While the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Micro Four Thirds camera is getting a bit old having been announced way back in Sept 2016, the recent firmware upgrade that Olympus has kindly offered has breathed new life into it and makes it a very attractive option for those with an E-M5 Mark II or E-M10 series camera, especially if one can get it at discounted prices.
What are the main differences compared to the E-M5 series?
- grip is built in making it bigger and with better ergonomics and build than when using an add on grip as was needed with the E-M5
- new bigger and much longer life battery – sorry the old ones can’t be used.
- better image quality – 20mp vs 16mp, 1 EV better high ISO noise and improved dynamic range and no low-pass filter for more detail
- further improved image stabiliser now to 6.5EV with OIS lenses
- much faster image processor Truepic VIII with double quad core is 3.5x faster than the Truepic VII in the E-M1 which also helps to reduce the start up time (the E-M5 II uses Truepic VII)
- two SD card slots one of which is UHS-II compatible for even faster saving of images and video allowing faster burst rates and 4K 30p video
- improved silent shutter – to 1/32,000th sec and 18fps or 60fps burst with much less rolling shutter and a flash sync of 1/50th sec in silent shutter mode
- much improved AutoISO – can now use exposure compensation with it in Manual exposure mode and you can set the slowest shutter speed to use in A or P exposure modes
- can now use the 2×2 switch as the Power On/Off switch for one handed use
- new electronic viewfinder with faster refresh rate
- Frame Rate Priority added to Live View Boost/On2 display
- PASM dial now has 3 custom modes you can use BUT you no longer have Scene modes given this is meant for people who shouldn’t need to resort to these
- automatically saves your settings to computer and restores them during firmware upgrades – and you do this manually too if you have a range of settings
- improved HiRes mode – processor tries to reduce blur from moving subjects and now produces 50mp jpegs not 40mp
- improved menu system
- new AF Scan will allow users to adjust the lens scan operation settings in low-contrast environments to prevent unnecessary hunting
- much improved video – 4K 24/30p, Cinema 4K at 237Mbps quality , much better continuous AF and image stabilisation during movies, Log profiles for better grading during editing
- anti-flicker mode to prevent unstable exposures when shooting indoors.
- improved Focus Stacking – from 3 to 15 shots can be selected in Focus Stacking and guide lines have been added to the shooting area
- Support for Olympus Workspace new USB RAW Data Edit
BUT, the real benefits are in shooting moving subjects
The E-M5 series of cameras were not designed for tracking moving subjects and indeed had trouble focusing on them if they were moving too fast.
Not so with the E-M1 II, it has a multitude of features which helps the photographer capture wildlife, sports or any other moving subject much more reliably and faster than ever before in an Olympus camera, and currently is only bettered by the much bigger and much more expensive new Olympus OM-D E-M1X.
Let’s look at shutter and EVF improvements that are not on the E-M5 II:
- EVF has faster refresh giving 60% faster response rate and virtually no blackout when following a moving subject
- silent shutter mode allows 18fps with C-AF or an incredible 60fps with focus locked on first image (EM5II could only do 11fps) and does this with much reduced rolling shutter artefacts (see my previous blog)
- mechanical shutter allows C-AF to 10fps and can do 15fps with focus locked on first image (E-M5 II could do 5fps with some C-AF and 11fps with locked focus)
- much faster card writing speed and the buffer is much larger
- you can get to 1/32,000th sec in silent mode instead of 1/16,000th sec which might be useful for freezing some subjects
- camera does not freeze up during writing files after a burst
But the real deal is the massive AF improvements:
The biggest difference is the E-M1 series have PDAF detectors on the sensor not just CDAF detectors and these PDAF detectors work far better for moving subjects than do CDAF detectors – the E-M1 II has 121 cross-type PDAF detectors which cover 80% of each axis of the image to ensure that you have a better chance of locking onto your subject no matter where it is in the frame.
The PDAF detectors also mean far better AF performance when used with lenses from other dSLR systems such as Four Thirds (via Olympus MMF-3 adapter) or Canon EF (via AF-compatible adapters such as the Metabones adapter).
These PDAF detectors are supported by some very useful AF features, some of which are unique to the Olympus E-M1 series:
- improved AF region options including the new 25 point region which makes birds in flight easier
- better AF in low light – now works down to -6EV
- new “AF Cluster Display” can display the AF points being used to track the subject in real time
- C-AF Center Priority delivers high-precision tracking of moving subjects and sudden subject movement whereby the centre is prioritised in the Group AF target settings but if the centre cannot lock on, the surrounding points will be used
- AF algorithms for much better subject tracking (same as the E-M1X but no AI tracking of trains, motorbikes, etc)
- customizable C-AF tracking sensitivity allows users to choose the best setting for their subject to optimize C-AF tracking performance
- new, unique, in-camera AF limiter to achieve faster focusing by limiting the focus range of ANY compatible lens, thus preventing time-consuming focus hunting and much more versatile than the AF limiter which is found on some lenses. You can turn this on or off easily by assigning it to one of the buttons. This is great for shooting at sports grounds where you can set it to ignore focus ranges such as the crowd on the opposite side of the ground – no other camera system can do this!
- in-camera Preset MF lets users quickly set a focus distance when using manual focus and allows one to change rapidly from AF back to this preset MF distance – this can be turned on or off easily by assigning it to one of the buttons.
- new “PRO Capture” can start capturing images as soon as you start to depress shutter and up to you depress shutter fully allowing lag free pre-capture of 14 RAW frames to reduce chance of missing a precise moment – this is great if you are waiting for a bird to take flight, or you are shooting someone coming over the jump but you can’t see them coming until the last second.
- C-AF+MF1 which allows users to instantly switch to MF by turning the focus ring while in C-AF for fine tuning the focus. This requires an additional firmware update to most of the PRO lenses.
- Once you have worked out what settings work best for your subject, you can assign these to a custom setting which is rapidly accessible from the PASM dial.
Upgrading gives you an amazing new level of capabilities, particularly for shooting moving subjects and tracking them, but learning how to use these will take some time and practice.
There are a few minor downsides to upgrading:
- it is bigger and a little heavier – but to me this is much more ergonomic when using larger lenses such as the Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 which I love as my main walk-around lens.
- it is not compatible with your old batteries or their charger so you need to buy a new spare.
- there are no Scene modes – you will have to learn how to do these yourself!
- you will have to get used to the new control layout and menu layout
But, these are all very minor compared to the fantastic improvements you are gaining and the E-M1 II will take your photography learning experience to new levels and provide a far more versatile tool.
Of course, you could wait for the Olympus E-M1 Mark III but that could be 2020 and is likely to be much more expensive than the current discounts one can get on the Mark II, and if you don’t need any of these features, don’t waste your money and stick with what you have got.