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REVIEW: Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II is a Camera for the Serious Photographer


REVIEW: Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II is a Camera for the Serious Photographer

March 02, 2017  |  by samys

The new Olympus camera model name, the OM-D E-M1 Mark II, takes the prize for the longest name/model designation for a camera I have ever encountered; so appropriate because is has a long list of features to compete with that name. I will list many of the features below and move onto the photographs after a brief overview and opinion.

[caption id="attachment_4018" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Credit: Olympus[/caption]
  • 20.3MP CMOS Four Thirds sensor with 5-axis sensor shift image stabilization
  • Water, dust, and freeze proof
  • High Resolution Feature
  • 10 frames per second continuous shooting
  • Contrast detect and phase detect AF
  • ISO 100-25,600
  • 4K VIdeo
  • 1080 30 fps HD video (H.264/Motion JPEG)
  • Tiltable 3 inch touchscreen LCD with 1,037,000 dots
  • Flash hot shoe and Olympus Wireless RC Flash system compatible
  • Electronic viewfinder with 2,360,000 dots (1.3x magnification)
  • Raw and Raw + JPEG shooting
  • Magnesium alloy body
  • SD/SDHC/SDXC card slot
  • Built-in Wi-Fi
  • And much, much more!!!
[caption id="attachment_4020" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Credit: Olympus[/caption]

Olympus is one elegant camera system and always has been. I remember when the Olympus OM-1 made its appearance in 1972, a revolutionary compact and small SLR camera with the most beautiful glass that was razor sharp which exhibited the most beautiful color personality. They also came up with a whole complement of lenses from wide angle to telephoto to fit this new revolutionary camera. Well, it’s the same today. A small, elegant-looking digital camera with a wide selection of great glass to choose from for any need you might have.

I was fortunate enough to have this E-M1 MKII (known from now on as  E-M1) delivered to me by long time Olympus representative and great photographer in his own right, Carmen Porto, before my road trip to Las Vegas. I was headed out to a big photographic convention WPPI at The Las Vegas Convention Center where Samy’s Camera had a very busy booth selling products. Olympus and all other camera manufactures and photo related companies were attending for 4 days - Viva Las Vegas and Viva Olympus.

[caption id="attachment_4025" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Credit: Ralph Elliott Starkweather[/caption]

One thing I do have to be honest about is that, unless you are not an Olympus user and not used to the Olympus menu and interface, it can be quite daunting. The E-M1 has so many features and ways to access these features by buttons and touchscreen it can be confusing to the Olympus newbie. After you make your purchase, I advise you to study the manual and find an Olympus expert at Samy’s Camera or colleague to guide you through a hands on tutorial of many of the basic features or find one of the many You Tube tutorials. This will get you past the challenging learning curve if you are not an Olympus user. Carry your manual with you. Yes - there is a PDF for your tablet or phone for reference on location; but, it is about 192 pages, which is very difficult to scroll around on one’s phone or tablet. The good old fashioned paper booklet is a must in your bag.  Believe me, once you know the personality and work arounds, it becomes logical and you can repeat the procedures time and again. Another option is to set the custom buttons with your preferences.

This is one solid camera. Weatherproof as well and even with the recent heavy rain here in Southern California, I still have a hard time getting a camera wet even if it does not belong to me and is for testing; so, I failed at that test. You will just have to find those other brave should who have tried this and some who have this camera covered in wet mud to illustrate it toughness in these conditions including sub-freezing weather.

It was a joy to have the ability to capture luscious 50 megapixel images (camera mounted on my tripod), which means that I can make large prints or send to a client for a large billboard. Forget those impressive from afar phony shot with an Apple iPhone billboards. These are so far away and up high but are just color designs and shapes that look good from a football field distance away; but, lacking sharpness and detail upon close inspection. This Olympus is the real deal with real sharpness and luscious detail and with the signature Olympus color palette and other looks in their Art Filter feature.

[caption id="attachment_4022" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Credit: Ralph Elliott Starkweather[/caption]

The 5 Axis in body stabilization is second to none. I could hold my camera steady for sharp images at one second and read about one fellow who was claiming to have hand held his camera for a full two seconds for sharp images. Bottom line it is some special stabilizer that will get you through the very low light danger zone.

I kept this camera longer than most cameras because I wanted to be fair and get beyond my frustration. My pickle fingers would accidentally push one of the many buttons launching it into yet another feature while handling the camera and I had no way to find my way back because I had not studied the manual. And, many times, I would accidentally change the AF/MF feature on some of the lenses with this push pull feature. I would set it into MF mode when pulling out the lens; the lens would engage into MF so easily when taking it out of the bag. I knew I could master this camera after a couple of weeks. So, what I’m writing is that there is a learning curve here and most of the Olympus buyers are loyal long time users of previous models and they get it and can navigate with ease because this newer model is pretty much familiar with a few changes such as the larger more positive grip. Olympus users are quite loyal and it appears they are also the majority of returning buyers leaving about 20% to Olympus newbies who need to go through the initial Olympus learning curve.

Caution to professionals do not take this camera out of the box right away to go shoot a job and learn to use it under fire - no, no, no: take one week intensive shooting or two weeks laid back learning before you are under the pressure of a job with clients standing around and watching your every move. But, believe me people, look for that light at the end of the tunnel because what you will see are images like no other, sharp, incredible resolving power which is evident at 400%, fantastic color palette and more and this is a micro 4/3rds sensor. This is seen as a smallish sensor; but, it certainly holds its own and surpasses most DSLRs and other mirrorless cameras.

[caption id="attachment_4024" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Credit: Ralph Elliott Starkweather[/caption]

I try not to read reviews before writing mine; but, I could not resist watching a fantastic hour plus You Tube video review of this camera covering all aspects - more than my little brain can handle. After all, I am a working photographer, not an engineer. It would take me months to learn what this fellow did in 3 weeks of constant use and testing. But if you buy this camera, what is the hurry if you want to master all those great features available to you? Take your time and enjoy the ride and discovery. After all, this is the fun part when you can finally say: Eureka!

[caption id="attachment_4023" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Credit: Ralph Elliott Starkweather[/caption]

I can say this because it passed the test with one of my most discriminating clients for a magazine and with several of my images they were talking cover and some two page spreads…words I had not heard in years. Who hoo!!! So Olympus, I can see now what you have done after delivering my work and getting such great feedback.

One more note: This is a substantial investment; but, I advise you to go The Full Monty. Get their best glass - you will be rewarded. 7-14mm 2.8... too wide? Not for me. In fact, it was perfect for my architectural photographs for the magazine. Next wide up is the 9-18mm 4.0-5.6, which I used in 2010 and 2011 for two exhibitions in those 2 years called Canyon People. I made 161 final 16 x 20” prints of residents of the Santa Monica Canyon area near Los Angeles. Consider the 45-150mm 2.8 was so perfect for my On The Road Again photographs especially the one here of the famous ROYS in Amboy on Highway Route 66. The 75mm 1.8 is so beautiful glass if you look into it and it is fast and just enough reach for those concerts and darkish  “danger Zone” lighting situations. And on and on. With so many lenses, available find the ones that suit your needs. 

[caption id="attachment_4027" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Credit: Ralph Elliott Starkweather[/caption]

Let’s talk video! That I will leave to a very talented and world renowned video guy named Mark Tierney. Olympus has entered the 4K video arena with the other 4K video DSLR and mirrorless big boys with this model. 


If you’re already an Olympus EM5 II video shooter, the EM1 II is really just a 4k version of that, with even better stabilization. If you’re not, the clarity and sharpness of the 4K DCI will be a revelation. With the new Olympus lenses, results very similar in color space to Arri’s venerable Alexa are possible. It’s a much ‘cleaner’ look than other hybrid cameras. There is a not-LOG ‘flat’ profile, and you can set the camera up to be suited for video and save it for recall with a quick flick to VIDEO mode. Autofocus (which can be screen driven) while far better than we had even a year or two ago is only ok against the current market, particularly Canon Pixel Focus and Sony’s a6500. ISO is pretty much limited to 1600 useable, and like ALL hybrids protecting highlights is vital. Then there’s the stabilization. It’s otherworldly. Shots that would have demanded a gimbal or glidecam in the past are very possible handheld. Even ‘walking’ shots are very useable. Overall, this camera is a dramatic step forward technologically in 4K capable cameras under $8k as is particularly for single operator doco and event shooters. Add a Vari-ND and a small mic and the whole kit will fit in a small bag. If Olympus ever put a true LOG profile in there, they would have a significant pro machine.

So what is my conclusion?  If you are an existing Olympus user, step up to this body! You already have the glass but maybe you will want to upgrade to the best glass to optimize for this sensor... to resolve even more detail. It is truly that much better in my opinion. If you are a newbie, buy the body and kit lens from Samy’s. Then, as you become more comfortable and get to know the camera, start buying yourself more lenses and you will soon join the other loyal Olympus users sooner than you thought. This camera is for the fine art and travel photographer, serious sports photographer, and also, pros who want to stand out with that little something different that makes one stand out with the art director and the client.

Purchase the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Mirrorless Micro Four Thirds Digital Camera Body here

March 02, 2017



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