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Saturday, November 3, 2018

Olympus OM-D E-M5 II Limited Edition Review

Olympus OM-D E-M5 II Limited Edition Review
November 2018, Carl Garrard

Olympus is a name that I've not mentioned much on my blog in the past, although, there's a fair chance that's probably going to change after this review is published. There's no hate for Olympus here, in fact quite the opposite, I have still have a few of their DSLR's and m4/3 cameras in my arsenal and I've always liked the company. My very first SLR camera was an Olympus OM2 in fact, and I still have that camera to this day. Admittedly, it's an heirloom and I haven't made an image with it in quite some time. Since Olympus were kind enough to send me a camera for evaluation (a loaner) I was curious about the EM5 II (how I will refer to it hereon) especially, so that camera and the newer version 17mm f/1.8 was sent to me. First of all, I am grateful that Olympus have sent me the camera and lens so, I want to thank them foremost. Thank you Olympus. Time sure flies, and I can't believe this camera came out in 2015, three years on and it's like a new release in terms of capability.

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II (BEST CURRENT PRICES)



Secondly, I will note that although Olympus's gratuity feels good, ultimately, I am bound to a personal characteristic of honesty- no matter what the circumstances are in which a camera has come for evaluation. I'd venture to say that when you purchase a camera with your own money there might be bias to defend your position even more so than receiving a loaner camera, simply because one can just send the loaner back. If you saw my unboxing/preview video, you'll see that I'm very impressed with the build quality and presentation of the EM5 II. I pointed out only one negative of the camera's ergonomic design that I could find (camera strap lugs), so the EM5 II gets a big score immediately starting the review.  Now with that out of the way...I needed to set up the EM5 II to my preferences.

Before I go into that part of the review, I want to make one thing clear. These days, all large sensor cameras (1" and over) are very  much capable of making excellent images, so my days of nitpicking over small advantages of noise retention etc. are pretty much done. Every sensor size has it's advantages and disadvantages, and these days its up to the photographer to know what they are, so they can best tailor their needs to the sensor size of a camera they choose. There is no longer a debate in my mind at least, on which sensor size is the best. There simply is only one answer for that, and that is- your needs. Don't fret image quality people, just get the right system or sensor size that does what you need. I have cameras with sensors in the entire range from 1 1/7" up to 35mm wide, and each I know when and how to use best. That's just me. Settling for one sensor size is always going to have pro's and con's of its own. It's just that simple.

So onward to my impressions of the EM5 II and its 4/3 capabilities.

First Impressions (Also covered in the video article):

Firstly, setting up the camera to my preferences was much easier than expected simply because Olympus have set it up right out of the box so well.They seem to know what most photographers need. Besides diving into the menu to set up my image quality preferences (raw+fine Jpeg always), I also set up the Jpegs to my liking (zero sharpness, zero noise reduction, everything else stands at the standard settings).  I prefer to only use the touch screen for image playback, so I shut it off for everything else. I made only one change to the FN buttons, and the two control dials on top (switching ev and aperture value positions), and finally to the FN switch lever- preferring to have ISO and EV values quickly adjustable to the rear dial where my thumb falls naturally. We all have priorities.

Set up my way, the EM5 II is ready to go. Now to get some sleep.

 Lastly I set up the menu to default to the super control panel, plugged in my video preferences, and I was done. That took about five minutes. I don't understand all the ballyhoo about Olympus's menu system any longer, they look nice, and once you understand Olympus's "language"it's rather easy to understand. With my custom set up EM5 II, it was ready to shoot, but I was too giddy with the honeymoon phase, so I decided to sleep on it.

After sleeping a night on my first impressions, I've made time to go out and shoot with the EM5 II- both indoors and outdoors.  You are probably wondering if my first impressions of the EM5 II carry over to a genuine shooting experience. Yes, they do - is the short answer. I find it easier to list my detailed impressions so I'll just do that.

Detailed Impressions

Shutter Sound: Deliciously dampened with a faint and prompt double-click;  it sounds more like a well oiled and muffled classic SLR sound than anything else I've tried from the m4/3 realm. It's funny how a nice shutter sound makes such an important impression on a camera for me, and this is one of the best I've heard from any camera manufacturer. Summed up- the shutter sound somehow matches the good looks and SLR style nod to its design. Well done Olympus, this makes me want to pick it up and shoot with it often.

EVF: Interesting (in a good way). It's got a large viewing area (.7x) and is plenty detailed with excellent refresh rate and all that stuff, and no color tearing. But I found that better than that, is that Olympus have tuned the view to appear to have similar dynamic range and tonal values that you get when you look through an optical finder. To date, they seem to be the only company that has put effort into this, I feel less like I'm looking at a t.v. screen than any other electronic finder I've used yet. That kind of attention to detail makes Olympus endearing to me, and, it's very much appreciated.  You'll see the difference between the look of the EVF and the LCD in live view very clearly. Cool stuff.

Autofocus: Quick (I used three different lenses on the EM5 II), but mostly highly confident in all light sources and very accurate. Indoors, the EM5 II is especially impressive because the company has done such a good job at using the AF assist lamp to aid focusing- it seems to always know when to illuminate at the right times, and turn off when not needed. This is difficult to explain either written or in video format, I'd suggest trying it for yourself to get the full impression of what I'm noting here. Outdoors, the AF is very accurate and self assured, perfect for the kind of camera the EM5 II is designed to be.

Image stabilization: Excellent, and most importantly, very quiet. I don't like hearing IBIS working when I'm making an exposure, it's distracting. With past iterations they have been noisy, but not in this camera.  Further, even when the EM5 II is turned off, there's no loud clunky sound inside the camera if you move it around quickly. Certainly I can feel the mechanism moving inside, but it feels like its on a sprung dampened system designed to protect it from shock or something.

Build Quality: Impressive. I don't say this lightly.  It may sound nit-picky that I took the time to point out how well designed the IBIS is internally, but build quality and engineering quality are very important to me, and nothing about the EM5 II feels cheap or that Olympus cut corners in any way whatsoever. They have always made high quality cameras, but the EM5 II is at a level that I've not experienced yet from the brand (and I've owned the E3/5 DSLRS too). This kind of build quality alone makes you want to pick it up and use the camera. There are zero noises, creaks, etc. of any kind. ZERO. All of the buttons click nicely, are easy to find, and the dials are dampened perfectly for their particular use. All switches sound confident. I even like how the SD card door feels and sounds when you open it and close it despite that it is plastic.

And lastly, the dual stage shutter release feels great- with the second stage breaking right when you  need it too, not before or after. Nice tuning Olympus.

Note: The included flash is something superb. Although not the most powerful flash, the compact size of it, and thoughtfully engineered features of it make it the first auxiliary flash I'd want to bring with me everywhere. The flash head swivels back and forth 180 degrees and tilts up to 90 degrees for bounce too, in multiple stop adjustments. It's like a mini version of a large flash gun that would otherwise make a camera like this look ridiculous and awkward to use. In short the included flash gun seems like a well thought out addition to round out your kit with very little sacrifice for flash users. Just more class from Olympus, they have spared no expense.



Image Quality: I said I wouldn't say anything about image quality, but a camera review would be bereft if I said nothing... so here it goes. It is excellent. Malleable raw files with no horizontal banding at the the highest ISO values. Noise is well controlled to ISO 6400. ISO invariant sensor, what else do you need?

ISO 12,800. Wait, I pushed the shadows +4 ev to give it a stress test. I wanted to see if I could produce horizontal banding. The EM5 II passed the test with aplomb. This means every ISO value can produce usable images even when stressed to the max. I'd not hesitate to use this camera in monochrome mode at 12,800/25,600 at all. Nice grain pattern too. See below, same image in monochrome.
12,800 ISO gives delicious grain quality in monochrome yet still retains some usable dynamic range. When you push to 25,600 they are still usable with nice grain, but you really drop off DR.

Whether you use Jpeg or Raw, Olympus has it covered. I see no need with a fast lens (and its awesome IBIS capability) to ever go above ISO 3200, but, out of sheer curiosity, I was highly impressed when I made images up to 6400 and even 12,800 ISO! With IBIS, a fast lens, and great noise qualities up to 6400 ISO, you can literally shoot hand held in the dark in the m4/3 format. And when light is good, base ISO raw image quality is full of excellent dynamic range and color. Jpegs are top notch right out of camera and I suggest you tailor them to your own taste because they look fantastic (even though NR off doesn't mean completely off).


6400 ISO ACR converted. Only +5 on chroma NR slider, no NR on luminescence. This is as good as my APS-C sensor cameras. Take a look at the 100% crop below.
100% crop, click it.
6400 ACR converted to taste. No L-NR, 40% on chroma.

Also, I have the EM5 set to auto ISO (up to 6400) and, I made an image of a camera on my desktop in low monitor light only. I developed the raw image in photoshop, and when I was looking over the image I noted how clean and nice the image looked, not having checked the ISO at all in the development process. Out of sheer curiosity, I estimated the value would be about ISO 400 when I looked at it completed, but was shocked (and highly impressed) to see it was actually ISO 2,500.


IS0 2,500 you have to be kidding. Click the image above and below for normal and 100% crop viewing.
100% crop of the above image. Gee whiz Olympus, that's nice for a 4/3 sized sensor.

With the ability to shoot 80mp hi-resolution images (Jpeg) and hand held HDR images (in Raw!), this furthers the EM5 II's capabilities to even the pickiest landscape shooter's standards. Simply stated, I can't see any reason at all that image quality would ever be a hindrance to anyone deciding to shoot with the EM5 II- and that includes some professionals. Olympus have, um,... arrived ? to my unofficially official "no more worries" category for still image quality.


Single Exposure ISO 100 f/5.6 AF point is the condos at the first R.O.T intersection line (I did not focus to infinity).
100% crop, no sharpening in ACR. None needed!

As far as video is concerned, for the casual to intermediate video aficionado, the EM5 II will be more than enough camera. In my limited experience, it makes excellent 1080P for most (90% or better) shooters needs, but if for some reason you require the best video quality out there, a Panasonic would be a better choice for the m4/3 format.

For stills, many models of large sensor cameras have nearly hit a point of diminishing returns in terms of quality, they are all just excellent. For raw shooters, the lack of an AA filter is icing on the cake here, and brings the EM5 II right up there with everyone else. Jpegs? Well, nobody does better out of camera Jpegs than Olympus (or Fujifilm).

And that's all I'll say about that.


Notes on the 17mm f/1.8 Zuiko Lens

This lens seems to be a perfect general photography companion to the EM5 II. It's very compact and lightweight. The fact that the lens focuses internally and doesn't change size, is a benefit. There is no delay when you turn the camera on, and it doesn't change size for tight fitting camera bags. The AF performance is quick and quiet, and the manual focus implementation with the clutch mechanism is simply brilliant.

And if you need to crop down your images, it's sharp enough to do that too (with the help of the AA filter-less 16mp sensor). Wide open IQ is excellent, and if you demand sharp corners, go f/2.8 and beyond up to f/8. Close up focusing/magnification is decent, not excellent, but better than average for typical 35mm prime lenses. Great for a walk around lens.

Overall it's a joy to use, Olympus thought out this lens very well. I don't want to take it off the camera and the manual focus clutch mechanism has me spoiled- I want every lens to have this feature. Overall this is a fine performing lens and should be in every Panasonic or Olympus m4/3 owners lens line up.

f/1.8, looks great, slightly soft edges which is good to have for a fast aperture lens. Sharpens greatly by f/2.8 (see below)
f/2.8. No issues at all with edge performance from here on. By f/5.6 you have major depth of field and low distortion tack sharp images from corner to extreme corner. See below.
f/5.6 - Tack sharp images great depth of field. Anything above f/8 you lose a bit of fine sharpness because of the diffraction factor.


Conclusion

I have seriously missed out on the m4/3 bandwagon. Although I've flirted with a few m4/3 cameras here and there since 2010, I think there is a huge difference in today's cameras than the first few designs that came out from Olympus and Panasonic. And of all the m4/3 cameras I've used of late, which have been quite a few, the EM5 II is right up there with the very best. I find the more I use it, the more I like it, and that can be dangerous considering the vast collection of cameras I already have.

ISO 200, tough lighting. Reds blow out fast, and in this scene only cameras with great DR will capture shadow details while still getting reds that aren't blown out. Excellent performance in a tough situation.

Compared to my lovable little Panasonic G6 workhorse, the EM5 II looks and feels like an artists camera first, with the title of utility workhorse as a secondary design intention. That's my impression at least. Either way, I'd not hesitate to recommend or use the EM5 II as a serious photography tool for multiple tasks. I find it's characteristics would emphasize street, portrait, and landscape shooting the most, but I'd definitely use it in a pinch for quick moving subjects. Focus tracking is excellent, it locks onto faces and eyes tenaciously- and with a fast focusing lens it may surprise you in its capabilities. I'll never be a professional sideline sports photographer, and likely you won't be either. So for most people, there's not a lot that the EM5 II wouldn't be good for.

Add that its weather sealed, has excellent hi-end camera specifications along with very decent battery life, and I don't think anyone could go wrong with an EM5 II unless you need a larger camera with a bigger grip for larger lenses. As a hobbyist camera, it truly shines. There is a feeling of general pride of ownership that this camera imbues that is much greater than most consumer class cameras. Most of us are consumer, hobbyist or semi-professionals, and those classes of photographers would be most happy with the EM5 II, proud to display it on their chest. I can't see any reason it wouldn't be a good choice for a pro's tool too, at least for specific types of photographic assignments (journalist photographers for example)- it's certainly packed with enough capability.

For those who want to have fun with the EM5 II, it has an auto mode for beginners and of course Olympus's excellent and fun art filters. It's touch screen implementation is excellent, not only when using the camera (I turned it back on for a brief bit for review purposes), but when swiping and reviewing images. It's wireless capability and associated APP work very well, with the camera giving you a lot of personal wifi setup choices for privacy and sharing etc.

All in all, I've not covered every aspect of this camera and I don't intend too. I've covered areas that were most important to me and, areas I found that may stand out for others. There is only one thing that sort of annoyed me about the camera, and that is the strap lugs. I feel they hinder is beautiful design. The omission of a auto-stitch panorama setting is mildly disappointing, but not a deal breaker by any regards. At least Olympus included a timelapse movie mode that isn't limited to 99 shots. The fact that I didn't produce a con's list in this review is truly saying something, I'm amazed at how little I find wrong with the EM5 II which is testament to how much progressive work went into this camera. I'm not even sure I'd swap out the sensor with the newer 20mp version or not, but you can be sure the next iteration of this camera will have it.

Olympus have put together an impressive package here that ticks off almost every box an enthusiast could want. It is a much more impressive camera in person than reading about it online, which isn't always the case with camera models I'm afraid.  In a way, I feel I've benefited by not using every m4/3 camera design over the years. This is a benefit because the EM5 II has given me a good wallop in the face, an impressive insight on just how far the company has come since it introduced the original Pen EP-1. Literally, Olympus's EM5 II m4/3 camera feels like night and day from where they started with the new m4/3 mount. To say I'm impressed, would be an understatement.

If you are choosing a camera to own for the first time, you can't go wrong with the EM5 II. It's sensor size falls smack dab in the middle of the high end image quality spectrum available to us all these days. I feel its' sensor size gives you the best of both worlds between small compacts and full frame systems, and in some respects advantages over both. It is available in three color schemes, the limited titanium featured in this review, black, and silver. I think it looks fantastic in all three schemes and you can't go wrong with picking any of them. One of the nicest looking cameras on the market that feels and performs as good as it looks.

Pretty damn impressive Olympus.

Stay Focused.

-Carl Garrard

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3 comments:

  1. Good review:I owned this camera since late 2015and it's with me right now in Japan together with a GX9 and being used 90% of the times. Some things I think are out of date:image writing is Slow even with a fast card; it does not shot 4K; the front grip is nice but not excellent and definitely not that impressive with the 12-40 I'm using unless you add a grip. I'd also like a more punchy backscreen now that I can compare it with the GX9 one. This being said this camera is a powerhouse of functions: people are baffled by olympus menus because they are used to more simple cameras: comparing how much more I do with the 4 years old EM5II compared with the 2018 GX9 still puzzles me. With a WS lens, it's weather sealed to a very high degree: I got caught in heavy rain a couple of days ago and I didn't worried at all. Rob Trek YouTube channel has excellent videos on the various functions of the EMD olympus cameras: three years later there is still a few functions I'm finding out and that is something!

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  2. Thanks for reading the review :). Agree with your comments, and its one fine camera!

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