First Impressions: Olympus EM-1 Mark II

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

In which I answer Jerry’s question: “In several recent posts you promised a review of the Olympus EM-1 Mark II. Where is it?” Well, Jerry, here’s part one…

Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way. Everybody and their cousin admits the Olympus EM-1 Mark II seems like a heckuva camera but is it worth $1999? Don’t hold your breath waiting for a price drop. The Pen F is selling for the same $1199* as when it was introduced in March 2016. I’ll give my opinion at the end of this post but my first impression is this is a really nicely made camera. Even the camera strap seems a notch above the crap manufacturers usually foist upon us. I’d replace it with an Artisan and Artist strap but that’s just me.

The E-M1 Mark II’s ergonomics are excellent with a nice balance of analog controls. Neither too big nor too small, it seemed “just right” in my US Medium-sized hands. The body is magnesium-alloy and sealed against dust and moisture as well as temperatures down to 14 degrees F. For all its obvious build quality, the camera feels a bit light, although it weighs 1.26 lbs. (A Panasonic Lumix GH5 weighs 1.6 lbs.)

Its 20.4MP sensor and TruePic VIII image processor offer an ISO range up to ISO 25,600 along with 4K video recording. DxO gives the sensor a score of 80, the same as a Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III and better than an EOS 7D Mark II (70.) The highly rated 20.9M Nikon D500 beats it with a score of 84, which interestingly has a similar price tag ($1,996.95.) Sports shooters will like the RAW continuous shooting rate of 60 fps (with silent electronic shutter function and single-shot AF) or 18 fps with continuous autofocus. That shutter is amazingly quiet, even in burst mode.

I haven’t had a chance to thoroughly test the Dual FAST autofocus system with its 121 on-chip phase-detection points and 121 contrast detection areas; it just works the way you might want it to but AF has never been a problem with my other Olympus bodies. According to Oly, the 5-Axis image stabilization minimizes camera shake up to 5.5 stops. The five axes compensate for vertical and horizontal angle rotation, horizontal and vertical shift, and rolling camera movement.

The electronic viewfinder is 2.36m-dot with a three-inch 1.04m-dot touchscreen using a “vari-angle” design that seems easier to use than some of the flip-out screens in recent Panasonic models. It comes with the tiny Barbies Own Speedlight (FL-LM3) that’s bundled with the latest E-M5. The E-M1 Mark II has USB 3.0 connectivity enabling tethered shooting with Olympus’ Capture software. There’s built-in Wi-Fi for wireless image sharing and remote camera control from a smartphone or tablet.

There are dual SD memory card slots for flexibility in how files are saved and larger capacity for all-day shooting sessions but getting cards in and out is just as tricky as with my other Olympus cameras. Multi-slot options include Standard, Auto Switch, Dual Independent, Dual Same. When two cards are inserted, the card to be saved on to or to be viewed can be designated.

Is the EM-1 Mark II worth two grand? My answer is an indecisive “maybe” because I think the most important part of any camera evaluation may be “what’s the image quality like?” And I’ll get into that more next in the field test but my initial test shots look really good.

Update: No sooner had this post appeared—hey, maybe Olympus reads this blog— before Amazon announces a price drop of the black Pen F body or the silver Pen F to $918.10, a savings of $281.89. Am I gonna get one? Ooooh, it’s mighty tempting. Update 2: And no sooner did I finish the update, the price of the camera went up to $1,099, so I guess I’m never going to own a Pen F.