2012 was a big year. It was the Queen’s Jubilee celebration, the London Olympic Game and a Mirrorless Camera Revolution. But nothing beat the news of my wife being pregnant of course! That was the BIGGEST good news of all! But I am here to write about a camera review so I would like to concentrate on the Mirrorless Camera Revolution in 2012.
Revolution, yes, Olympus released a revolutionary camera that practically changed the landscape of all enthusiast/professional mirrorless photography market. It also removed the barrier that once stopped professionals to adopt the mirrorless system. Yes, to me, it was that important and very similar to what Canon did to the digital SLR market when it launched the EOS 5D and 5D Mark II. I am not here to justify anything other than my own personal opinion and what I think about the OM-D E-M5 Mark II. When I first picked up the Mark I back in 2012, it was love at first sight. I liked its retro styling and compact body even before I realised just how good its image quality was! Of course, at the time, there was the brilliant Panasonic GH2 and Olympus’ EP-3, yet, I didn’t like any of them.
GH2 was more of a DSLR in slightly smaller body and EP-3 just no good without an EVF (though you can get an external one). When the E-M5 arrived, it was perfect. Tiny as the EP-3 but with a built-in EVF and a full weather sealed metal body and that all important and revolutionary 5-axis stabilisation! I was always reluctant to change, move or add a brand new system to my already established set up. But as technology advances, I thought that mirrorless was a pretty good things to supplement my main system, my Canon full frame DSLRs.
Fast forward a few years, we are in 2015. Two and a half years after the original OM-D comes with the latest and brightest incarnation. One year in today’s digital photography world is a long time for development so even though my original was still perfect for anything that I throw at it, I wanted more, which I will explain later. So here it is, the Mark II.
So why this camera?
There are absolutely tons of choices around now. The mirrorless market is indeed flooded. But I am sticking with the OM-D because I love the M4/3 format and its small size. I already have two full frame systems, Leica M and Canon. Hence I don’t need to consider the brilliant Sony A7 series or any APS-C mirrorless system like the equally smart Fuji X cameras. More so, I have two of my favourite M4/3 lenses, the Olympus M-Zuiko 12mm Black Limited and the Panasonic Leica Summilux 25mm, so there’s no need to folk out more money for a new system!
As said before, the originally OM-D E-M5 served me extremely well and I was still using it up until the point that Olympus upgraded me! The last major shoot I had was last October’s Italy trip and you can see my photos here (still being completed and stay tuned!). I am ever so impressed with the ease of use and quickness of the original and if all the pre-production reviews are true, then I will have no complaint but praises about the new E-M5 II.
Ok, enough selling of the E-M5, I chose this camera for two reasons over the original, focus peaking and EVF. I shall explain later in a bit more details. The former reason was the main driving force for me to adapt to the mark II because of my occasion use of Leica manual lenses. The mark 1 never had the ultra high resolution EVF, with just over a million dots, it’s never enough to judge focus unless I use magnifying mode, which is a method I don’t like to use (slows me down too much). So the new focus peaking with the ultra big and high resolution (double to be precise) is a great joy to use.
As a heavy user of the original E-M5, the improvement in build quality of the the mark II is very apparent. It feels heavier and more solid. It’s around the same size as the original which I much prefer over the larger and more ‘pro’ E-M1. No doubt that the E-M1 may actually fit my hand better but having had both the large Canon EOS5 D II and the Leica M, I want something that’s tiny of my travel and some day to day street stuff when I am not carrying my Leica. There were times that I really wanted to upgrade to E-M1 due to the aforementioned reasons (focus peaking and improved EVF). But its size held back my eventual decision.
The mark II also features a flippy tilty screen now which is good for selfie. I didn’t complaint about the original so I am not going to complaint about the new screen. Though the ability to flip and close the screen for extra protection is welcome of course.
Now the minor but important things, the quality of dials and buttons have greatly improved over the previous generation. The twin dials are now chunky and have some very tactile feel. The shutter button is no longer a nipple. The mode dial has a lock button and there is of course the new 2×2 switch. The memory card cover has a tighter feel and the battery compartment is still in the same place which will be covered by the grip should you wish to install one. The overall experience has an impression of a more ‘pro’ level quality.
Using it in practice, good and bad
How should I write about the handling of the E-M5 II? Umm… this is a difficult one. I truly love the original and it was almost faultless. If I have to be picky, the slightly spongy buttons and the low res EVF was probably my only niggles. However, the mark II have improved it by giving it more tactile and responsive buttons, larger and more precise (and better looking) dual dials, and a huge and super high res (in line with the top of the class around in 2015) EVF.
Using native M4/3 lenses from either Olympus or Panasonic lenses is as fast and hassle-free as before. Lightning fast and accurate but the mark II now has more focus points and can even detect contrast in virtual blackness (-EV 3!) is a plus especially when you pair it with some fast glass like my favourite Panasonic Leica Summilux 25mm 1.4 or the super deluxe Nocticron. The stabilization was brilliant on the E-M5 and now it has a stop more advantage (5 stops!!!) You can just about do a long exposure by hand, almost!! This is crazy!
Focusing is probably on par with the E-M1 (I don’t have one to test against and I don’t intend to) without the phrase detection but since I don’t have any legacy 4/3 lenses, I am not going to get any benefit from it. The focus tracking is so far prove to be effective but I haven’t tried it in full (in some low light situations) so I can’t comment further. Yet the continuous burst rate has also been increased. So comparing to the original mark I, it seems a littler faster in every single way. Focus tracking is also a little faster and more accurate, as expected from the technology advancement over the past three years (and a faster processor of course).
If you are like me who love to put some good old manual lenses on the OM-D then the mark II is definitely a better camera since it supports peaking and with that gorgeous high resolution EVF, manual focusing is a breeze.
While I am not a movie maker but as a father of twins, the occasional holiday videos can be done in a professional style. The stabilization is so good that my friends thought it was filmed in a more expensive and professional ‘camcorder’!!
So far so good? Oh yes and it only gets better. While it’s still relatively new to the M4/3 landscape but people who use it already praise how good a camera the mark II is. I am not going to dispute it as I said many times before that I love the mark I and it’s still an excellent camera to use as an everyday companion but the mark II has tons of improvements so I can only love it even more.
But there’s no perfect camera in my book. I only believe that there’s a perfect camera for a specific use or situation. It’s not for everyone for sure. M4/3 may sport a much larger sensor than some common point and shoot cameras but it’s still 4 times smaller than a full frame sensor. Depth of field control is rather difficult if you wish to isolate subjects or extreme low light performance is still not ‘great’ by professional standards. Even with the high resolution mode, you can’t use it with any moving scene or with moving objects. So even if it matches the quality of the equivalent Nikon D810 files in terms of resolution, there’s no way to use it in a more practical way.
Finally, another minor negative point is that Olympus’ menu sucks. It’s multiple layers or steps really frustrate me sometimes. It’s not easy to find some controls and yes, you can practically customise anything buttons on the camera. (and there are tons of them to make it YOUR camera) But the menu will overwhelm anyone who comes from Nikon or Canon. But once you have familiarise with the camera and after customisation, you will have a camera that you can easily control and use for almost all conditions.
Another worthy note is that the Mark II now comes with a much better toy flash. I call it a toy because it looks like one and it’s tiny. It draws power from the camera’s battery, just like the Mark I. The best feature of this tiny unit is that it can now tilt and sway for bounce flash application. This makes the flash unit much more practical in real use. Also gone is the need for the dated Olympus SEMA-1 Microphone adaptor since it has a built in jack. The accessories port is gone but with the optional handgrip, you will also gain a mic output too!
I have not bought a grip yet but from what I see, it’s a bit ugly. The Mark I has a very streamlined design and now it’s clunky. It does however allow you to use the old battery holder at the bottom.
There’s one complaint, as ever before, is battery. It doesn’t last long at all. I only manage under 300 shots per charge with a bit of pictures reviewing (to kids and my wife). So if you are out for a whole day, a spare one or two batteries is a must.
The fact is, I didn’t need the Mark II. I never intended to upgrade to this new camera but as much as I loved the Mark I a lot, I had a couple of niggles: namely EVF and peaking assist for manual lenses. The new Mark II answers them with pride and now it’s my PERFECT M4/3 camera. As it stands, I don’t think I will bother upgrading for sometime may be until Mark IV or V at least. 16MP is plenty good for my use as a general thing. I am not a MEGA PIXEL guy and even for my professional wedding and portrait jobs, I find 24MP is way more than enough for my clients. I do think the sensor can do with 18MP but should stay there for the convenience of processing without clogging up the computer systems.
Now I truly think the OM-D E-M5 II is the perfect travel companion and a family camera that suits every occasion! Simple. A few words and all I can say is that this camera is GOOD!