On Thursday, Olympus announced its long-rumored successor to the OM-D E-M5 micro-four thirds mirrorless camera, the Mark II version. The new camera offers several small improvements and even better in-body image stabilization than its predecessor. The body is redesigned and adopted several pro features from the flagship E-M1 model. Headline news was the addition of a sensor-shift function that allows the 16-megapixel sensor to produce 40-megapixel images of static objects.
Several sites had access to early models and published their initial reviews, previews or first impressions of this camera. What follows is a roundup of those impressions.
A note before we start: getting early access to gear is a special treat. You don’t want to lose it, because that means it’s going to cost you money in affiliate link pre-orders. When Olympus announced the E-M1, it flew bloggers and journalists to Ireland for a media junket. Now it hosted several of them in Bermuda. Not bad for a company some said wouldn’t survive 2014. Anyways, it’s not likely that any of those with early access are going to be overly critical. I’ve ignored those clearly working with Olympus or those who think everything new is THE BEST CAMERA EVER! The ones featured here seem to offer a balanced and helpful assessment. I focus on observations that you can only get from actually handling the camera, ignoring the stuff you can easily conclude yourself by looking at the specs and pictures of the new camera.
The Camera Store
On YouTube, TheCameraStore takes us through cold Calgary on a test of the E-M5 II. Overall, they like the improvements on the camera. A comparison of a high-resolution shot from the Olympus with a similar one from the 50-megapixel Pentax 645Z shows they’re close, no small feat for the cheap and small Olympus. The test also shows the drawback of the sensor-shift technique, though, which is that even the smallest movement of the camera or the subject will appear blurry. That’s because the camera takes eight images in quick succession, which takes at least a second. In the case of the image of downtown Calgary, the smoke rising from some buildings gets smeared on the Olympus image. So, while the final image is amazing, the technique can only be used when there’s absolutely no movement of the subject and camera, which limits the feature quite a bit.
Other than that, the guys at the CameraStore are quite impressed. Everything is better, speed is impressive, layout is better and video is much better than in the predecessor, and in many cases, also improved from the E-M1. Their only beef seems to be the menu of the camera, which is largely unchanged.
CameraLabs’ Gordon Laing says the Mark II feels better in the hand than the original E-M5. He also liked the updated viewfinder, now the same as in the E-M1, and the fully articulated LCD. He’s equally impressed with how quiet the shutter is and with the complete silence and 1/16,000 maximum shutter speed of the new electronic shutter.
DPReview is equally impressed with the improvements Olympus added to the E-M5 II. In its studio tests of the sensor-shift technology, it shows that while the Olympus sharpness doesn’t differ much from the 36-mp Nikon D810, it does a better job with color rendition in challenging objects. The site also mentions focus peaking and stabilization as major improvements for both still and video shooting. Overall, DPReview rules that the new Olympus feels like it’s built from scratch and is better than its mere specs seem to indicate.
Over at the Phoblographer, Chris Gampat is also full of praise: “And yes, the Olympus OMD EM5 MK II is a pretty awesome camera so far. As of my typing this article up, I’ve been playing with it for less than eight hours–but it’s enough for us to state that the camera is very impressive.”
Gampat, one of the lucky ones escaping the New York weather in Bermuda, says autofocus is better than before, but can still miss some shots in continuous mode, still a weak point of mirrorless offerings compared to top DSLRs.
He calls the JPEG files ‘vivid, rich, and beautiful’ right out of the camera.
Only real downside he mentions so far is the overly sensitive eye sensor in the viewfinder, something which the CameraStore review also commented on. Just moving your hand in front of the sensor can apparently cause the LCD screen to go black as the camera switches to the EVF.
Head over to the Imaging-Resource for a thorough discussion and look of the sensor-shift technology. The samples they show, comparing results with those from the Nikon D810 and the Sony A7R, are impressive. Again, though, it only works with truly static subjects and when using a tripod.
PC Magazine was also in Bermuda, shooting the same stuff as everyone else, and came away with ‘a very positive impression.’ The site states: ” Its image quality is just as great as previous entries in the series, a combination of a solid sensor design and excellent lenses. The improvements in the in-body stabilization system are a boon to action photographers and videographers, although the latter are probably better off seeking out a 4K-capable camera at this point.”
So, overall, the impressions are positive, as expected. The camera seems a worthy upgrade from the E-M5 and a contender to occupy the Olympus flagship slot until the company announces the E-M1 Mark II. Currently, the E-M1 trumps the Mark II in speed and focusing abilities with the older Four-Thirds lenses. The E-M1 is due for a firmware update soon, which will speed up the camera even more. I hope to do some shooting with the E-M5 II soon and will share my take here.
You can support my work by pre-ordering through these links:
The camera is expected to ship February 27 for $1100.