66 Degrees North: Olympus E-M1 Mark II Shooting Experience
If there's one thing I learned about the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, it's that it can handle mother nature with the best of them. At an Olympus-sponsored press event in Iceland, the camera got pelted with rain, sleet, snow and hail, all of which occurred over a 20 minute period on more than one occasion. Despite both the camera and the photographer getting soaked, the Mark II kept on going.
|Black Beach near Vik. Converted from Raw using ACR beta. ISO 200, 1/160 sec, F5.6, Olympus 12-100mm F4 lens @ 100mm equiv. Photo by Jeff Keller.|
In most respects the E-M1 II feels very 'Olympus'. The controls aren't radically different than other recent OM-D models, and the Super Control Panel (which is on by default) and a slightly restyled menu system are both there. The E-M1 II feels great in the hand and is well balanced. The build quality is superb, which I learned firsthand when the camera knocked the front plate off of the electronic lock on my hotel room door (oops).
|Icelandic horses. Converted from Raw with ACR beta. ISO 200, 1/160 sec, F4.5, Olympus 12-100mm F4 lens @ 132mm equiv. Photo by Jeff Keller.|
The E-M1 Mark II has an impressive 440 shots-per-charge CIPA battery life rating, though the battery drained a lot quicker than that in the roughly 4°C/40°F temperatures. Quite a few of my colleagues used the optional grip full-time, while I saved it for aurora shooting, where I really didn't want the camera to run out of juice, since – ironically – I found it easier to hold the camera without it.
Given its spot as Olympus' flagship mirrorless camera, it should be no surprise that the E-M1 Mark II has two memory card slots, located on its right side. The top one supports UHS-II media, while the bottom one is UHS-I only. The UHS-II slot is noticeably 'thicker' than the UHS-I one, which is another way to tell them apart. For this trip, I set up the camera to put all videos onto the UHS-II card – a necessity when shooting at very high bit rates – and all stills to the UHS-I card.
|A break in the hail at Black Beach. ISO 200, 1/400 sec, F10, Olympus 12-100mm F4 lens @ 50mm equiv. Photo by Jeff Keller.|
Something that affected my shooting quite a bit was the Mark II's overly sensitive shutter release button. This resulted in many unwanted photos and, in one case, my memory card became filled with 2000+ shots while using in the Pro Capture mode, because I was unknowingly shooting the entire time I was waiting for a geyser to erupt. Other members of the press echoed my concerns about the touchy shutter release.
|Skógafoss. ISO 200, 1/400 sec, F7.1, Olympus 7-14mm F2.8 lens @ 16mm equiv. Photo by Jeff Keller.|
While the E-M1 II's big claim to fame is its advanced autofocus system, the Olympus event in Iceland was essentially all landscape photography. Our journey included a lot of waterfalls and geysers, plus some shooting around Reykjavik, but fast-moving subjects were scarce, so I can't comment on how well that part of the AF system works. What I can say is that in single AF mode the Mark II was both responsive and accurate, though it did miss focus (in both front and back directions) on a few occasions with the 12-100 and 300mm lenses.
Two features I got to test out were the Pro Capture and Live Time modes. The former works by buffering shots as you half-press the shutter release, saving up to 14 of them when you fully press it. My plan was to capture the moment a geyser erupted, but as mentioned earlier, I was actually recording images the entire time due to that oversensitive shutter release button. The fact that I chose the wrong geyser didn't help matters, either. Another member of our group had better luck and got some great shots using Pro Capture, so maybe it was just me.
|Northern Lights over Reykjavik. Converted from Raw using ACR beta. ISO 800, 21 sec, F2.8, Olympus 8mm F1.8 fisheye. Photo by Jeff Keller.|
I used the Live Time feature when shooting the Northern Lights, which unfortunately weren't as strong as expected. Live Time is a long exposure mode that displays the current image at an interval of your choosing, so you can close the shutter when you're happy with the result. For aurora shooting I turned on Live Time, set the 12-100mm lens wide-open at F4 and used an ISO value between 800 and 1600, depending on the current auroral activity. Just to be safe, I turned on anti-shock to prevent any shake caused by pressing the shutter release button. While the 'show' wasn't great, Live Time was a valuable feature that made it easy to decide when to press 'stop' when the exposure looked right.
I came back pretty satisfied with the photos I took on the trip, though I had to dump a lot of photos due to water on the lens (did I mention it rained a lot? Every time I wiped it off, more would appear.) I have no complaints about color, though at default settings JPEG noise reduction is higher than I'd like. Normally I'd pop the images into Photoshop and use ACR to tweak that to my liking (and bump up the shadows in a few of my photos,) but the only option at time of publication was converting the Raws in-camera. If you've used Olympus' in-camera Raw conversion, you'll know that it's quite confusing, though I appreciate the addition of shadow/midtone/highlight correction.
While I didn't take a ton of video, I was impressed with the results. I shot exclusively at Cinema 4K (24p), which maxes out at 237Mbps. The bit rate never got that high, since it varies depending on your subject, but the quality was never in question. Despite Olympus' claims of 5.5 stops of shake reduction, a few videos seemed a bit shakier than I was expecting. In continuous AF mode there was a bit of 'hunting,' but not enough to concern me.
|Gullfoss in Dramatic Tone. ISO 200, 1/100 sec, F5, Olympus 12-100mm lens @ 36mm equiv. Photo by Jeff Keller.|
The one thing that about the E-M1 II that remained a mystery until the very end of the trip was its price. Some of the group were guessing around $1500, while I was thinking $1800. As it turned out, the E-M1 II is a penny under $2000 — a full $600 over the MSRP of the original E-M1 and on par with the Nikon D500. That's a lot of dough for a Micro Four Thirds camera and while my initial impressions of the camera were positive, I want to see how it performs in our tests – especially in terms of autofocus – to see if its worth the price.
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