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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

Using the OM-D E-M1 Mark II

Using the OM-D E-M1 Mark II

One of the E-M1 Mark II’s key advantages is that it’s a lot more portable compared to DSLR cameras. For example, a Mark II body, at 574g, combined with an Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 lens (80-300mm equivalent in 35mm) at 880g, weighs about as much as a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens does at 1.49kg — and that’s without a Canon DSLR attached.

The camera feels good in the hands, with a fatter grip than the E-M1. The basic controls fall easily to the hands, and there’s a lot you can customize. The twin control dials control aperture, shutter speed and exposure by default, and can be switched using the 2x2 Dial Control to ISO and white balance settings. The Mode Dial now comes with a lock button, and there are two Function buttons you can set.

Because the rear monitor now fully swings out and around, I could more easily compose from down low on the ground or with the camera held high up. The E-M1’s monitor could only tilt up and down.

The E-M1 Mark II’s screen swivels fully around, the E-M1’s could only tilt up and down.

Now, there were times I actually wished the E-M1 Mark II was bigger. For instance, I shoot with my left eye pressed against the viewfinder, and the rear control dial is near enough that I often find myself jamming my thumb into my right eye. The d-pad is uncomfortably small and stiff, and could have benefitted from being bigger and smoother to tap. I wonder if Olympus could have fit a joystick on the back as well, like Fujifilm did on the X-T2.

The d-pad also doesn’t recognize a continuous press — if you press and hold, for example, when switching AF points, the AF point moves by one place and halts. You have to press once for every spot you want the AF point to move, which takes up far too much time.

Olympus has changed the behavior of the d-pad and AF point selection for the slower. Previously, tapping a direction on the d-pad would automatically switch you from Multi-AF to single-AF point selection, and bringing the single AF point to the edge would switch the camera back to Multi-AF. It was a fast and brilliant way to quickly take over AF points and then go back to automatic.

What it looks like now when you tap the d-pad. Instead of letting you take over AF point selection immediately, the Mark II waits for you to change AF modes using the twin control dials (see the icons on the left, representing what you can change with the dials).

On the E-M1 Mark II, however, tapping the d-pad in Multi-AF mode will only open up AF selection methods, you have to use the twin control dials to choose between AF areas and facial/eye selections. If you, like me, prefer the previous way the d-pad used to work, there’s no way to customize it. It’s a slower way to work because now there’s no quick way to take over AF point selection.

You can still tap the screen to select a subject, but not when your eye is against the viewfinder. Olympus, like Panasonic, lets you use the monitor like a trackpad when you’re using the viewfinder, but I always have to turn this feature off as my nose would inadvertently select AF points by accident.

And because the E-M1 Mark II is so small, I’ve bumped up against and accidentally changed a few controls from time to time. The Mode dial has a new lock button to prevent you from changing modes, but I wished there was a way I could have locked the entire camera down.

You can now lock down the Mode dial with the center lock button, but I wish there was a way to lock down the entire camera as well.

The onscreen menu feels like it could have benefited from a design overhaul. Navigating it is like stumbling through a labyrinth; menus are oddly named and advanced settings are difficult to find. Certain things that should be highlighted aren’t, for example, if you’re in C-AF and switch from Pro Capture L to H, the camera automatically switches to S-AF without telling you, because Pro Capture H doesn’t support C-AF.

On the other hand, the Super Control Panel (SCP) is excellent. Pressing ‘OK’ on the d-pad brings up the SCP, which gives you a quick and easy way to see as well as change common settings.

The Super Control Panel is a brilliant way to quickly access and change important settings.

Battery life is one of the best improvements, and easily the longest I’ve ever gotten from a mirrorless camera. Olympus rates it from 440 to 950 shots, depending on how you use the camera. Battery status is now displayed as a percentage, instead of the outdated three to four bar icon, which is a very useful change.

The E-M1 Mark II has dramatically better life, thanks to a new, chunky BLH-1 battery, with 37% larger capacity than the E-M1’s battery. Unfortunately, that also means it breaks backward compatibility.

A second SD card slot is also proving useful, especially when I shot action and filled the first card quickly. You can set the card behavior to backup or overflow, but you should know that you’ll get slower performance from the second slot, as only the first slot supports high-speed UHS-II SD cards.

Two SD card slots are better than one, even if only one supports UHS-II cards.

  • 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