Olympus E-M1 Mark II Review: Conclusion

Olympus 300mm f/4 IS Pro: 300mm, f/4.5, 1/1600s, ISO 1000

After receiving rather high marks, including our pick for Best Professional Camera of 2013, the original Olympus E-M1 left large shoes to fill for its successor. That camera sparked a revolution in the mirrorless camera world, being built and designed for professional photographers yet still with the characteristic compactness of the Micro Four Thirds system. The E-M1 was a big hit for a lot of folks, but some performance issues made it less than ideal for certain subjects, namely sports, wildlife and other fast-paced events that required fast and accurate C-AF. The Olympus E-M1 Mark II therefore aimed to address the drawbacks of the original model, and it certainly does just that, and then some.

Olympus has clearly pulled it off with the E-M1 Mark II, creating a stunning, high-performance workhorse camera that certainly gives even the most stalwart DSLR die-hards a reason to give Micro Four Thirds -- and the mirrorless world as a whole -- another look.

The E-M1 II offers excellent image quality with new 20MP sensor

After using 16MP sensors in numerous OM-D and PEN models over the years, Olympus finally upped the resolution to 20MP starting with the PEN-F and now once more with the new E-M1 Mark II. The Olympus E-M1 Mark II's 20MP sensor differs in that it has on-chip phase detection AF. The increase in resolving power is noticeable and a much-welcomed improvement, especially for detail-oriented subjects like landscapes and portraiture.

Overall, image quality on the new Olympus E-M1 Mark II is excellent, with in-camera JPEGs showing a lot of sharp, fine detail, good saturation and hue accuracy, as well as very good dynamic range and high ISO performance for its class. We did find in-camera JPEGs to be a little over-sharpened but not significantly. By using RAW, you can extract cleaner, higher levels of fine detail from your images.

Olympus 12-100mm f/4 IS Pro: 31mm, f/4, 1/60s, ISO 1000, -0.7EV

High ISO performance, somewhat of a compromise compared to cameras with larger sensors, was nevertheless very good for this sensor category. The E-M1 II showed slightly better ISO performance than Olympus' other 20MP camera, the PEN-F, and noticeably better performance than its predecessor.

The new Olympus E-M1 II also includes High Res Shot (HRS) mode, which, like the PEN-F, offers the ability to capture massive 80MP RAW files and 50MP (or 25MP) JPEGs using a stitched multi-shot sequence. Though Olympus claims the image processing algorithms for High-Res Shot mode has been improved in the Mark II compared to previous cameras, thus making it better able to handle moving objects like leaves and water, we still found evidence of these artifacts. And with the HRS still tied to a tripod, the mode, while certainly impressive, is still rather limited in real-world use.

E-M1 II's excellent C-AF makes it a hit for sports and wildlife

The big story with the Olympus E-M1 Mark II, however, is its speed and performance capabilities. The Mark II is powered by an updated, dual quad-core TruePic VIII image processor; the camera even uses one of these quad-core processors solely for autofocusing. That should tell you right there that Olympus put a major focus (no pun intended) on ramping-up the AF performance for their new flagship camera, and based on our testing, their plan worked very well.

Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 Pro: 150mm, f/2.8, 1/1250s, ISO 1600

Both S-AF and C-AF modes now utilize the on-sensor phase-detect system, making AF quick and accurate. Autofocusing even in low light is very good, even with our low-contrast lab testing, and was able to focus down past -4EVs, unassisted, with an f/2.8 lens.

Focusing performance, especially with regards to continuous autofocus, worked fantastically. The Olympus E-M1 II offers two maximum continuous burst rates with C-AF functionality, up to 10fps with the mechanical shutter and up to 18fps with the electronic. In our testing, C-AF at both 10fps and 18fps continuous shooting rates displayed excellent keeper rates; nearly all shots were sharp. Not only is the Mark II better at C-AF than its predecessor, but it's also one of the best cameras currently on the market regarding continuous AF performance.

Speed, speed & more speed: The E-M1 Mark II is a beast

In addition to stellar AF system, the OM-D E-M1 Mark II's impressive burst shooting capabilities reach into the realm of mind-boggling. As mentioned earlier, the E-M1 II offers reasonable, yet still impressive, 10fps and 18fps continuous burst rates with C-AF. However, if you don't mind having focus locked at the first frame, the E-M1 II offers up to 15fps with the mechanical shutter. In our lab tests, the camera managed to surpass this spec slightly, regardless of file type, be it RAW+JPEG or just SuperFine JPEGs.

Where things get extreme is the S-AF continuous burst rate with the electronic shutter, which shoots up to an amazing 60fps no matter the file type! That's some serious horsepower considering the size and resolution of the sensor. In our lab testing, the E-M1 II managed 60.6fps in this mode, again, slightly besting the manufacturer's spec.

Buffer depth was equally impressive, showing the camera can cope with the massive amount of images it can capture. In Continuous H burst modes, the Olympus E-M1 II was able to shoot for well over 100 frames for JPEGs and just shy of 60 frames for RAW+JPEG. Thanks to UHS-II support in the top SD card slot (but not both slots, unfortunately), buffer clearing is swift, at around six seconds for JPEGs, seven for RAWs, yet around 20 seconds or so for RAW+JPEG pairs.

Handheld for 4s!
Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro: 12mm, f/2.8, 4s, ISO 200
Improved stabilization really expands handholding capabilities

The Olympus E-M1 II gains an updated 5-axis sensor-shift image stabilization system, which now offers a claimed 5.5 stops of compensation. Combined with the few Olympus lenses with optical image stabilization, this combined "Sync IS" offers up a whopping 6.5-stops of stabilization! And while we don't scientifically test the I.S. claims, we can tell you that image stabilization with the E-M1 II, especially with the Sync IS-capable lenses like the 300mm f/4 IS Pro and 12-100mm f/4 IS Pro, is excellent. These combinations, in particular, give you the ability to handhold the camera for some shockingly long exposure time, such as multiple seconds long! At these slower shutter speeds, it can still be tricky to get a crisp shot even with IS, but with a steady hand, you can create some excellent longer exposure images all without the bulk of a tripod.

All in all, the Olympus E-M1 Mark II shows significant performance improvements compared to the original E-M1. C-AF capabilities are vastly upgraded, as are its options of continuous burst rates, deep buffers and stunning image stabilization.

Still as rugged, but more comfortable & customizable design

Like its predecessor, the Olympus E-M1 Mark II is fully weather-sealed against dust, moisture and freezing temperatures. While the Mark II isn't any more weather-sealed than the earlier model, it was definitely able to withstand some harsh, cold, weather conditions, as shown in our Field Test Part I in Iceland.

Overall, the camera looks and feels similar, with a nearly identical button and control layout that's still highly configurable to your shooting preferences. The learning curve should be minimal to those familiar with the E-M1, or even other OM-D cameras. The hand grip on the E-M1 II is slightly larger (to accommodate the larger battery) and fills the hand more, which makes it more comfortable to hold, especially for those with larger hands.

Perhaps the most notable design change is the switch from a tilting rear touch display to a more video-friendly and arguably more versatile, side-mounted tilt/swivel touchscreen like that of the E-M5 Mark II. Personal preference will dictate which screen design you prefer, but on its own, the display on the Mark II is quite good. The display panel itself is the same resolution as on the predecessor, and its touch capability is just as responsive. The articulated design also provides the benefit of entirely flipping around, providing more protection against bumps, smudges or scratches.

Lastly, the menu system gets a UI overhaul in the Olympus E-M1 Mark II. Known for rather confusing and detailed menu systems, the Mark II's new GUI doesn't however meaningfully change the menu layout or navigation process. The three main tiers of menus are a bit easier to follow, but the camera can still take some time to get familiar with the in-depth menus.

Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro: 7mm, f/3.5, 32s, ISO 1600

Olympus E-M1 Mark II Review Summary

The Olympus E-M1 Mark II is an absolutely fantastic camera. Done. Period. It takes the OM-D system to a new level, especially when it comes to speed and performance. The updated sensor and processor give a nice increase in image quality and resolving power as well as better high ISO performance compared to the earlier model. Nevertheless, with its Four Thirds sensor, you are still at a disadvantage when it comes to noise and low light performance compared to APS-C and full-frame alternatives, but we think the other benefits to this camera outweigh this for most situations.

Overall, not only is it a major upgrade over its predecessor, but the Olympus E-M1 Mark II also offers excellent speed, C-AF capabilities, burst shooting and image quality performance, such that DSLR users should really give the OM-D platform another look. The original E-M1 was a significant leap in capabilities for the Micro Four Thirds system, and the E-M1 II is even more so. For someone looking to downsize from a large, bulky DSLR to a more compact, lighter system, the Olympus E-M1 Mark II is the way to go without sacrificing speed and performance.

Given all these outstanding qualities, it's no surprise that the Olympus E-M1 Mark II earned the top spot as our #1 pick for Camera of the Year in 2016, as well as the Best Professional Mirrorless Camera and Best High-Speed Capture Camera. The E-M1 II undoubtedly earns a spot as a Dave's Pick.


Pros & Cons

  • Terrific overall image quality for a 20-megapixel 4/3" sensor
  • Competitive high ISO performance for a Micro Four Thirds camera
  • Very good dynamic range
  • Very good hue accuracy when using manual white balance
  • High Res Shot mode offers 50-megapixel JPEGs, 80-megapixel RAWs
  • High Res Shot mode also reduces noise & color artifacts, and handles motion better than previous models (though motion artifacts can still arise)
  • Very effective 5-axis IS system
  • 121 cross-type on-chip phase detection focus points
  • Very fast single-shot autofocus
  • Autofocuses in very low light
  • Fantastic C-AF performance
  • Incredible 15fps full-res burst mode with mechanical shutter, 60fps with electronic shutter
  • 10fps burst mode with Continuous AF (18fps with electronic shutter)
  • Generous buffer depths
  • Quick buffer clearing with fast UHS-II card
  • Fast startup & mode switching
  • Very low shutter lag
  • Built-in high-res EVF
  • Accurate coverage from EVF & LCD monitor
  • Fully-articulating touchscreen LCD
  • A bevy of customization options
  • Flash supported with electronic shutter (up to 1/50s)
  • Pleasing 4K UHD & Cinema 4K (DCI) video with high bitrates (DCI 4K 24p @ 237 Mbps)
  • Clean HDMI out with uncompressed 4:2:2 output
  • Dual SD card slots
  • UHS-II support (but see Con)
  • Good battery life for its class
  • Dustproof, splashproof & freezeproof
  • Larger handgrip adds more comfort
  • Excellent external controls with responsive buttons & dials
  • Built-in Wi-Fi
  • External mic & headphone jacks
  • USB 3.0 Type-C port
  • No built-in flash (but is bundled with small body-powered external flash)
  • Only one SD slot supports UHS-II
  • Moiré & aliasing artifacts can be an issue due to lack of optical low-pass filter
  • High Res Shot mode limited to ISO 64-1600
  • High Res Shot mode still requires tripod
  • Default anti-noise processing is more refined than E-M1, but a little heavy-handed at higher ISOs
  • Redesigned menus can still feel overwhelming & confusing
  • Pricey

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