Olympus OM-D E-M1 II Snap Verdict

The replacement to the Olympus OM-D E-M1, the E-M1 Mark II brings a higher resolution (20.4Mp) sensor, significantly improved autofocusing, High Res Shot mode, 4K video capability and twin SD card slots along with an enhanced Image Stabiliser (IS) system that works across 5 axis. The screen is also now a fully-articulating unit for added versatility.

I’ve been able to shoot with one for a few weeks for our Olympus OM-D E-M Mark II review and I’m very impressed. It’s  capable of capturing a high level of detail, noise is controlled well up to ISO 6400 and in the default settings colours look natural while exposures are good.

The autofocus system is also very fast and versatile. It’s even able to keep fast moving subjects sharp when shooting at 18fps. The IS system really impresses, even delivering sharp hand-held images with 2 second exposures and smooth hand-held video footage. Mirrorless cameras are getting serious, very serious.

For

  • Fast and accurate focusing with moving subjects
  • Superb stabilisation system
  • Innovative features

Against

  • High price
  • Comparatively small sensor limits scope to restrict depth of field
  • High Res Shot mode still a tripod only mode

What is the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II?

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II is the company’s top-end mirrorless system camera and it replaces the original Olympus OM-D E-M1. It’s aimed at experienced enthusiast and professional photographers.

Like all Olympus’s compact system or mirrorless system cameras, the OM-D E-M1 Mark II conforms to the Micro Four Thirds standard and has a Four Thirds type (17.2 x 13mm) sensor inside. On this occasion the manufacturer has opted for an effective pixel count of 20.4 million. That’s a 25% increase on the 16.3 million effective pixels on the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark I sensor.

According to Olympus, the new Live MOS sensor has been optimised for low power consumption and high speed. It’s paired with a TruePic VIII processing engine which Olympus says operates like dual quad core engines, with one driving the autofocusing while the other handles the image processing.

Camera typeCSC
Date announced19th September 2016
Price at launch£1,899/$1,999 (body only), £2,300 with 12-100mm lens
Sensor sizeFour Thirds type (17x3 x 13mm)
Effective pixel count20.4 million
Lens/MountMicro Four Thirds
ProcessorTruePic VIII
Sensitivity rangeISO 64-25,600
Reflex AF systemN/A
Live View AF systemHybrid with 121 cross-type points (800 in magnified view)
Max shooting rate18fps with AF tracking, 60fps with AF locked on first frame with electronic shutter
Max video resolution4K (4096 x 2160) at 24p
Storage2x SD/SDHC/SDXC (UHS-II)
ViewfinderElectronic with 2,360,000 dots
ScreenTouch-sensitive vari-angle 3-inch LCD with 1,037,000 dots
Dimensions134.1 x 90.9 x 68.9mm
Weight498g (body only), 574g (including battery and memory card)

 

Olympus OM-D E-M 1 Mark II review: Build and handling

This sensor and processor combination enables an incredible continuous shooting rate of up to 18fps (frames per second) with continuous autofocusing and metering. If you don’t need continuous autofocusing (C-AF), the rate can be raised to 60fps in Single Autofocus mode. Achieving this rate requires the camera to be set to Pro Capture mode so that the electronic shutter is used. If the mechanical shutter is used, the maximum shooting rate with C-AF is 15fps.

Pro-Capture mode has been developed to help capture fleeting moments and there are two settings, Pro Capture High and Pro Capture Low. When Pro Capture High mode is activated via the drive mode control, the camera shoots images constantly at up to 60fps while the shutter release is depressed half-way. Then when the shutter button is depressed all the way down the camera beings writing to the card. In addition to the developing action, the camera can write the 14 images buffered before the shutter release was fully pressed – thus helping to avoid missing the crucial moment.

In Pro Capture Low mode the maximum shooting rate is 18fps, but focusing and metering is continuous if C-AF mode is selected.

SEE MORE: Olympus OM-D E-M1 Review

Olympus OM-D E-M 1 Mark II review: Features

The 81-point autofocus system in the original OM-D E-M1 was pretty good, but it wasn’t up to the demands of wildlife and sports photographers. Olympus is hoping that the new 121-point (all cross-type) hybrid system in the E-M1 II will be nearer the mark. Each of these points is available for individual selection but it’s also possible to select them in groups of 5 or 9.

Olympus also says that new autofocus algorithms make the camera better at distinguishing the subject from the background and that tracking performance has therefore improved.

Like the E-M1, the E-M1 II has a 2.360K-dot electronic viewfinder, but the refresh rate is now 120fps while the reaction time is 6ms. These changes and the reduced black-out time are designed to make it easier to keep moving subjects in the frame.

As before, there’s a 3-inch 1,037,000-dot touch-screen on the back of the camera. However, this is now a vari-angle unit rather than a tilting device like on the original E-M1. This makes the screen more useful when you’re shooting upright images at awkward angles.

Olympus has also given the new camera its High Res Shot mode. This has impressed me in the past with its ability to produce larger files with greater detail by combining a sequence of images in-camera. According to Olympus the latest version of the system in the OM-D E-M1 II produces images with resolution equivalent to 50Mp shots. It can also compensate for the slight movement in landscape scenes – leaves and grass etc.

Olympus’s Image Stabiliser (IS) is widely respected, but the latest version in the E-M1 II raised a few eyebrows at the launch event because it’s capable of extending the safe hand-holdable shutter speed by up to 6.5 stops with stabilised lenses like the new Olympus 12-100mm f/4.0 IS Pro. That’s an incredible figure, higher than any other camera. It could produce some interesting creative opportunities that are only normally possible with a tripod.

Further good news is that the Olympus OM-D E-M 1 Mark II is capable of recording 4K footage at up to 30p. Combining this with the claimed IS performance could mean the OM-D E-M1 Mark II prove popular with run-and-gun shooters.

SEE MORE: Hands-on Canon 5D Mark IV review

Olympus OM-D E-M 1 Mark II review: Build and handling

Olympus OM-D E-M 1 Mark II Build and handling

The Olympus OM-D E-M 1 Mark II is freeze-, splash- and dust-proof, so it’s designed for life outdoors. It has a comfortable grip, which doesn’t feel like a major departure from anything we’ve seen before, and the easily accessible controls are familiar from the original OM-D E-M1.

While you can access key features via the Super Control Panel or the main menu, there are also plenty of buttons and dials on the camera. Some people won’t like the switch arrangement that determines what the main dials control, which is also a feature of the Mark I, but others will love it.

By default when the switch is in position 1 the front dial adjusts sensitivity (ISO) while the rear adjusts white balance, when it’s in position 2 they control the exposure settings. If you’re new to the camera it will take a little getting used to, but it can speed making setting adjustments.

The menu is largely unchanged, but there’s been some cleaning up and a little reorganisation. The Custom Menu looks the most altered, having new labels. Meanwhile the information screen or Super Control Panel looks busier with extra AF points and Pro-Capture mode appearing.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Pro Capture Mode

If you’re a keen sport or action photographer, you’ll want to spend some time investigating the options in the OM-D E-M1 II’s custom menu as there’s quite a bit of control afforded over the camera’s drive modes and autofocus system, including the tracking sensitivity.

As before, Olympus hasn’t allowed the main menu to be navigated or setting selections to be made via the touch-screen. But as usual, the Super Control Panel can be used in conjunction with the touch-screen, which speeds setting selection.

There’s also an option to allow the screen to be used to set AF point while you look through the viewfinder, but I found it rather unreliable. Consequently, I tend to set the AF point on the screen while the camera is away from my eye, or use the navigation buttons to move it while I’m looking in the viewfinder.

At first the viewfinder of the OM-D E-M1 II doesn’t seem much different from that of the E-M1, but when you start to shoot continuously you find that it’s easier to follow a subject and it’s almost like watching a movie, with very little freeze-time.

While the Olympus OM-D E-M 1Mark II is a complex camera with many customisation options and some very clever features, it’s relatively easy for an experienced photographer to pick up and use for the first time provided that they are aware of the purpose of the switch that I mentioned earlier. The lockable mode dial on the top-plate and the dual dial arrangement makes setting exposure quick and easy. Meanwhile a press of the OK button reveals the Super Control Panel which gives access to an extensive collection of features.

One quirk that I’ve noticed in other Olympus cameras persists with the E-M1 Mark II. Occasionally after pressing the Info button to toggle through the different screens available, the electronic level disappears. Repeated pressing don’t reveal it and the camera has to be turned on and off again to restore it.

Olympus OM-D E-M 1 Mark II review: Build and handling

Olympus OM-D E-M 1 Mark II Performance

Browsing through my images indicates that the 324 zone Multi‑pattern metering system puts in a good performance. When shooting under a heavily overcast sky there were a few occasions when I found reducing the exposure by 1/3EV or even 2/3EV produced more pleasing images, largely by boosting colour saturation, but on the whole the system did a very good job by itself. It certainly didn’t make any major mistakes.

The OM-D E-M1 II also produces colours that respect the name of the default Picture Mode – ‘Natural’. If you want a more saturated look, I-Enhance and Vivid are available along with Muted, Portrait, Monotone and a Custom option. In addition, there are 14 Art Filter modes, such as Pop Art and Grainy Film, some with variations and effect options. It adds up to an extensive array of potential jpeg treatments. If you’re undecided you can use the bracketing facility to produce a jpeg with each effect applied as well as a ‘clean’ raw file. Helpfully, you can narrow the bracketing selection, so if like me you’re not fond of Key Line, for example, you can exclude it from the bracketing list.

White balance goes hand-in-hand with image colour and the E-M1 Mark II’s auto white balance system performs well, even under some artificial light. Shooting outdoors in overcast conditions it produces results that are indistinguishable from the Sunlight setting. In the very overcast and rainy conditions encountered in the woodland when I photographed the cyclist, some images shot using the automatic white balance setting looked rather cool with a hint of magenta.

Olympus OM-D E-M 1 Mark II Autofocus

As soon as I started using the OM-D E-M1 Mark II, I was impressed by the speed of its autofocus system. In most instances, even low-light, it gets the subject sharp very quickly. The Tracking AF system is also good. It doesn’t always stay with the subject, but I found it more reliable than past tracking systems.

When photographing a cyclist in a gloomy woodland I found that when I used C-AF Tracking and shot at 15fps (frames per second) the tracking point stayed on or near them as they cycled towards me and I moved the camera to adjust composition. Checking the images for sharpness at 100% for our Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II review revealed a success rate of around 85% before the cyclist got within the focus distance limit that I had set.

Switching to regular C-AF mode with a small AF point set with a cluster of five points (5-Target Group) produced more consistent sharpness with a hit rate of over 95% at 15fps. Boosting the maximum rate to 18fps by using Pro Capture Low mode limits also achieved an impressive hit rate of 90%.

The OM-D E-M1 II’s autofocusing is slower in video mode, but that’s good because it makes the footage more comfortable to watch. The focusing is also generally decisive, so you don’t see it hunting around a lot unless the tracking focus point moves away from the subject. There’s the occasional slip, but it’s usable.

The AF Tracking will be especially useful to anyone wishing to use the E-M1 II to video themselves because you can flip the screen around for front viewing and a green box around your head confirms that the focus is on you.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II High Res Shot mode works with moving water

 

Olympus OM-D E-M 1 Mark II Image Quality

Pixel-peeping at the images from the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II reveals that it is capable of capturing a high level of detail. At low to mid sensitivity settings the detail also looks natural, even at 100% on-screen.

Noise is controlled well in the jpegs shot at up to ISO 6400 – the native maximum. Above this jpeg files get a bit soft at 100%, especially at the maximum value of ISO 25,600, but that’s not unusual.

Olympus’s Image Stabiliser system is respected, but the 5-axis version in the OM-D E-M1 Mark II breaks new ground. Shooting at the 100mm end of the new 12-100mm f/4 lens I was able to get consistently sharp images at 1/2sec proving the 6.4EV shutter speed extension claim to be true. What’s even more impressive, however, is that at the 12mm I was able to get sharp images with 2 second exposures. I was doing everything I could to get sharp shots – holding my breath, squeezing the shutter release rather than jabbing at it and leaning against a wall, but that’s still incredibly good. By the way, I’m talking about images that look sharp at 100% on-screen here.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Image Stabiliser lets you shoot handheld at 2 seconds

Further good news is that High Res Shot mode produces good results and it copes well with landscape scenes that have a little movement. When shooting a river with ripples and leaves blowing in the breeze, for example, it either renders natural looking blur or gets them sharp. Similarly, a person walking in the scene is blurred as if they’ve been shot with a fairly long exposure. There was no ghosting as is found in some images from earlier incarnations of the system.

The results when shooting 4K video are in-line with those when shooting stills. The footage has plenty of detail along with good colour and noise control. The stabilisation system also performs very well, taking much of the shake out of shooting handheld and even making walking clips watchable.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II sample video

Olympus OM-D E-M 1 Mark II Verdict

Having shot extensively with the Olympus OM-D E-M 1 Mark II, I’m very impressed with it. It’s clearly capable of producing high quality images and the autofocusing is fast, making it suitable for shooting sport and action.

As our Olympus OM-D E-M 1 Mark II review reveals, the E-M1 II is a complex and versatile camera. It takes a while to get to discover all its features and understand some of its quirks, but it’s rewarding experience.

Its stabilisation system is incredible and it allows you to rethink how you shoot, leaving the tripod behind and avoiding high ISO settings. Olympus has also packed in the clever technology that we have come to expect with Live Bulb, Live Time and Live Composite mode making long exposure photography easy and in-camera focusing stacking enabling greater depth of field than is normally possible. In addition, High Res Shot mode turns this 20Mp camera in to a 50Mp device – and you can use it for normal landscape photography with no concern about a breeze blowing through the trees.

Add in a high quality viewfinder and a vari-angle touch-screen that helps you shoot from more creative angles and you have a very attractive camera. Further good news is that the range of compatible lenses is now extensive with pro-quality optics delivering superb results.

Some people have raised their eyebrows at the cost of the OM-D E-M1 Mark II. It’s not cheap, costing more than we are used to paying for a compact system camera. However, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II is much more than an average CSC. It’s brilliant.

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Summary
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Review
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Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Review
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Olympus’s new flagship camera is faster than anything we’ve seen before. We've shot extensively with one for our full review.
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Camera Jabber
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