Conclusion

Pros:

  • Very good image quality - good dynamic range and color
  • Extensive and customizable external controls
  • Excellent build quality and sense of solidity
  • Class-leading image stabilization - also available for video recording
  • Broad set of features to support video shooters
  • Clip-on flash can be rotated and bounced
  • Super-fast autofocus with very good subject tracking
  • Heaps of clever additional modes: Live Comp, High Res
  • Good high resolution viewfinder
  • Built-in Wi-Fi provides fairly easy-to-use sharing options
  • Fully-articulated screen great for video
  • Comprehensive (though complex) in-camera Raw conversion

Cons:

  • Low resolution by contemporary standards
  • Complex menu system and extensive customization options can be overwhelming
  • Video output not as detailed as it could be
  • Default autofocus settings limit camera performance

Overall conclusion

The Olympus E-M5 II is a more significant reworking of its predecessor than its looks or choice of sensor seem to suggest. The camera boasts a wealth of additional features and refinements to many of the existing ones have been upgraded. However, the landscape has changed considerably since the first E-M5 was released and there are now a number of very competitive cameras in the same space. This means the E-M5 II has to be a significant step up, over its predecessor, to still stand out in the market.

One of the major challenges it faces is that continuous autofocus in mirrorless cameras is improving dramatically, with both the Samsung NX1 and Sony a6000 utilizing on-sensor phase detection technology to give genuinely capable performances. However, despite not including this feature, we've been impressed with how well the E-M5 II can subject track.

Image quality

The image quality isn't radically changed, compared with the original E-M5. This means it's still very good, with Raw files as clean and malleable as you'd expect for a Micro Four Thirds camera. The JPEG engine remains one of our favorites, producing bright, pleasant images at all but the highest ISO settings (though Fujifilm's film simulation modes are similarly good and offer more photographer-friendly options than the O-MD's color modes and Art filters).

Raw performance is strong, in that it offers a similar performance (proportionate to sensor size) to its other Sony-sensored rivals (such as the Nikon D5500 and Sony a6000). However, while this means it offers more flexible Raws than the current batch of Canon APS-C cameras, the advances Samsung has made in its NX1 and NX500 mean the M5 II's performance is no longer standout excellent.

The high-res mode is only useful in a narrow range of situations, requires a good lens and requires absolute stability, but the results it yields can be impressive.

m.Zuiko PRO 12-40mm F2.8
ISO 200, 1/400th sec, F4.5

Movie image quality isn't going to impress dedicated videographers, but it's of a similar standard to most of the stills-focused cameras in its class and the combination of focus peaking and the excellent image stabilization makes it easier than most to get usable footage.

One of the most-discussed features of the camera is its high-resolution mode. We found that, while it's possible to get clean and very detailed images from the mode, its susceptibility to subject movement severely limits its usefulness.

Handling

The E-M5 II offers plenty of direct user control, a lot of customization options and an extensive array of interesting features and modes. This means there are two aspects to the camera's learning curve: an initial slope, common to most cameras at this level, that must be surmounted to learn how to use the camera. Then there's a second, more daunting climb to the summit of knowledge about how to get the most from the camera.

It's hard to criticise a company for offering too many features or too much customization, but with the E-M5 II it feels like it's got to the point where the current menu system can't really cope with the degree of complexity that rests on its shoulders. Unless a user already has extensive knowledge of the way Olympus cameras work, it will take some time to learn where to find and how to configure all that this camera has to offer. A lot of this is the curse of just how much the company has included in this camera: if you don't engage with the task of learning the camera inside-out, you'll be no worse off than if you buy one of its rivals. However, it's the clever stuff that makes the camera interesting and really enjoyably that you might miss.

For all our concerns about the fine detail of the camera's setup, there's no denying that it's an attractive, well-built camera.

We found the added flexibility of the rotatable, bounceable flash overcomes any inconvenience of it being a separate, clip-on unit.

All of this isn't helped by Olympus's trend of adding more and more extra features without fully integrating them. For instance, the high res mode offers a choice of delays before you start exposure, but this isn't controlled using the part of the menu that adds a delay for standard shooting. Equally, the addition of electronic first curtain (or '0 Sec Anti-Shock' as Olympus opaquely calls it) and fully-electronic silent shutter mode leaves the drive mode menu distinctly over-populated. Little details such as these, and the need to disengage the default 'release priority' to get effective continuous AF performance rather undermine the camera.

The camera feels great and fits well in the hand, though, and offers an impressive amount of direct control for a body that's so small. This compact form factor is aided by separating the flash out as a separate clip-on unit. We're not usually fans of this approach but the E-M5 II's clip-on flash gains the ability to rotate and be bounced: offering a benefit from that separation. Add in the ability to remotely control off-board flashguns and it's a good indication of the level of thought that's gone into this camera.

The final word

Ultimately, the E-M5 II is an excellent camera - it's well built, can be a pleasure to use, takes very good stills and videos, and puts right many of our concerns about its predecessor. However, unlike its predecessor, it arrives at a time when there are a lot of excellent cameras on the market. The likes of Fujifilm's X-E2 will more than match the OM-D in terms of stills image quality, while the significantly less expensive Sony a6000 offers a formidable combination of image quality, video capability and autofocus tracking, which makes the E-M5 II a much less clear-cut recommendation than its predecessor was.

Should existing E-M5 users consider upgrading? They should certainly think about it: the improvements to the viewfinder, rear screen, AF tracking and video capabilities make it worth a look, before you even get to the myriad other tweaks and improvements. Equally anyone with some Micro Four Thirds lenses thinking about upgrading their choice of body should think about it very seriously.

This leaves the E-M5 II as probably the stand-out Micro Four Thirds camera in a market with some very good rivals. This shifts more of the emphasis of its appeal and appropriateness to the strength of the Micro Four Thirds system as a whole: if it offers the lenses and size/price/image quality balance that's right for you, then the E-M5 II should be top of your list. But in these competitive times, the E-M5 is no longer the mirrorless king: it's merely the heir-apparent to one of the great mirrorless families.

Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.
Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean.

Olympus OM-D E-M5 II
Category: Mid Range Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Performance
Movie / video mode
Connectivity
Value
PoorExcellent
Conclusion
The E-M5 II is a great all-rounder that improves over its well-respected predecessor in almost every respect. Although it faces stiff competition from higher-resolution peers in this segment of the mirrorless market, the combination of a deep feature set, extensive customization and enthusiast-friendly ergonomics make it a strong contender.
Good for
Committed photographers wanting an attractive, engaging camera with solid stills and video capability and quick access to every setting. Enthusiasts who already own Micro Four Thirds lenses.
Not so good for
Demanding users seeking the absolute best possible image quality. Dedicated videographers needing pro-grade footage.
81%
Overall score

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Olympus OM-D E-M5 II video overview

All footage shot at 1080/24p by Dale Baskin using an Olympus OM-D E-M5 II. Point-of-view riding sequence shot at 1080/60p. All camera-stabilized segments are marked in the top right of the video. Some color grading applied using Final Cut Pro for consistency. Click here to download a less compressed version (242MB).