Shooting with the Olympus OM-D E-M10 II

By Jordan Stead

I’m a longtime user and abuser of rugged, pro-level SLRs in photojournalistic situations. While I appreciate outstanding image quality and nifty features, the areas I care about the most in terms of the photographic tools I use fall into the category of real world practicality. Durability, reliability, battery life and ergonomics tend to be the most important features of the cameras I use professionally. Using the E-M10 II breaks new ground for me, as well as my shooting experience with Micro Four Thirds cameras.

For reference, all images below are JPEGs, with the camera set for Auto White Balance and 'Natural' Picture Mode.

ISO 800, 1/4000th, F6.3, 34mm equiv. Photo: Jordan Stead

I consistently shoot in manual exposure mode and tend to underexpose from 1/3 to a full stop, depending on light. The E-M10 II's metering system provided me with a very similar readout to my usual Canon 5D Mark III and 1D X.

Handling & Build Quality

The largely plastic body of the E-M10 II feels good in my hands, with a heft and build that feels more satisfactory than robust. I have fairly large hands (according to a couple of people in the DPR office) and I’m lucky if I can get four fingers on the righthand grip of the body, with my pinky finger bracing from the bottom. An optional ECG-3 grip adds extra vertical real estate as well as double the grip depth; I find that its addition changes the ergonomics or the better, immensely. Without it, those with larger hands might find the ergonomics a little cramped.

ISO 200, 1/2000 sec, F4, 50mm equiv. Photo: Jordan Stead

Despite my first caption's claim of 'always shooting manual', I did give the E-M10 II's Aperture Priority a go. After dialing in -0.3 exposure comp, it's clear the E-M10 II's metering system is well-balanced, as is the Auto White Balance in late afternoon light.

The top plate of the E-M10 II shows some welcome improvements to the original E-M10 II. The shutter button responds without a wobble. The two main dials have been increased in height, their sides now sporting a grippy engraving for adjustment. The power button, previously located on the lower right corner of the back of the E-M10, now inhabits the entire left side of the top plate on the E-M10 II. The image playback button replaces it, leaving only the lonely 'Function 1' button in a semi-awkward spot on top of the thumb rest. If you decide to program the 'Function 1' button for back button autofocus, you will find your thumb throwing off the balance of the camera, especially if shooting one-handed. From a responsiveness standpoint, the E-M10 II just feels snappy to use, from startup time to settings adjustment on the fly. Moving through the extensive menus and zooming into 100% image sharpness when reviewing pictures is a breeze.

ISO 1600, 1/3200 sec, F4, 90mm equiv. Photo: Jordan Stead

Fine details begin to get mushy around ISO 1600, but sharpness is well-preserved and most definitely useable.

As far as the stock camera strap goes: replace it as soon as possible. The fabric feels greasy and tends to slip off my shoulder more than it stays on.

ISO 200, 1/400 sec, F5.6, 50mm equiv. Photo: Jordan Stead

The flip screen came in handy here, as I shot this shadowy self-portrait from the hip with the screen rotated upward. While I would normally tone from the Raw file for a much more contrasty look, the out-of-camera JPEGs retain appealing colors in well-lit conditions.

Features

The E-M10 II’s straightforward button layout is juxtaposed with a myriad of customization options found in the menus. In keeping with Olympus PEN and OM-series tradition, almost every button on the E-M10 II’s body can be reprogrammed. Should they stray into these menus, beginner users or Olympus first-timers may find themselves quickly lost in endless customization options. Thankfully, the E-M10 II’s articulating touchscreen allows for access to a shortcut menu for frequently altered settings.

The extent of the options provided is thoughtful on the part of Olympus, but it’s hard to imagine most users at this level would delve into the deepest depths of the E-M10 II’s menus. We suspect that many will opt for a semi-manual operation (Aperture/Shutter priority) and the ease of Auto ISO (though we wish Auto ISO were programmable and less simplistic). For extra bells and whistles: the features you need are there - the task is just to find them.

ISO 200, 1/3 sec, F22, 34mm equiv. Photo: Jordan Stead

Toned in Adobe Camera Raw for color and punchiness. Contrast 25, Highlights -5, Shadows 20, Blacks -30, Clarity 30, Saturation 35, Sharpening 70.

In a one-handed attempt at a 'long' exposure, I found the 5-axis image stabilization in the E-M10 II to be efficient. While not considered to be tack sharp by some, this file would pass for web use or a smaller print with no issue.

Shooting Experience

Coming from years of photojournalism fieldwork using only pro-grade SLR cameras, I've found the Olympus E-M10 II to be a fun - although sometimes overly-complicated - photographic tool. My current 'off work' camera, a Fuji X100S, serves the same purpose as that of the Olympus at my side: an extension of my eye, with point-and-shoot portability and many SLR quality features. I appreciate the improvement to detail in the knobs and buttons on the E-M10 II. Usually, my discomfort with Micro Four Thirds or mirrorless cameras comes from the downsized nature of critical controls, but on the E-M10 II, I feel largely at home - especially with the added grip. After poring through the 16 major menus (!) and consulting with Olympus-savvy colleagues at DPReview.com, my all-purpose, must-have settings were in place.

ISO 1600, 1/500 sec, F2.2, 24mm equiv. Photo: Jordan Stead

Using the E-M10 II's facial recognition with shorter autofocus lenses (such as the 12mm F1.8 here) is a mixed bag. While the main subject's face is sharp in this photo, a number of repeated attempts were needed to convince the camera to focus on her, rather than flowers.

The E-M10 II's 8.5 frames per second shooting speed, coupled with the rapid acquisition of subjects on single shot autofocus mode (especially when facial recognition is engaged), are enjoyable and effective. Big plus: the silent 'Sequential' mode is truly silent, even when shooting at the camera's maximum frame-rate. Not a peep to disturb a candid subject. (Do note that if you're using the electronic first curtain mode that the frame rate tops out at 4 fps.)

The lightning-fast refresh of the 100% OLED viewfinder (upped in resolution to an approximate 2.36 million dots compared to the original E-M10) makes me forget about the optical ones in my SLRs and X100S, when shooting in single drive, anyhow.

ISO 800, 1/320 sec, F2, 34mm equiv. Photo: Jordan Stead

A challenging mix of daylight and tungsten light sources was handled well by Auto White Balance. Facial recognition (with eye priority engaged) nailed focus, even with such (relatively) thin depth of field.

As a seasoned DSLR user I didn't expect to get much use from the E-M10 II's 3" tilting rear screen, but I've actually found myself using it a lot. A newly designed iteration of 5-axis sensor shift image stabilization keeps even handheld exposures of 0.3 seconds sharp and useable. Over the course of several long bike rides, the E-M10 II accompanied me, slung around my body. The lightweight and compact form factor make it a welcome companion. The slippery stock strap, as mentioned, is not. Overall, I am pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoy such a different photographic tool than what I normally shoot with, Fujifilm X100S included. The E-M10 II may overwhelm beginners with its extensive feature set, but overall, the shooting experience is a well-rounded good time.

ISO 3200, 1/50 sec, F2, 24mm equiv. Photo: Jordan Stead

I was surprised by the high ISO handling, namely in the color rendition under such dark conditions and unfavorable light sources. Skin tones still look good, and files are very useable for medium sized prints and web use.

Continue on to page 2 of our shooting experience to read more about our experiences with autofocus.