The new Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II camera – my take on the camera of the year for 2015

Written by Gary on February 7th, 2015

The original Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera released in 2012 was one of the best cameras ever released. It brought nearly everything together in one camera that still photographers needed in a light, compact, weatherproof kit and finally showed the photographic world what the Micro Four Thirds system could really achieve in terms of image quality, versatility and sheer fun, not to mention great retro looks.

It was so successful that many dSLR users finally took the plunge and changed over to a mirrorless world – a world where rapid advances in technology would not be held back by the dinosaur technology of the SLR world – the mirror.

Why make a E-M5 mark II when we already have a budget OM-D in the E-M10 and a pro level OM-D, the E-M1?

E-M5 MII

Olympus has clearly decided to target the movie makers with this new version of the E-M5 whilst being an even better stills camera than the original version.

Firstly, what this camera is NOT:

  • a sports camera with fast continuous AF or C-AF with tracking – for this you need a camera with PDAF such as the E-M1 or a sports dSLR
  • a super high megapixel camera – sure it CAN do 40mp/64mp shots but these are for only limited circumstances, and very few people really need more than 16mp
  • a super shallow depth of field camera – you CAN get lovely shallow DOF shots with buttery smooth bokeh with this camera but if you really need to push this, then blur in post-processing or get a full frame dSLR and 85mm f/1.2 lens
  • a 4K super video camera – it does not do 4K but it seems it may be the best 1080 HD camera for HAND-HELD run and gun videos – if you want 4K get a Panasonic GH4
  • a camera that will quickly autofocus a Four Thirds lens – for this you need PDAF and thus an E-M1
  • remote radio TTL flash capable camera – you CAN do light-based remote TTL flash but for radio TTL flash you need a Canon or Nikon, but then remote TTL flash does not give consistent results, and most would prefer manual remote flash
  • a camera with a long battery life – battery life appears to be less than on the E-M5, E-M10 and E-M1, just buy a couple of spares and keep them charged, it really is not a big deal!

However, what this camera can do is amazing:

It takes the features of the E-M5, adds in nearly all the features of the E-M1 (except notably the sensor, PDAF feature and a few buttons) and then to really push things along, adds in these features:

  • an articulating, swivel touch screen designed to make the videographers happy as well as those who loved such a screen when Olympus was the 1st to introduce such a design on a dSLR back with the E330 dSLR (albeit without touch capability then).
  • world’s best image stabilising system which has evolved even further than that in the E-M1
    • the Olympus 5-axis IS was amazing in the E-M5, even better in the E-M1, and now further enhanced again to 5 stops
    • this further reduces the need for tripods or use of high ISO
    • with each iteration of improvement value adds to EVERY lens you already own whether it be a Micro Four Thirds lens, or a legacy lens such as a Canon EF 135mm f/2.0L lens, and then even with these Canon lenses you can combine them with a ZY Optics Mitakon Lens Turbo focal reducer for even more fun and shallow DOF, all the while having the best image stabilizer in action in the world, along with fantastic manual focus features such as 14x magnification aided by concurrent focus peaking and image stabilisation
      • eg. Canon 135mm f/2.0L lens + ZY Optics Mitakon Lens Turbo focal reducer = 100mm f/1.4 lens with lovely bokeh and very shallow DOF equivalent to 200mm f/2.8 lens on a full frame but with a 5 stop image stabiliser and as the aperture is f/1.4, allows ISO to be 2 stops lower than on a full frame without even taking the IS into account! See my lens tests to see how awesome this combo is
  • a silent electronic shutter mode to 1/16,000th sec and 11fps burst rate
  • a 64mp RAW/40mp jpeg 8-shot sensor-shift Hi-Res mode
    • this mode requires tripod mount, static scene, electronic shutter and high quality lens
    • it would be great for product photography or landscapes at tops of mountains where there are no quickly moving subjects
    • any moving subjects such as moving water wind on leaves, etc will cause artefacts
    • flash sync in this mode is only 1/20th sec due to use of electronic shutter
    • ISO limited to 1600 and aperture cannot be smaller than f/8 – both design features as one will not achieve high resolution outside these parameters anyway
    • you can set the delay between shots to allow for recharging of the flash if used
  • substantially improved video “OM-D Movie” thanks to
    • improved image stabiliser making this an awesome run and gun hand held video camera without needing a big, heavy, expensive and difficult to use stabilising rig
    • improved video codecs now up to 77Mbps ALL-I and with 24p/25p/30p/50p/60p modes
    • improved focus peaking
    • improved video optimised AF algorithm
    • various settings can be adjusted while recording using the 3-inch touchscreen, including:
      • AF-point selection
      • exposure
      • electronic zoom and Movie Tele-converter (lets users touch an area on the screen to enlarge it without losing image quality)
      • microphone sensitivity
      • headphone volume
      • art effects
    • clean HDMI output , supports time code settings and connection to an external HDMI
    • headphone jack to monitor audio via optional grip
    • plug in power to external mic (but not phantom power)
    • Clips tool enables short clip capture, allowing users to combine footage and effects directly on the camera for instant sharing
  • improved ergonomics to better match the E-M1 whilst retaining the nice optional 2 stage grip/battery holder style as was used in the E-M5
  • new Live Boost II mode for improved view of stars
  • better bundled FL-LM3 flash – now can tilt and swivel
    • thankfully, no longer requires the accessory port – in fact this port is not on the E-M5 II, and it is no great loss at all, given there is no real need to attach an external EVF, and there is a built-in mic port, as well as WiFi.
    • BUT it gains power from an additional pin on the hotshoe thus cannot be used with older Olympus cameras which lack this pin

Compared to Canon and Nikon dSLRs:

It has most of the features expected in a pro level dSLR camera such as:

  • excellent image quality with excellent dynamic range and very good noise characteristics up to ISO 3200
  • low ISO of 100, and auto ISO (although in manual exposure mode, cannot do exposure compensation with auto ISO on, and cannot set shutter speed ranges)
  • weatherproof – assuming it is as good as the E-M5, in fact it probably has substantially better weatherproofing than any non-Olympus dSLR, so good you could pour a bottle of water onto it
  • freezeproof to minus 10degC
  • sensor dust cleaning – Olympus were the 1st to introduce this technology and still has the most effective sensor cleaning system
  • full range of shutter speeds to 1/8000th sec – but wait, you get more, this camera also has 60 sec where most dSLRs stop at 30sec, and you also get 1/16,000th sec
  • fast flash sync to 1/250th sec (but not as good as the E-M1 as only 1/160th sec in RC mode)
  • TTL hotshoe
  • Super FP flash (same as HSS flash on Canon and Nikon, and was initially invented by Olympus)
  • PC sync port for manual external flash – also great for pushing the shutter speed past the sync
  • red-eye reduction flash mode, slow sync flash 1st or 2nd curtain
  • remote TTL flash in 4 channels and 4 groups controlled by the bundled flash or a flash on camera capable of being a master flash
  • 81 autofocus points covering most of the frame not just the centre as with many dSLRs – fantastic for subjects off-centre
  • excellent matrix metering system – the 324 area Olympus system can also detect a face and preferentially expose for the face automatically – very few dSLRs can do this!
  • excellent metering range EV -2 – 20
  • excellent spot metering system – although does not have option to automatically spot meter on AF region as with some of the very latest dSLRs
  • fast burst rate of 10fps and 11fps in electronic shutter mode, this practically matches the best pro sports dSLRs (although as mentioned you don’t get C-AF tracking for fast moving subjects)
  • large burst buffer – unlimited RAW shots when using 5fps when using TOSHIBA SDHC UHS-II R95・W90 EXCERIA SD card (16 when shooting at 10fps)!
  • intervalometer
  • self timer (in addition to usual 2 and 12 sec modes, there is now even a custom mode where you determine the delay, how many shots and whether to do an AF before each shot!)
  • AF assist illuminator lamp
  • extensive white balance options including 4 custom captured settings
  • i-enhance wide dynamic range jpeg mode
  • ±5EV exposure compensation
  • studio tethering for full control by a computer via USB
  • GPS geotagging capable (via smartphone tethering)
  • a multitude of bracketing modes
  • compatible with SD cards of type SD, SDHC, SDXC, Eye-Fi and is compatible with UHS-II
  • optional grips including battery holder, AC adapter, portrait mode controls
  • optional underwater housing

But with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 II, you get MUCH, MUCH MORE than you can on a dSLR:

  • full time Live View so there is no need to be constantly swapping from a limited optical view to live view to get access to the many electronic features
  • a beautiful electronic view finder which appears much larger than most dSLR viewfinders and can display a multitude of tools which an optical viewfinder cannot:
    • live histogram, shadow/highlight warning to assist in determining exposure BEFORE you take the shot
    • WYSIWYG live view so you can not only see how your exposure will look, but how the various ART filters, Picture styles, Color Creator toning styles will appear BEFORE you take the shot
      • this also allows one to SEE through the viewfinder when using infrared filters or 100x ND filters which would otherwise be impossible to see through using optical viewfinders
      • likewise, your view is not severely dimmed just because you have stopped down the aperture on a legacy manual lens
    • Live BOOST to ignore exposure settings so you can better see your subject when ambient light is very low and ambient exposures are ignored such as with flash studio work or long exposure astro work or night landscapes
    • electronic levels to help you ensure your camera is level with the scene
    • in-camera visual keystone correction functionality
    • visualisation of multiple exposures
    • movie mode through a viewfinder instead of being forced to view via an LCD screen
    • ability to achieve accurate face detection AF on the closest eye no matter where the person is in the frame – this is an awesome feature which is a game changer for me
    • ability to view almost every setting within the EVF and change them without taking your eye from the EVF – this makes using it without reading glasses very possible, whilst a dSLR is impossible to use without reading glasses if you need them!
    • image stabilised magnified view with ability to add focus peaking or perform AF whilst in magnified view mode – this is just incredible!
    • focus peaking to assist manual focus
    • framing guides, including those for panoramic stitching
    • multi-aspect framing
    • digital teleconverter
  • a swivelling articulated touch screen
    • you can even touch a subject on the screen to immediately AF on the subject and take the shot – just brilliant!
    • there is also a “selfie” mode
  • the world’s best image stabilisation system that works with ANY lens and gives the best hand held movie stabilisation – 2 second stills hand held with a wide angle is well within the possibilities!
  • faster and more accurate autofocus on static or slow moving subjects
  • more compact, light camera and lens kit  capable of being carried in a jacket pocket easily – especially when equipped with a pancake lens
  • ability to use almost any lens ever made in manual focus mode with full image stabilisation – just dial in the lens focal length
  • unique Olympus long exposure modes such as Live BULB, Live Time, Live Composite
    • Live Composite mode makes an extremely complex process extremely simple – awesome for many types of night shots
    • Live Bulb and Live Time allows you to see how the long exposure image is building up so you can stop if once you are happy with the exposure – great for many types of night shots
  • full WiFi remote control with live image visible in a smartphone and you can even touch a subject on the smartphone screen to immediately AF on the subject and take the shot!
  • WiFi tethering to a smartphone for automatic image transfer to the phone
  • automatic and manual HDR modes
  • multitude of SCENE modes and an iAUTO mode to assist newbies
  • access to awesome relatively affordable, light and compact lenses specifically designed for this crop factor
  • Hi/Lo spot metering modes – unique to Olympus – allows one to spot meter on a white or black object and get the correct adjusted exposure – very neat!
  • 40mp/64mp Hi-Res mode with better color detail and less moire than a dSLR
  • ability to use a variety of interesting compatible cameras as second cameras:
    • Olympus OM-D E-M1 if you need PDAF for sports or for use of Four Thirds lenses
    • Panasonic GH-4 if you need PDAF for sports and extremely high quality 4K video
    • very small compact pocket sized Micro Four Thirds cameras
    • Wifi super compact “cameras” such as the new Olympus “Air Clip” camera
  • the best hand holdable telephoto reach thanks to the high pixel density – can’t wait until the Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 lens comes out!
  • better hand held movie quality thanks to 77Mbps 24p codec, movie optimised AF, focus peaking during video recording and the awesome image stabiliser
  • highly customisable dials and button functionality, further improved by addition of the unique 2×2 switch
  • in-camera RAW editing and Photo Story creation option
  • MUCH LESS INTRUSIVE at parties or other events as smaller lenses
  • MUCH QUIETER as no mirror noise, a quiet shutter (even more quiet than previous OM-Ds) and also the option of silent electronic shutter mode
  • MUCH LESS CAMERA SHAKE as no mirror, electronic 1st shutter and of course, the amazing IS system
  • MUCH LESS BACK ACHE and MUCH LESS NECK STRAIN = MORE FUN HIKING and LESS FATIGUE EXPLORING the wilderness
  • CAN TAKE MUCH MORE on flights and in your back pack
    • you can even put a camera with pancake lens in one jacket pocket, a swivel bounce flash (FL-600R) in another pocket, and portrait lens (45mm f/1.8) in another pocket, all with ease
  • = MUCH MORE FUN

 

For hand held video in difficult conditions, the E-M5 II is a game changer, just check out this awesome video shot in freezing conditions:

ESCAPE = JOY – KAUASxOLYMPUS from KΛUΛS on Vimeo.

As with any camera, there are bound to be a few gotchas which will be important to some people, the main issues I see will be around:

  • battery life
  • still only USB 2.0 (just take the card out and use a USB 3.0 SD card reader for faster transfers), and USB cable is a multi-connector for AV as well – not a standard connector
  • no PDAF and pretty average C-AF tracking if at all – as I said earlier, if this is important, et an E-M1 or GH-4 instead
  • poor or no AF on fast moving subjects – you just have to accept this and use pre-focusing techniques
  • ramifications of the new hotshoe pin – will it now fry Canon flashes if they are attached to it? The official instruction manual warns as per older manuals that using such flashes could potentially damage the camera, it may be that now the E-M5 II is sending power through the pins may really damage flash and camera! Best to use a single pin adapter or resort to the PC sync port!
  • limitations of the movie mode – such as the HDMI out feed, and perhaps some currently unknown image issues
  • flash sync reduced to 1/160th in RC mode
  • limitations of the HiRes mode – but these seem to be well documented
  • camera shutter is TOO QUIET – this may be an issue for model photography
  • camera is TOO SMALL – may be an issue for those with big hands, and for those who have clients expecting a big “PRO” camera as evidence you are a professional
  • cannot balance larger lenses well – BUY the optional HLD-8 grip
  • as with older OM-D’s, exposure meter only displays +/- 3 EV even though you can set +/- 5EV exposure compensation
  • to avoid issues – read the full instruction manual (pdf)

More details and links on the E-M5 mark II

 

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