Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II
Early Look, Review 14

Return of the Flagship: Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Reviewed

Iceland. Primordial vistas forged by volcanoes rising out of frozen seas. As beautiful as it is dramatic and dangerous. I’m trudging across a black-sand beach, hoping to get the perfect shot. Pushing against gale-force winds. Zigzagging between selfie-taking tourists and lava rocks hurled ashore by endless, churning waves. The surf pounding. Roaring. Reeling back with a monster undertow.

And then it begins to hail.

Another freak storm on a day where the sun shown and the rain poured and the snow flurried. The tourists flee, covering their faces, heads, and delicate cameras. I don’t even stop shooting. I don’t have to.

I have a new Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Sample Image

Not only does Olympus’ revised flagship boast a myriad of features and specs that shame a good many DSLRs, its body and accompanying M.Zuiko PRO lenses are weather-sealed such that you can operate in extreme conditions without fear of a breakdown. No exaggeration. No reservations. I’ve tried to murder several OM-D bodies on glacial mountain tops, in heavy downpours, and with sweltering desert heat and they just won’t die. Here in Iceland, we’ve taken the new E-M1 Mark II into the sub-zero night to capture the Northern Lights, in and out of rain and snow storms, and under the spray-shadows of several monster waterfalls.

The E-M1 Mark II performs flawlessly in all conditions and is well worth considering for anyone looking to upgrade an aging OM-D or PEN body, or for anyone looking to acquire serious gear that’s still a breeze for first timers. This camera sets a very high bar where my only question is one of overall value. In other words, the E-M1 Mark II definitely has the goods, but is it worth the price?

Let’s find out together.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Sample Image

PROS

  • Fast
  • Ergonomic
  • Light
  • Weather Resistant
  • Great for Pros or first time ILC owners alike
  • 4K Video recording
  • Improved battery life
  • Fun Art Filters

CONS

  • Pricey
  • Less compact than some M4/3 camera systems (especially with the optional grip)
  • No HDR Video
  • Easy to leave the camera in ProCapture Mode

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Sample Image

KEY FEATURES

  • 20.4 megapixel Live MOS sensor
  • TruePic VIII Image Processor
  • ISO 64 – 25600
  • 18fps Continuous Shooting in C-AF (Continuous AF + AE Tracking)
  • 60fps Continuous Shooting in S-AF (AF + AE lock)
  • DCI 4K video capture @ 24P & 237 Mbps
  • 4K UHD video recording @ 30P
  • Full HD 1080p video recording @ 60p
  • High Res Shot Mode (50MP JPEG; 80MP RAW)
  • Dual FAST AF
  • 5-Axis Image Stabilization
  • Silent Mode
  • Focus Stacking / Focus Bracketing
  • Live Composite / Live Bulb / Live Time
  • USB 3.0 Type C
  • Dual Memory Card Slots
  • BLH-1 Lithium-ion Battery (37% longer lasting)

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Sample Image

BUILD QUALITY

Dustproof, freezeproof down to 14°F (-10°C), splashproof (and then some), there are times where the OM-D E-M1 Mark II seems more tough or lifeproof than ILC. It feels indestructible, honestly, though every superhero has his Kryptonite and, as such, I would advise against submerging the E-M1 Mark II underwater or dropping it directly on its 3.0″ vari-angle touchscreen display, which tends to lose fist-fights with volcanic rocks. True story.

In addition to rugged capabilities, the E-M1 Mark II is a classy camera with a mix of metal, rubber, and plastic surfaces. Olympus always pays careful attention to differentiating the feel of various nobs, buttons, and surfaces so you can spend more time shooting and less hunting for the right button. The E-M1 Mark II is the best of the bunch so far, though I would have personally enjoyed a silver option that looks so good on the PEN F and E-M5 Mark II.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Sample Image

ERGONOMICS

Another area where Olympus excels. I absolutely love how OM-D bodies feel in hand and the way they’re laid out. Power switch, AutoFocus, and Shooting Mode selectors are on the top left, while the Mode Dial, shutter button, video recording button, and various other adjustments on the top right. Spend an hour or two in the Olympus world, and the tactile button experience reveals itself to be easy and intuitive. My favorite example: depending on mode, there are two control dials to adjust shutter speed and aperture OR white balance and ISO depending on whether or not the control lever, located next to the eyepiece, is in position 1 or 2. There are also a handful of customizable Fn (function) buttons on the body and various M.Zuiko lenses. In other words, the E-M1 Mark II is whatever you want it to be.

On the downside, the Main Menu system remains relatively dense. The Setting Widget’s submenu, for example, goes all the way to the letter J, which can be slightly intimidating. Fortunately, Olympus was clever enough to build in the Super Control Panel. Simply tap the OK button when shooting to pull up the dozen-plus most commonly adjusted settings parameters. In the E-M1 Mark II’s case, that even means being able to select where, of two SD card slots, you’ll store your files and in what format (RAW, JPEG, or RAW + JPEG). The SCP is a brilliant time-saver in my humblest opinion, one I’ve seen migrating onto other brands since its debut.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Sample Image

DISPLAYS

The OM-D E-M1 Mark II has a dual display system. For those coming from DSLRs, there’s a 1.48x (35mm equivalent) electronic viewfinder (EVF) with a 120fps refresh rate and a 5-milisecond response time. It’s almost as good as looking through an optical viewfinder. For those coming from a point-and-shoot, smartphone, or video background, the aforementioned 3.0″ vari-angle touchscreen display swivels out to the left of the body where it can be tilted up and down for high angle, low angle, and selfie shots. Overall, this bright, responsive screen offers out-of-the-box settings pretty close to camera exposure. It’s particularly helpful when composing in near-darkness.

One flaw comes from attempting to swivel the screen whilst utilizing the HDMI and headphone ports on the body’s left side; when full extended, the LCD blocks those. Another problem I encountered was, after a thorough soaking, the LCD display remains dark thanks to the sensors around the EVF mistaking water droplets for a person looking through the viewfinder.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Sample Image

SPEED

In a word, blazing. The E-M1 Mark II is the M Series of digital cameras. Olympus’ True Pic VIII Processor (dual 4-core processors, actually) drives performance of both the Dual FAST AutoFocus system as well as up to 60fps Continuous Shooting. The AF system is comprised of 121 cross-type on-chip phase detection focus points. No longer limited to screen-center with a few zones around it, all 121 points are active regardless of mode, which allows the E-M1 Mark II to not only track objects moving left/right or up/down, but also objects moving along the notoriously difficult z-axis (i.e., towards camera).

With C-AF engaged, the E-M1 Mark II rips off 18fps still photographs, but lock AF and AE, and you’re set to shoot up to a mind-melting 60fps in full res RAW + JPEG. Olympus builds this capability into two modes called ProCapture High and ProCapture Low. High hits 60fps, while Low settles for a still speedy 30fps. Both ProCapture modes work by buffering images once the shutter is depressed halfway, waiting for the full click to capture at 60 (or 30) fps as long as you hold the shutter down PLUS the last 14 frames captured before you fully depressed the shutter. Never want to miss the key moment? Good. Here’s a crap-ton of images to find the perfect one. It’s an excellent tool with only one problem; if you forget that you have it on, your next two or three photos turn into a dozen or several hundred new photos.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Sample Image

The E-M1 Mark II is able to achieve such speeds with its electronic shutter. Inherently silent, e-shutters are perfect for street shooting, press events, weddings, and other quiet-friendly occasions, but are also known for the rolling shutter effect, which results in slanted vertical lines because of the way the image sensor captures and processes each image. The E-M1 Mark II has all but eliminated rolling shutter, allowing it to photograph things like airplanes and bullet trains.

To be fair, we didn’t get a chance to push the AF and rolling shutter to the max during our Iceland adventure, but I look forward to doing so. The E-M1 Mark II is one of the fastest camera systems in the world.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Sample Image

IMAGE QUALITY

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II produces outstanding images in both the RAW and JPEG formats. The OM-D series has spent the last few years making an argument that their dynamic, contrasty, and crisp images can go head to head with larger image sensors. It’s never been truer than with this new flagship system. Because we’re pre-launch, I haven’t been able to do direct processing of the RAW files in Lightroom, but I’ve been able to view them all and I look forward to exploring their dynamic range in the future. I’m also a big fan of the manageable file sizes.

Further, Olympus outputs pretty high-quality JPEG images, particularly ones processed in-camera such as their Art Filters. You can’t post-process Olympus JPEGs without introducing noise, but I’m addicted to Dramatic Tone I and II, which are high-contrast and ominous with either bold saturation (DTI) or bold chroma b&w (DTII). There are a dozen other filters or in-camera RAW processing options that export excellent JPEGs.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Sample Image

While overall image quality is above average, there is a bit of a trade-off in the noise department. The more you process, push, or crop, the more noise. Simple. Not a surprise. We’ll talk more about this in the next section, but using this camera is akin to shooting 16mm film versus 35mm or 70mm. To me, though, this is the look of Micro Four Thirds and I dig it. It’s a bit raw, a bit of a nod to the past film stocks.

OM-D system image quality is impressive and perfect for social, web, and most print applications.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Sample Image

ISO PERFORMANCE

While noise is slightly inherent to the whole system, Olympus’ ISO capabilities are nothing short of incredible. As a test, I stopped outside a Reykjavik pub and, in Aperture priority mode, rolled through every ISO setting from 64 (LOW) all the way up to 25,600. At first glance, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference because there’s no apparent noise spike or loss of color saturation that turns the image into a mess of digital grain.

Instead, as ISO rises, the camera reduces noise where the trade off comes in terms of fine image detail. In the above sample images, with each step we take up the ISO ladder, we lose the cracks and crevices in the sidewalk as well as the smaller lettering in painted signs. With that in mind, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend shooting at 25,600, especially for larger or full-screen applications, but it’s nice to know the camera can go there. And I was shocked to see how good ISO 64 to ISO 12800 looks.

Another positive score on the E-M1’s checklist.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Sample Image

VIDEO QUALITY

The OM-D E-M1 Mark II is the first Olympus camera capable of shooting 4K video, a specification that’s sorely been missing since they first launched their STUNNING 5-axis in-camera image stabilization system. While the various resolutions and recording codecs are even less pro-friendly than the Canon 5D Mark IV (

First, we have DCI 4K video capture at 24P and up to 237 Mbps. A smaller bitrate version of what we all see in theatrical cinema environments, this 4096 × 2160 resolution and 1.85:1 aspect ratio footage is designed to evoke a cinematic feeling. That it does, but at the cost of motion judder when panning left and right. Still, as you can see in the clip above, which has not been edited or post-processed in any way, paired with 5-axis image stabilization, the results are beautiful, albeit choppy.

Next, I shot a few clips in the lower bitrate 4K UHD video recording at 30P. With a 3840 x 2160 resolution and a 1.78:1 aspect ratio (aka 16:9) you may have seen on 4K TVs, the overall image quality is quite good with no macro-blocking or digital artifacts. The video’s smooth too. In the above clip, I ramped the M.Zuiko 12-100mm F4 IS PRO lens to 100mm (200mm equivalent) and was able to capture a few pans that, hand-held, look almost like they were captured on a tripod.

Lastly, I shot a few more clips at Full 1080/60p HD. In addition to more 200mm-equivalent hand-held zooms, I also tested out shooting movies with the Dramatic Tone II Art Filter engaged. Olympus cameras are incredibly flexible — there’s not only a Video Recording Mode, but thanks to the dedicated Video Record button, you can record video in every mode.

While I don’t see Hollywood turning to the E-M1 Mark II for blockbuster productions, Olympus’ variety of sharp glass and 4K capabilities make this lightweight camera perfect for shooting in adverse conditions or small spaces.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Sample Image

BATTERY LIFE

Good news, bad news. Olympus’ new BLH-1 Lithium-ion battery holds 37% more power than the previous generation battery on a camera system that doesn’t actually need 37% more power, so you’re going to get extended battery life. It also charges 50% faster. However, it’s a different size and shape from the previous OM-D batteries so, if you’re already an OM-D owner, you won’t be able to use those batteries for this camera.

On our Iceland trip, and during some unforgiving and frigid conditions, I found battery life to be quite good. I used the E-M1 Mark II exclusively with optional HLD-9 Battery Holder Grip, which allows you to add an extra battery to the equation. Even in the worst conditions, I was able to shoot all day or just-shy of all day before dipping into the second battery. The E-M1 Mark II might be fast, but power-hungry it is not. Even in the winter.

That said, I would still recommend getting the HLD-9 because it improves the ergonomics for vertical shooting while adding extra control dials, function buttons, and another shutter button (but make sure to lock that shutter because gloved hands like to accidentally nudge it).

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Sample Image

Team Olympus!

OVERALL VALUE

With a $1999.99 MSRP, the OM-D E-M1 Mark II is available now (click HERE). That price is body-only; at this time, there are no kits on the horizon.

This is the part where I wonder if the price is a little high. At $1,500 or $1,600, it’s a no-brainer. But at two grand, we’re in Nikon D500 territory, which is obviously heavier and doesn’t have the same continuous shooting capabilities and is mum in the ways of creative effects, but the D500’s image sensor is GLORIOUS to the point where it competes with Full Frame sensors… and you can already find that model on sale.

So the question then becomes, what is the E-M1 Mark II worth to you?

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Sample Image

For those pondering Olympus for the first time, or for those who don’t need a compact or light camera system, it might be worth it to hold off waiting for a sale or a price drop.

However, if you have an aging OM-D, PEN, or some other Micro Four Thirds camera — if you are already invested in the Olympus ecosystem — the E-M1 Mark II is hands down the best Olympus camera ever made and is well worth your consideration. It’s also great for anyone, still shooters or filmmakers, who need a RUGGED camera that fits in tight spaces and allows you to shoot handheld most of the time, or for anyone to whom a DSLR feels too large in-hand.

Overall this camera is…

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Sample Image

Return of the Flagship: Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Reviewed
November 1, 2016
9/10
Rugged, handsome, and faster than many DSLRs, Olympus has unleashed its latest flagship Micro Four Thirds camera system, the long awaited OM-D E-M1 Mark II. It combines good ergonomics, 4K video capabilities with excellent still image quality, access the wonderful M.Zuiko PRO lens series, and extended battery life. On the flipside, some might have concerns about the image sensor size, video bit rate, and overall value as the Mark II costs more than the original E-M1. Bottom line: if you're looking for a fast, compact camera system, or already own an aging OM-D or PEN camera body, the OM-D E-M1 Mark II is Highly Recommended.
9 Overall Score
Highly Recommended

Rugged, handsome, and faster than many DSLRs, Olympus has unleashed its latest flagship Micro Four Thirds camera system, the long awaited OM-D E-M1 Mark II. It combines good ergonomics, 4K video capabilities with excellent still image quality, access the wonderful M.Zuiko PRO lens series, and extended battery life. On the flipside, some might have concerns about the image sensor size, video bit rate, and overall value as the Mark II costs more than the original E-M1. Bottom line: if you're looking for a fast, compact camera system, or already own an aging OM-D or PEN camera body, the OM-D E-M1 Mark II is Highly Recommended.

BUILD QUALITY
10
ERGONOMICS
9
STILL IMAGE QUALITY
9
ISO PERFORMANCE
8.5
VIDEO QUALITY
8
SPEED
9.5
BATTERY LIFE
8.5
AUTOFOCUS
9
OVERALL VALUE
8

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14 Comments

  • Renato says: November 3, 2016 at 12:40 pm

    Canon 5D IV might be a great photo camera but far from a pro-friendly video camera. No C-log, ancient Motion JPEG codec and needs transcoding to be properly edited, massive files, it’s almost 4GB per minute of footage without any of the advantages you expect from high bitrate codecs and the list goes on and on.

    Reply
    • Michael Palmer says: November 3, 2016 at 5:20 pm

      To be clear, the key word is that sentence is “as.” Meaning, I didn’t call the 5D MIV pro-friendly in a vacuum (I agree with your assessment, and noted as such in the linked review), but rather my point was that E-M1 MII is EVEN LESS pro friendly than the 5DMIV. I’ll take another look at the wording to make my intention clearer. Cheers & thanks for reading.

      Reply
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  • Luca says: November 4, 2016 at 4:55 am

    You can disable auto switch evf eye sensor

    Reply
  • R. Bakker says: November 5, 2016 at 8:42 am

    How does the new Em-1 MarkII perform (focusspeed etc.) with regular Fourthirds lenses?
    I don’t see any comments on this.

    Reply
    • John says: November 13, 2016 at 1:49 pm

      X 2 on this comment. Great review, you mentioned at the end this is a great camera for those invested in the OMD ecosystem. What about those of us unfortunates invested in the now unsupported four thirds DSLR ecosystem? I will consider this camera if I can revive my four thirds lenses and would love to see how well they work on it.

      Reply
      • Michael Palmer says: November 14, 2016 at 11:22 am

        Hi, R & John. We didn’t get a chance to test Four Thirds lenses on our trip, but Olympus does sell an adapter for using Four Thirds glass on their Micro Four Thirds OM-D and PEN camera bodies. The weather-sealed MMF-3 is currently about $150 on Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0073A1EBE/stevesdigicams-20) and will even allow you to retain AutoFocus functionality on certain models. So that’s one way to get the newest tech while saving some money on new glass. I hope that helps. Thanks so much for reading.

        Reply
      • Jim Mckenna says: February 10, 2017 at 5:27 pm

        I get excellent results with my legacy four thirds glass on my original version E-M1. This extends to the 35mm/3.5, 50/2, 14-42, 150/2, in fact I’d suggest that these lenses focus faster on the E-M1 than the E-5. The 12-60 2.8-3.5 still focuses faster on the E-5, but it’s almost as impressive if a bit more busy on the E-M1. On the long end of the 70-300 both cameras fare about the same, that is it’s a slow and cumbersome focus mechanism.

        Reply
      • Tony D says: July 29, 2017 at 12:48 pm

        I have the same concern – especially having read that the em1 mark ii uses a different focusing system than the em5 mark ii. The latter, less expensive and less remarkable camera appears to be better suited for DSLR zuiko lenses due to its phase contrast focusing system. These lenses – especially the 50-200 ED/SWD are very slow on the e-m1 mark ii.

        Reply
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