It’s been some three years since Olympus launched the original OM-D E-M5, so you could say the model is well due a refresh. As a quick recap, the OM-D series are Micro Four Thirds cameras that are designed with the vintage looks of the Olympus OM series and a collection of pro-features to distinguish them from the PEN series, like an electronic viewfinder (EVF), weather sealing, and higher image quality. The photography world loved the original E-M5 when it was released, so you can probably imagine the high expectations for any successor.
Indeed, Olympus started by talking about how they're dedicated to improving photography by increasing enjoyment (e.g., through reducing the overall load photographers have to bear) and redefining quality. Olympus says that getting a good quality image depends not only on high resolution, but also on things like high ISO performance, color accuracy, autofocus speed and accuracy, as well as having a good image stabilizer.
Thus, with the E-M5 Mark II, they’ve stayed with a 16-megapixel LiveMOS image sensor with improved processing, and added refinements to the overall response of the camera, with an electronic shutter that’s capable of shooting at up to 1/16,000th of a second, an EVF that now boasts 2.36 megapixels, a new 5-axis image stabilization system, 11 frames per second sequential shooting, Wi-Fi remote control, and a 1.04-megapixel touch-sensitive vari-angle LCD. Oh, and it remains splash, dust, and freeze-proof too, all in a package that weighs about 851g.
The improved 5-axis image stabilization also applies to movie mode in the Mark II, which Olympus dubs “OM-D Movie”, where the stabilization allows for cinema quality movies even when shot handheld. Interestingly enough, Olympus has made the conscious decision to “limit” the OM-D E-M5 Mark II’s movie recording to Full HD 1,920 x 1,080 (at 60p) instead of following the trend of moving to 4K. Their logic being that your average consumer doesn’t have the resources to process 4K video clips to put together their own movies, so rather than add features that the consumer won’t use, Olympus has decided to focus on making it easier to create quality videos.
What’s more, Olympus argues that it doesn’t matter how much detail your sensor can capture if the footage is subjected to so much shake that the detail can’t be seen. This was further elaborated by showing us a 4K movie clip shot handheld compared to a clip shot in Full HD (60fps) with their image stabilizer activated. Yes, the principle applies as much in stills as it does in video - to make out the most detail, a still subject is preferable. Of course, one could also argue that 4K helps in motion resolution. Well, perhaps in Mark III.
The extent of OMD Movie is further seen in the way the E-M5 Mark II is equipped with Multi Frame Rate, High Bit Rate, ALL-Intra shooting, and the ability to set time codes for easier post-processing later. (In short, these are pretty pro-level video functions.) Live View can be displayed on an external monitor via HDMI output, and Focus Peaking is available in 4 colors (black, white, red and yellow); with the ability to adjust the intensity, making focusing easier when shooting.
The autofocus tracking in video mode also seems to be much improved, staying on the selected subject regardless of the background, and a Clips function allows you to preset duration for a short movie that will be saved into a My Clips menu so you can add effects and background music to right in camera. Also, all the art filters are available when shooting movies, allowing you to easily edit the mood of the video.
One feature that's bound to receive a lot of interest is the camera's 40-megapixel high-res mode that involves taking eight shots in quick succession, moving the sensor by half a pixel each time to generate a single high-resolution image equivalent to one taken by a 40-megapixel sensor. Olympus had two shots printed out for comparison at the preview session, one taken by the OM-D E-M5 Mark II, and one by a Nikon D800, a 36-Megapixel full-frame DSLR.
To be perfectly honest, the differences were very slight, and differences in the aspect ratio made it hard to do a proper comparison. But the fact that it wasn’t immediately obvious which print came from which camera probably spoke volumes of how effective the feature is. That’s not to say that the feature isn’t without limitations though; obviously, your subject must be able to stay still for at least half a second for the sensor to complete its path without getting motion blur. Olympus recognizes this, and says the feature is meant more for product and landscape photographers who would like to be able to create higher-resolution images for demanding clients.
A new dustproof and splashproof flash - the FL-LM3 - is bundled with the OM-D E-M5 Mark II. Besides the fact that it swivels 90° upward and 180° horizontally, and has a GN of 9.1 (ISO 100), the other interesting thing is that it draws power from the camera itself. Unfortunately, this also means that it won’t work on the older OM-D models. The new flash unit supports bounce shooting, but supports wireless flash control.
Overall, the OM-D E-M5 Mark II feels good in the hands. The body seems to have had a slight design shift that brings it more in line with the styling of the E-M1, and feels like it’s a little wider and better laid out too. Everything seems just a little larger and easier to reach for, and the new flip-out LCD definitely feels like it adds more convenience in terms of the angles you can use it with. The autofocus is speedy, though we won’t honestly be able to say how much faster it is compared to the previous version without putting it through a proper round of testing, but it does seem very much like a worthy upgrade.
The OM-D E-M5 Mark II 14-150mm II kit will be available from February 12, 2015 onwards at all authorized Olympus retailers, but local pricing is yet to be announced. We were told that from February 12 to March 8, every purchase of the OM-D E-M5 Mark II 14-150mm Kit or OM-D E-M5 Mark II body is also entitled to a free 128GB SanDisk Extreme Plus SDHC card worth $300 (to be redeemed at Olympus redemption centers).