Olympus E-M10 II Field Test Part II

Five-axis Video, HDR, 4K-timelapse fun and more...

By Dave Pardue | Posted: 10/22/2015

I wrote the first Field Test for this camera with a beta sample, but Olympus was able to supply us with a full production sample for this second round of real-world testing. Included in the new kit was the M.Zuiko 14-42mm EZ kit lens, which first debuted in 2014 alongside the original E-M10, so we'll start part II with images from this lens and a quick comparison with the non-EZ version. [Special note to readers: After our first report we were told that an issue had developed with some serial number ranges for this product that caused as issue while mounting some plastic-mount lenses. The issue has been resolved and the E-M10 II will be made available again for purchase beginning in November.]

Taking a closer look at the EZ 14-42mm kit lens

Olympus E-M10 II Review - sample image
1/500s / f/7.1 / -0.3 EV / ISO 200 / 38mm eq. / M.Zuiko 14-42mm EZ (kit)

[Images have been slightly modified in post-production -- click any image for access to the full resolution image as delivered straight from the camera as well as all related EXIF data.]

Olympus E-M10 II Review -- Product Image Olympus E-M10 II Review -- Product Image
The newer M.Zuiko 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 EZ ED kit lens is smaller and more automated than the Mark II version. The lens saves space by fully retracting into a shorter barrel when not in use (shown above left), and extends automatically when the camera is powered on (above right at full telephoto).

The M.Zuiko 14-42mm II lens that's been kitted with so many Olympus cameras over the past five years has long been one of my favorite lenses of the "kit" variety, providing a "generous sweet spot of sharpness" even wide open, according to our original review on our sister site SLRGear.com. And because I've personally had a few bad experiences with "power-zoom" kit lenses from other companies, primarily in the sharpness department, I was a bit wary about mounting the newer, more compact EZ version of the 14-42mm lens onto the E-M10 II. Fortunately we'd already tested it as well at SLRGear, and it is still a good performer at both wide and tele when wide open, fairly similar to the original Mark II lens.

Sharpness graphs for the 14-42mm EZ and Mark II "kit" lenses
- wide open (f/3.5) at wide angle (14mm) -
Olympus E-M10 II Review - lens test
 
Olympus E-M10 II Review - lens test
Both of these kit lens offerings from Olympus display good sharpness characteristics, even wide open. Our test sample of the Mark II lens is slightly more sharp in the center, and in the corners, but they're overall fairly similar performers, and much better than average for kit lenses across their range.

In the middle focal lengths it's also good for a kit lens, though not quite as sharp as the original Mark II. Still, in general and as far as kit lenses go, Olympus models tend to be at or near the top of the class, and this EZ model is one you can count on for all but the most critical sharpness needs. There is just a touch more chromatic aberration than in the Mark II, but otherwise you can expect fairly similar results. [Editor's note: In our testing we have experienced quite a bit of manufacturing sample variation on things like kit lenses, so keep that in mind.]

Olympus E-M10 II - Additional 14-42mm EZ kit lens images
Olympus E-M10 II Review - sample image
1/100s / f/5.6 / ISO 250 / 84mm eq. / M.Zuiko 14-42mm EZ (kit)
Olympus E-M10 II Review - sample image
1/800s / f/6.3 / -2.0 EV / ISO 200 / 84mm eq. / M.Zuiko 14-42mm EZ (kit)
EZ kit lens: Even if you decide to stick with the kit lens and never venture to a wider-aperture prime, it's still nice to know that you can get fairly good bokeh (background blur) from just the kit lens. Both of these images have decent subject-to-background isolation, especially the butterfly -- far more than you can achieve with a smartphone or smaller-sensored pocket camera.

Balancing out with High Dynamic Range (HDR)

HDR has been a common term in photographic circles for ages, but only in the past 5 years have cameras begun to incorporate the creation of HDR images in-camera. For anyone new to this technique, HDR processing brings out more detail in both shadow areas and highlight areas than could be achieved in a single exposure. In the film days this was generally done in the darkroom, and in prior digital camera days it was (and often still is) performed in post-processing. But for an entry-level camera like the E-M10 II, it's great to now have onboard where the camera does the hard work for you.

It basically snaps three images across multiple exposures and then stacks them together to create an HDR image for you. There are two overall settings, HDR1 and HDR2, with HDR1 being more realistic-looking to my eye and HDR2 being a bit unrealistic, but likely useful in certain situations. The camera will also shoot and save the multiple exposures for you, for anyone who'd rather do the processing yourself after the fact. I prefer just letting the camera do it for me, and below is an example of HDR1. You can see in the first image how the clouds are a bit blown out and the foreground bushes a bit dark, and using HDR1 brings the two into better exposures for a much more appealing and realistic image, and brings deeper overall tonality to the sky itself.

Olympus E-M10 II - High Dynamic Range (in-camera)
Olympus E-M10 II Review - sample image
1/250s / f/11 / ISO 200 / 24mm eq. / M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro (No HDR))
Olympus E-M10 II Review - sample image
1/320s / f/11 / ISO 200 / 24mm eq. / M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro (HDR1 enabled)
Use the HDR1 setting when you want to bring out some shadow detail while also preserving detail in highlight areas like clouds. I shot this handheld, but Olympus recommends the use of a tripod, as the camera does fire off three sequential images. This does, of course, make it best to use on fairly stationary subjects.

Cranking the gain? (It's a sensor size thing!)

I briefly touched on higher ISO images in Field Test Part I, but I wanted to take a closer look here. In the price range of the E-M10 II there is a lot of competition across a multitude of sensor sizes, ranging from small 1/2.3" type sensors all the way up to APS-C sensors found in most enthusiast DSLR's. And of course there is the hugely popular 1-inch type compact camera market first pioneered by the Sony RX100 series and now having several players in that game. The E-M10 II's Four Thirds sensor sits in between the 1-inch and the APS-C sensors for size, and I've generally found that Four Thirds-sensored cameras can be pushed on average two stops higher than the 1-inch type sensors for quality printing as ISO rises to the middle ranges (ISO 800-3200).

What does this mean in the real world? Mostly that I feel very confident using ISO 1600 with cameras like the E-M10 II, while I don't with 1-inch cameras unless I'm only using them to display as small sizes on a monitor. For anything large, and certainly for printing purposes, the much larger size of the Four Thirds sensor makes a fairly big difference in how much the gain can be cranked (and thus allow faster shutter speeds when needed in moderate light) versus 1-inch sensors. Below is an example from our test lab "low light" shots, which simulate average restaurant conditions showing the E-M10 II on the left and the Sony RX100 IV on the right.

Olympus E-M10 II - Cranking the gain vs the RX100 IV
Olympus E-M10 II Review - ISO comparison
Olympus E-M10 II / ISO 1600 Sony RX100 Mark IV / ISO 1600
Our E-M10 II low-light lab image at ISO 1600 is able to preserve fine detail while introducing very little in the way of noise and noise-reduction artifacts, allowing it to be a very usable gain setting when needed. The RX100 IV though with its smaller sensor shows considerable strain at this setting and is best avoided for all but less critical applications. The RX100 IV is an excellent camera for what it is, and I'm not trying to pick on it, but just want you to know the trade-offs in choosing a smaller sensor. (Note: These images are close to 1:1; made slightly smaller to fit this page.)

So what about the real world... far from the test lab? Below are a few shots at ISO 1600 with the E-M10 II:

Olympus E-M10 II - ISO 1600
Olympus E-M10 II Review - sample image
1/40s / f/2.2 / ISO 1600 / 50mm eq. / M.Zuiko 25mm f/1.8
Olympus E-M10 II Review - sample image
1/5s / f/1.8 / ISO 1600 / 150mm eq. / M.Zuiko 75mm f/1.8
Inside and out: Being able to comfortably crank the ISO up to 1600 without fear of too much noise is a freeing thing for a photographer in a variety of settings, and not something you'll get in the majority of shooting situations with a 1-inch sensored camera in my opinion (and in our lab-testing). It's most certainly not something you'll want to try with a smartphone or traditional small-sensored compact camera. Also noteworthy is that these are both shot handheld, at fairly slow shutter speeds, and the five-axis IS certainly shows its muscle here.

Track-pad focusing: "It's all thumbs"

One brand-new feature to the OM-D line is AF Targeting Pad. When set to "on", you can use your thumb (or any digit) to move the focus box around on the touchscreen (assuming touchscreen controls are activated). In this way, when using the EVF it's very easy to move the focus point. It also works in conjunction with Zoom Frame Assist, which allows you to assign a magnifier to one of the assignable buttons (such as a function button) and then zoom in to fine-tune your focus point. I found it a bit cumbersome to set this up, and had to spend some time with the manual to figure it out, but like so many things regarding Olympus menus, once I figured it out I was good to go. As I've said before in several Olympus Field Tests, the menus can be confusing at times, but I find the end results worth the somewhat steep learning curve.

Olympus E-M10 II Review - sample image
1/250s / f/5 / -1.0 EV /ISO 200 / 58mm eq. / M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8

When your subject is on the move: I found the new AF Targeting pad very useful in certain situations. With your eye remaining at the EVF window, you can easily use your thumb to set your focus point. There was a bit of a learning curve, but once beyond that the AF Targeting option, in combination with Zoom Frame Assist, proved very useful and handy to have onboard. [Special note about this shot: As mentioned last week in one of our regular Caffeine Priority posts, I've always had a special fascination with dolphins, and have long held the desire to be in their natural element with them. This is the first time I was able to get fairly close, and is the most enjoyable shoot I've experienced since joining IR. It was October, so I put on tight-fitting winter clothes (didn't happen to have a wet suit on hand) and waded out to chest-deep water in order to get close. These bottlenose dolphins were returning from a day of "strand-feeding" which is a somewhat unique thing to the South Carolina and Georgia coastlines, and I was able to get close enough that the 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro lens provided enough range to capture a few good shots. The swells, as seen in the image below, brought the water over my head so I had to time the jumps to keep the camera dry. The 12-40mm Pro is water resistant, but the E-M10 II is the only OM-D body without it. As such I had to be extra careful, but this just added to the mystery of the shoot. At one point a dolphin turned directly towards me and submerged before I could get a clear shot. My daughter later reported that she saw him near the surf, and that was the highlight of her trip.]

Olympus E-M10 II Review - sample image
1/400s / f/5 / -1.0 EV / ISO 200 / 58mm eq. / M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8

Live Composite: Light painting onto a canvas of pixels

I began the first Field Test by discussing this camera as a fun family vacation companion, but have mostly focused on why I myself love it as the perfect sneak-away companion. And whether chasing alligators, pelicans or dolphins, that it certainly is. So what else can it do along the whole family frontier? Let's start with something super-fun, called Live Composite mode. While not new to the OM-D line and having been unveiled in last year's E-M10 as well as the TG-4, Live Composite mode is still fairly new and is ultra-fun to use. Unlike Live Bulb and Live Time mode, which open the shutter for as long as you prefer and continue to expose the image, Live Composite mode takes a series of shorter images and stacks them together, but only adds new light sources as it goes and thereby tends to not over-expose other areas of the image. The result is that you can literally "paint" onto an image like canvas using all manner of light sources, check your results as you go and then stop it as soon as you like what you see.

My daughter and I bought several packs of glow sticks from the Dollar Store and headed out to the local lake to give it a shot. Once you learn how to get started, it's super-easy to use. The manual is fairly clear on how to do it, but just in case you have the camera already, here's what to do: (1) Put the camera onto a tripod and pick an adequate location for your light painting show (It doesn't have to be dark, but the effect is generally better if it is). (2) Set the mode dial to M (manual) and rotate the rear control dial clockwise until you see "LIVECOMP" as the shutter speed (At this point you can press the menu button to directly change the Live Composite settings should you choose to do so). (3) Press the shutter button once, which allows the camera to set the initial exposure value. (4) Within a short time the screen will tell you that Live Composite shooting is now ready, so just push the shutter button once again to begin your show. (5) Paint with whatever light source you have, such as a flashlight, glowsticks, etc, and check the screen to see your results. Experiment, get crazy and have fun... you'll quickly learn what works in your surroundings. (6) When you like what you see, click the shutter button one last time to end, and that image will now be saved to your SD card. Then try as many passes (paintings?) as you'd like!

Olympus E-M10 II - Live Composite Mode
Olympus E-M10 II Review - sample image
Using three colored glowsticks and waving them slowly in various patterns.
Olympus E-M10 II Review - sample image
My daughter posed as a magician while I wrote with the glowsticks, and then I used a flashlight to paint
her into the scene. You can also use a flashlight to paint in surrounding foreground elements, rocks, etc.
(The streaks in the top right and center left are jet trails.)
Olympus E-M10 II Review - sample image
Using one color for effect, and painting around someone to create a silhouette. In a normal Live Bulb situation the moon here would be extremely blown out, and the background would look more like daytime. This mode keeps that in check and allows you a lot of creative freedom and time to experiment.
Live Composite Mode is addictively fun, and is a certain hit for the whole family to participate in. It's fairly straightforward to do once you learn how to set it up, so make sure and try this mode out when you get a chance. Perfect for family art competitions!

Partial Color Mode

As we've seen with several previous Olympus Pen and OM-D bodies, the E-M10 II comes equipped with Partial Color Mode, which allows the user to select from one of 18 hues to remain in the image as the sole color. There's a selector wheel that displays as you're making changes to the desired hue, allowing you to preview the results as you scroll. It really couldn't be easier, and the additional hues above and beyond the basic primary colors make it far more versatile for those of you, like me, who enjoy the effect in certain situations. I assumed the shot below would be best in simple green, but experimentation with the selector wheel proved that his eyes were more vivid in a green-yellow hue.

Olympus E-M10 II Review - sample image
1/200s / f/2 / -0.3 EV / ISO 200 / 150mm eq. / M.Zuiko 75mm f/1.8

Expanding the horizons with a few crazy-wide (Pro) lenses

The M. Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro lens was released earlier this year, and I had so much fun shooting with it that it was hard to take it off the camera body to switch lenses... it's just such a versatile landscape companion. As with the 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro lens, the 7-14mm balances very nicely on the E-M10 II. They're designed more for the beefier grip on the E-M1 of course, but for E-M1 owners wanting a second OM-D body as a back-up and/or a body to hold a different lens for switching quickly, it's nice to know that the balance is still good on this body. I didn't have the opportunity to shoot the 40-150mm f/2.8 Pro with this camera, but its size generally requires a tripod collar regardless of the body used, so the E-M10 II will still work as needed, especially if you have the tripod collar attached.

Olympus E-M10 II with the M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro
Olympus E-M10 II Review - sample image
1/640s / f/8 / ISO 200 / 28mm eq. / M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro
Olympus E-M10 II Review - sample image
1/250s / f/22 / -0.3 EV / ISO 640 / 14mm eq. / M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro

And if you want to extend your shooting fun, grab an 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens to accompany your rig. Fisheye lenses are generally thought of as gimmicky, but this particular one is not, and the actual fisheye effect is fairly subtle as well. It's also water-resistant, although the E-M10 II isn't, so it's ideally suited for use on the older OM-D siblings like the E-M1 or E-M5 II. Still, as long as you avoid drizzle and splashing to the camera, it's a nice addition to any of the Four Thirds camera bodies you might own. It can make the normal look unusual, and the unusual look surreal.

Olympus E-M10 II with the M.Zuiko 8mm f/1.8 fisheye Pro
Olympus E-M10 II Review - sample image
1/250s / f/6.3 / -1.3 EV / ISO 200 / 16mm eq. / M.Zuiko 8mm f/1.8 Pro
Olympus E-M10 II Review - sample image
1/250s / f/3.2 / ISO 200 / 16mm eq. / M.Zuiko 8mm f/1.8 Pro

Video!

Heading to the video side of things, we'll start with a new feature to the OM-D line, which is 4K timelapse video. You'll need to be in one of the PASM modes to access this feature, and it can output 4K video as well as HD and Full HD files. As mentioned in my first Field Test for this camera, and as is the case with most all Olympus menus, I found it slightly cumbersome to engage the first time. For starters, you'll be selecting an icon from within a list of words as menu items, and I just don't see the logic there. The icons don't suggest much in the way of timelapse video to me, and it's something I hope they'll address with future models. Another cumbersome thing is that if you switch the "interval/timelapse" setting to "on" and then scroll further to access the settings, it doesn't actually turn it "on". You need to choose "on", click the "OK" button, and then scroll to the settings. Again, I'm just not sure why this added step, but no big deal.

There are a wealth of settings to tweak here, including the number of frames to be shot (up to 999), the time until it starts, the length between shots, whether or not to actually output a movie file with the collected images, and lastly which type file to output, and at what frame rate (4K is limited to 5fps). It conveniently displays below this how long the outputted movie file will be, based on your settings, and that's a nice touch since it would be tricky to calculate in your head on the spot. For the 4K timelapse film below I chose three second intervals between shots, and 299 total images. Remember to include a charged battery and an SD card with plenty of space, as it keeps all images used for the film, and the film file itself can also be quite large (the one below is 467mb).

Olympus E-M10 II - 4K timelapse video
4K timelapse - 299 images - 5fps
Download Original (467.4MB AVI)

Bringing five-axis image stabilization to this entry-level OM-D body is another big improvement to the line, so for the first video below I shot handheld from a bike I was also pedaling as well, to see just how much five-axis could smooth out the ride. My video experience is fairly limited, but I was impressed with the IS in general, as it certainly corrected a lot of what would have otherwise been a choppy ride.

Olympus E-M10 II Sample Video #1
1,920 x 1,080, 60p, MOV format
Download Original (102.4MB MOV)

Olympus E-M10 II Sample Video #2
1,920 x 1,080, 60p, MOV format
Download Original (84.3MB MOV)

Olympus E-M10 II Sample Video #3
1,920 x 1,080, 60p, MOV format
Download Original (58MB MOV)

Summing it all up

I've been reviewing cameras here at IR for three years now, and this is the most fun I've had with a camera thus far. It's loaded to the hilt with features and customizability, and it feels amazing in the hands - just the right size and weight, control dials thoughtfully placed along with three function buttons also logically placed, and even the EZ kit lens is capable of delivering good images.

I maintain my long-standing gripe with Olympus menus that I mentioned in the first Field Test. They just aren't very intuitive nor user-friendly, and that is by and large my single biggest concern with the E-M10 II. But the camera is so packed with great stuff for the price I can gladly overlook that one major gripe, because the rest of the camera is pure shooting pleasure to this reviewer and camera enthusiast.

Intuitive control surface, nice EVF, terrific AF system, five-axis IS, packed with cool features and with a phenomenally good available lens selection, all at an entry-level price, the Olympus E-M10 II is the best value in a camera I've seen yet.

Olympus E-M10 II Review - sample image
1/1600s / f/2.8 / ISO 200 / 80mm eq. / M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro

Olympus E-M10 II OverviewGallery

Lab SamplesE-M10 vs E-M10 II

 



Enter this month to win:

1 $300 Adorama Gift Certificate

2 $200 Adorama Gift Certificate

3 $100 Adorama Gift Certificate