The OM-D E-M5 Mark II is the middle child in Olympus’s family of high-performance, Micro Four Thirds mirrorless cameras, situated beneath the flagship E-M1 and the entry-level E-M10. At the risk of anthropomorphizing hunks of metal, glass and silicon, we’ll note it’s usually the middle child that gets neglected by parents. Together with David Patiño we tested an E-M5 Mark II with a 12–40mm f/2.8 lens to see if this recently refreshed middle child is getting the attention it deserves.
As the Mark II designation suggests, this is an update to 2012’s E-M5. The Mark II enjoys a few new features, including Wi-Fi, a high-resolution 2.36 million-dot EVF and a revamped five-axis image stabilization system that delivers a category-leading five stops of image compensation based on CIPA standards. It uses a 16-megapixel Live MOS sensor with a sensitivity range of ISO 100–25,600.
Mechanical shutter speeds top off at 1/8000 sec, but when using the electronic shutter, the E-M5 Mark II can snap exposures as fast as 1/16,000 sec. A 30-minute exposure is available in bulb mode. In addition to the EVF, there’s a 3-inch vari-angle touch screen display for framing stills and video.
The E-M5 Mark II records 1920x1080p60 video using IPB compression. Drop frame rates to 30 fps and you’ll enjoy a fairly high maximum bit rate of 77Mbps shooting in ALL-I compression. Cinema-like 24 fps as well as 25 fps frame rates are also available in ALL-I. Focus peaking during video is available in a choice of four colors and three intensities. You can record time code and output footage via HDMI for external monitoring. There’s a mic input for external audio recording, but you’ll need to spring for the HLD-8G external grip ($129) for a headphone jack for audio monitoring.
Like the E-M5, the E-M5 Mark II is weather-resistant. Unlike its predecessor, it is confirmed freezeproof to a temperature of 14 degrees Fahrenheit. The weather-sealed magnesium alloy build gives the E-M5 Mark II a very durable feel, but it’s also quite slim and compact. In fact, it’s so squat that the bottom half of our hand was constantly dangling off the bottom of the camera. “It’s almost too small for its own good,” Patiño remarked. We think the HLD-8G will be a must for those who’d trade off a little extra weight for a firmer grip.
With three dials, four custom function buttons and two additional buttons for movie recording and HDR, there are literally no smooth surfaces for a finger to rest on at the top of the camera. “When I’m holding it, I’m always hitting a button,” Patiño said.
One very useful design feature ported over from the E-M1 is the 2×2 function lever, which lets you assign two different sets of controls to the two dials atop the camera. For instance, when the lever is in position one, your top dials can control shutter speed and aperture; when the lever is in position two, they can control white balance and ISO.
Patiño was shooting marketing photos for a local salon using his Canon EOS 5D Mark III, and grabbed the E-M5 Mark II at the end to see how it would fare. On his 60-inch LCD TV, the images from the two cameras were nearly indistinguishable. In fact, the reds were snappier on the Olympus, and fine details—like the stitching in fabric—were equally well-resolved. We enjoyed excellent results through ISO 6400, though noise crept in above that in JPEGs.
(© David Patiño)
While you can shoot in this high-resolution mode without a tripod, you shouldn’t. The sensor shifting that occurs is extremely sensitive to motion—yours and your subject’s. If you drop the E-M5 Mark II onto a tripod and shoot stationary objects, it will pull out a lot more detail. But even then, we found it to be super-sensitive to any movement.
To test High Res Shot, we photographed the pages of an open book from across a room. When we magnified the High Res Shot image to get a closer look at the text, we noticed what initially looked like jagged pixilation. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be the subtle shift of the sensor duplicating the text—mind you, this was after we had stabilized the camera on a tripod. The culprit turned out to be the interval between when the shutter was pressed and when High Res Shot kicks into gear. You can delay the shutter release in High Res Shot mode from 0–30 seconds. We initially shot with a 0-second delay. Setting even a slight 1/8 sec delay produced blur-free results.
Suffice it to say, High Res Shot takes some finessing to execute properly, and is only useful in a specific range of scenarios.
When not moving about to provide additional resolution, the E-M5 Mark II’s sensor is moving to combat image blur. The 5-axis system covers yaw, pitch, roll and movement across the horizontal and vertical axis. The system is very impressive. In a series of exposures from 1/10 sec down to 1/4 sec handheld, the stabilization system was able to keep images almost entirely blur-free. At 1/4 sec it was harder to maintain a completely blur-free image, but when we switched IS off, the image was a total washout.
We were even more impressed with how it handled video.
To test the image stabilization while shooting video, we walked the E-M5 Mark II down an alley next to the Canon EOS 7D Mark II with the EF-S 18–135mm f/3.5–5.6 IS lens. The Olympus footage was notably smoother. You may not be able to entirely abandon a stabilizer rig in every scenario, but you can have a lot more confidence that handheld videos shot with the E-M5 Mark II will hold up, even under a fair amount of hand movement.
The E-M5 Mark II hums along at a respectable 10 fps in single AF mode (focusing once on the first frame only) with image stabilization off, but performance drops to 5 fps when continuous AF is engaged. The buffer can store 16 RAW images or 19 JPEGs before needing a pause. The E-M5 Mark II is certainly not the fastest mirrorless you can buy—it lags behind Nikon’s new J5 and Samsung’s NX1—but when dropped to 5 fps it did a nice job of keeping moving subjects in focus.
The menu system, however, proved frustrating. There’s an abundance of adjustable settings on the E-M5 Mark II, which is great. But it takes a fair amount of menu digging to get at them. You can mitigate this somewhat by using the numerous customizable function buttons on the camera’s exterior, but it’s a poor substitute for a user-friendly menu system.
We liked that the E-M5 Mark II delivers a magnified focus preview, with focus peaking, once you turn the manual focus lever—but it dumps you out of this preview too quickly. We could have used a few extra milliseconds to confirm or dial in our focus. Also, you only get a dynamic exposure preview on the LCD when in movie mode, not for stills.
The E-M5 Mark II offers an excellent battery life, with 750 shots per charge (by CIPA standards) when Quick Sleep Mode is turned on. Performance drops to 310 shots if you disable Quick Sleep. We kept it on, as it didn’t interfere with the camera’s operation all that much.
Olympus was at the forefront of mirrorless camera development when the category emerged, and with its rock-solid stabilization, Wi-Fi and wealth of features, the E-M5 Mark II is definitely a welcome improvement. Micro Four Thirds shooters in general and E-M5 owners in particular should be thoroughly pleased.
The E-M5 Mark II isn’t the fastest mirrorless on the block and it lacks 4K video recording, which is quickly becoming the distinguishing characteristic of high-end mirrorless models. Still, the Mark II is tough, ultra-portable and highly customizable, and while its high-resolution mode is a bit fussy, it produces excellent images.
Rock-solid 5-axis image stabilization; highly customizable function buttons; quick autofocus; rotating and articulating LCD display; weather-resistant.
No 4K video; confusing menu; small body may not work for everyone; audio monitoring requires accessory grip.
(© David Patiño)