I will admit to early skepticism when I began to use Olympus cameras. Having been a Canon user my entire life, I had never considered the possibility of needing a new system. When given the opportunity to use the Olympus OMD EM1, I came across several barriers that often made it difficult for me to justify using it in many wildlife situations. When theOlympus OMD EM1 Mark II was announced with significant improvements, I was dubious but excited at the possibility that these issues had been resolved.
My initial review was based on a mere handful of days with the camera under controlled circumstances. Whilst this is a great introduction, you can never fully recognise the potential of a camera until you’ve used it solidly for a few weeks. Fortunately I’ve now had the opportunity to do this, having used the camera every day for over a month now. My eyes have certainly been opened forcefully to some of the major improvements and capabilities of this new camera as follows:
Olympus OM-D E-M1 II for wildlife photography: Optical quality
The range and quality of lenses available for this system is impressive, with flawless optical quality and performance across the range. One thing I’ve never had to concern myself with is the optical quality, sharpness or risk of vignetting or chromatic aberration with these lenses. Using a 1.4x converter on the 300mm Pro lens, you can achieve 840mm which is often plenty, with a minimal impact on image quality.
Olympus OM-D E-M1 II for wildlife photography: Lightweight and compact
One thing that I’ve honestly never concerned myself with is the size or weight of my equipment. With some of my kit hitting over 4kg in weight, I usually had no issues with handholding in ideal conditions, however it would be difficult to frame and compose the shot due to the inevitable shake and movement whilst trying to hold it steady. This inevitably caused me to miss opportunities and poorly compose images. With a smaller, lightweight setup, I’ve found it much easier to transport and shoot with, with noticeably improved results.
Olympus OM-D E-M1 II for wildlife photography: Articulated Screen
This has been an extremely handy tool for my wildlife work. Sometimes it’s impossible to get down to the ground or water level to shoot your subject, but the ability to tilt the screen and simply move the camera has proved invaluable for capturing shots I would have otherwise not achieved.
Olympus OM-D E-M1 II for wildlife photography: Frame Rate and Pro Capture Mode
The requirement to use 60fps won’t come up often, but when it does this feature will give you the opportunity to capture action you would otherwise miss. Whether it’s a diving kingfisher, fighting lions or anything fast paced, you can be sure to put the odds in your favour. Furthermore, Pro Capture mode ensures that you start capturing the action at a half press of the shutter, making it less likely for you to miss split second action shots.
Olympus OM-D E-M1 II for wildlife photography: Viewfinder
There’s a range of additional features that can help give you that extra edge when out in the field. As a mirrorless system camera the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II has a digital viewfinder which, although disliked by some people, gives you the opportunity to use focus peaking and magnification to increase your accuracy when manually focusing.
Olympus OM-D E-M1 II for wildlife photography: Significantly improved battery life
With the original OM-D E-M1, I couldn’t get through half a day without having to change the battery, even (for me) with minimal shooting. With the new improved battery, I can easily shoot over 1000 images and also capture several video clips without having to change the battery. When on wildlife trips it’s often impossible to get the opportunity to charge battery in the middle of the day so having faith that the batteries will last all day is extremely important.
Olympus OM-D E-M1 II for wildlife photography: Video
Having started to dabble with footage last year whilst working on a project with Badgers, I found it nearly impossible to get the quality I wanted with my dSLR. Shaky, visually poor and difficult to operate, I needed a change. Whilst the image stabilisation and video quality on the Mark I was extremely impressive, theMark II blows it out of the water. The ability to handhold at 840mm equivalent focal length without using a gimbal or tripod is ideal and the results are outstanding.
Olympus OM-D E-M1 II for wildlife photography: Room for improvement
Whilst this camera has seen significant improvements that make it a key competitor within the market, there are still a few areas which could be improved. My opinion has always been that any system is a compromise with both pros and cons, so it’s always up to the individual on whether the compromise is acceptable. For full frame DSLRs, you are met with high price tags, heavy weight loads and very large, cumbersome lenses for great image quality in all conditions. For smaller sensor cameras, you compromise the low light performance for ease of use, weight and size.
Olympus OM-D E-M1 II for wildlife photography: ISO performance
The improvement to the sensitivity/ISO performance compared to the original E-M1 is extremely noticeable. On an overcast day, I wouldn’t dream of bringing out the Mark I, whereas with the Mark II I am more than comfortable doing so, knowing that pushing up the ISO setting will not degrade the image quality. That being said, the Micro Four Thirds system cannot go toe-to-toe with larger sensors. I always opt for slowing the shutter speed over increasing the ISO setting past what I consider to be the acceptable level. With the OM-D E-M1 II, I use ISO 3200 as an absolute maximum for wildlife photography.
Olympus OM-D E-M1 II for wildlife photography: Tracking doesn’t always tolerate fast moving subjects
Another noticeable improvement from the Mark I was the tracking capabilities of this camera. Where I had previously been reluctant to use the tracking at all, I now have a much greater confidence in the system. That being said, there are still times when it struggles, notably in low light or extremely erratic, fast moving subjects. It’s important to note that in these circumstances, many cameras would struggle equally.
Olympus OM-D E-M1 II for wildlife photography: Menus and control panel
While the OM-D E-M1 II is extremely customisable and there’s lots of control its menu system and control panel are extremely cluttered and difficult to navigate. This is easily overcome with time and experience, but perhaps a firmware update could allow the system to become more user friendly.
Olympus OM-D E-M1 II for wildlife photography: Controls can be fiddly and easily knocked
One thing I’ve come across over the time using this system is that it can be easy to accidentally knock buttons, change settings or take accidental images. I also struggle greatly with gloves on or with cold hands to change settings or navigate the menus or control panels, again partially due to some of the buttons being small. Whilst this is a minor inconvenience, it’s worth noting.
Olympus OM-D E-M1 II for wildlife photography: Would I change 100%?
I guess the question to be answered is would I ever bin all of my current kit and move completely over to the Olympus? The answer is still no, however not for the reasons you may expect.
Having shot Canon with both my main and second camera in the past, I can see how that has potentially limited me in many ways. I would confidently say that in 90% of circumstances I would now feel comfortable taking just the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II out on trips, something that I wouldn’t have said for the Mark I.
I will continue to use the Canon DSLR for anything with extremely poor light or where I need that extra reach (I can achieve 1,120mm with the Canon and a 1.4x converter compared to 840mm with the Olympus and 1.4x converter).
Using the OM-D E-M1 II and Canon DSLR gives me the best of both worlds.