Sunday, 28 May 2017

Six months in - the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk ii

About a year and a half ago I left behind the world of the big DSLR and went mirrorless. My initial beast was the E-M1 and while it was very good and I had no regrets there were some aspects that I had hoped were better. Six months ago along came the E-M1 Mk ii and my desires were answered.

I've had the EM-1 Mk ii for six months now so I thought it was time to write about it now that I have had a chance to properly experience the machine. I shoot in many widely varied situations from Urbex (Urban Exploration) to People (both indoor studio, indoor natural and outdoor) to Performing Arts (usually within poorly lit environments) to Railways to Fire and Light Painting. This means I need a machine which is general purpose and good in many lighting situations from very low light to very strong light and wide dynamic range.


At times I found the viewfinder in the Mk i a little slow, it was noticeably behind the action and I had to learn the look over the camera method when shooting dance and movement to ensure I got the moment. The Mk ii has an amazingly fast amazingly bright viewfinder - it is so quick that I have gone back to using the viewfinder instead of looking over the camera when shooting fast movement. Obviously it doesn't work at the speed of light like a DSLR mirror path does but it is fast enough that the human eye cannot see any time lag.

Tuck Away Foldable Screen

The new screen is awesome, it's bright, faithful and just right resolution give you everything you need for image review but my main love of this screen is the fact you can tuck it away facing the camera. This means you stop the bad practice of chimping and concentrate on composure up front. You don't need to wear your glasses (I need them to look at the screen but not the viewfinder as it has a diopter). You don't need a screen protector because it's not exposed and not having it on is fantastic for Street photography because no-one knows what you just shot - keeps 'em guessing.


The Mk i had woeful battery performance. I used to carry five batteries when on a photowalk and would generally get into the fifth one by the end of a ten hour session. The Mk ii battery performance is so good I rarely change batteries during the long sessions now unless I've been doing a lot of long exposure, lots of moving focus tracking or 4K video. I only own three batteries now and I only bought a third one because I like to go into the bush on camping trips and need four or five days worth of battery.


The most common need I have is to be able to focus on things in near darkness and be confident that the focus is going to be what I need. The EM-1 Mk ii is superb at focusing in any light conditions even nearly total darkness. Where previous machines have hunted and hunted and hunted the E-M1 Mk ii locks on and is ready to go. That gives me the confidence I need in the environments in which I shoot.

There is a very good video that explains the focus capabilities on YouTube from Olympus - yes its marketing hype but as it happens to be true I link to it here.

When I'm out in the street I like to shoot from the hip or quickly point, shoot and move on. I know the EM-1 Mk ii is up for the challenge and rarely misses the mark.

Low Light

Lets talk about what everyone seems to think is an elephant in the room - low light performance. So many times I read that its low light is no good and this simply means that the person hasn't actually ever seriously tried the E-M1 Mk ii and is probably basing their opinion on information on someone else's misinformed musings.


To give you an idea, this is a SOOC jpeg from a model shoot with Mellz in a very low light situation ISO 1600 1/20th f/2.8 using the Oly 12-40 f/2.8 glass. I have no qualms using this machine in low light. It's predecessor wasn't as successful but the new sensor combined with the new processing in this machine give you amazing abilities. The reader should also take into account that the Olympus stabilisation lets you hand hold many shutter speeds that others simply cannot (e.g. I can reliably hand hold 1 second and if I try hard enough 2) which means you don't actually need to use high ISO at all. I rarely go above 1600.

Flexibility to be an all-rounder

Because my patterns and styles of shooting are incredibly wide I ask a lot from my machine. I don't want to carry multiple bodies and I want to minimise the glass I carry. The EM-1 Mk ii simply copes with everything I throw at it and most of the time I'm happy with the shot. Those times when I've not been it's because I tried to break the laws of physics and we all know how well that goes.

The dynamic range of the machine is quite amazing - yes there are DSLR that cost two to three times as much that will do better, of course they will that's why they cost that much but this machine is more than good enough for me.

Steamy Morning - Example of Lights and Darks

Beautiful Bokeh / Smooth Background

I keep hearing this crap over and over - mirrorless can't do bokeh - those jokers think they know everything don't they? Well you can so I'm going to throw them a bone to prove it.

f/2.8 and oh look, bokeh ;)

The other thing I keep reading is that mirrorless can't do nice shots with a wide open lens - I don't know where that comes from - here is Emily shot at f/1.8

Emily f/1.8 50% crop
I did a 50% crop on this one because I wanted to keep this particular article family friendly. The treatment is solely done in Lightroom and was predominantly a removal of saturation and a slight contrast boost.

In Camera Multi Exposure Time Lapse / Live Composite / Live Time

Your camera can't do this? Oh I'm sorry for you. This feature was introduced in other OM-D models, but the Mk ii really excells at it. It is simply awesome for things like fireworks where you open up the exposure and close if down while you're watching it develop on screen. The camera can either capture only changes in light (Live Composite) or be visible development with up to 24 previews of the image as it happens (Live Time).

Live Composite Fireworks

Here is a 7 second exposure SOOC using Live Composite for Fireworks. In this mode the camera shoots a base image which you set the exposure for then it adds in new light. This means that if you expose your highlights properly in the first place they will not blow out. The building windows, street lights, and signs stay coloured and readable. There are multiple bursts from multiple fireworks in this image.

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