Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Test & Preview
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 definitely shook up the mirrorless market in 2013, setting the standards for high quality results in a small package.
Three years have passed, technology has improved as well as the competition in the mirrorless market. Will the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II live up to the expectations?
I was asking myself the same question and I simply couldn’t wait for an answer, so I took the first flight to Cologne (Germany) and visited one of the most important photography exhibition in world: the Photokina 2016.
Once I’ve entered (can you believe I was the first in the line?), I went straight to the Olympus booth: black & white graphics with all their products ready to be tested.
So where’s the new camera? It is not on the market yet. In fact the press release talks about the “Development of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II”, so that’s why it’s not possible to try it out at the booth: you can just admire its beauty through a glass.
It wouldn’t have been possible to give you a proper opinion about the camera in this way, so I’ve been lucky enough to enter in the press area (big thanks to Olympus!), where I’ve had a first taste of the camera, holding it in my hands and taking some sample shots with it.
At First Sight
It looks a lot like the previous model, but with a more careful look it’s possible to notice some changes in its appearance.
I was actually wondering how the designers & engineeres could have improved the design of the previous model, as it was very functional and elegant already but well, they did it.
All the good things from the E-M1 have been kept, while introducing some little changes, which if summed up make quite a difference.
Seriously, the grip it’s very deep and it will allow you to hold your camera firmly, even if you have big hands.
It does make the camera a tiny bulkier but I believe it’s a right choice, especially considering that during the last few years some bigger and heavier lenses have been released, such as the 40-150mm f/2.8 and the 300mm f/4, so some extra grip is always welcomed.
Talking about extra grip, your right thumb will find a little treat when holding the camera.
The extreme right of the camera protrudes a little, allowing your thumb to perfectly stay in its place when shooting.
I’ve greatly appreciated the tiltable screen of the previous model, but it was not good usable when shooting in portrait mode.
The new model has a fully-articulated screen, which will allow you to move the screen wherever you need to; videographers will surely appreciate it too.
The fully-articulated design also keeps the screen safe from scratches when folded.
I’m just wondering how will it be possible to comfortably hold the camera when shooting at waist level (which is pretty useful in some situations like street photography), but it’s probably a matter of habit.
Custom Mode Dials (Finally!)
If you’re someone that needs to quickly change from one shooting situation to another, you’ll definitely gonna love this.
You will be able to set 3 customized shooting modes; as an example C1 for fast action, C2 for panning, C3 for details.
Tons of clicks to tweak the settings = more pictures taken at the right moment.
Dual SD Camera Slot
We all rely on technology, but we should always remember that things can break, and SD cards do too.
Especially right after taking a shot that I was waiting for a long time, or after a big shooting day, I just want to run to my computer and download the pictures on other storage units.
I’m sure you do too (and if you don’t, please do).
Olympus has listened to the needs of the professionals out there, so as you can see above the OM-D E-M1 Mark II has a dual SD card slot. Your pictures will be immediately stored on 2 different units, greately reducing the risk of data loss.
New Shutter Release Connector
Since the SD cards took all the space on the left side of the camera, the shutter release connector had to be placed on the right.
Olympus left the proprietary format seen in the previous OM-Ds, opting for the standard 2.5mm diameter pin.
It would have been nice to have the old cable release on the new model as well, allowing Olympus users to keep on using their remotes, but if this was the only option to leave space for the double SD cards, so be it.
This new positioning also allows users to mount a custom L-Plate (an accessory to mount your camera vertically on the tripod) more easily, as in the past the cable of the remote was in the way.
Ultra High Resolution Mode
Oh boy, this is a big one.
As seen already in the OM-D E-M5 Mark II, it will be possible to create ultra high resolution pictures thanks to this really advanced feature that “precisely moves pixels at 0.5 pitch to capture a total of eight shots and then composites them into a single 50Mp equivalent ultra high-resolution image”. 80Mp RAW, 50Mp Jpg: crazy right?
There have been some rumors saying that this mode would have been usable also handheld, but it will not (as clearly stated in the menu above).
I’ve tested it myself just to give it a try, and indeed it was not possible to achieve a sharp result without a tripod. The process though is very fast and ultra silent; I can’t wait try that on a landscape or an interior shot!
Redesigned Super Control Panel
If you’re not familiar with the “Super Control Panel” by Olympus, it’s a screen mode which allows you to have all the important settings of the camera in the same page. It’s really handy to use, as you can change basically everything without having to go through the menu.
It has been redesigned, introducing additional buttons for the new functions.
When building a camera thinking about portability, some compromises need to made, and this happens quite often with batteries (just think about smartphones for example). So if compared to big DSLRs obviously, the battery life or the previous E-M1 was just ok.
The OM-D E-M1 Mark II introduces a new, bigger and 37% more powerful battery: the BLH-1.
The previous battery (BLN-1 )was also quite slow to charge; gladly the new one charges 50% faster than that.
I personally always shot with the battery grip, and with that I could go through 1-day assignments easily, shooting several long exposures, bracket shots, ecc.
Without using the battery grip I would have had to swap battery during the day (not a big problem), but sometimes it happened to find myself with a discharged battery in an important moment, because the battery indicator just displayed 4 little segments, without giving a precise idea of how much battery I had left.
Things have changed now, as you’ll see the exact battery % status on the screen!
The battery grip has also being renewed; it now has the same arrow dials that you find on the camera, making it possible to easily move the focus point also when shooting in portrait mode.
After taking a look at the outside of the camera, let’s sum up the main features and the biggest technology changes:
- New Sensor & Processor
TruePic VIII image processor and 20.4 Megapixel Live MOS sensor. I was a bit skeptical to have 20 Mp on a Micro Four Thirds sensor, as I was worried about more digital noise and diffraction problems at lower f/ values, but I trust that Olympus increased the resolution without sacrificing the overall quality.
We still don’t have test pictures to analyze, but engineeres say that the dynamic range is improved, with noise performance improved by 1EV.
- Ultra high-resolution
As seen above, the camera will be able to produce 50Mp High Res. Shots with its unique sensor-shifting technology.
- Improved AF & Burst Mode
There are now 121-point all cross-type (On-chip Phase Detection AF sensor) focus points. That’s really a lot, and thanks also to the Dual Fast AF (Phase Detection AF and contrast AF) will ensure much faster and precise focus in difficult conditions, such as wildlife, action, ecc.
If you need to capture fast moment, the improved 18 fps high-speed sequential shooting performance in AF/AE tracking will be your best friend (60 fps in S-AF mode).
- Improved In-Body Stabilization
The 5-axis Image Stabilization is one of the features that I love the most about the OM-D system. It works crazy good allowed me in the past to shoot up to 1″ handheld with wide angle lenses.
Now the stabilization technology has improved up to 5.5 stops (which becomes 6.5 with the Sync IS using OIS Olympus lenses). This is definitely something interesting also for videographers, as it will allow smoother videos as well. Talking about that:
- 4K Video
The camera supports Digital Cinema Standard 4K (4096 x 2060 pixels), frame rate (24P), and high bit rate (237 Mbps), becoming an interesting choice for videographers. 4K videos recorded on a 5-axis stabilized sensor sounds darn good.
- Improved ISO Range
The lower ISO value (when selecting LOW) is now of ISO 64 instead of 100. We still don’t know how it will perform, but it will definitely make life easier with long exposures or when shooting wide open in bright day with very fast lenses (as the new 25mm f/1.2).
The normal sensitivity has been brought up to ISO 6400.
As the previous model, the Mark II features high-level hermetic and weather-resistant sealing.
It is dustproof, splashproof and freezproof (usable down to -10°C)
The camera I’ve tried was a test unit, therefore it was not allowed for me to bring home the shots taken with it. I will be able to give you a final judgment on the camera just after I’ll be able to have one to test thoroughly, but so far I can give you my first impressions:
The OM-D E-M1 Mark II keeps all the good from its predecessor, introducing a wide range of little improvements together with a few new features. Taking each improvement singularly doesn’t make a big difference, but summing up all that you’ve seen above, it’s clear that this is a new product, where a lot has been done to push the limits of this system even further.
If the E-M1 was a great choice for travel photographers like myself, the Mark II will also make wildlife, sport and studio photographers interested into the OM-D world, where cameras and lenses are designed together to achieve the best possible results.
In case this camera is what you’re looking for, you can order it on Amazon from the link below:
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