Ultimate OM-D: Olympus E-M1 Mark II Review
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II is befitting of the term 'flagship,' and performs every bit as quickly as such a title implies - and it should, given the $2000 MSRP (body-only). At first glance, it looks remarkably similar to an E-M1, but there's been some meaningful tweaking of body elements, from a deeper, more comfortable grip to a fully articulating rear touchscreen. It's on the inside, though, that Olympus has focused most of its efforts. In terms of outright speed, the E-M1 II is unmatched in the world of Micro Four Thirds cameras, and gives many higher-specced cameras with larger sensors a run for their money. But the fact remains, the sensor in the E-M1 II is only a quarter of the size of a full-frame, 35mm-sized sensor, and you can indeed purchase a camera with one of those larger sensors for less money. On the flip side, the smaller sensor in the Mark II is what allows for it to have such incredible speed.
Is the E-M1 II's overall package enough to sway those tempted by the 'bigger is better' mentality? Let's find out.
Design, operation and controls
The E-M1 II's build quality is top-of-class. The body is made of aluminum and magnesium alloys and feels sturdy enough to break a brick in half (please don't try this) though, of course, the company makes no guarantees about the Mark II's durability. Everything is weather-sealed and the camera proved itself in the continuous rain and cold weather in Iceland.
|No need to pray with the spray - the E-M1 II is incredibly well-sealed. Olympus 12-100mm F4 IS Pro at 14mm. ISO 200, 1/400 sec, F10. Photo by Jeff Keller|
Ergonomics are about as good as its gets. The grip is just right, allowing for one-handed shooting with lighter lenses, and the front and rear dials are perfectly placed. The camera is a customizable to the point where it's over-the-top. Twelve buttons and dials can have their function changed, with separate settings for still and video shooting. If that's not enough, the function of the dials and shoulder buttons can be swapped by flipping the Fn Lever on the back of the camera. (With further alternatives available for the Fn Lever, if you'd prefer!)
Menus are a mixed bag. The Super Control Panel is here, of course, and the camera's touch interface makes it easy to navigate. As with other Olympus ILCs, the main menu is confusing and changes to the already dense custom settings submenu have taken usability a step backward.
The E-M1 II's Auto ISO system allows you to set the minimum shutter speed and maximum sensitivity, though it tops out at ISO 6400 rather than 25600 (the highest the camera can go.) Auto ISO is not available when shooting in 'M' mode when capturing video as it is in stills, and it's worth noting that with the latter, you'll have to assign a dial (not a button) to exposure compensation to bias exposure.
Features and performance
It's hard to summarize everything the E-M1 Mark II can do in a few sentences, but here goes. Its biggest feature is undoubtedly its in-body 5-axis image stabilization, which works with every lens you attach. It can reduce shake by a claimed 5.5 stops and, if you're using the Olympus 12-100mm F4 lens, rated as 6.5 stops (which squares with our experiences at long focal lengths – not so much at wide-angle.) To go any higher than that would defy the laws of physics, we're told. We've been able to take handheld 2 second exposures and video stabilization is amazing.
|The E-M1 II's stabilization is so good, our tripods got a lot less use during this review. Out of camera JPEG. Olympus 25mm F1.2 Pro. ISO 200, 1/2 sec sec, F14. Photo by Carey Rose|
The High Res Shot mode, which combines eight exposures into one to produce 50MP JPEGs and 80MB Raws, does indeed produce highly detailed photos. Despite noticeable improvements, it's not suited for moving subjects. A Pro Capture mode pre-buffers up to 14 shots, which are saved along with everything captured after pressing the shutter release button (which includes the top burst rate of 60 fps.) It can definitely help you catch a moment that your natural reaction time would otherwise result in a missed shot.
From a performance standpoint, the E-M1 II is about as close to DSLR responsiveness as you can get in the mirrorless world. Power-on isn't instant, but it's darn fast, and shot-to-shot times, menu navigation and playback speed are all beyond reproach. With bursts, you have to actually be careful with the highest 60 fps mode, as it's so fast as to be hard to tell that you're actually shooting. The 18 fps bursts with continuous autofocus are also blazing fast, but both of those modes can be prone to rolling shutter effect during panning or when photographing fast-moving objects. You can use the mechanical shutter, which tops out at 1/8000 sec, at 15 fps with S-AF and 10 fps with C-AF. Battery life has increased markedly over previous models, thanks to a higher capacity battery that also charges in half the time.
The E-M1 II's autofocus system sets a new benchmark for mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras, but isn't without its flaws. Continuous autofocus at 18 fps using a single point or group of points results in a very good hit rate, though continuous autofocus tracking during those bursts is somewhat less reliable. You will sometimes have a nearly 100% hit rate, but sometimes the system will get distracted and shoot off to the background halfway through the burst (this happened regardless of what our 'C-AF Lock' setting was, but be sure to experiment with it depending on your shooting situation). Importantly, autofocus acquisition for tracking is very, very fast, so if the camera does lose focus during a burst, you can quickly release the shutter and half-press again to re-initiate focus on your intended subject.
|The E-M1 II's autofocus system is swift and sure, even in backlit situations. Olympus M. Zuiko 12-100mm F4 IS Pro at 54mm. ISO 200, 1/2000 sec, F4. Photo by Carey Rose|
Tracking while shooting single frames works very well, allowing you to 'focus-while-recomposing' about as effectively as Nikon's 3D tracking, and face / eye detection is reliable. Moving your autofocus point around is easy, whether you prefer the four-way controller or the touchscreen (which can operate as a touchpad with your eye to the finder.) The system is, overall, the best we've used on a mirrorless ILC, but we're hoping for some tweaking to come in future firmware updates to improve tracking reliability during bursts. We'd also like Olympus to consider a re-think of its 'C-AF Lock' options, as they really are confusing - they appear in the menu as a sort of scale, but in reality, we believe each setting is more of a preset for varying use-cases.
Still and video quality
With a new 20MP sensor, the E-M1 II offers a modest improvement in resolution over its predecessor without increasing noise levels, which are about what we'd expect to see without some more drastic changes in sensor architecture (such as, say, a BSI design). JPEGs are typical Olympus, with punchy (and pleasing) colors and contrast even at the 'Natural' setting, and though there's an incredible amount of tonal customization, the noise reduction never really impressed us (even when set to 'off'). Raw capture allows you to extract the most detail from your images, and with a touch of noise reduction, ISO 6400 shots are perfectly usable.
|Don't expect miracles with the Four Thirds sensor, but results up to ISO 6400 are pretty solid. Olympus M. Zuiko 7-14mm F2.8 Pro at 10mm. ISO 6400, 1/60 sec, F2.8. Photo by Jeff Keller|
Video is a big step up for Olympus in the E-M1 II. You have a choice of UHD or DCI 4K at 102 and 237Mbps respectively, though DCI is the way to go if you want the best possible quality (it's noticeably more detailed than UHD). Rolling shutter isn't entirely absent, but it's well-controlled, and there's now both microphone and headphone ports for audio - though using those ports will impede the rotation of the screen. As with many of its peers, 1080p output is disappointingly soft, and frame rates top out at 60 fps, so there's no real slow-motion option. Still, the combination of DCI 4K with in-body image stabilization that makes handheld footage look like a glidecam is awfully compelling.
The final word
Olympus wasn't kidding when it said that the E-M1 Mark II was 'overdeveloped.' In terms of Raw speed the camera is ridiculously fast (in most cases), whether focus is locked at 60 fps or when tracking a subject at 18 fps. The AF system is one of the best we've seen on a mirrorless camera and DCI 4K video quality is superb. As with its predecessor, build quality is impeccable.
The camera falls short in several areas, including 1080p video quality, I/O port placement, buffer issues and JPEG quality. It's also very expensive for a smaller-sensored camera, with some excellent competitors costing a few hundred dollars less. As mentioned earlier, it's important to bear in mind that the smaller sensor is how the camera is able to be so fast. If you want a larger sensor, you certainly won't be shooting at 18 fps, even on pro cameras like the Nikon D5 and Canon EOS-1D X Mark II. One thing Olympus does very well is keep updating its cameras, sometimes for years, and we think the E-M1 Mark II will get better over time. For now, though, Olympus has delivered a camera which competes with the very best enthusiast ILCs, making it worthy of our highest award.
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II
Category: Semi-professional Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Ergonomics & handling
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Movie / video mode
The OM-D E-M1 Mark II is Olympus' most ambitious camera yet and it blows away its peers in terms of raw speed - and it's no slouch when it comes to photo and video quality, AF performance and build quality. The Mark II is customizable to the point where it's overwhelming, so it's not for everyone. It's may also be a budget-stretcher for a lot of people. Aside from those and a few other quirks, the E-M1 II is an interchangeable lens camera to be reckoned with.
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