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Review: The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II’s adventures with action

By Alvin Soon - 24 Dec 2016
Launch SRP: S$2848

They should have named it ‘E-M1s’ for ‘speed’

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II is something very different. With a rapid-fire frame-rate and advanced AF system, it’s a mirrorless camera optimized for high-speed photography, a situation that most mirrorless cameras fall flat in. It also has in-body optical image stabilization that is so good it’s almost sorcery, and it’s more portable than any DSLR with a matching lens.

It’s also astoundingly expensive. At US$1,999.99, the E-M1 Mark II costs US$600 more than the E-M1, and more than Canon and Nikon’s APS-C action cameras, the 7D Mark II (US$1,799) and D500 (US$1,999.95) respectively.

But the E-M1 Mark II is faster than either of them. In fact, at 18 frames per second (fps) with AF/AE, the Mark II is the third fastest consumer camera in the world, lagging only behind the Nikon 1 J5 (20fps with AF/AE) and Sony RX100 V (24fps with AF/AE), both of which have smaller 1” sensors.

So is the E-M1 Mark II worth paying the premium for?

 

They should have named this the ‘OM-D E-M1s’ for ‘speed’

The headline characteristic of the E-M1 Mark II is speed — this camera is hypersonic. It shoots 18fps with auto-focus/auto-exposure (AF/AE), 60fps with AF/AE locked. It’s a dramatic leap over the original E-M1 from 2013, which shot at 10fps with AF/AE, and you can thank the new double quad-core TruePic VIII engine for the speed boost.

The TruePic VIII engine is also behind the E-M1 Mark II’s nimbler AF performance. The Mark II comes with Olympus’ ‘Dual Fast AF,’ which combines phase and contrast-detection systems in S-AF mode, and switches exclusively to phase-detection in C-AF mode.

The AF system covers almost the entire frame, with 121 AF points, all cross-type. For reference, the Canon 1D X Mark II maxes out at 61 AF points, with 41 cross-type, and the Nikon D5 has 153 AF points, with 99 cross-type. The only flagship to beat the E-M1 Mark II at this numbers game is the Sony Alpha a99 II, which has an astounding 399 AF points, but only 79 of which are cross-type.

It’s not just the rapid frame rate nor the responsive AF that gives the E-M1 Mark II a lead for speed, it’s that the camera gives you a far better chance at landing the shot with a new Pro Capture Mode.

Pro Capture Mode starts capturing images into the buffer the moment you half-press the shutter, when you fully press the shutter, the camera starts shooting and also saves the preceding 14 images into the SD card. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a camera that pre-shoots a sequence, but it’s a welcome addition for an action camera (and it’s a feature that isn’t available on the 7D Mark II or D500).

8.5
  • Performance 8.5
  • Design 8.5
  • Features 9
  • User-Friendliness 8
  • Value 7.5
The Good
Portable compared to DSLR equivalents
Longer battery life than most mirrorless cameras
Solid, weather-sealed body
Super Control Panel gives instant access to vital controls
5-axis OIS provides solid stabilization for stills and video
20MP resolution has more detail than predecssors
Good noise control up to ISO 6,400
Gorgeous Olympus colors in JPEGs
Rapid 18fps is faster than all DSLRs
Pro Capture mode is a great help for action
Video shooting at 4K res. at 24p with a high bitrate of 237Mbps
The Bad
Onscreen menu is confusing to navigate
D-pad is stiff to use
Harder to switch AF points compared to before
AF performance inconsistent, even in good light
AF cannot track action reliably enough in low light
Expensive, especially when considered to DSLRs
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