allow me to begin this article with a personal note. Three years ago, Heather and I attended our first press event in Ireland for the launch of the original E-M1. I remember the excitement we felt being there amongst some of the most important journalists, photographers and bloggers; the curiosity of learning how events like this work; the short sleeps; the impromptu stop at a service station the following night to publish the article. At the time, lots of things were new to us. Today MirrorLessons has grown more mature and there are other two websites, plus a YouTube channel to keep it company.

While travelling to Spain, I reflected on these past few years and realised how passionate we have become about these camera systems. Today I am glad to see that they have evolved into more mature, reliable and complete products.

2016 is definitely the year that kills some beliefs, including the most common one we’ve been hearing for years: “mirrorless camera aren’t fast enough”. That sentence is now dead.

The new OM-D E-M1 II is the latest proof of this. I had the chance to use a final production version in Ronda, courtesy of another well-organised press event. Despite the capricious weather, we put the camera to the test with a focus on some of the most important features such as autofocus, continuous shooting speed and stabilisation.

Important note: before we begin, there are two things I want to make clear:

  • I gathered as many images as I could and I took the time to write the most in-depth content possible based on the results I have. However this is not a complete review. One day with a camera is not enough to come to a final conclusion. At these events there isn’t the time to go through each setting and to test everything properly.
  • I processed the RAW files with Iridient Developer which doesn’t officially support the E-M1 II yet at the time of publishing this article. The software underexposes the photos by two stops so I had to create a custom camera curve to bring the exposure back to normal. This means that some images could show a little more noise as a consequence. Also, some colours are a little off due to lack of complete compatibility. While processing high ISO files, I gave priority to details over noise reduction.

With that out of the way, let’s get started!


Ethics statement: We were not asked to write anything about the camera in exchange for the invitation and were not provided any other compensation of any kind. All opinions we express regarding the E-M1 II are our own. Within the article, there are affiliate links. If you buy something from them after clicking the link, we will receive a small commission that helps support the site. Don’t worry – the price remains the same for you! Thank you!


Autofocus performance

Let’s begin with one of the features that I and most of you were waiting for. The original E-M1 was a good step forward at the time and I’ve always managed to bring back decent results, even in difficult conditions. However Sony and Fujifilm recently raised the bar higher with the a6300 and X-T2, so it was natural to expect a similar improvement on Olympus’ new flagship camera.

I can say that what I saw on Saturday left me with a positive impression. However the results I got are not perfect and require more in-depth tests.

First, an overview of the performance in Single AF and I’ll be very brief: it’s really fast and it only slows down a little in low-light situations with poor contrast. But even so, I rarely encountered a lock failure or serious issues in getting my focus right. It’s reliable in all situations and during my time with the camera, I never had to switch to MF.

omd em1 ii autofocus
E-M1 II, 1/160, f/2.8, ISO 200 – From RAW (Iridient)
A good example of the quick AF: the guy was constantly moving the arrows and the tip was quite small.

The E-M1 II has 121 cross-type phase detection points that cover almost 80% of the sensor’s surface. Concerning the autofocus target areas, you can choose between four options.

121 cross-type phase detection points

You can display the AF points as a green rectangle at all times, when half pressing the shutter button, or never. With the exception of single target, the camera picks the AF points automatically within the zone selected.

You move the AF point or AF zone with the Arrow Pad as you would do on the original E-M1. There is now a default button on top of the thumb rest to activate the area mode (Fn1) and select the one you prefer.

When I first saw the camera at Photokina, I was surprised not to see a dedicated AF joystick like the one on the Fuji X-Pro2/X-T2. Using the arrow pad is comfortable but you sacrifice extra function buttons. Plus, in some situations, I find a dedicated joystick more intuitive and easier to use.

omd em1 ii review
An AF Joystick would have been a nice addition.

Now let’s analyse the continuous autofocus performance. For each sequence I will show you a thumbnail grid that explains what’s in focus and what’s not:

  • Normal colour: the image is in focus
  • Yellow colour tint: the image is slightly out of focus. The perception of detail is there but if you zoom in, you can notice softness.
  • Red colour tint: the image is clearly out of focus or the lack of details is evident even without enlarging the image.
omd em1 ii review
My three-way method of analysing the AF performance.

The first stage we started with was the bull run where the animals were coming towards us, only to turn right at the last minute. I used the M.Zuiko 12-100mm f/4 Pro at 100mm.

Just before the demonstration, we had an unexpected subject to photograph: this funny little dog named Kiwi who helps make the bulls run. Here I used the 5-Area Target mode.

omd em1 ii autofocus
E-M1 II, 1/3200, f/4, ISO 500 – From RAW (Iridient)
omd em1 ii review
45 shots: 27 in focus, 15 slightly soft, 3 out of focus
SOOC JPG sequence available here.

As you can see, when the dog is further away, the camera focuses in front of him in some frames, resulting in slightly out-of-focus images. There’s only one out-of-focus shot in the middle of the sequence and the last two don’t really count as the sequence had finished and the dog was too close.

While they were preparing the run, I also took a quick burst of one of the horseback riders. Here I didn’t get any out-of-focus shots but there are several shots that are slightly off. It looks like the camera was hesitating between the horse and the rider but again the focus is a little too short. I used the 9 Target mode.

omd em1 ii autofocus
E-M1 II, 1/2000, f/4, ISO 800 – From RAW (Iridient Developer)
omd em1 ii autofocus
32 shots: 20 in focus, 12 slightly soft
SOOC JPG sequence available here.

This level of performance was confirmed with the bulls running. The camera had more trouble at the beginning, perhaps because it was confused by which subject to choose. Then when the white and brown bull clearly became the main subject in the frame, the keeper rate increased and I got nearly perfect results at the end. Here I used the All Target mode.

omd em1 ii autofocus
E-M1 II, 1/3200, f/4, ISO 800 – From RAW (Iridient Developer)
omd em1 ii autofocus
69 shots: 50 in focus, 14 slightly soft, 5 out of focus
SOOC JPG sequence available here.

So while there are several shots that lack some precision, the number of out-of-focus shots is really low.

At the end of the day, we had the chance to see some birds in flight. It was the moment we encountered the heaviest rain so we were literally soaking wet. (Did I mention that the camera is weather sealed?! Well if not, it is, and it is very effective!).

The birds weren’t flying a lot because of the rain so we only got a short demonstration. I cranked the ISO up to 3200 to use a safe shutter speed. I wanted to make sure that I’d be able to analyse the AF performance without worrying about motion blur. Here is the first example.

omd em1 ii autofocus
E-M1 II, 1/4000, f/4, ISO 3200 – From RAW (Iridient)
omd em1 ii autofocus
28 shots: 19 in focus, 6 slightly soft, 3 out of focus
SOOC JPG sequence available here.

In this situation the ability of the photographer to track the subject is very important. I used the 5-target group as recommended by one of the Olympus ambassadors present at the stage. With that mode, you have to make sure to keep the bird at the centre of the frame, something that I didn’t do well at the very end. However you can notice how the E-M1 II still managed to focus on the wing and adjusted focus quickly once my composition was good again.

omd em1 ii autofocus
E-M1 II, 1/4000, f/4, ISO 3200 – From RAW (Iridient)

Here is another example with similar results.

omd em1 ii autofocus
E-M1 II, 1/4000, f/4, ISO 3200 – From RAW (Iridient Developer)
omd em1 ii autofocus
28 shots: 16 in focus, 11 slightly soft, 1 out of focus
SOOC JPG sequence available here.

What once again left me with a positive impression was the ability of the camera to focus when the subject got really close.

Another thing that I like is that the camera locks quickly and if it doesn’t, it corrects itself very fast. The image below was the first in an 18fps sequence. The bird is far away, low on the ground and its colours match the environment. The original E-M1 would have struggled more.

omd em1 ii autofocus
E-M1 II, 1/4000, f/4, ISO 3200 – From RAW (Iridient Developer)

The AF also reacts quickly when it has to correct focus in the middle of the sequence. The example below first shows the bird completely out-of-focus and that was my fault: I wasn’t keeping the AF points on him precisely. However as soon as I started to recompose just enough for the camera to recuperate, two frames after, the bird is in focus again. The original E-M1 would have had more trouble regaining focus considering that the bird was getting very close.

Unfortunately because of the rain we didn’t have time to do more testing. I would have loved to try the multi AF target to see if it would have been more forgiving of my compositional mistakes.

One thing that I miss from this camera is the possibility to choose a larger AF Target area without switching to the All Target mode. I would love to work with a 25 or a 49 Zone as I think it would give us more leeway when photographing difficult subjects such as birds in flight.

A 25 or 49 area target group would be very helpful with BIF.

The results above are not perfect but there are different things that I still need to test. First I forgot to check if I was in speed or focus priority and my guess is the former because it is usually the default setting when the camera is new.

Then I have to see how effective some settings like AF Scanner and C-AF Lock can be when dealing with fast-moving subjects.

Long story short, the AF is very good but I believe I can get even more out of it with more time and experience.


Continuous shooting speed

The E-M1 II has some serious continuous shooting speed capabilities. With the focus locked on the first frame, you get 15fps with the mechanical shutter and an impressive 60fps with the electronic shutter. The maximum speed can be used with RAW or RAW+JPG and I put the buffer to the test with the Pro Capture mode.

This mode lets you record 14 frames before you start the actual burst. When you half-press the shutter button, the camera starts to load the frames in the buffer memory so that when you start to take pictures, you already have 14 frames saved, minimising the chance of missing the decisive moment.

Olympus demonstrated this with an arrow piercing a series of water balloons. Thanks to the high speed, you can get a precise frame showing when the arrow hit the balloon or when the five balloons explode at the same time.

 

olympus omd em1 ii pro capture
E-M1 II, 1/6400, f/2.8, ISO 3200 – From SOOC JPG
olympus omd em1 ii pro capture
E-M1 II, 1/3200, f/2.8, ISO 3200 – From RAW (Iridient Developer)
olympus omd em1 ii pro capture
E-M1 II, 1/5000, f/2, ISO 1600 – From RAW (Iridient)
Here my composition is not perfect but you can see the arrow just entering the balloon and the air is still inside.

I also tried to take a picture of the archer to see the arrow leaving the bow and it worked. This is a rather difficult shot to get without this kind of speed.

olympus omd em1 ii pro capture
E-M1 II, 1/8000, f/2.8, ISO 3200 – From SOOC JPG
The arrow just left the bow!

The buffer capabilities of the camera are really impressive. It won’t hold for too long especially if you shoot RAW at 60fps but it is enough to capture action like this. At 18fps, I could capture several burst sequences for almost 5 seconds before experiencing any decrease in speed.

Even more interesting is the continuous speeds with AF tracking. With the mechanical shutter you have 10fps, which is excellent for most sports situations. The EVF shows you a live view of the scene with short blackouts, which helps in tracking the subject more accurately.

With the electronic shutter, you can go up to 18fps. Following a subject at 18fps without blackouts in the EVF make things surprisingly smooth and easy to do.

Here I was curious to see if there would be distortion when panning quickly with the camera. I did a quick test and as you can see, rolling shutter is there although it’s not as significant as I would have expected.

olympus omd em1 ii rolling shutter
E-M1 II, 1/640, f/2.8, ISO 200 – 18fps with Electronic shutter – Panning slowly
olympus omd em1 ii rolling shutter
E-M1 II, 1/640, f/2.8, ISO 200 – 18fps with Electronic shutter – Panning quickly

Surprisingly when shooting the falcon sequence seen in the previous chapter, I didn’t notice any particular distortion on the bird or the background. It looks like rolling shutter might not be an issue for wildlife shooting.

olympus omd em1 ii rolling shutter
E-M1 II, 1/4000, f/4, ISO 3200 – 18fps with electronic shutter – From RAW (Iridient)
olympus omd em1 ii rolling shutter
E-M1 II, 1/4000, f/4, ISO 3200 – 18fps with electronic shutter – From RAW (Iridient)

These results show a relevant improvement in sensor readout and not many other mirrorless cameras can claim such performance. What will be interesting to find out is when and how much rolling shutter can be present and in which situations you don’t have to worry about it.


4K video

Another pleasant surprise was the 4K video footage. I only shot in Cinema 4K mode because not many cameras have this feature and I was also curious to see the quality on the E-M1 II since the bitrate is 237mbps. Well, I was really impressed. It’s very sharp, movements are smooth and I didn’t notice any artefacts.

I kept the Picture Mode On in the video menu which is a picture profile designed for video and gives better dynamic range. It works well and I was positively impressed by the amount of detail I could keep in the shadows and how I was able to expose more for the shadows without too much clipping in the whites.

Low-light performance is good up to 1600 ISO. At 3200 I still find the footage acceptable but noise starts to become more visible. At 6400 ISO, which is the maximum available for video, noise is clearly visible.

One thing I didn’t have the time to check well enough was noise reduction for video. Like the JPGs, there are three levels: Off, Low, Standard and High. My impression is that it tends to soften details but more tests are required to see how effective it is.

 

As you can see in the video above, 5-axis stabilisation works really well alone or when combined with optical stabilisation (Sync IS). You can choose between two settings:

  • M-IS1 adds software stabilisation in addition to hardware stabilisation and the field of view is slightly narrower
  • M-IS2 uses sensor stabilisation only.

There seems to be less distortion and jello effect than the previous models when walking or doing complex movements with the camera, but there are still moments where it can be visible especially in the corners.

You can only record Cinema 4K in the first SD card slot which is UHS-II compatible.

Cinema 4K gives you a more widescreen aspect ratio in comparison to Full HD or regular 4K (ultra HD). Note that there is no sensor crop in either 4K mode. In UHD, the camera records at 102mbps.

Still image (4:3)
4K Ultra HD (16:9)
Cinema 4K (256:135)

The only disappointment I found with video was continuous autofocus. It is slow to react in most situations, even with a simple change from one static element to another.

One trick is to keep the shutter release button half-pressed to make it react faster but it can also create more breathing while correcting focus. Overall it seemed to have more issues with longer focal lengths and shorter focus distances. However when used for movements like walking or filming from inside a car at 12mm, I didn’t have any issues.

There are only two AF Target modes available with video: All and single. The latter is the one that gave me the most precise results.

Finally, rolling shutter is well-contained for video as well, even when panning fast.

olympus omd em1 ii rolling shutter
Panning quickly (frame grabbed from Cinema 4K footage): rolling shutter is minimal

Another small disappointment is the lack of a higher frame rate for video, at least in Full HD. It would have been nice to have 100 or 120fps in Full HD and given the fast performance of the camera, I found it strange that it hasn’t been implemented.


Stabilisation system and High Res Shot

Despite the various new features and improvements made to the camera, once again the stabilisation system stole the show as far as I am concerned.

I already talked about stabilisation for video in the chapter above. For stills, I pushed the camera and Sync IS to the limit. Inspired by The Phoblographer and 43rumors reporting crazy slow shutter speeds hand-held, I tried to do even better. Below are the best results I got, from the fastest to the slowest exposure. Prepare yourself to read the exif data of the fifth image.

olympus omd em1 ii stabilisation
E-M1 II, 3.2s, f/3.5, ISO 200 – 12-40mm Pro – From RAW (Iridient)
olympus omd em1 ii stabilisation
E-M1 II, 5s, f/4, ISO 400 – 12-100mm Pro (Sync IS) – From RAW (Iridient)
olympus omd em1 ii stabilisation
E-M1 II, 10s, f/6.3, ISO 200 – 12-100mm Pro (Sync IS) – From RAW (Iridient)
olympus omd em1 ii stabilisation
E-M1 II, 15s, f/8, ISO 200 – 12-100mm Pro (Sync IS) – From RAW (Iridient)
olympus omd em1 ii stabilisation
E-M1 II, 20s, f/4, ISO 400 – 12-100mm Pro (Sync IS) – From RAW (Iridient)
100% crop

It’s not a joke. The image above is a 20s exposure hand-held. Close your eyes and try to count up to 20 in your head. Actually, let me do it for you!

 

Of course, these are extreme examples. In a real-world shoot, there are lots of things that can influence your result: how stable you are, how cold you are, how tired you are, whether you’re a caffeine addict, etc. It is likely I might not be able to replicate the same results again (or who knows, maybe I’ll do better next time!). But these images show you how far this technology has come. When the original E-M5 came out, you were lucky if you could get near 1 second. Today the E-M1 II can managed 20 times slower than that.

The other test I was curious to perform is one that I knew wouldn’t turn out perfectly but I couldn’t resist.

Olympus has made improvements to the High Res Shot function, the one that takes 8 pictures and moves the sensor by a half-pixel in between shots to create a 50MP JPG or 80MP RAW image. The new processor readout allows the camera to correct imperfections created by little movements such as leaves or water in the background. But what about hand-held shooting? Well, out of 14 attempts, this is the best result I got. It’s not perfect and you can notice that the details are slightly soft if you enlarge the image.

olympus omd em1 ii high res shot
E-M1 II, 1/50, f/3.5, ISO 200 – HRS hand held – From RAW (Iridient)

Again this is an extreme test and it shows the camera is not ready for such use. But it is interesting to note how it is evolving and at this point I start to wonder when (not if) they will be able to perfect it for hand-held shooting. In our Photokina interview, Mr Kataoka told us that hand-held High Res Shot is the ultimate goal. Now I’m starting to believe that it might not be too far away.

Lately Sony and Panasonic have made interesting progress in the realm of image stabilisation and even Pentax implemented 5-axis on its K1. It looked like the one thing that was unique to OM-D and Pen cameras had been matched by other brands as well. Well, Olympus just came back to hit hard and remind us who’s leading in the sensor shift technology arena.

Silly tests aside, what about High Res Shot with a tripod? Well, I couldn’t test the feature properly for lack of time but I did a short test after noticing some moving leaves on a plant. The result is not perfect because I wasn’t stable enough. It was taken without a tripod but I was sitting with the camera on my lap. It’s interesting to notice that there are no longer any grid artefacts on the moving elements. However, if the movement increases, the camera creates some ghost images.

olympus omd em1 ii high res shot
E-M1 II, 1/50, f/4, ISO 800 – HRS hand held – From RAW (Iridient)
100% crop of the moving leaves

Image quality

The E-M1 II has a new 20MP sensor and TruePic VIII processor. The first is a newly-developed version in comparison to the one found on the Pen F, although it probably has more to do with phase detection than anything else.

Olympus claims more dynamic range in comparison to the original E-M1 but I have yet to compare them side-by-side. As of now, there isn’t any official support for the RAW files except viewer 3.2.1. Iridient Developer opens the files but underexposes them. I solved the problem by creating a custom camera curve to bring back the correct exposure. Then I made additional adjustments to increase dynamic range, saturation and details. It’s not perfect and the colours are a little bit off but the two images below give you a better preview than what the Olympus software can do. Once Iridient supports the camera officially, I should be able to get more precise and accurate colours and perhaps slightly less noise since I don’t have to recover the altered exposure in the first place.

olympus omd em1 ii review
E-M1 II, 1/2500, f/5.6, ISO 200 – From RAW (Iridient)
olympus omd em1 ii review
E-M1 II, 1/1600, f/5.6, ISO 200 – From RAW (Iridient)

The SOOC JPGs are excellent at low ISOs. They are crisp with lots of detail. However the more you raise the ISO, the more you get mushy details if noise reduction is set to Standard. If you keep it Off or to Low, you get better results but the RAW file will always be better.

olympus omd em1 ii review
E-M1 II, 1/320, f/4, ISO 200 – From SOOC JPG
olympus omd em1 ii review
E-M1 II, 1/5, f/2.8, ISO 1600 – From SOOC JPG
olympus omd em1 ii review
E-M1 II, 1/6, f/2.8, ISO 3200 – From SOOC JPG
olympus omd em1 ii review
E-M1 II, 1/8, f/4, ISO 6400 – From SOOC JPG
olympus omd em1 ii review
E-M1 II, 1/5, f/2.8, ISO 1600 – From RAW (Iridient)
olympus omd em1 ii review
E-M1 II, 1/6, f/2.8, ISO 3200 – From RAW (Iridient)
olympus omd em1 ii review
E-M1 II, 1/8, f/4, ISO 6400 – From RAW (Iridient)

One thing that has been fixed is noise for long exposures and noise reduction set to Off in comparison to the original E-M1.

olympus omd em1 ii review
E-M1 II, 30s, f/8, ISO 200 – From RAW (Iridient)

olympus omd em1 ii review


Ergonomics and ease of use

The camera feels solid and very well-built but that was an impression I already got at Photokina. The complete weather sealing was put to the test in the rain during this press event so I can safely say it works well.

olympus omd em1 ii review

The larger grip is comfortable to use especially with larger lenses such as the 300mm Pro. I never felt the need for a battery grip. The camera is comfortable to use as it is.

olympus omd em1 ii review

Most of the buttons and dials remain the same as the original E-M1. It is very good when it comes to ease of use with lots of customisation and function buttons available.

olympus omd em1 ii review

The EVF is excellent with great clarity and brightness while the 120fps refresh rate helps when working in low-light and for fast moving subjects.

olympus omd em1 ii review

The rear monitor is a multi-angle type. The touch screen capabilities allow you to take a shot, change the focus point or use it as a virtual AF pad while composing with the EVF. I ended up disabling this feature however as my nose was always touching the monitor and changing the focus point as a result. You can also use touch sensitivity to highlight a setting in the Super Control Panel or double click it to enter in the sub-menu. However you can’t use touch sensitivity to navigate the main menu unless there is a setting I missed.

Talking about the new menu, I can confirm I don’t like it after my initial impressions at Photokina. Olympus got rid of the various colours that were helpful to identify which category you were in. Now it’s all monochrome and I find it less intuitive. Since the old one wasn’t the best either, I feel this is a step backward.

olympus omd em1 ii review


Battery life

I started to take pictures with the camera around 2PM. After 1160 shots, many burst sequences at 60, 18 and 10fps, Continuous AF often On and more than 30 clips recored in Cinema 4K, 38% of the battery life was left. I changed the battery at that time because I had the chance and I didn’t want to risk having it run out later on. The second battery was at 60% when I handed the camera back at the end of the evening at 11PM.

olympus omd em1 ii review

For normal shooting, I am sure that one battery can last an entire day and you might still have some juice left. Recording 4K or using the Capture Mode is what drains it faster.

It’s definitely a good step forward in comparison to the battery life of other Olympus cameras and mirrorless cameras in general.


Thoughts about price and value for the money

The price announcement has generated lots of disappointment in various social media groups, comment threads and forums. I admit I too was surprised when I saw the final number considering what Olympus said to us and many others at Photokina. The E-M1 II is not slightly more expensive that its predecessor at launch, it is 40% more expensive. The question becomes: is the camera worth such an investment?

I can’t answer this question completely after just one day of testing. For now I think it depends on how you look at it.

From a strict technological point of view, I can’t think of anything that gets close to what this camera has, and I am not just talking about the Micro Four Thirds system. I could easily expand this conversation to other mirrorless and DSLR systems. What you can do today with the stabilisation is impressive, what you might be able to do tomorrow with the High Res Shot even more.

I know that many people can’t understand the price because of the smaller sensor. The simple answer is: if image quality for you is the only priority when choosing a camera, then you will never be satisfied with the E-M1 II. If you believe that a larger sensor is better, then you won’t like the E-M1 II. If you like good image quality but also give priority to other things, then you can appreciate the E-M1 II.

Personally, I think that in an era where smartphones are improving so much that they are discouraging people from using a proper camera, the quality of the sensor is not a big deal anymore. It’s about the lenses and the features that motivate you to work in a better, more efficient way than before.

In this case, it’s all about sensor shift, 4K video that you can record hand-held, the impressive continuous shooting speed and buffer, the improved autofocus, the minimal rolling shutter and the improved battery life.

I don’t think the price issue is related to being a professional photographer or not. I’ve seen amateurs spend a fortune just to have the best gear available and pros shooting with mid-level DSLRs. It has more to do with your needs. If you are mainly a sports or wildlife photographer, you will enjoy the many improvements this new camera has to offer. If you are a travel or street photographer, the price might be more difficult to justify in comparison to other valid alternatives like the E-M5 II or the Pen F. And here comes my final point.

The price problem perhaps has less to do with the E-M1 II but more to do with the other Olympus cameras. It is clear than many users were waiting for and were ready to invest in the next generation OM-D. However, not all of them necessarily need all these features. As such, my hope is that Olympus will copy and paste some of them onto the next E-M5 III. I think it is important to have a mid/high level camera with phase detection AF and 4K video (even the basic 100mbps Ultra HD to be on par with the competition) to appeal to current Olympus users who wish to upgrade and have an even more competitive system.


Conclusion

I think I’ve run out of things to say for now. Not bad for one day of testing!

To summarise these second impressions after Photokina, I am impressed by how far Olympus has managed to push technology such as sensor shift. I can already envision even more improvements coming with the next generation. I am also impressed by the continuous shooting speed, as well as the minimal rolling shutter at 18fps with the electronic shutter which makes moving subjects possible to deal with.

The continuous autofocus gave me a positive impression as well but I need more time with the camera to understand how good it is. I think it is on the same level as other mirrorless such as the Fuji X-T2 and a6300/a6500 except for video where the focus is slower.

I don’t expect the image quality to be much better than what we’ve seen from the latest Micro Four Thirds cameras. From what I’ve seen so far, it seems to be at the top of its class, especially in terms of dynamic range and low-light performance.

Now we have to play the waiting game until we can start using the OM-D E-M1 II for an extended period of time. And I am really looking forward to it!

P.S.:You can download some original JPGs, RAW and Cinema 4K files here.


About the author: Mathieu Gasquet

Mathieu Gasquet is a professional photographer with French and Italian origins. Besides running his own video and photography studio 3Dit Lab, he is also the official photographer for the National Cinema Museum in Turin. You can follow him on Google+, Twitter or Facebook!

  • Hayden Himburg

    The thing about the costs, is also to look at the manufacturing costs, The costs to manufacture have gone up due to wage increases, and also the strength of the Yen against the major currencies in the time between the E-M1 mk 1 and 2 have gone up, and when you look at the increase in specs of the Mk II v the Mk I, and compare to cameras like the Nikon D500, and Canon EOS 7D II, which is where Olympus are actually targeting then it is actually pretty darn good value.

  • zensu

    Would love to see that comparison.

  • Steve

    I’m looking forward to the EM5-mk3, but Olympus missed the boat in the meantime — I went with a Panasonic G85 after being a long-time Olympus user. If I wanted something expensive, I would of gone with the A7R-ii.

    Hopefully the EM5-mk3 will include 4K with high dynamic range profiles, mic-input, articulated screen, 50-mp mode, phase detection, and the same sensor. If it can bring wireless-video streaming into the mix as well, I will gladly drop $1200 for it during the 2017 year.

  • Trinavi

    There is a way to make the camera change AF target size using an Fn button. This is done using the AF home settings. For example, define that AF home is 3×3 area in the middle of frame. Then configure Fn button for the AF home function. Now any time you press that Fn button, the AF target becomes 3×3 in the middle of frame. Press it again and it returns to what ever was selected before. So if you had the 5-area selected, pressing the Fn button gives you 9-area and pressing again goes back to the 5-area.

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    I am sure the PL100-400mm will do well on the E-M1 II 😉

  • Robert Moore

    OK Mat, thanks. So now I know. Well the better-half surprised me and told me when she woke up she’d pre-ordered his and hers so it looks like I’ll have to learn the Olympus menus. Now why did they get rid of the color coding-seems that would help a lot-even the newest Sonys have added color coding. From what I’ve gathered the main menu item if you can call it that is the Super Control Panel-master and customize it and Olympus becomes your friend. I’ll be leaving the GX8 as a daily everywhere carry once the M1ii arrives. Since I carry the PL100-400 daily attached to the GX8 I went back to watch your review of it on the M1i and the GX8. It would appear the PL100-400 will be just fine on the M1ii :)

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    They told me it is not possible with the E-M1 II.

  • Robert Moore

    Awesome review as always Mat. One question please about the M1ii. Did you notice if you can charge a battery via USB while in camera? Something I’ve grown to love with Sony especially while traveling between photo shoots-the ability to top off a battery.

  • soundimageplus

    I’m not sure where all this is headed and who companies like Olympus think is going to buy a camera like this in enough quantities to make it a success. Particularly in terms of the very high price. I have no doubt that it is a fine camera, but it is still a m4/3 sensor and with the falling costs of FF sensor cameras, I can’t see how it can ever be a big seller. These days, from my stock libraries, I sell as many smartphone images as m4/3 and in terms of reproduction they are just fine. Yes the Olympus has lots of great lenses, but the majority of working pros are in no hurry to desert Canon and Nikon and are there enough mirrorless enthusiasts to make this and cameras like the Fuji X-T1 viable?

    Somehow what I saw as the advantages of mirrorless systems seems to have got lost. Yes a system like this is lighter and smaller (though not necessarily cheaper) than an equivalent DSLR system, but with the ‘pro’ lenses it’s still a pretty ‘chunky’ system. And personally if I’m going to go ‘chunky’ then I want the best image quality it’s possible to get. And that is going to mean FF or a genuinely AA filter free sensor. (Not a sensor that has a software version of an AA filter like many mirrorless offerings) And the difference in carrying around a ‘pro’ mirrorless system as opposed to a ‘pro’ DSLR isn’t as significant as some people try to make out.

    For me, the ‘mirrorless advantage’ is in cameras like the Leica T, which is genuinely small and light with incredibly good lenses, great image quality, great design and build quality and a minimalistic layout. Plus with what Sony, Fuji and Olympus charge for their cameras these days isn’t that expensive. The Pen F impressed me as a great direction for mirrorless, style and substance in a small body. But we now seem to be getting ‘DSLR Lite’ from Olympus, Panasonic, Fuji and Sony.

    I found this article recently – http://www.mikekobal.com/canon-80d-most-fun-dslr-to-date/ and it’s fascinating to see a photographer who is very keen on mirrorless discovering that maybe DSLR’s aren’t so ‘old hat’ and out of date as some would like to convince us is the case. And this seems to me the constant problem that the mirrorless manufacturers have. Are their products different enough? Are they stylish and appealing enough? Do they have that special something that makes people declare ‘I want that’?

    As someone who has owned more cameras than most, my camera purchases have slowed down dramatically. The only new camera releases I’ve bought this year are the Leica SL (Typ 601) and the Sigma SD Quattro. Both ‘special’ cameras as far as I’m concerned and with incredible image quality that enables me to upsize the files dramatically.

    I’ve been a great enthusiast for mirrorless over the years and have bought and used many examples of the genre, but as time passes my enthusiasm for that kind of camera is definitely waning, unless it has something out of the ordinary and something that I can’t get anywhere else. Unfortunately I don’t see that in anything from Olympus, Sony, Panasonic or Fuji anymore. If I did want something fast, versatile and with a great lens range, I’d probably buy a Nikon or Canon DSLR these days, because contrary to popular opinion (on the mirrorless forums at least) those two companies haven’t stood still either. You can now buy small, light, mind bogglingly fast DSLR’s for not a lot. A Nikon D500 + kit zoom lens costs less than the E-M1 Mk II body, which gives an idea of what the comparisons are.

    I’ve given up hope that the mirrorless manufacturers will go back to what I saw as the potential for small footprint, stylish systems and I’m sure that in a smartphone dominated world if people want a ‘proper’ camera then they probably want it to look like a ‘proper’ camera i.e. Nikon and Canon DSLR’s and I can see that rationale in cameras like this Olympus. But ultimately cameras are loosing out to smartphones in the current ‘objects of desire’ marketing wars and while I don’t have any ideas as to how this might be addressed, I would point out that in a depressed marketplace the one company who are increasing sales and revenue are Leica, despite all the rubbishing they get on the photographic internet. And I can’t help feeling there’s a message for other manufacturers in that.

  • Antiduott

    Thank you for the review :) !

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    Yes it’s not easy to choose. If you get the chance to try them, it’s probably the best thing to help you decide.

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    I haven’t tested the Nikon D500 so I can’t really give you a relevant answer. It would be a nice comparison to perform however!

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    Touch sensitivities doesn’t work for the menu system (unless there is a setting to activate somewhere) but it works on the Super Control Panel.

  • Alchenick1

    Thank you for the exhaustive reply, I really appreciate! From what you said every camera seems to have its pros and cons, I really would like to try them for a while in order to do a better pick.

    I handled the Oly E-M5 ii of a friend for a while and really liked build quality, features and lens choice but I’m non truly convinced about IQ (probably will be better on E-M1 ii). Fuji may be the best compromise but maybe it’s not that appropriate for landscape due to the post-processing complexity. In this moment I am leaning toward Sony: great IQ and lenses (I would get the Rokinon 24 1.4 for astro) but as you said the ergonomics and menu system may be not that user-friendly (lower fun factor probably).

    The choice is really tough since I would like to invest in a system without regrets. Thank you again you definitely gave me an useful and clear overview!!

  • Charly Mann

    Have you been able to confirm that unlike most of the new Panasonic cameras that the Olympic does not have a true touch screen menu system?

  • Lars Arvid Oma

    Hi Mathieu, and thank you for the informative review! I`m using two systems, Olympus and Nikon full frame. A good combination! I have the OM-D em-1 mark I and a some PRO-lenses. Now I`m looking for a fast camera, with high image quality in both low and good light. Nikon 500D or Olympus OM-D em-1 mark II? What would you suggest? I love both systems, for different jobs…

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    Don’t worry Claudia, I understood what you meant in the first comment 😉
    Again I agree that it would be a very interesting thing to do. I know a few sport photographers so I’ll see what I can do.

  • Claudia Muster

    i didn’t mean to disparage your skills. I just thought that a seasoned sports photographer whose daily business is to shoot sports with a Canon 1DX or something similar could put the AF capabilities of the Oly into a perspective and comment what is possible and where the limits are.

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    I always try to test these cameras in sports and BIF environments and you can see many examples on the site, so I think I can give relevant feedback about the AF performance. I just don’t want give conclusions after one day of use and in this case I lacked a little bit of precision with the BIF shots.
    That being said, teaming up with a sports or wildlife photographer could produce interesting feedbacks to add.

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    I think it’s possible because you can do it on the E-M5 II. There is also an In-Movie Image Capture mode in the Playback menu that allows you to save a frame from a 4K clip. It seems to work only for 4K and not Cinema 4K however.

  • GuyOfGisbourne

    DSLR light pattern??

  • Smile Pocket

    Hi Mathieu, merci beaucoup pour cette review très infomative.
    Could you get to know if it’s possible to generate stills during video, like it is possible with the panasonic cameras? If yes, how much MP do these stills have… Is 4k-Photo possible??

  • Claudia Muster

    One of the better reviews I’ve seen so far, thank you very much for your work. You say that you will further explore the autofocus capabilities. So far all the testers I’ve seen, you included, stated that they were not sports or BIF photographers and the C-AF glitches could well be user error. So my suggestion is: Couldn’t you team up with an experienced sports photographer and ask him to try the e-m1 II, fiddle with the C-AF settings (focus points, tracking – no tracking, loose-tight etc.) and then comment about the usability and limits and to put it into perspective against the “established” sports cameras?

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    Not an easy answer. Let’s seem some strengths and weaknesses for each system:

    – E-M1 II: excellent quality at low ISO, the High Res Shot can be a nice extra for more resolution and color accuracy (but I have yet to see how far it can go for landscape photography), lots of lenses too choose from, more portable system. Nice features for astro-photography too like the Live Composite mode. Dynamic range is a little bit weaker but one solution to get over this is to use bracketing and HDR.
    – X-T2: excellent dynamic range and lovely colours but the latter are valid for the SOOC JPGs or with RAW softwares that include the Fuji film simulation modes such as Adobe Lightroom. However if you care a lot about sharpness and details, you will get better results with other products such as Iridient Developer. There are nice lenses from Fuji like the 10-24mm f/4 or the 21mm f/2.8. The Zeiss Touit 12mm is also very nice or there is the Samyang 12mm f/2 on the cheap.
    – A7 II: excellent sensor, excellent lenses for landscape like the Zeiss Loxia 21, Batis 18mm or Sony 16-35mm f/4. Ergonomics/ease of use is not as nice as the other two cameras but you get use to it and there is a good amount of customisation. If you want extra features like time-lapse etc, you need to buy the app which is really annoying.

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    Thanks!

  • Photofocus

    Probably the best, detail-rich review we’ve seen yet of the new Olympus camera. Lots of hard work on exhibit. Well done.

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    I didn’t notice it but I didn’t get lots of sun and strong backlit opportunities. I’ve seen it with many m4/3 cameras so I don’t exclude it on the E-M1 II. I’ll check that for my full review.

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    Haha, challenge accepted! 😉

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    Olympus told me it should work with all micro four thirds AF lenses so including Pana lenses. Not sure about 4/3 lenses.

  • a-traveler

    “We’ve never paid much attention to Olympus cameras here on Newsshooter, but that might all be about to change.” http://www.newsshooter.com/2016/11/11/look-mom-no-gimbal-janne-amunet-on-amazing-olympus-em-1-ii-image-stabilisation/

    Based on this, an E-M1Mk2 with a 12-100 f/2.8 Pro lens looks like a bargain.

  • Practical Builds

    I do like the e-m1 mark ii very much except for the low light and dynamic range in normal photo stills use which is somewhat of a disappointment, the fuji x-t2 also has this flaw, which seems to be a trend with mirrorless with the exception of the Sigma SD Quattro that has an extended flange to give the lenses a DSLR light pattern to the mirrorless sensor. I noticed that with the x-t2 and the e-m1 mark ii that the noise and detail are merged together far more than other cameras and almost impossible (jpeg or raw) to correct unless using long exposures or highres. Bright lights or light reflections are also a problem with the mark ii.

  • Lee Pillar

    Thank u for such a wonderful (p)review Mathieu. Got one question, I noticed in the menu of AF/MF setting page there’s an AF limiter selection item which appears to be new to Olympus. Does this limiter work with native Oly M43 lens only or it also supports Panny and other 3rd party ones, and how about those legacy 4/3 ones with adapters? And I also wonder how this software based focus limiter works with lenses with external limiter switch, such as MZD300 f4? Could you figure out the above-mentioned questions in later review? Thanks in advance.
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/653be409c4e5997da33e162ca809bf051e373f0c463bd151c7fe435e33a16a63.jpg

  • naratt

    Thanks for the detail. I will let you know if i can break your record!

  • Greg

    Thanks Mathieu, great review as always. I have one question, does it exhibit the purple colour cast when light hits the sensor at certain angles. I have had so many of my pictures ruined by this colour cast when using my EM5-2, particularly when photographing the kids moving and I don’t have time to look for it before I shoot. It has now become a deal breaker for me, especially since it can’t be fixed in post, and I don’t want to convert all to black and white.

  • T N Args

    Hi Claudia, my point was that the electronic shutter would have distorted the arrow a lot more if the camera was held in such a way that the arrow’s flight was parallel to the shutter’s ‘motion’.

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    I was standing up, leaning against a wall with my backpack on. I kept the camera at stomach level with the strap stretched and around my neck while holding the camera with mu hands trying to be as stable as possible. And I hold my breath for 20s.

  • naratt

    Great review. Just one quick question, how, in detail, did you manage to get the 20-sec shot? Did you sit/stand, where to rest your arm, using evf, or even place the camera on yourbody ? I would really eager to try so!

  • Alchenick1

    Thanks for the detailed (p)review! I am a landscape amateur photographer (astrophotography time by time) struggling with choosing my next camera. I am considering the upgrade from an old DSLR and would like to get a mirrorless (dimensions and weight matter to me). I love Oly bodies and lenses but the IQ doesn’t persuade me deeply… So I am asking, how would you compare this camera to Sony A7ii and the new Fuji X-T2 regarding landscape photography? Thank so much everyone 😉

  • SteB1

    Thank you very much for this review. I’d like to commend you for your reviews because they enable me to get a good idea of how these cameras would perform in the context I would use them.

    I’m very interested in the Olympus EM-1 mkII. It has many features of interest to me, and which would prove very useful as a macro and nature photographer. Particularly of interest is the Pro-Capture mode. I take or attempt to take lots of photos of high speed action such as dragonflies or small birds in flight. One of the biggest problems is being able to anticipate when to press the shutter. My eye and brain often recognise an opportunity, and there is a delay before you can press the shutter, often fractions of a second. So you tend to just miss lots of difficult to anticipate action or opportunities, pressing the shutter a fraction after. Despite using electronic rolling shutter, the new improved high speed readout out and faster electronic curtain seems to give good results. Same with with the improved EVF speed, and no blackout with electronic shutter.

    The price and justifying it is the biggest obstacle. I had been thinking of moving from my Canon DSLR system to m4/3, and had been waiting for the 300mm f4, which was delayed. So I ended up having to add to my Canon system (first a Tamron 150-600mm and then Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS L II). When the 300mm f4 was released it was just too expensive and at the time the EM-1 was a bit limiting for me. This is the difficulty. The price premium is not just on the EM-1 mkII, but also the 300mm f4, which is much more expensive than other alternatives available for other systems. Too much emphasis is placed on the FF equivalence of 600mm. When most people wanting the best reach they use APS-C, and really a 300mm f4 on m4/3 is only equivalent to 400mm on APS-C. My Canon 100-400mm has an eqv of 640mm on APS-C, and nearly 900mm with a 1.4x converter.

    In the UK an EM-1 mkII and 300mm f4 alone would cost £4000 plus. This is far more than any equivalent long lens package based on a Canon 7D mkII/80D or Nikon D500/D7200. Considerably more expensive. Then there is the fact that with Canon (or Nikon) I have the ability to rent or borrow longer or faster lens combinations, which I don’t have with m4/3 – there is no long macro lens options etc. I really do think Olympus have got the price strategy wrong. The EM-1 mkII and 300mm f4 would be a very popular option with birders/wildlife photographers if it wasn’t so much more expensive than the very capable options from Canon and Nikon.

  • Claudia Muster

    And considering the camera now has a fully articulated screen, you could even have taken the video vertically. :)

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    Yes the dual dials are a good solution too.

  • Davo

    What if it’s a heavy lens and needs to be supported by the left hand?

  • T N Args

    Appreciate this, one of the more demonstrative reviews of this new camera to a thirsty audience.

    Me being me, I would have tried holding the camera vertically when taking those archery shots!

  • Lucas Guitink

    To prevent my nose touching it, I flip the screen to the left where I can use my lefthand finger to set the focus point.

  • Juurikas

    I don’t miss the joysticks because I found the dual dials being faster to move AF point than any joystick, and it keeps my thumb in its position anyways. Most often I just need to move AF point horizontally and maybe a one or two points up/down. And when comes to fast situation I can just press a button to return AF point to center and move AF point without looking camera.

    Superior to any other method.

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    Haha, not sure, in my bag there is always the camera or lens I am testing 😀
    That being said if further AF tests confirm my positive impression, I have to admit I wouldn’t mind this camera and a couple of tele lenses for wildlife photography.

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    I disabled the touch pad because my nose was constantly hitting the monitor and change my focus point :)

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    I did it a couple of times and yes the camera misfocus for a couple of frames but then recovered the correct AF point right away. It’s not uncommon, I’ve seen this behavious with most mirrorless cameras and zoom lenses (X-T2 to name the latest).

  • BLI

    Nice test. One question on C-AF… I’ve seen one tester commenting that the C-AF system doesn’t work very well if you zoom while capturing a sequence/tracking the object. So… did you zoom while capturing the various objects (birds, etc.) in C-AF mode?

  • LukeD

    Great second look report! Thanks for that.
    Mathieu, you are talking about a missing AF joystick. With the E-M1 II you can use the display as touch pad to change the autofocus point while looking through the EVF. Did you miss that or is this no pratical solution to you that you prefer an AF joystick?
    Cheers

  • Scott

    Outstanding review installment Mathieu, can’t wait for the rest … it’s been a while since you’ve displayed such a high level of enthusiasm for a new camera. So, will the E-M1 Mark II find a permanent place in the Gasquet camera bag?

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    Details and sharpness is also related to the lens and I think you can get similar results with both systems. With DR and low light, the X-T2 or a6500 can give you something more although the difference might not be always significant.

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    It can also be the youtube streaming. On the original footage there some judder but very minor.
    To me it looks like the E-M1 II has better quality in Cinema 4K (but it’s 24p only) and has less rolling shutter. The GH4 has more settings and V-log.

  • Andrii Stepaniuk

    image quality – of course better on D500, Fuji XT2 and A6500

  • belfastbiker

    20 seconds handheld is sick.

  • Fred

    While the video is certainly beautiful with lots of detail, I notice a significant amount of fine “judder” when panning. I have seen this from other samples as well. My question is how does this compare with the latest Panasonic cameras or the GH4?

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    There are some AF features like AF Scanner and C-AF Lock that are similar to the Fuji settings. But I haven’t tested them yet.

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    There are also other settings I need to dig into concerning the AF.

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    Haha! It would be a nice contest!

  • LALAWYER2016

    Do you think image quality on latest crop cameras like Nikon D500 and Fuji XT2 (and A6500) is unequivocally better? I am talking about DR, detail and sharpness, and then low light performance?

  • Juurikas

    “Talking about the new menu, I can confirm I don’t like it after my initial impressions at Photokina. Olympus got rid of the various colours that were helpful to identify which category you were in. Now it’s all monochrome and I find it less intuitive. Since the old one wasn’t the best either, I feel this is a step backward.”

    Totally agree!

    I think they went totally backwards in the menu as now it is huge list instead nice sub-categories with colors that allowed quickly to adjust something and get back.

    The Olympus menu was previously one of the best, if not the best. Only problem being that many couldn’t handle that amount of options and capabilities and would have been fine just to get a refined “Custom Menu” that would have listed only their chosen options there instead all.

    Yes the new menu looks nice by glance but all the letters, numbers and such just makes it so difficult to remember things now.

    And I want Olympus to add couple new features for AF system. One is to have a separated focus lock speed (loose/tight) and then estimation for acceleration (memory length for predictions!) like Fuji does. And then have a slider in video to adjust the focus speed so we can in the fly to choose the speed for focus when we do focus pulls from very fast (maximum) to slow and smooth.

    It is just amazing Olympus doesn’t have that focus speed change in their settings as there is everything else! 😀

  • Claudia Muster

    Am I seeing the emergence of a contest who can handhold the slowest shutter speed? Where can I apply? Is Guinness already informed? :-)

  • knutivars

    Thank you for a good review – Was good to finally read about the rolling shutter – and in which environments it will be usable. Still eager to try myself using it for sports with the 300 + wildlife and BIF.
    The issues you report with the AF maybe missing a little might also be addressed in a firmware update. Remember, the E-M1 is now on version 4 – and the AF got better and better, and from v.3 to v.4, the speed was also bumped to 9 from 6.5. :-)

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