Ouch $A2799 for the new amazing Olympus OM-D E-M1 II is it worth it? Could it beat the new Canon 1DX Mark II for sports and wildlife?

Written by Gary on November 3rd, 2016

Australian Olympus Micro Four Thirds users in unison launched a universal angst and frustration when Olympus Australia finally announced their RRP for the new Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II mirrorless pro sports camera – $AU2799 for the body only puts it at well over twice the price of its predecessor which may place it beyond the Olympus faithful’s wallet, but given how much it has improved in almost every aspect, it may really be worth the $US2000 RRP and perhaps even the inflated $A2799 price tag.

So let’s do a comparison with the leading sports pro dSLR super telephoto birding kits to see how it fares:

I own the Olympus OM-D E-M1 original version, the Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 and the Canon 1D Mark III pro dSLR sports camera – but thankfully not a 600mm f/4 lens.

So here I am going to compare the E-M1 II with Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 OIS lens with a Canon 1DX II with a Canon EF 600mm f/4 IS II L lens which will give the same telephoto field of view for birding but is 3 times heavier and almost 4 x the price.

One could have chosen a Nikon D5 and Nikkor 600mm f/4 lens but you would come to much the same conclusions.

Birders using full frame dSLRs usually shoot at around 600mm f/5.6-f/8 at ISO 800 and shutter speed around 1/2000th sec with the sun low on the horizon. The Olympus kit offers this telephoto reach and depth of field at 300mm f/4 and thus to achieve a shutter speed of 1/2000th sec in the same light, they only need ISO 200-400 and at this ISO you won’t notice any significant noise difference, even if the Canon was shooting at same ISO, and if you were shooting jpegs only, the Olympus jpeg engine historically has given wider dynamic range.

The photo output in both cases will be 20mp images, low ISO noise, similar depth of field and field of view, and similar lovely bokeh but what a difference in price and weight as well as size!

Olympus OM-D E-M1 II Canon 1DX Mark II
Price at Amazon.com $US2000 body + $US2499 for 300mm lens = $US4500 $US5999+$US11499 = $US17500
sensor 20mp 2x crop 20mp full frame
Weight 574g body + 1270g lens = 1.8kg
1530g + 3.9kg=6.3kg +heavy tripod and Wimberley tripod head!
Size 134 x 91 x 67 mm body + 93mm x 227mm lens
158 x 168 x 83mm body + 168 x 448mm
image stabilisation sensor based 5 axis 5EV + 6.5EV Sync IS lens 4 EV OIS in stills, no sensor IS
Shutter speed range 60sec -1/8000th (1/32,000th electronic)
Flash x-sync 1/250th sec, slow sync, 19 output levels manual
1/250th, slow sync
radio TTL remote flash No
Canon, Profoto, Bowens, Godox, PocketWizard, etc
Viewfinder 2.35mdot EVF, eye sensor auto switching, 120fps, 6ms reaction time, 21mm eyepoint, 0.74x magnification, minimal blackout in burst mode
optical, 0.76x magnification, 20mm eyepoint, minimal blackout in burst mode; not usable when mirror locked up such as in vibration reduction shooting, Live View, and in video shooting
LCD screen 1mdot articulating touch screen, AF Targeting Pad feature
1.6mdot, fixed touch sensitive, can select AF point
video awesome image stabilisation 4K 24/30p 236Mbps Cinema 4K quality mjpeg; 4:2:2 uncompressed video directly from the HDMI port, lenses optimised for video work
1.34x crop 4K/60P mjpeg video and full frame 1080/120p but HDMI out is only 1080 8bit 4:2:2, lenses not optimised for live view or video work
Burst rate 18fps with C-AF x 77RAW or 60fps with S-AF in electronic mode x 48 RAW; 10fps C-AF mechanical shutter x 148 RAW;
14fps with C-AF, 16fps with S-AF and mirror lock up, max, 81 RAW+jpeg or 170 RAW
Top panel dual dial + 2×2 system Yes No
AF 121pt Dual Pixel cross type CDAF/PDAF, closest eye detection AF, all working video mode including subject tracking
61pt PDAF with only 41 cross type sensors and limited coverage, plus on sensor dual pixel for live view mode, face detect AF only in live view mode and no closest eye detect AF; no subject tracking in live view; 5 central points are dual cross;
Hi-Res mode Yes, 50mp/25mp jpeg, 80mp RAW
Live BULB, Live TIME, Live Composite, 60sec timed, Live Boost EVF Yes No
Dual card slots 2 x SD
2 x CF
Auto HDR, Auto focus stacking, Keystone compensation Yes No
 Pro service support  just building infrastructure  Advanced, mature pro service
“14-28mm” pro lens 7-14mm (14-28mm) f/2.8, 534g, 106mm long, 0.2m close focus, no filter, MF clutch, $US1299 EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III does not go as wide, is heavier, does not have image stabilisation, and is more expensive at $US2349
“24-70mm” pro lens 12-40mm (24-80mm) f/2.8, 382g, 84mm long, 0.2m close focus, 62mm filter, MF clutch, $US740 EF 24-70mm f/2.8 IS II L gives 2 stops shallower DOF but no eye detect AF, and IS not as good, plus it is heavier, more expensive at $US1749
“70-200mm” pro lens 40-150mm (80-300mm) f/2.8, 760g, 160mm long, 0.7m close focus, 72mm filter, MF clutch, $US1399, opt. 1.4x converter EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS L II gives 2 stops shallower DOF but not the 300mm reach, and no eye detect AF, and IS not as good, plus it is heavier, more expensive at $US2000
“50mm” standard prime lens Oly 25mm f/1.2 EF 50mm f/1.2L or 1.4 or f/1.8 lenses give up to 2 stops shallower DOF but poorer image quality, not as sharp across the frame, more optical aberrations, and no eye detect AF, and no image stabilisation

The advantages of the Canon are:

  • it is able to achieve perhaps 1 stop better high ISO noise and a shallower depth of field of perhaps 1 – 2 stops depending on lens, HOWEVER, for birding you need f/5.6-8 for adequate DOF at 600mm and this can be achieved at f/4 on the Olympus 300mm which negates any advantage in high ISO performance or DOF of the Canon for this use.
  • there is a reliable worldwide mature Canon pro service infrastructure which Olympus is really only starting to build
  • radio TTL remote flash is supported by Canon and third party lighting companies, none of which have supported Olympus as yet, although PocketWizards have developed a Panasonic solution so surely an Olympus solution is not far off. That said, many pros do not use TTL flash as it gives too variable a result – whether it is Canon, Nikon or Olympus.
  • the Canon 1D X is built like a tank and has a massive battery
  • optical viewfinder – some people love it, but I must say I am very happy with new tech EVFs
  • proven iTR AF tracking technology (although not as good as Nikon 3D tracking) – we will have to see if the Olympus can match or surpass it
  • the target pro audience is likely to already have a large selection of pro dSLR gear and migrating to Olympus is a big step
  • 2x teleconverter available as well as the 1.4x which Olympus also has.
  • greater ultra-wide options such as the 17mm TS-E tilt-shift lens, such wide angle tilt shift is not yet possible on the Olympus, even if use a focal reducer adapter combined with the Canon 17mm TS-E you can get a 24mm TS-E full frame tilt shift equivalent effect on the Olympus, but not a 17mm tilt shift effect.
  • greater extreme shallow DOF options such as 24mm f/1.4, 35mm f/1.4, 50mm f/1.2, 85mm f/1.2, 135mm f/2, and 200mm f/2
  • faster mechanical shutter burst rate with AF tracking 14fps vs 10fps on the Olympus – although the Olympus can go to 18fps in electronic mode which the Canon can’t do, and the Olympus can hit 60fps in fixed AF and electronic shutter mode.

The advantages of the Olympus are:

  • far lighter and more compact – 1/3rd the weight, able to take in cabin luggage on flights, will not break your back and neck carrying it, far more versatile when hand held, much more responsive when walking with the big lens, just stop, compose, focus and shoot – no need to worry about getting lens out of carry bag, setting up tripod, etc and subject is gone.
    • the Olympus 300mm and camera kit weigh not much more than the Canon 1DX body alone!!!
  • one quarter the price – wow, even at $AU2700 you are getting a LOT of value for the price, and if you worry about availability of timely service – you can buy 4 of them for almost the same price!
  • built-in sensor based 5-axis 5EV image stabilisation works on EVERY lens you use, even in video
  • no need to do clunky, time consuming mirror lockup to reduce camera shake
  • faster burst rates – even a crazy 60fps in electronic mode!
  • truly silent AF and burst mode – ideal for those classical music events, ballet, weddings, etc – no mirror slap, no shutter noise
  • 3x more crosstype PDAF autofocus points available in viewfinder mode
  • better spread of AF points across the frame in viewfinder mode 80% coverage
  • in-camera AF limiter as well as the lens based focus limiters to speed up focus acquisition
  • AF system more accurate (does not need microcalibration for each lens) and works better with wide aperture lenses
  • closest eye detection AF for sharper focused portraits
  • “Pro Capture” mode which automatically starts taking images before you fully depress shutter to ensure you don’t miss the shot
  • far better image stabilised video quality with 4K uncompressed HDMI out not just 1080 and 4K mode is not a crop of the sensor as with Canon’s 1.34x crop which will impact wide angle shots
  • 50mp HiRes sensor-shift mode for static subjects
  • smaller, less expensive lenses, usually with better optics across the frame – it will be interesting to see how these two super telephoto lenses compare optically – I suspect the Olympus may well win!
  • very handy long exposure modes such as Live Timed, Live Composite, etc
  • automatic focus stacking mode
  • in camera live keystone correction
  • Wifi built in with remote control by smartphones as well as WiFi tethering – WiFi is expensive optional extra on the Canon
  • articulating LCD screen for easier low angle, high angle shots or for video work
  • the lovely benefits of EVF – live histogram, highlight/shadow warnings, live boost, zebra focus, wysiwyg exposure/tones, ability to review images without having to use your reading glasses, magnified view manual focus, can use the EVF during video taking mode – the Canon forces you to do mirror lock up and use the rear screen.
  • can use almost any lens ever made and have them image stabilised – it will even autofocus Canon EF lenses via a Metabones adapter (albeit much slower than Olympus lenses), and you have the option of using a focal reducer adapter for further versatility.
  • far more fun without the weight!

There are questions to be answered though:

  • will the C-AF tracking be as good as the Canon – I suspect it won’t be, but maybe it is good enough
  • how usable will the electronic shutter burst modes be for moving subject – has the faster 1/60th sec electronic shutter duration with its reduced rolling shutter allowed this to avoid artifacts with faster moving subjects? It seems it may be.
  • how will high ISO noise compare at ISO 3200 – although Olympus users rarely need to go this high other than for Milky Way astroscapes and low light action scenes.

We need to wait and see, but the amazing 5 sec hand held shots which Robin Wong has published are just ridiculously good and show this Olympus camera can be used in new ways without having to resort to a tripod.

Hmmm… I think I have documented all the main issues, I have skipped what they have in common such as quality weather sealing, AF customisations, exposure compensation, bracketing, optional battery grips, etc.

Still upset about the price for a flagship pro sports camera you probably don’t need?

Only a small minority of Canon and Nikon owners  have actually bought the flagship sports dSLR, the vast majority settle for budget level models with very minimal feature sets and AF limited to just the central region.

If you don’t need the new features of the Olympus flagship model, then of course there are many great Micro Four Thirds cameras you can buy for less than half this price such as the E-M1, E-M5 mark II, or Panasonic G80/85.

To me though, it will value add to my nice Micro Four Thirds lens collection by providing much improved AF capabilities for moving subjects which has always been an issue for mirrorless cameras.

I hope Olympus will release a more affordable E-M5 Mark III with this sensor in it and the improved PDAF capabilities so those on lower budgets are not locked out of effective PDAF – granted they can get a cut down PDAF experience now with the original E-M1 but presumably at some stage this will be discontinued, and Olympus will need to compete with the likes of the Sony a6300 which does have PDAF at half the price.


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