Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Olympus O-MD EM-1 Mark II Review - First Impressions

Image © Olympus America


Some things just run in your favor.  I was doing some house keeping with my photo gear and I realized that I had a lot of lenses and cameras that I do not use much anymore.

While I have appreciated the excellent image quality of the Olympus prime lenses, I find that I just do not use them enough or need them to justify keeping them sitting in the office.   My purchase of the Olympus OMD EM5 Mk II was an upgrade to the original EM5, but also as a smaller every day carry camera.  Since getting the Olympus PEN-F, the EM5 Mk II has not really been used much either.

Selling off some of the prime lenses (25/45/75 1.8) and the EM5.2 funded the purchase of the Olympus EM1 Mark II.

The video capabilities of the EM1.2 surpass that of the EM5.2, so I'm not losing anything there.  The EM1 series also have PDAF capabilities, so it makes the AF more efficient, especially in C-AF deployments.

Due to some current personal issues, I've not had a lot of time to get out and shoot sample images with the EM1.2.  Once I do, I will publish another post with tons of image samples.

Image © Olympus America


The EM1.2 is slightly larger than the EM1.1.  While the original EM1 fit in the hand well, the EM1.2's larger size makes it a perfect fit in my hands.  It feels much like a DSLR, but without the weight of one.

The buttons feel good and are in good ergonomic locations.

The front and rear dials feel a lot like the EM1.1.  The front dial on the EM1.2 feels a little less "clicky", more smooth but the click is still there.

A new addition is the power switch.  The power switch is still in the same location as the original EM1, but Olympus has added a remapping.  The function 1/2 lever can be remapped to the power switch.  This would then provide the ability for the user to power the camera on/off with one hand it that is desired.  Not something I would probably use, but something that might be of interest to others.  Another note about the 1/2 lever.  It is mounted in the opposite direction.  The EM1.1, the ler is pointing toward the outside of the camera, where as the EM1.2 has the lever facing toward the viewfinder.
I find this a better configuration as I would sometimes accidentally knock the EM1.1 lever into position 2, would not know it until I tried to change the aperture setting and be changing the white balance instead.

The menu button has moved. It is further to the end of the camera and the play button moved down.

The top plate is pretty much the same in regards to button position.

The camera also comes equipped with dual card slots.  You can decide if you want them to be used consecutively or redundantly.

The mode dial has the addition of 3 custom settings.  I set mine up in the following manner

C1 = normal shooting mode.  The everyday mode for single point AF stuff.
Sharpness -1
Contrast +1
i-Natural picture profile
Single Servo
3:2 aspect ratio
Large SuperFine JPG

C2 = sports shooting mode - ready for fast moving subjects
Sharpness -1
Contrast +1
C-AF - group pattern AF (looks like a cross)
i-Natural picture profile
Continuous servo high
3:2 aspect ratio
Large SuperFine JPG

C3 = B&W street shooting
Sharpness -1
Contrast +2
Green filter
Monochrome picture profile
Single Servo
1:1 aspect ratio

Large SuperFine JPG + RAW(so I have the ability to get a color version if I so desire)

Much easier to access than going into a menu and picking a MySet or remapping existing dial options.

While we are on the subject of MySets - those are technically gone.  Instead, you map the C1 through C3 dials; menu options for setting and retrieving are a lot less confusing.  The menu names have been renamed, so you know when you are saving the settings or retrieving them.  You still cannot name the presets, but that is less of an issue since they have their own dedicated place on the dial.

Image © Olympus America

Image Quality

I've not done a head to head against the PEN-F sensor, which is also of the 20mp variety.  The EM1.2 sensor is a step up from the EM1.1, which is 16mp.

Reports have stated, as well as Olympus, there are some modest image quality increases.  These increases come in dynamic range, noise performance.  This is good, considering that the mega pixel count has increased.   I'll take any improvements, no matter how little.

1/80, f/4, ISO 1000 @ 40mm
Oly 12-40/2.8 PRO

1/80, f/2.8, ISO 2000 @ 40mm
Oly 12-40/2.8 PRO
1/60, f/2.8, ISO 1000 @ 12mm - in camera monochrome 1:1 crop
Oly 12-40/2.8 PRO

1/60, f/2.8, ISO 1250 @ 12mm
Oly 12-40/2.8 PRO

Auto Focus

Point to point single AF I can see an improvement in low light AF.  The speed is much quicker and seems more confident than in the past.  In good light, just about every m43 camera with most lenses are near instant anyway, so not much is going to be gained there.

At release, there appears to be no way of making the AF points a smaller size.  On the previous camera, there were 2 sizes of AF boxes, selectable by activating the focus point using the direction pad, holding the INFO button and turning a command dial.  This appears to be missing.  Not sure if the new focusing algorithm no longer uses it or if it is something that will be made available in a future firmware update.  I plan on reaching out to Olympus support to request some information.

The focusing modes remind me a bit of how the Nikon D500 functions.  You get the single point AF, then a "group" type AF set of boxes.  Also a square box of 9 AF points, then the full grid which would be similar to 3D or auto selection AF point.   Lastly, the Olympus C-AF + tracking option is also back.

Above is a low light video focusing test.   12-40/2.8 was used, exposure setup at 1/60, f/2.8, ISO 6400.   I engaged the manual focus clutch, turned the ring to infinity, set the clutch back to AF, then pressed the shutter release half way, then repeated the above process, but turned the focus ring to closest focus distance.

Continuous AF is where everyone and me included wanted to know about.  Marketing claims that the AF is, and I'm quoting, "just as good as some flagship DSLRs".   With a claim like that, you better believe that I plan on putting it to the test.

Upon initial testing after first getting the Mark II, you can see that the initial C-AF acquisition is much improved.    One of the issues I've had previously was initially getting the focus lock in C-AF mode.  It lagged a bit, but once locked, did well on predictably moving subjects.

EM1.2 initial lock is almost as fast as S-AF.  Much more usable.

Some people were hoping for a dedicated joystick for electing AF points, similar to the Nikon D500.   Olympus has not done that, but they have included trackpad focusing on the rear screen.  When activated, you can use the touch screen when the viewfinder is active for selecting the AF point.  While not the same as a dedicated joystick, it might satisfy some users looking for an alternative to the legacy direction pad.

One thing missing from the EM1.1 is the smaller AF points.  As seen here from my EM1.1, the smaller, square boxes are not a selectable option on the EM1.2.

the "normal" AF points from the EM1.1 and EM1.2

the smaller, square AF points

I put a support ticket in with Olympus to find out why they are not there and if they will return via a firmware update.
I care about this feature because the AF performance was more accurate with the smaller boxes on the EM1.1.  Perhaps the new AF process does not require the manually added precision of the smaller boxes.

Olympus Support responded and said that at this time there is no plan to have smaller AF points and that since there are more AF points than previously on the EM1.1, this is the configuration for now.

Ok...I've been wordy enough.  Now the moment of truth. How does the AF tracking work.

EVF Blackout and refresh rates.
Normal EVF is better, but there is also a "high" setting for even less blackout.  The manual states that frames per second capture might be reduced if you are using the high EVF setting.

The EVF lag is very minimal and should make for a much easier time when tracking subjects.

Battery Life

Powered by the new BLH-1 battery, I tested the EM1.2 in video capabilities for a project.   I cannot share those videos just yet, but I can share some technical aspects of the shoot in regards to the battery life.

This shoot was outside.  The ambient temperature was 20F.  The camera was continuously on for 2.5 hours, using the rear LCD.  Shooting parameters were 1080p/60fps.  1/60, f/4, ISO 400.  S-AF to get initial focus.  IBIS activated.

Also, the night before this shoot, the camera was used for testing low light AF, Pro Capture mode.

The camera reported 50% battery left.  I consider that very good given mirrorless cameras proclivity to burn through batteries pretty quickly.  The EM1.2 new battery and I'm sure internal efficiency contribute.


4k video capable here.  I'm new to video, did a little bit for a project.  I've mentioned those specs and the battery life up in the battery life section.

Olympus is not usually known for its video capabilities. While adequate for some, most who wanted to do video would go for a Panasonic camera.  The gap has closed since the release of the EM5 Mk II.  It was way better, but not perfect.  The EM1.2 is even better.

The sensor readout speed increase makes the rolling shutter effect minimal for panning and moving subjects.

There are 2 varieties of 4k recording.  Cinema 4k provides up to 30fps and a 237 MBps output, while standard 4k is also out to 30fps but at a lower bit rate of 202 MBps.
1080p video is capable of 60fps with varying bit rates from 52MBps and down depending on the quality setting selected.

The IBIS works great and provides the ability to record smooth hand held videos.

Audio input is a 3.5mm microphone jack, monitoring is provided by a built in headphone jack.

Here is a quick 4k sample video.  Nothing earth shattering, but something to view.
Exposure setup is 1/60, f/4, ISO 400 - camera on tripod.  Standard 4k(so 202MBps, not cinema 4k - 237MBps).  The video is SOOC with the "flat" video profile.  No correction or grading was done to it.

A feature of note that some might appreciate is the ability to pull stills from the 4k feed. From what I can see, this is done in camera during video review.  You go to the frame in the video, select the menu option and it will pull out a still frame from the video.  I have to look and see, but this might be accomplished in the Olympus Viewer software.  That would make sense, but I have not checked this myself yet.

The digital tele-converter works in all modes in video and it does not appear to affect the bitrate at all.

Other Misc. Items of Note

Pro Capture Mode:
I first saw something like this back in the Nikon 1 series cameras,  Not sure if this is something that was done in a camera prior.  I initially thought it a bit gimmicky, but after using it, I can see the benefit of it.

There are 2 modes, a low and a high.
The basic function of it is that you half press to focus and start the capture process.  During half press, the camera automatically starts capturing a pre-determined number of frames.  For example lets say the option is set to capture 10 pre frames.  Once the shutter is pressed all the way down, that frame is captured.  If you look at your captured frames, you'll see that there are 10 previous frames and then your last frame.

Great for times when you are wanting to capture a bird in flight grabbing a fish from the water or the bird leaving a branch.

The one point of concern for some shooters might be that this is done using the electronic shutter.  I've not done enough tests to know if there are any negative effects to image quality using this mode.  Trust that I will test it out more thoroughly and report on my findings in the future.

Shutter Sound:
The shutter seems to be more dampened, and the sound of it is very muted in comparison to the other m43 Olympus cameras.  Quite is good.

PreMF Focus Mode:
EM1.2 includes a feature some might like, especially those who like the Ricoh GR.
Olympus included a focusing mode called PreMF. This is for preset manual focus. You go into the Focus select menu and it is the last option. After pressing the OK button, press INFO to go into setting mode. Use manual focus or AF to set the focusing distance, then OK again. Now, the camera will stay locked in the preset focusing distance and it stays there even after power cycling the camera.

Size Comparison:
For those interested in the cameras size compared to my hand and a pen.  Here you go!  :D

Auto Focus Limiter:
Works with any micro four thirds lens.  I've only ever seen this function built into lenses before.  Now, it is available system wide with this camera body.

Bottom Line:
While this may not be the camera for everyone and the price tag might be off putting - one cannot deny that Olympus has provided a very capable and tech leading camera body.  It is difficult to get a product to market that stands out, and with all the capabilities Olympus put into the EM1 Mark II - people are talking about it.

If you can, get out there, try one out, and see if the camera is right for you.


  1. Thanks for sharing this review. Olympus Mirrorless takes your photography skills to the next level by its exciting features.

    1. Thanks for the comments. There are a lot of break out features on the EM1.2 that could definitely help make ones job be of capturing images a lot easier. Olympus has always had a track record of innovation in their cameras, even back in the 4/3 days. It is no surprise that they continue this in the micro four thirds era!