The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II: The “more compact” pro camera from Olympus!


Suppose you love compactness and portability but you want a pro level camera model that can withstand an intensive use even under adverse conditions, what would be the more sensitive choice today? The answer is simple: the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II. This model is part of an entire eco-system of different optics and accessories that will fulfill almost every specific photo tasks that any photographers “on the run” will ask for.

The Olympus pro range of products is now including two current version of the E-M1 which are the E-M1 Mark II and the E-M1X. The last one and newest model is integrating permanently the vertical power grip compare to the optionality of the one offered for the Mark II previous model. But the two cameras share the same MFT 20MP sensor and most of the function abilities although the E-M1X take advantage of some latest technical novelties or upgrades.

In 2017 the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II was introduced as an significative improvement of the original E-M1 by replacing the 16MP MFT sensor with the newest 20MP one. The autofocus functionality has been also upgraded. The video capability of the model has been enhanced. The LCD has been transformed to the tilted variation to a fully articulated screen.

At the time of the outcome of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, some reviewers have questioned its large size and its higher price tag. But as time past this perception is changing at a fast rate and more and more the size dimension of the Mark II appears now more as an average pro camera model.

The late Nikon F4S: A modern “Pro” 
design back in 1988 of the film era.

Over time professional photographers have always appreciated a camera design that will fall literally in their hand and have equally appreciated a more simple rounded ergonomic device that feels secure, confortable and robust on a long intensive use.  At the time of its introduction the newest autofocus Nikon F4S was representing a similar evolution in term of ergonomics compare the previous F, F2 and F3 series. The modular aspect of the model as for the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II was cleverly designed for a complete integration of the each additional modules.

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II is the second interpretation issued from the manufacturer of an especially constructed professionally oriented digital ILC (Interchangeable Lens Camera) for the M4/3 format sensor. It incorporate the newest 20MP image captor (sensor) for a finer definition and  higher overall performances. I have never really try to evaluate a camera model on specific statistical characteristics. In place I better prefer to regard it as an whole package. As a photographic tool you need something that will be coherent and flexible for your everyday use.

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II is not a pocket camera. It can be seen as the antithesis of the Olympus Pen series. It is a more pro oriented compact option and system (coupled with the intended lenses and accessories). It remains a camera made to be hold in your hand on a full time base. In that sense it stays a unique product from the entire M4/3 ILC Olympus line-up. A bit like a beefier Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with a permanent hand grip.

The simplicity of design of the OM-D E-M1 Mark II is considerably emphases by the integrated hand grip that prevent the doublement of controls required with an add-on optional hand grip such as the combo seen on the OM-D E-M5 Mark II. After a general setting of the camera many function buttons can be ignored to facilite the picture shooting. At that point complexity doesn’t mean necessarily complication. And this can be said also for the menu versus the direct access to the principal parameters option on the LCD screen. The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II is a very configurable camera but you dont need to apprenhed every single option offered by the manufacturer.

You can add the optional (vertical) power holder grip HLD-9 that will double the power autonomy of the OM-D E-M1 Mark II and give you a better vertical prehension of the camera for portrait framing type shooting. The Olympus HLD-9  keeps you access to all the essential control dials and functions of the camera. With larger and bigger lenses it can help you to get a better balance and a more secure way of handling the combo. Lastly the Olympus HLD-9 let you manage a three battery pack rotation (one into the camera, one into the grip and one spear) that extend your power autonomy during longer assignment.

The OM-D E-M1 Mark II is a very sturdy model and very well protected against adverse contextual conditions such as rain, snow, freeze. It give a good sense of confidence to use the camera without the normal restrictions and open access to more delicate photo situations. The viewfinder and the LCD black screen are first class devices and even for people wearing glasses, the EVF is fully usable for seing the whole picture and technical information attached. Control buttons and dials are well manner and dont require too much contorsion and can be assimilated intuitively especially for previous Olympus users. The same can be said for the optional grip.

If you  like to adjust your focus point manually, the OM-D E-M1 Mark II electronic viewfinder (EVF) will help you in that task beautifully with its clarity and its definition finesse. Couple with one of the Olympus Pro series lenses and their Clutch Manual Focus mechanism, the combination is a winner. “Defocus” creative experiments are a delight to do with this model.

The left thumb cavity (located on the bottom right side of it) to facilitate the opening of the reverse LCD screen is a real special ergonomictouch. I discovered it simply by touch intuition but it became an instant reflex if I want review a picture without reversing permanently the LCD screen (Open out then folding it!). By the way the massive right thumb grip rest (on the upper right edge of the back of the canera body) is simply very practical and secure. In all the body molding configuration of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II reflect that a deep care has been done for a design and its manufacturing that cover the ergonomic needs of a (pro) photographer.

Getting the OM-D E-M1 Mark II alive (On) is fast and accurate. You can stay pro-active and produce spontaneous imagery at will without bothering long delay of awakening from the camera. The EVF eye detection is efficient even if you are wearing glasses. You will have a good sense of your picture exposure and be able to apply exposure correction factor on the spot be roughly evaluate its effect through the EVF.

The shutter release button is very smooth and the OM-D E-M1 Mark II is a very discrete camera considering the sound level of it. It is perfectly suitable for shooting situations that require almost silence presence from the photographer. You can also operate the camera with the touch screen functionalities which can be practical for more static subjects (reproduction, macro. portraits, etc). The exposure and focus settings can be memorized by pressing with your thumb the appropriate push buttons rightly located on the upper right side of the back of the camera body. The same easiness of use can be said about most of the control dials and push buttons of the OM-D E-M1 Mark II although you have to get use of the Olympus way of actuating the camera (the famous classical On/Off lever).

You wont be deceived by the overwhelming availability to customize the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II to all your specific photographic needs. Many of us will simply scratch a fraction of its whole potential as it is the case for several digital camera today models.

Because the OM-D E-M1 Mark II is a bigger camera than the OM-D E-M5 Mark II for example you will feel more secure when who are manipulating it and particularly when you are holding it with one hand. In that sense Olympus has designed this model for a professional intensive level of use in mind.  And that explain also the “superior” level of selling price of the camera the will be amortized by its everyday tasks performed.

And what about the famous Olympus interface? As usual the menu contain is very rich of different possibilities and will ask to invest a good amount of time on the side of the learning curve especially if you want to configure the camera outside the manufacturer default settings.

For still photography the autofocus system is fast and reliable. Follow-up action photography with greater subjects can be done in confidence for the focus tracking. As I have said in previous posts to properly photograph”on-pick” moving subjects may ask you a certain amount of preparation on your part. Exposure and focus preset are still a good way for doing this kind of task.

Flash system
For flash aid, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II rely on external unit either on-camera mount or completely none-solidaire devices(a small emergency flash unit FL-LM3 is furnished with the camera model). Connectivity can be done through infrared or radio communication or even by using a traditional but obsolete PC cord.  TTL flash option has been part of the Olympus system since the introduction of the analog OM-2 series and so the expertise and reliability are firmly established. Some Olympus flash units (FL-900R, FL-700R WR) are protected from adverse weather conditions and can be used under usually impractical flash photo contexts.

The picture output of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II is absolutely impressive. Both colours and Black & White images can be produced flawlessly without compromise. The JPEG rendering is fully usable. The finesse of the details obtained by the combine in-board sensor and immediately post-treatment engine is remarquable if you respect the basic photo techniques required to get first class results. The camera is giving its best when fixed focal lenses and “pro” zooms are coupled with it.

Black and White Photography
The love to produce black and white pictures has been partly revived with the introduction of the electronic viewfinders that are allowing us to appreciate on place (and also with the LCD viewing screen) the B&W picture results. No exception for the OM-D E-M1 Mark II that is offering you the Monochrome option with some more grainy variations (Art filters). In all the quality of the B&W image outputs is a strong asset of the Mark II.



Art Filters are creative!

This is one of the most intriguing feature included into the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II capabilities (as for other Olympus models). There are a great number of these image art bias with variations depending which you are selecting. I gradually discovered some of them (Key Line, Partial Color, Soft Focus, Dramatic Tone, Sepia, etc) and began to use them occasionally with success. Each of these filters is proposing a different palette of colors or tonal effects alongside with specific alterations of the picture rendering. After the initial experimentation, you became able to predict their different bias in different photographic taking situations.

We have to remember that over the history of photography, past and present picture taking and registering techniques had and still have particular bias that are interpreting the subject. You can compare the Art filters option as a modern digital way to do the same today but with a far more versatility and easiest to produce it.

Keystone compensation
The Keystone compensation functionality is another fine in-camera image post-process that allow vertical and horizontal line corrections as we do optically with specialized tilt-and shift lenses. This application can generate pictures for architectural and still-life purposes that withstand the exigences of humain interpretation of the subject (subjective linear mind auto-corrections). The effect of the Keystone compensation can be controlled directly on the camera LCD screen or into the electronic viewfinder (EVF). On an average image magnification scale (X5-X7) its output quality impact seems to be very minimalist.

The more you will play with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, the more you will discover its flexibility to withstand many different shooting situations. Many interesting techniques and in-board functionalities will expand your creativity and offer you better opportunities to try something different.

Final thoughts
On a personal note, I love to work with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II because it is a pro “compact” camera that you can rely on in (almost) every circonstances. If you couple it with an Olympus M.Zuiko Pro lens, you will obtain a perfect combination of quality of construction and image output. As an independent (freelance) or a self-entrepreneur photographer, the Olympus system can be a winning solution. What is the decisive factor for choosing the Olympus OM-D E-M1Mark II as a professional camera model? In many ways it can be resume to its compact portability (enhanced by by the superb Olympus pro lens series). The complete Olympus pro eco-system is perfectly suiting that particular task to be light, versatile, creative and highly competent in photography.

Some additional notes about the MFT system compare to bigger image sensor formats (APS-C, 24X36mm)

Some people may ask me why I am always coming back to MFT image format system. As you may have already noticed, I had the chance to own briefly and test recent Fujifilm products such as the X-H1 model along with some “pro” Fujinon lenses. First I must say that they are excellent, well built, easy to use products that deliver awesome image results. My only drawback is the size dimensions and weight of their products which are way over what I can endure myself for a day long assignment. And this is also for this reason that I have already discarded the 24X36mm image sensor option too.

Choosing the Olympus OM-D E-M1X make no sense in my book except if you intend to use it with larger or longer lenses, and be able to use some kind of handling assistance like a tripod or a monopod for example. So as a sport or nature camera, yes, the OM-D E-M1X can fit the bill but for a mobile photographer it is a big weighty burden…

(First Published in April 2017, Revised in May 2019)


What about the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II ?

Don’t trow away your small pots!

Yes it is a very pertinent question in particular with the introduction of the newest pro graded Olympus OM-D E-M1X. We don’t know the manufacturer future planning concerning the still available Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II but some could be thinking in vue the recent price decrease of the Mark II that Olympus could be in the process to phase out the inventory of the E-M1 Mark II. True or not I think there is a place for the two models involved.

Let me trace a parallel with two ex-pro analog cameras of a less recent time. Nikon use to offer pro F series modular cameras from the original model F to the autofocus F4 which was a very clever choice for photographers who want to have the flexibility of compactness and the option of adding a sport motorized vertical grip. Later on the manufacturer choose to offer the F5 monobloc model that use the same principle design and handling that we are seing today with the new Olympus OM-D E-M1X.  Although I fully agree about the robustness and the “sport and nature” nature of the ergonomic of the E-M1X, it is certainly not what we can call a compact package.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II / M.Zuiko 40-150mm F2.8 Pro

So what about the OM-D E-M1 Mark II? In my book it is still a very competent pro photo device. For photographers on the run, for travel, for reproduction and macro works, for discrete application, etc, the Mark II fills the bill perfectly. If you are a user of small fix focal length lenses, the OM-D E-M1 Mark II represent a logic combo difficult to beat into the MFT planet but I must add that it is not a “pocket” camera obviously (Olympus have already various other models to fulfill that task). My humble advice to new E-M1X owners: don’t sell out your E-M1 Mark II (if you have one) and preserve it as a back-up or as an alternative camera for other different picture taking situations.

Even in 2019, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II is filling the gap between the specialized “sport and news” E-M1X model and the rest smaller Olympus mirrorless models. And it is a “pro” photo device designed to withstand adverse conditions and intensive use.

We have reached a certain “plateau” in the development of the digital photo equipment and the manufacturers tend to diversify their offer in specific different amateur and professional directions. Because of its specialized clientele, many new camera models will be more expensive compare to the ones introduced during the previous “flash” era of artificial mass photo consumer market. Now we are entering into a more mature one in which most photographers are more carefully considering their buying options before committing into a camera  or lens model or an entire photo system.

If you like to do photography and you are looking for a proved compact pro option, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II may still be one of the finest offer over the market.