On the last day of Photokina 2016 our team headed down to the Olympus stand with one thing in mind – to get our filthy paws on a prototype of the new Olympus flagship model, the OM-D E-M1 II.
We had originally heard whispers in the halls of the Koelnmesse, the venue of this year’s convention, that Olympus actually had a physical model of the camera secreted away. Normally whenever anyone inquired after the OM-D E-M1 II, Olympus staff members simply directed them towards the glass container in the middle of their stand, where people could see, but not touch, the camera.
However, we’re a persistent lot, and after lots of pleading, we were ushered into a makeshift meeting room where this 20.4MP Live MOS phoenix rose out of the ashes – it certainly brings Olympus out of the dark ages, reigniting competition with other M4/3 and APS-C cameras.
Fans of the M4/3 and compact cameras will find lots to love here as usual, since Olympus have generally kept the same chassis as the OM-D E-M1 while subtly improving on the ergonomics. It’s smaller than most DSLRs of course, yet is slightly larger than the entry-level Olympus models. It has room for a great grip, but it isn’t quite small enough to just slip into a jacket pocket. It must be noted however, that the size advantage of M4/3 systems isn’t just in the camera department – the lenses are typically extremely compact as well. So while for example the body is actually larger than a Sony A6300, most M4/3 lenses are far, far smaller than equivalent E-mount ones (excluding pancakes).
As we mentioned in our coverage, the OM-D E-M1 II is truly something to be excited about. Not only is this Olympus’ first 4k camera, but it also offers 121 cross-type AF points with phase-detect points and a contrast-detect system, forming a Dual Fast AF that alternates between the options when the situation demands. It’s incredibly fast and accurate, and we could even use 18fps burst with AF-C. Not only does it live up to the impressive spec sheet, but it looks and feels superb as well.
Case in point – the camera has both headphone and microphone jacks. This sounds obvious, but even many mirrorless cameras that claim to provide a comprehensive video package don’t provide both.
Like other recent Olympus cameras there is a fully articulating 3” touchscreen that is quick and responsive, along with the EVF, which has a 120fps refresh rate. Everything seems logical, except perhaps the presence of a HDR button on the top, instead of an ISO button. That can of course be fixed by the large number of customisable buttons, but we would have preferred to see that available on default. It’s true however, that Olympus cameras do have a dial on the back, which can be used to adjust ISO quickly with the front wheel.
Crucially, Olympus has managed to keep the camera small while avoiding dropping important features. The engineering involved is just as impressive as how Sony has made the a99 II even smaller than the original a99, while throwing in enough features to make two cameras: the a7S II and a7R II.
The camera is slated for release later this year, and several members of our office use M4/3 alongside their larger DSLRs for the sheer convenience and portability. But a lot has changed since M4/3 first came out, and with a camera like the OM-D E-M1 Mark II, maybe M4/3 is simply good enough to serve as a primary mount. It certainly appears like a real contender, because digital cameras now have pretty much reached the point where just “being there” is more important.
With such speed, the OM-D E-M1 is unlikely to miss a shot, and with the size of the system, it should certainly help you reach your location without lugging a backpack full of gear.