Bang for the Buck: Olympus OM-D E-M10 II Review
Considering the primary user base of a camera such as the E-M10 II, the autofocus system fulfills most needs in single-shot mode and falls short in only one major category: continuous focus (tracking or otherwise). Most Micro Four Thirds cameras that rely solely on contrast detection AF are nothing to write home about in this regard, and the E-M10 II is no different. Single shot autofocus, on the other hand, spread across 81 points, is nimble, even in dim lighting.
Very useful when shooting people - portraits or otherwise - is the surprisingly effective evolution of Olympus’s face detection. Utilizing the sensor’s ability to identify the eyes (or even side eye) of an appropriate subject, the E-M10 II quickly jumps to the task when in single shot (S-AF) autofocus mode. In daylight, the action is nearly instantaneous, especially on longer lenses. I find the combo of the E-M10 II with the Olympus 75mm F1.8 ED to be a joy to use. Even with the lens wide open at F1.8, the facial recognition settings (capable of being set to prioritize right, left or 'auto' eyeball selection) nails single shot focus, resulting in beautifully sharp imagery.
For best results: shoot head-and-shoulders portraits on a long lens, with facial recognition turned on while in single shot autofocus mode. Do note that as a subject's face decreases in size in the field of view, the recognition algorithms may struggle to keep up. I find this to be most evident when shooting full body human subjects, mainly on wider lenses.
SLR users (or E-M1 users) hoping to adopt a smaller, secondary body will be underwhelmed with the continuous autofocus and tracking capabilities. In defense of Olympus, the E-M10 II and most Micro Four Thirds cameras to date: this is nothing new. The focusing system is just simply not engineered to excel at capturing 'peak action.' Purchasers most disappointed in the continuous focus might be those hoping to capture moving photographs of their children or pets. While the camera is quite good at following initially chosen subjects no matter where they move to within the frame (subject tracking), it's not very good at actually continually focusing on them (depth tracking).
Don't believe us? Here's our typical bicycle test, where we've shot the E-M10 II in 'C-AF + Tracking' mode with a 45mm F1.8 lens at F1.8. It's not particularly impressive, with a number of shots out-of-focus, despite very little subject movement across the frame. Since the camera's ability to subject track is quite good, we have to chalk this up to contrast-detect AF being unable to actually continually focus on the subject. The ability to refocus on a continuously approaching subject is more the domain of phase-detect AF systems, with contrast-detect systems - like the one in the E-M10 II - constantly needing to hunt to find the point of focus. It's not that contrast-detect systems can't continuously focus well (the Sony RX100 IV performs very well in this regard), it's just that, well, don't expect miracles from this particular one.
To sum up
If you're on the market for a compact, feature-laden Micro Four Thirds camera with options to grow into, the E-M10 II is well-served. As a longtime SLR abuser (and Fujifilm X100S moonlighter), my feeling about the Olympus is that it's a unique blend of both systems - and a different experience to make pictures with.
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