Olympus E-M1 Mark II Hands-on First Impressions: A quick look at Olympus’ beefed-up flagship OM-D


posted Wednesday, September 21, 2016 at 12:05 PM EDT


Yes, Micro Four Thirds fans, the flagship OM-D camera finally gets a follow-up model. Breaking onto the scene and putting DSLRs on notice back in 2013, the Olympus E-M1 made a big splash, and by a look at the specs, the upcoming Olympus E-M1 Mark II is aiming to make an even bigger one.

At a launch event ahead of this year's Photokina trade show, the E-M1 Mark II made its long-awaited debut. Sporting a tweaked exterior design, the appearance is more or less familiar territory compared to the original model, though we do get a slightly bigger hand grip and an articulating LCD screen as well as dual SD card slots.

The biggest changes and improvements however are to the technology on the inside. There's a new 20MP Four Thirds sensor and a new TruePic VIII image processor that promises to provide vastly improved autofocus -- particularly with continuous AF, which was still a point of some struggle for the original E-M1, at least compared to enthusiast DSLRs. There's also much faster burst shooting at a variety of framerates, including an insanely fast 60fps in a new Pro Capture shooting mode. The ISO range is expanded as well to between 64 and 25,600.

The flagship Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II as seen with the new M.Zuiko 25mm f/1.2 Pro lens

While we eagerly await our review unit to really put the camera through its paces, I was able to get some hands-on time with a sample during the launch event and got a sense of the new camera's ergonomic and design changes. As an E-M1 owner, the new Mark II felt both familiar and new. The control layout is more or less identical to the original, with sturdy front and rear dials that have a nice solid feel to them.

The grip feels like the most significant change. It fills the hand a lot more with a slightly more pronounced contouring. While I like the original E-M1's grip size, I did add a Really Right Stuff plate onto the bottom, which offered a bit more purchase on the camera. That accessory might not be needed now with the Mark II's bigger grip. However, despite the larger grip, my hand wraps around it with no problem; the camera is most certainly not bulky.

The E-M1 Mark II in portrait shooting orientation with the new (optional) battery grip

What is rather large and bulky is the E-M1 Mark II's accompanying battery grip. With the camera sporting a larger, higher capacity battery pack, the add-on battery grip is also larger. Attached to the E-M1 Mark II, the whole setup now feels much more DSLR-like, which is to say quite large and bulky. If you shoot a lot of portrait-oriented images, the battery grip will likely be beneficial, but it certainly takes away from the "Micro-ness" that is Micro Four Thirds.

For better or worse, the E-M1 Mark II also switches to an articulating LCD screen. Personally, I'm a big fan of the simpler tilting screen of the E-M1, but the articulating screen is much more user-friendly for video creators. And with the Mark II's 4K video capabilities, it makes more sense to see this screen design make its way onto the Olympus flagship camera. Like the E-M5 Mark II, which also has an articulating screen, the E-M1 Mark II is fully weather-sealed, so I can imagine the articulating screen here is equally as robust. As for weather-sealing itself, Olympus states that the level of weather proof protection is more or less to the same degree as found on the original.

The new M.Zuiko Pro 12-100mm f/4 lens, a natural pairing for the E-M1 Mark II

The camera's performance, while hard to definitively judge with an early prototype at a press event, seems very fast and quite nimble. The AF felt much faster than the E-M1, even in the extremely dark conditions at the press event. The 15fps mechanical shutter-based continuous burst shooting was amazingly fast and sounded stunning. The shutter sound itself is significantly different than the predecessor. It's much lighter and softer-feeling, and less of a solid "click" than on the original. According to Olympus, the shutter mechanism is new (with a 200,000 shutter actuation rating) and designed specifically for minimized vibrations, so shutter shock issues should be much less of an issue, I hope. This is great news for shooting not only with longer lenses, such as the 300mm f/4 Pro, but also with the High-Res Shot mode that's been added to the camera.

All in all, the new Olympus E-M1 Mark II seems like a significant upgrade to the predecessor, not so much on the outside perhaps, but very much so on the inside. We can't wait to get our hands on a final production sample to really see this camera in action. We'd say "stay tuned," but given the camera's planned launch in 2017, we might have to wait a bit longer for that unfortunately. (But stay tuned anyway, as we should see the new Pro lenses ahead of that time!)

Olympus E-M1 Mark II Overview