Olympus E-M5 II Field Test Part II

It's time for golden hour videos and nighttime shooting

By Mike Tomkins | Posted: 03/16/2015

An evening's shooting: At the end of my first Field Test, I promised some high ISO / low-light shooting. True to my word, I took the E-M5 II out for an evening in downtown Knoxville, predominantly shooting high ISO.
(ISO 4000, 1/100 sec., 12-40mm f/2.8 lens @ 15mm f/2.8)

Recently, I had the pleasure of shooting with the Olympus E-M5 II compact system camera on a whirlwind trip to Bermuda, an experience that became the basis for the first part of my E-M5 II Field Test. (If you've not already read that report, you'll find it here.) With the trip over all too soon, I brought the camera back home with me to Knoxville to wrap things up.

In my first Field Test, I promised that I'd take a look at video capture and high ISO shooting on my return home, as well as trying some more long-exposure photography. A few days ago, I headed to downtown Knoxville, prepped and ready for an evening's shooting.

I started off right as the golden hour landed, with my first goal being to shoot some daylight video. In its pre-launch press briefings for the E-M5 II, Olympus had emphasized three video features for which it felt the most progress had been made, and I wanted to test all three.

Key among the video changes is the Olympus E-M5 II's more powerful image stabilization, which comes alongside a smoother and more responsive autofocus system, and better-tuned autoexposure.

Looking to try all three in a single video, I headed towards Knoxville's Volunteer Landing, where the footbridge that takes pedestrians across busy Neyland Drive sits next to a deeply shaded carpark. Panning to follow traffic turning onto Walnut Street gave an idea of how the E-M5 II handled subject motion, then the entry to the carpark provided a good subject on which the camera could focus as I walked towards the entry of the car park to test the stabilization. Finally, a quick turn into the carpark let me see how the exposure metering handled a sudden change in the brightness of the scene.

(ISO 6400, 1/250 second, 12-40mm f/2.8 lens @ 40mm f/2.8)

Shooting with the M.Zuiko ED 12-40mm f2.8 PRO lens mounted and set to the 40mm position (or 80mm equivalent) ensured that this would be quite a challenging test for the stabilization system, and indeed it was. While it did a pretty good job of steadying motion from my walk towards the end of the bridge, the E-M5 II's video still showed a little camera shake, as well as a tendency to jump around a little as the sensor reached the limits of its travel and returned to the centered position. (This was particularly noticeable as I turned to enter the garage.)

Daytime video: With image stabilization enabled, the Olympus E-M5 II did a pretty good job of steadying camera shake as I panned upwards and then walked across a pedestrian overpass into a nearby carpark. There was definitely still some shake visible, though, and quite a few times I hit the limit of the sensor travel, resulting in a sudden change in framing.

Switching off IS, though, made clear what an impressive feat this level of stabilization was. Without the stabilization system active, my video was extremely shaky indeed, an absolutely night-and-day difference from that shot with stabilization enabled.

Partly that shakiness was down to the fact that I was lugging a heavy camera bag along with me, and I'm sure I could have gotten quite a bit more stable video in the first place had someone been free to keep an eye on my camera gear. (And with smoother video in the first place, the stabilized video would've likely been near-hiccup free.) Ah, to have an assistant to carry my gear at times like these!

Unstabilized video: After disabling image stabilization, it became obvious that the E-M5 II had managed a minor miracle to provide reasonably well-stabilized video. Shooting at 80mm-equivalent and lugging a heavy camera bag on one shoulder, I was struggling to hold the camera remotely steady, to the point where the autofocus system even got confused by my shakiness.

Focus adjustment in the video was pretty smooth and responsive, other than occasional, very brief hiccups as the stabilization system reached its limits. To better test the system, though, I shot a separate video just to test the autofocus performance, alternating between selecting nearby and distant subjects using the touch panel. While a little focus hunting is still noticeable -- mostly in the areas of out-of-focus blur, where the bokeh visibly changed as the camera hunted around the point of focus -- the focus adjustment was pretty quick and confident. This is certainly a camera that makes it easy for less experienced videographers to manage some great-looking focus pulls.

Touch autofocus: The Olympus E-M5 II's autofocus algorithms have been refined, and often I couldn't see any noticeable focus hunting in my final videos. Here, with an extreme difference in subject difference, there's a little hunting noticeable, mostly in the out-of-focus areas of the shot, but even so it's a lot less noticeable than with many cameras.

Returning to that first video, I was also quite impressed by how smoothly the E-M5 II adjusted both exposure and white balance as I moved into the artificially-lit garage. I'm more of a still photographer than a videographer, but I can certainly see this camera being a great tool if you are, especially with a little practice to minimize the amount of camera shake that the stabilization system needs to correct. Shooting at wider angle (and without carrying your gear while you're capturing video), you really can get results that look as if you're using a Steadicam!

(ISO 6400, 1/160 second, 12-40mm f/2.8 lens @ 40mm f/2.8)

By now, the sun was setting, so it was time to switch to some still image capture at higher sensitivities. I decided to stick with the same 12-40mm f/2.8 lens, as it provided a good range of coverage for some downtown street shooting.

(ISO 8000, 1/80 sec., 12-40mm f/2.8 lens @ 40mm f/2.8)

I set the camera up in Aperture-priority mode, and cranked the sensitivity up, shooting anywhere from ISO 4000 to 25,600 equivalents, sensitivities I hadn't really needed to use during the Bermuda trip.

At the highest sensitivities, things were clearly a step too far for anything more than relatively small prints, but if I restricted myself to ISO 12,800 or below, I was pretty pleased with the results straight out of the camera.

Sadly, DxO Labs' excellent Optics Pro denoising engine wasn't available to see how much further I could take things, as that app doesn't yet support the E-M5 II. (The company is currently forecasting support to land from May 2015.)

Even without Optics Pro's PRIME denoising engine, though, relatively subtle details survived the E-M5 II's in-camera noise reduction. For example, in the shot below, look just below center at the left side of the image, and you'll see that the chain-link fence beneath the deck of Calhoun's restaurant is quite visible, and at frame right, the tiny registration number on the houseboat is also quite readable.

For an ISO 8000 image shot handheld and well after the sun had completely set, this really struck me as pretty impressive. Doubly so with a camera that's as compact and yet feature-rich as this one.

(ISO 8000, 1/60 second, 12-40mm f/2.8 lens @ 17mm f/2.8)

Having gotten a good selection of high ISO shots -- and the last of the twilight having almost completely been extinguished -- I switched to shooting some long exposures. I'd actually left my tripod in the car, thinking I'd walk back there before dark, so I braced the camera against railings, lamp posts and the like, leaving image stabilization enabled. The result was tack-sharp exposures of several seconds, and my favorite shot of the group is that shown below. The sky glow really helps the buildings stand out, and I love the contrast between the warm glow of the street lights in the foreground and the cool evening sky.

(ISO 100, four seconds, 12-40mm f/2.8 lens @ 12mm f/4.0)

Having ticked off my checkboxes for daytime video, high ISO and one more long exposure, I headed back to the car for my tripod, and one last item -- night video. Setting up on Knoxville's Gay Street, I shot the clip below. Video quality under city street lighting was pretty good, and the E-M5 II's full-time autofocus wasn't confused by the traffic and panning motion, as quite a few cameras seem to be. Detail wasn't the best I've seen, but bricks in the buildings across the road were easily visible, and there was little in the way of untoward aliasing or false-color artifacts. All things considered, a pretty decent performance.

Night video: A pretty good effort here, for a camera which (as far as I'm aware, anyway) doesn't feature full-sensor readout. Aliasing and false color are fairly minimal, and the autofocus system isn't confused by the moving traffic and my pan across the subject.

And with that last item crossed off the checklist, it was time to pack up the E-M5 II and return it to Olympus. I have to say, I did so with a touch of sadness -- I've greatly enjoyed shooting with this camera, and loved it for its excellent build quality, relatively compact nature and top-notch ergonomics. Most of all, though, I'm thrilled with some great photos that I captured in my time with the E-M5 II, especially during my time in Bermuda.

(ISO 25,600, 1/15 second, 12-40mm f/2.8 lens @ 19mm f/4.0)

If you're looking for an enthusiast-friendly mirrorless camera that doesn't skimp on features, I highly recommend putting the Olympus E-M5 II on your shortlist. (And doubly so if you're already a Micro Four Thirds shooter with a stock of M.Zuiko glass in your camera bag!)

(ISO 6400, 1/400 second, 12-40mm f/2.8 lens @ 20mm f/5.6)

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