Before I get into any details, I must provide two important qualifiers. First, this is not a technical review. It is a 'first impressions' write-up with a few supporting details and a lot of comparison to its predecessor, the E-M1. Secondly, all of the information in this post is based on a pre-production model of the camera.
I clearly recall my first glance at the Mark II and thinking, "Hmm, it's not much different than the E-M1". I suppose that is to be expected. After all, they share the same lineage. Then I picked it up and discovered just how physically different it is. Although its overall height and width are about the same (within about 1mm of the E-M1), the Mark II has a thicker body by about 6mm. That may not seem like much of an increase but it actually makes the Mark II more comfortable to hold. I don't have particularly large hands, but the new grip fits perfectly. The original E-M1 always felt a little loose in my hands. Not anymore!
Time for a tour. Let's take a walk around the E-M1 Mark II and see what design features have been included.
The face of the Mark II looks almost identical to its older sibling. Except for the beefier grip you could easily be forgiven if you mistake one for the other. The two function buttons beside the lens mount are still completely programmable - the top is dimpled, while the bottom one is rounded so it is easy to feel the difference. The bottom button defaults to the Preview function which is where I like to keep it, but both can be programmed from a large variety of functions.
The rear of the MII has several significant changes from its predecessor;
- A fully articulating LCD - At first I was a little disappointed since I really like the flip-up LCD on the E-M1. It wasn't long before I changed my mind. I love to shoot low, and trying to properly frame a vertical shot with the E-M1 was near impossible. The fully articulating screen also appeals to the video shooters out there. It has a solid feel to it, but I am still careful when walking around in tight spaces.
- 2x2 switch - The switch has been reversed. It can also be programmed to become the On-Off switch which will appeal to many photographers. The switch positions are programmable. In Position 1 the front and rear dials will control exposure (in P, A, S, M), while in Position 2, the front dial controls ISO and the rear dial controls white balance (in P, A, S). Although I really like the 2x2 switch on the E-M1, the reversed switch hasn't grown on me yet. I do find it a little clumsier to access and as such I find myself accessing WB and ISO through the Super Control Panel - something I never did with the E-M1.
- Button Placement - The Menu and Play buttons are now positioned on top of each other. Both are in convenient places, but I do wish that the Play button was dimpled in order to feel the difference. I regularly end up pressing the Menu button when I want to view my photos.
- Focus Points Button - The Fn1 button on the E-M1 now defaults as the Focus Points selector. But of course, it is completely programmable. I have a lot more to say on the new focus points below.
- Improved Thumb Grip - As a person who dislikes camera straps I really appreciate the more pronounced thumb grip.
The layout of buttons, dials and switches on the top of the MII hasn't changed. But one important thing has. Gone are the Myset Presets that were accessed through the menu. They are now replaced by three customizable settings on the mode dial. They are pre-programmed as follows;
C1 - Moving Subject AF
C2 - Pro Capture Mode (just wait to read about this amazing innovation below)
C3 - Low-light AF
Dual Card Slots (I can hear the cheering from here!) And the card labels face you!
Within the gear menu there are several ways of recording onto the cards;
- Dual Independent - a copy of all images/videos are made on both cards
- RAW on one card, jpeg on the other
- Stills on one card, video on the other
- A complete backup of one card can be made by accessing this feature through the Playback menu.
Three port covers can be found on the left - a dedicated 1/8 inch mic port, headphone port, HDMI and USB ports. You no longer have to move the LCD screen in order to access any of the covers.
The images below provide a sense of how Olympus has squeezed more body into the same overall footprint. The MII is on the left, the E-M1 is on the right.
...and now you have it. The Mark II comes with a significantly larger battery. I haven't done any formal testing, but on average I have been able to take considerably more photographs per charge than with the E-M1. The battery also charges significantly faster.
A welcome addition is the new battery life indicator on the LCD. It provides an estimated percentage of power left. Once the indicator gets down to 20% it turns red and begins blinking.
With a new battery design comes the need for a new battery grip. Like the body of the MII, the new HLD-9 power battery holder sports an improved, more comfortable grip. Its most important feature however, is the inclusion of its own arrow pad. This makes changing settings far more convenient when shooting vertical format images. Like its predecessor, it also includes front and rear dials, two programmable function buttons and a lock switch.
The E-M1 MarkII is perhaps the most comfortable camera I've held. It has gotten a little thicker around the middle (kinda like me) and with the new, larger battery grip is about 160g (or 18%) heavier than the E-M1. However, the camera is so nicely balanced and comfortable to hold that the weight gain isn't noticeable (unlike mine).
The dials and switches feel solid and move crisply. All buttons are within easy reach and are not too soft to the touch. The rubberized flaps and access doors open and close easily and maintain the exceptional weather-sealing that Olympus is known for. When you pick up the E-M1 Mark II you instantly recognize that you are holding a camera with top-quality engineering and construction behind it.
Okay, so it's a marvel to hold. But it's what's under the hood that counts. Let's have a look. I can't possibly detail all of the specs, so here are the basics.
E-M1 Mark II
20.4 mp w/ TruePicVIII engine
5-axis w/ 5.5 EV compensation
Dual AF (Phase + Contrast)
64 - 25600
60s - 1/8000s
15 fps in Sequential High
60s - 1/32000s Electronic
60fps in Sequential High
16.3 mp w/ TruePicVII engine
5-axis w/ 4EV compensation
Dual AF (Phase + Contrast)
100 - 25600
60s - 1/8000s
10 fps in Sequential High
60s - 1/16000s Electronic
11 fps in Sequential High
One feature that was definitely expected for the new Mark II is faster auto-focusing. Since this isn't a technical review, nor do I have the equipment to quantify the difference between the autofocusing speeds of the original E-M1 and the new Mark II, you'll just have to believe that there is a noticeable improvement in speed between the two cameras. Here is a real-life situation to illustrate it.
On a recent canoe trip I came across a pair of loons (the birds, not the crazy people down the street). I attached the 300mm lens and the 1.4x teleconverter. Even with the amazing image stabilization of the body and lens it can be incredibly difficult to keep a subject in the frame, let alone focus on it while you yourself are bobbing and drifting around in a canoe. I chose the new 5-point cross in order to improve my chances of locking onto my subject. I also selected S-AF since there was enough contrast on the water to make C-AF a little too risky considering both me and my subject were moving. I used high sequential shooting and released the shutter in short bursts. I took over 500 images in about 15 minutes. Over 95% are tack sharp, locked onto the loon's eye. Incredible! I say that because I have tried this before on numerous canoe trips with the E-M1 and never had this type of success.
A look through the menu will highlight the many features available on the E-M1 MarkII. Of course, the layout of the menu is very likely to change somewhat once the final version of the firmware appears, but for now, if you are interested you can check out the Menu Settings as they appear on the pre-production model.
There is no doubt that previous cameras in the OMD lineup could not compete when it came to video. Olympus has definitely been listening to the criticisms and has delivered a dramatic improvement in video options and quality. I am not a videographer so perhaps it is best if I just list a few of the specs.
- 4K @ 30fps (3840x2160 - 16:9, 102 Mbps)
- Cinema4K @ 24fps (4096 x 2160 - 17:9, 237 Mbps)
- FHD @ 60fps (1920 x 1080 - 16:9)
The sample video below was shot, hand held in 4K.
Olympus engineers are innovators. From the original (and highly effective) dust-reduction system, to Live Composite, to built-in focus stacking, Olympus keeps pushing the envelope of what a camera can do. It would be disappointing if there wasn't a new, game-changing innovation in the E-M1 Mark II. Don't worry, there is.
Pro Capture: Faster than the Speed of Sight
Imagine a camera that can actually take a photo before you press the shutter release. That's what Pro Capture does. Here is a simple scenario. You are photographing the bees in your garden and one has landed on a bloom. You quickly frame the shot, but what you really want to photograph is that moment when it takes off. The problem is, with most us, our reflexes are too slow to actually capture that moment. You could use Sequential High burst mode and hope that the bee takes off before the buffer fills up, or you test those reflexes and hope you time it perfectly. Up until now, those were your basic options.
In Pro Capture mode the camera begins buffering images the instant you press the shutter release half way. It only records those buffered images on the memory card if you fully de-press the shutter release. This means that even if you missed the moment when the bee took flight, the camera didn't. Does this mean that if you hold the release halfway down for a full minute and then finally snap the shot, it would record a full minute's worth of images (that's a lot of photos at 60 fps)? No. The maximum number of images that can be buffered is 14. Anything above that is dumped. This provides you with that extra bit of time in case your reflexes were just a bit too slow. As well, the maximum number of images that can be taken after the shutter is fully pressed is 99. That allows for just over 1.5s worth of shooting if you have the fps set at 60.
Recently I was in New York City with a couple of other Olympus Visionaries, Frank Smith and John Sterling Ruth and in the evening we headed down to the Oculus, the new transportation hub at the base of One World Trade Centre. After taking in the incredible architecture I decided there were two shots I wanted to get from the balcony - one that would freeze the action of the people down below, and the other to show their movement. I was shooting hand-held and had the 8mm f/1.8 fisheye attached. This meant leaning far over the balcony so that the railing didn't end up in the shot. In order to achieve the results I wanted, very different camera settings were required.
Shot 1 - Motion Blur - ISO250, 1.3s, f/22
Shot 2 - Freeze the Action - ISO6400, 1/250s, f/6.3
The image below shows one-half of each photograph. Two things impressed me with this experiment. Firstly, how incredible the in-body image stabilization is. I was holding the camera away from my body with my arms fully extended for 1.3 seconds! Secondly, although you can see some noise in the second shot, it is remarkably clean considering it was shot at ISO 6400. Click on the image to see a high resolution version.
I have yet to own a camera and take advantage of every single feature built in to it. Some features just don't suit my style of photography. I suspect that the same will apply to the E-M1 Mark II. That being said, the new updates and innovations are quite remarkable. Here are just a few of the performance improvements that I appreciate;
- Faster Auto Focus and Improved Tracking - Combined with the PRO line of lenses there is a noticeable difference in auto-focusing speed. More impressive however is the improved tracking performance. With its predecessor I would rarely use tracking since it proved to be rather unreliable. I recently used the C-AF with Tracking at a mountain bike race and was pleased with the results. Not perfect, but a considerable improvement.
- Handles Noise Better - This is the improvement that has impressed me the most. As an avid astrophotographer I had been hoping for better performance at higher ISO settings. The new Olympus sensor does not disappoint. With the E-M1 I would rarely go above ISO1600 for my night sky shots. Beyond that digital noise would become too pronounced. That meant more time processing my images in Lightroom. With the Mark II I am now shooting at ISO6400 with very little (and I mean, very little) digital noise. The difference between the two cameras is astounding!
- Very Quiet Mechanical Shutter - Speaking of noise, I was quite impressed with just how silent the mechanical shutter is on the Mark II. It is so quiet that you may end up forgetting that there is an electronic shutter available that makes absolutely no noise whatsoever.
- Improved EVF - Quite honestly, the electronic view finder on the Mark II is so good you forget that it's not an optical one. It's just that good.
- Faster, More Accurate Focus Stacking - I enjoy macro photography and the focus stacking feature on the E-M1 was a great addition to the 4.0 firmware update. My results were often mixed however, even when using a tripod. With the MarkII, focus bracketing and stacking are much faster, and much more reliable, even hand held.
- Custom Modes - The Mysets on the E-M1 were a nice idea, but quite honestly I never used them. Menu diving is something I avoid unless it is absolutely necessary. That's why I really like the new custom settings on the mode dial (C1, C2, C3). Easy to program and even easier to know when you are shooting with those settings.
- 121 AF Points - The E-M1 had 81 points. The increase has definitely lead to more accurate, pin-point focusing in practically every situation. I also like the addition of the 5-point cross. I have used it quite often when wildlife shooting.
- Arrow Pad on the HLD-9 - The new battery grip certainly makes the footprint of the Mark II a bit larger than its predecessor, but the more pleasing grip and the inclusion of the arrow pad make the extra size worth it.
- Better Battery Life - Since having the Mark II there have been several occasions where I have been shooting all day and into the evening on the same two batteries. I am curious to see how the new batteries will handle the cold Canadian winter that they will be subjected to.
Given the amount of time that I have had to shoot with the Olympus OMD E-M1 Mark II, I can only draw one conclusion - there is no doubt that the Mark II is a worthy successor to its older sibling. It is comfortable to hold, with solid, high quality construction. The new 20.4 megapixel image sensor provides incredible high-quality images with better noise-handling capabilities and improved dynamic range. As well, having two card slots and longer battery life means you can shoot all day. Olympus definitely has a winner on its' hands.
In order to provide a better sense of the true image quality you can achieve with the E-M1 Mark II, all of the photos below are the jpeg files straight out of the camera. Of course, they have been compressed and reduced from 350dpi to 72 for web display unless stated otherwise.