NOTE: This article has been originally posted in January 2018. This is an UPDATE of my earlier Review of the Olympus OM-D EM-1 Mark II.
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II is the flagship Micro Four Thirds camera of the Japanese manufacturer.
It was released three years after the OM-D E-M1 and it has been described by many as the most formidable Olympus camera, ever.
Complete review of the Olympus OM-D EM-1 Mark II
I bought it in late 2017 and immediately understood why some magazines and many reviews say it’s the camera that warps time, a camera that pushes the boundaries of what one could expect from it. I might be biased since I own it, but I’m not the only one thinking that you won’t find anything like this in the Micro Four Thirds world. There’s one characteristic in particular that made it so popular: it’s fast, unbelievably fast. I mainly shoot landscapes, in particular sunrises, but I’ve used the E-M1 Mark II also for action and portrait photo. After thousands of clicks, I decided to write a review of this excellent camera. I am going to share details about my experience with it and highlight its characteristics. You will also find links to buy it, and to some of the best accessories available. Spoiler alert, speed is not the only amazing feature of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II. In fact, it’s packed full of features, with an awesome design and it’s highly portable. Let’s jump right into it!
- Aesthetic, Design and Build Quality
- Highly Customizable
- ViewFinder and LCD Screen
- Sensor and Image Quality
- In-body Image Stabilization
- Sequential Shooting
- Pro Capture Mode
- Ultra Hi-Res Mode
- Live Bulb, Live Time, Live Composite
- Pros and Cons
- Final Thoughts
1. Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Specs
- Sensor: 20.4 mp Live MOS Micro Four Thirds
- Weather-sealed body (splash proof, dust proof, freezeproof)
- 5-axis in-body image stabilization
- 50MP High-res Shot Mode
- 18 fps AF/AE (with C-AF)
- 60 fps AF/AE (with S-AF)
- 121-point All-cross-type On-chip Phase Detection AF
- 4K video (4096 x 2160) at 24P and 237 Mbps
- Fully articulating LCD display
- Dual SD card slots (Slot 1: UHS-I/II compatible, Slot 2: UHS-I compatible)
2. Aesthetic, Design and Build Quality
I love the super sleek magnesium alloy body of the E-M1 Mark II, it feels very robust, comes in black only and I really like the sexy ergonomics with rounded edges and elegant mix between modern and retro design. It’s a touch bigger than its predecessor, but still as small as a mirrorless camera should be and weight 576g with battery and memory cards included, 498g body only. Despite its small size the OM-D E-M1 Mark II is the first Micro Four Thirds camera that has two memory card slots one of which is UHS-2 compatible. It’s 134.1mm wide, 90.9mm high and 68.9mm deep, it presents a very comfortable grip, well pronounced to make the handling easier with long lenses and really enjoyable also for people with bigger hands. It allows space for a much bigger battery compared to the E-M1. You can find more about the amazing battery at the end of this article here. Just by holding the camera for the first time I immediately realised that this is absolutely not a toy (well its price say it all, we can talk about that later). Its compact and solid as a tank. The rugged body is weather sealed, splashproof, dustproof and freezeproof. It operates at a range between -10˚C and 40˚C (14˚F – 104˚F). I took it under heavy rain, the camera was soaked and it continued to function seamlessly.
3. Highly Customisable
I’ve never seen anything as customizable as the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II. Virtually everything can be customized and it can take a bit to get confident with all the various sections of the menu. But once it’s all set there’s likely no need to do it again. There are a fair bit of switches, knobs and tactile dials, similar to the ones on the previous version of the E-M1, very customisable to allow for quickly shifting settings for full creative control.
- On the front the two buttons beside the lens mount are completely programmable for a large variety of functions.
- On the back side the 2×2 switch will change the functions of the top dials. In Position 1 the dials will control the exposure, in Position 2 instead, ISO and white balance. The switch is also programmable to function as On/Off lever. The Fn1 button also completely programmable, works as focus point selector.
- Looking at the body from the top, the mode dial has three programmable customisable settings, which by default are:
- Moving subject AF – C1
- Pro Capture Mode – C2
- Low-light AF – C3
It really gives you a lot of flexibility and covering all of them in a an article would be ambitious, I will write a follow up to this article where I cover these aspects and share my custom settings. The camera’s menu is also pretty deep, but the good news is that once you’ve set up everything you want it to be, you won’t spend much time going through the menus again and again.
4. OM-D E-M1 Mark II Viewfinder and LCD Screen
With a pretty deep eye cup the Electronic View Finder is one of the elements I really liked from the very beginning. Looking through the quite comfortable EVF you basically see a live view of what you are shooting, so it’s very useful when you change your settings, or when you manage the white balance, dynamic range, or change the picture modes. The EVF resolution is 2.36-million dots and 1.74x magnification. It has a maximum frame rate of 120 fps which gives a small latency of barely 6 milliseconds. You can also playback your images in the EVF without switching to the LCD to see your last photo taken. Speaking of LCD, When composing shots, you get to choose between the viewfinder and a large fully articulating 3 inch 1.37 million dots LCD touch screen. You can quite comfortably change the focus point with the tip of your finger from the LCD same as you would do on a smartphone. The touch interface is really good, you can quickly swipe through photos in playback mode, reach a lot of settings in the control panel and also shoot with a simple touch of the screen. The screen can be twisted all the way around to face fully forward or to face fully inwards when not using or storing the camera. Very good for protecting the display surface. I know you wouldn’t buy this camera just for taking selfies, but hey let’s say you want to make videos with it, the articulating LCD gives you an absolutely great control from the front. I also use the LCD a lot on a tripod since it gives me flexibility especially when I shoot from a low angle. The only downside for videographers is that when you have anything plugged to a jack on the left side of the camera, you won’t be able to rotate the screen.
5. Sensor and Image Quality
Even though lenses are probably the most important element of a good system, you cannot compromise in sensor quality. Before switching to a Micro Four Thirds System I was a bit skeptical, since I was used to think that more megapixels are synonym of quality and I was afraid that my photos could suffer from a lack of dynamic range especially in dark conditions. I went to the shop and tried the camera several times, I asked a lot of other photographers that use Olympus and read a lot of articles and online reviews before convincing myself. With great pleasure I found out that the new Live MOS sensor of this camera, together with the True Pic VIII processor are built for performance, high speed and sensitivity and make it possible to achieve amazing results even in low light conditions, area where m4/3 sensors always struggle. This combined with the M.Zuiko Pro Lens System, gives phenomenal results. Here’s some real world examples.
The new 20.4MP sensor already proved its quality in the Pen-F, but now it’s even better in the EM-1 Mark II, with apparent resolution gains. It’s possible to shoot up to ISO3,200 before start noticing color noise and there’s plenty of dynamic range.
Read my article Beginners Intro to Exposure Bracketing if you want to learn how to extend the Dynamic Range in your images.
6. In-body Image Stabilization
The OM-D EM-1 Mark II is equipped with one of the best 5-axis in-body image stabilization of any camera on the market. This type of in-body image stabilization (IBIS) compensates for camera shake in all direction. It works in landscape and portrait orientation and the sensor-shift covers up-down lef-right and rotation movements. I can’t believe how good it is, I haven’t used anything similar before. The EM1 II body is rated for up to 5.5 stops of image stabilization and when combined with in-lens image stabilization it provides the most powerful stabilization, rated to 6.5 shutter speed stops which allowed me to take photos of still subjects handling the camera for up to 2” in low light conditions keeping the ISO to a minimum. It works seamlessly with any lens you attach and if you don’t use an Olympus lens you just need to go to the menu and under the Image Stabilization menu you need to enter the focal lens relative to that lens to maximise its performance. There are 4 IS mode to choose from:
- S-IS (auto)
- S-IS1 (for all directions)
- S-IS2 (vertical shake only)
- S-IS3 (horizontal shake only)
If you are into long exposure photography or want to learn more about it, you can take a look at my article Long Exposure Photography Made Easy With the reliability of the in-body 5-axis image stabilization system it is possible to comfortably record 4K video even during active camera work. The modes for video are:
- M-IS1 (uses sensor-shift and electronic IS)
- M-IS2 (sensor-shift only)
7. Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Sequential shooting performance
Ok let’s talk about one of the most impressive features of the OM-D EM-1 Mark II: speed. Let’s put it this way, even if set to its slowest modes the EM1 II is faster than most other cameras. The EM1 Mark II’s burst rate make it the ideal tool for capturing fugitive moments. Thanks to two quad-core processors the EM 1 II is nearly three times faster than its predecessor. Let’s see the details. In silent mode the new 20M Live MOS sensor together with the TruePic VIII image processor make it possible to shoot a maximum of 18 frames per second (RAW + JPEG) in focus tracking and auto exposure. 60 frames per second (RAW + JPEG) with locked focus and exposure! Mind blowing right? Continuous Low you need to shoot in one of the two continuous low modes to get continuous autofocus and autoexposure during burst. With autofocus and auto exposure active manages a 10 fps. And we are talking about RAW format at full resolution. Using the electronic shutter, you get the full 18fps (RAW + JPEG) with autofocus tracking and autoexposure. Continuous High the two continuous high modes work with locked exposure and focus. Using the mechanical shutter, it bursts out an impressive 15 frames per second. The full 60fps are reached with the electronic shutter. If you are an over shooter make sure you get a couple of extra SD cards! I’m not much of a “spray and pray” type of photographer, but the first time I tried it to test its capabilities it really surprised me. I wasn’t ready to see all those frames, all sharp and in focus. Great work Olympus!
8. Pro Capture mode
This innovative option entirely new and unique to the EM-1 Mark II makes it easy to capture that decisive moment. It’s obviously super useful for action photos, since it takes advantage of the speed performance of the camera. As described by Olympus itself, Pro Capture mode is “shooting without a release time lag”. Yes, because in high-speed photography, some time passes between when you press the shutter and when the camera begins capturing pictures, so you could miss that magic moment. To solve this problem, Pro Capture mode takes advantage of the camera’s electronic shutter and when pressing the shutter halfway, the camera writes full resolution photos in the image buffer. When you finally press the shutter the whole way, the OM-D EM-1 Mark II takes the last 14 frames from the buffer and writes them into the SD card. While saving the images you are actually shooting with the shutter all pressed down. This feature allows you to take frames that could be entirely missed. The frame rate, number of buffered images and number of images saved in total, can be all set. The camera focuses between shots in Pro Capture L (Low) while it doesn’t in Pro Capture H (High), works with RAW and it’s only available if using M. Zuiko Digital Lenses. I tried it with action surfer photography and it blew me away making me feel comfortable that I would not miss the shot I wanted. What a cool feature! The image above has been captured with the M. Zuiko 40-150mm F/2.8 lens. Read the review here.
9. Ultra High Res mode
This is a technique first used on Hasselblad medium format cameras and it was introduced by Olympus in 2015 with the OM-D E-M5 Mark II to further enhance the capabilities of the amazing sensor-based image stabiliser. This option makes the new Olympus 20M live MOS sensor capture an 80mp RAW image. How? By moving the sensor up, down, left and right by only half a pixel, the sensor captures eight shots and processes them into a single image, resulting in an 80 megapixels RAW file (20M x 8 frames x 0.5 pixel). You can also convert in-camera the 80M RAW to a 50M JPEG.
The autofocus system is entirely new and features 121 phase-detection points. Not impressive if compared to full frame cameras, but keep in mind that Micro Four Thirds sensors are considerably smaller.
During burst shooting, one of the two quad-core processors of the camera is entirely dedicated to autofocus to help the camera continue to accurately track the subject for the next shot. Considering that the C-AF performs at 18 frames per second, that’s really impressive. Even when compared to flagship DSLRs. In the real world, when using C-AF at 18fps bursts the camera might sometimes fail and focus on the background, but again, we are talking about a 18fps burst.
To find more about focus modes, read my article Ultimate Guide to Understanding Camera Focus Modes
11. Live Bulb, Live Time, Live Composite
The OM-D E-M1 Mark II can help you get your long exposure right. With these features you see the image build up on the back of the screen. You can stop the exposure when it looks like you wanted. Find my article about Live Composite here it’s slightly different from the other two modes and it deserves a complete article. In Live Composite while the shutter is open and the camera is developing the shot, it only adds increments of highlights into the image.
We’ve discussed about a lot of aspects of this camera. It’s only fair to talk about its price now. At $1,599.00 (USD) for the body only, we are talking about a pretty expensive camera. I’ve read a lot of blog articles where people criticise a lot the OM-D EM-1 II price. All I can say is that the E-M1 Mark II is worth every cent. The number of features, the build quality and the amazing combination with the Pro lenses available, make of this camera the best micro 4/3 mirrorless on the market.
I couldn’t end this review without mentioning some of the best accessories available for the Olympus OM-D EM-1 Mark II: Power Battery Holder HLD-9 The HLD-9 battery grip doubles the battery life of he EM1 II. It’s splash, dust and freeze proof and offers two control dials and two custom buttons.
BLH-1 Rechargeable Battery
I can’t believe how good is this battery. It uses the Advanced Lithium-Ion Technology, it takes 2 hours to fully charge and it lasts for almost an entire day allowing you to shoot thousands of photos. You should really buy one or two on Amazon at this link.
Olympus FL-900R High-Intensity Flash
The powerful FL-900R external flash has a guide number of 58m, it’s also dustproof, splashproof, and freezeproof. It has built-in video lamp, wireless control and superb tracking performance. The high-speed sequential shooting has the ability to fire at 10 fps.
PT-EP14 underwater housing
The PT-EP14 was developed for the OM-D E-M1 Mark II.
It can resist water pressure up to depths of 60 metres(197 feet) with select lenses and ports.
I’m sure scuba diving and free diving lovers would love the idea of a case for their OM-D EM-1 Mark II and Olympus is one of the only camera brand that produces its own underwater housing.
14. Pros & Cons of the E-M1 Mark II
- Stabilisation. The In-body stabilisation is one of the best on the market,
- Very small, light yet absolutely solid like a tank,
- Fast and furious. Speed is one of the major selling points,
- LCD display. The fully articulating display is super useful and gives a lot of flexibility,
- Packed with functionality, one could write an entire book on it,
- Excellent battery life,
- Dual slot memory cards
- In low light conditions and high ISO this camera may suffer a bit. It’s by the way the best among Micro Four Thirds cameras on the market.
15. Final Thoughts
I am extremely happy with this camera. In the beginning I was a bit concerned about switching to a micro four thirds sensor.
I admit that right after the first few clicks I fell in love with it. Its small size, lightness and extreme versatility make this camera a very powerful tool for any type of photography style.
I really hope you’ve enjoyed my review of the Olympus OM-D EM-1 Mark II. I k’ve been updating it as I gained more experience with it and discovered more funcionalities.
Let me know what are your thoughts about the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and ask me any questions in the comments below.
Buy the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II
Read my reviews of Olympus M.Zuiko Pro Lenses compatible with the OM-D E-M1 Mark II:
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Stefano Caioni is the founder of Pixinfocus. His passion for photography helps him discover new places and live new adventures.