It has been three years since Olympus launched the OM-D E-M1, a very impressive mirrorless camera with speedy autofocusing (AF), as well as great image quality, handling and build.
The Mark II version has finally arrived, and it is a huge upgrade over the original.
It has a 20.4-megapixel Micro Four Thirds (MFT) Live MOS image sensor (up from 16.3 megapixels) with a faster TruePic VIII image processor. It also boasts a maximum shooting speed of 18 frames per second (fps), up from 6.5fps previously. There are 121 on-chip phase-detection AF points, compared with only 37 previously.
An advanced five-axis image- stabilisation system prevents camera shake by up to 5.5 stops, compared with with its predecessor’s 4 stops. Other improvements include dual-SD card slots, 4K video recording and a 270-degree rotatable display.
I love the build of the E-M1 and its button layout, so I am glad that Olympus did not change what is not broken.
Its magnesium alloy chassis still has a solid, sturdy feel. A nice contoured rubberised grip feels really comfortable, accommodating all my fingers.
Buttons and controls are intelligently placed. The location of the two control dials – one around the shutter release and the other at the top of the camera – lets you adjust settings easily with your index finger and thumb simultaneously.
There is also a Mode dial, a dedicated video recording button and two customisable Function buttons for quick access to your most-used settings.
My beloved rear lever, which can switch the functions of the two control dials, is still there. So, you can use one setting for aperture and shutter, and the other for white balance and ISO. A nice change is having the Fn1 button on the thumb rest, which is now also the AF point selector: convenient when changing AF point.
Operation is swift. Powering up takes around 0.5sec, while shutdown takes just over 1sec. Shutter lag is negligible.
With two SD cards rated at 95MB per second, the E-M1 Mark II captured an amazing 57 RAW images in 5.1sec before the buffer ran out. Amazing for a mirrorless camera.
For this review, I used the E-M1 Mark II with the new M.Zuiko 12-100mm f/4 IS Pro ($1,948) lens. By the way, this is a really nice piece of glass that you should get if you have an MFT mirrorless camera. It has a good focal range (24-200mm in 35mm equivalent) and produces really sharp images.
With this lens, the AF is really fast, with the camera locking onto a focus immediately in bright sunlight. In dim lighting, it takes at most 1sec to focus with the aid of AF-assist lighting. But in dark conditions like the Christmas light-up in Orchard Road, it can take up to 2sec to find a focus.
The image-stabilisation technology in E-M1 Mark II is truly amazing. I was able to take a 5sec handheld exposure of the Christmas lightings with the image turning out razor sharp. Utterly impressive. Image quality is stellar, with sharp, crisp details and rich saturated colours.
You can hardly find any noise artefacts until ISO 1,600. At IS0 3,200, image noise is more evident. At ISO 6,400, images are still acceptable for Web use. But anything above ISO 6,400 is not recommended, as there is clear detail loss.
Battery life has been improved – around 440 still images on a full charge, versus the original’s 350.
My only quibble with the E-M1 Mark II is the price. Considering that a Sony A7 II (body only) full-frame mirrorless camera costs only $2,149, the E-M1 Mark II’s $2,848 price tag is really steep when it has a much smaller MFT image sensor.
Granted that other mirrorless or APS-C DSLR cameras might have neither the build nor image-stabilisation technology the E-M1 Mark II possesses, I think it is still too much to pay even if image quality is what you care most about.
• Verdict: All good things come at a price. And the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II is the epitome of that. It is a brilliant camera that is perfect in every sense except for its price tag.