Mirrorless


Camera Review: Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II

February 2, 2017

By Greg Scoblete

Olympus had one overriding goal with the development of the E-M1 Mark II: to offer autofocusing and continuous shooting speeds that surpass what flagship DSLRs (think Nikon’s D5 or Canon’s 1D X Mark II) can deliver. Add in improved image stabilization, 4K video recording and a retooled electronic viewfinder and it’s clear the gauntlet has been thrown down.

Features

There’s plenty new in the Mark II, including a 20-megapixel Live MOS sensor with a native ISO range of 200-6400, which is expandable to a low of 64 and a high of 25,600.

Its autofocus system sports 121 cross-type on-chip phase detection points as well as contrast detect AF. You can speed AF times using a focus limiter function to assign three custom focus distance ranges to keep the camera from hunting unnecessarily beyond where you want it focusing. You’ll hit up to 15 fps in continual shooting with continuous autofocus engaged for up to 84 RAW frames or 117 JPEGs. If you opt for an electronic shutter, you can reach a blistering 60 fps, though you do introduce the risk of rolling shutter distortion.

The Mark II also features an in-body 5-axis stabilization that’s good for an impressive 5.5 stops of correction, per CIPA standards. It can pair with select Olympus lenses to offer even more stabilization using the company’s 5-axis Sync Image stabilization, which employs both in-lens and in-camera corrections to keep image blur at bay.

Mechanical shutter speeds top off at 1/8000 sec. but switch to an electronic shutter and you can hit 1/32,000 sec. Long exposures of up to 30 minutes are also possible in Bulb mode.

With the E-M1 Mark II, Olympus is finally jumping on the 4K bandwagon. The Mark II captures 4096 x 2160 video at 24p or 3840 x 2160 video at 24 or 30p. Full HD video recording at 60p is also available.

Design

Like its predecessor, the E-M1 Mark II offers a durable, weather-sealed build. Unlike other mirrorless cameras, the Mark II also sports an excellent ergonomic grip. It’s not as diminutive as an E-M5 Mark II or a Fuji X-T2, but the grip makes the Mark II way more comfortable to hold than either. It’s a worthwhile trade off. It’s slightly lighter than Fuji’s X-T2, but 50 grams heavier than Sony’s a6500.

There’s ample latitude to reprogram the camera’s external controls so you can customize the E-M1 Mark II to your liking. That’s good because the camera’s main menu is a bit cumbersome to navigate.

There’s a 3-inch, vari-angle touch screen and a crisp 2.36m dot EVF with a fast refresh rate of 120 fps and a response time of 5 milliseconds. It’s not the absolute sharpest we’ve looked through, but it’s incredibly responsive—we didn’t spot any lag, even when tracking birds and soccer players. There’s a simulated optical viewfinder mode that you can use to increase the dynamic range of the EVF, though in practice we don’t see that it made a dramatic difference. You can use the touch screen display as a focus target pad and drag your thumb across the display to change focusing points while keeping your eyes locked on the EVF—a very welcome feature.

While it’s fairly compact, the E-M1 Mark II still makes room for a pair of SD card slots, including one slot that’s compatible with fast UHS-II memory cards.

The Olympus E-M1 Mark II is a weather-sealed beast that feels great in the hand.

Image Quality

The E-M1 Mark II delivers excellent in-camera JPEGs. Images are fairly clean and color accurate to ISO 3200 and useable at 6400. Higher ISO performance is definitely not this camera’s strong suit, but within its native range, RAW images can easily be cleaned up in your post-processing software of choice. When you enter into the expanded ISO settings, JPEG images will get noisy.

While the 20-megapixel sensor on the Mark II won’t deliver anywhere near the pixel count of a newer full-frame DSLR, it does offer a High Res Shot mode, which shifts the sensor in tiny increments to compile a single 50-megapixel equivalent image. Originally introduced on the E-M5 Mark II, this mode required a tripod to use and a completely still subject since it’s extremely sensitive to motion blur. However, Olympus has improved the algorithm in this new iteration so that the camera can detect and correct for slight camera movements to prevent them from marring your image. In practice, you still need a tripod and it’s best to set the camera to fire on a delay to prevent your hand from introducing shake when triggering the shutter.

Despite its limitations, the High Res Shot mode does produce a noticeably sharper, cleaner image than other still files coming out of the camera. It’s a great option for shooting relatively calm landscapes, products and architecture—just stay away from people.

The video quality on the E-M1 Mark II is also excellent straight out of the camera. There’s both a mic and headphone jack, but what the E-M1 Mark II sadly lacks is a mode to desaturate your video, similar to Sony’s Log modes.

Performance

Having recently tested the 1D X Mark II and Nikon’s D5, we were a bit skeptical that Olympus would be able to deliver on its promise of topping the best DSLRs when it came to continuous shooting and AF tracking. When it comes to burst shooting, the E-M1 Mark II is clearly a step ahead, delivering rapid continuous shooting speeds that top the flagships. Focusing accuracy was also incredibly consistent during both single and continuous/tracking modes. We tended to have the best results with objects moving sideways vs. front-to-back, but we were impressed with the overall accuracy in nailing fast-moving subjects.

The Mark II’s speed is impressive on its face, but a new Pro Capture Mode gives you even more chances to freeze fast-moving and elusive moments. Pro Capture essentially saves 14 frames (RAW and/or JPEGs) to buffer memory using the electronic shutter when you press the shutter down halfway. A full press pushes you into full-speed continuous shooting. It’s an excellent option for shooting fast motion but does introduce a bit of a workflow headache as you cull through that many more frames.

The image stabilization on the E-M1 Mark II is tremendous. We were able to capture sharp images at .5 sec. shutter speeds, handheld. For video, you can easily walk with the camera in hand and maintain a smooth take.

Battery life is rated for 440 frames by CIPA. It’s not great by DSLR standards, but quite good by mirrorless ones, topping Sony’s a6500 and Fuji’s X-T2.

Bottom Line

If you’re looking for a professional grade, crop-sensor mirrorless, you’ve got several compelling options. Sony’s new a6500, for instance, isn’t quite as fast in continuous shooting as the E-M1 Mark II, but has a much more robust AF system with more than double the number of AF points, and a larger image sensor to boot. Both models offer 4K video recording, but Sony delivers video-friendly features like S.Log and S.Gamut that Olympus doesn’t. Sony’s a6500 is also less expensive and a bit more compact than the E-M1 Mark II. For video shooters, Panasonic’s GH5 looms, though as of this writing there’s still a lot to be learned about the camera and when it will ship.

Nonetheless, we think Olympus has done an excellent job in creating a flagship mirrorless camera with broad appeal. It’s fast, accurate, feature-rich, has truly incredible image stabilization and first-rate image quality.

PROS: Incredibly fast continuous shooting; consistent AF during burst shooting; excellent image quality; comfortable ergonomics; Wi-Fi; 4K video recording; incredible stabilization; good battery life for a mirrorless camera.

CONS: Fairly low-resolution sensor for the price; ISO performance trails competition; lacks log mode for video; cumbersome menu.

PRICE: $2,000