Olympus OM-D E-M1 II Preview
Introduced at Photokina 2016, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II is the long-awaited new flagship of the Micro Four Thirds system. Having attended the launch event in Cologne, we now bring you our first hands-on preview of this exciting new product. Do note that all of our remarks are based on a prototype/pre-production sample.
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 II looks a lot like its predecessor. Just like the original E-M1, it boasts a tough dust-, drip- and freeze-proof magnesium alloy body and a prominent hand-grip. The front panel is essentially unchanged (including the flash sync terminal and of course the Micro Four Thirds lens mount), and the top deck is also very similar. However, the mode dial now has dedicated positions for three custom settings banks, or Mysets in Olympus parlance. The rest of the top-mounted controls – to wit, the shutter release, rear and front control wheels, Movie and Fn2 buttons, the OM-style power switch and the Drive mode/HDR + AF/Metering buttons – are unchanged. The rear plate also features the same buttons as the E-M1 – i.e. the Info, Menu, Playback and Delete buttons, a 4-way pad with centred OK button, a function lever, an AEL/AFL button, a Display button and thumb-operated Fn1 button –, although they have been slightly rearranged. The big change here is the LCD panel, which is now side-hinged and reversible, just like on the Olympus E-5, the company's last professional Four Thirds DSLR camera. The 3-inch touchscreen has a resolution of 1037K dots. The Olympus OM-D E-M1 II now features two SD card slots (with one of them offering support for UHS-II compliant memory cards), and thus a larger memory card compartment cover. Because of this enlarged door, one of the neck strap eyelets has been moved higher, to the edge of the top panel. Moving on to the bottom of the camera, the tripod socket has been brought in line with the lens's optical axis – which is great news if you are into serious panoramic photography but not if you've been counting on being able to use your old HLD-7 portrait grip with this new camera. The Olympus OM-D E-M1 II uses an entirely new 1720mAh battery offering both an extended battery life and faster charging.
Sensor and Autofocus
Like the Olympus PEN-F, the OM-D E-M1 II comes equipped with a 20-megapixel Four Thirds sensor, which offers some resolution advantage over the 16-megapixel imager of the E-M1 Mark I. Given that the size of the sensor is (obviously) unchanged, this increase in pixel count translates into a smaller pixel pitch. With no change in sensor architecture, this could have led to a reduction in dynamic range and signal-to-noise ratio. However, Olympus are telling us that this is a completely new sensor with cutting-edge technology that enables it to actually offer a wider dynamic range and even a slight improvement in noise performance. This is something we will be eager to find out once we get our hands on a final production unit.
The OM-D E-M1 II offers a new pre-capture mode that starts recording full-resolution shots when you half-press the shutter release. Plus, in addition to shooting at the sensor's native resolution, there are two High Res Shot Modes in which the camera combines 8 exposures to produce one "supersized" image with a resolution of either 25 or 50 megapixels. As before, taking advantage of this mode requires the camera to be mounted on a tripod.
The on-sensor phase-detection system has been completely overhauled and now includes 121 cross-type AF points covering almost the entire frame. Additionally, the focusing system has received a speed boost – the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II can shoot 18 full-resolution frames per second with continuous autofocus, when using the electronic shutter. A key contributor to this performance boost is the company's TruePix VIII image processing unit, which features two quad-core chips.
Shutter and Image Stabiliser
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 II has a sturdy mechanical shutter rated for 200,000 actuations and capable of shooting up to 15 frames per second. Additionally, the camera has a Silent mode, in which it uses an electronic shutter capable of high-speed continuous shooting at up to 60fps with the focus fixed (18fps with C-AF).
The 5-axis in-body image stabiliser can now work synergistically with the in-lens stabilisation system incorporated into certain lenses - such as the new 12-100mm PRO zoom - to provide a claimed 6.5-stop advantage when shooting hand-held.
The high-resolution viewfinder of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II has a refresh rate of 120fps and a latency of just 6 milliseconds. This should enable you to engage in true decisive-moment photography and to follow your subject relatively easily in continuous shooting mode.
The E-M1's movie mode wasn't bad to begin with, but its successor can now record cine-standard 4K videos at 30fps and a bit rate of up to 237Mb/s.
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 II offers a USB 3 Type C connector, an HDMI port and on-board WiFi (but not NFC or Bluetooth connectivity).
In addition to a vast array of Micro Four Thirds lenses and a growing collection of flashguns – including the powerful new FL-900R and weatherproof STF-8 twin flash –, the Olympus E-M1 II is compatible with a new portrait grip called the HLD-9 (but not the HLD-7 as noted above), and an underwater case called the PT-EP14. Timed to coincide with the announcement of the camera, Olympus has also unveiled a new release cable and a dandy little photo backpack that meets the carry-on regulations of most airlines.
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 II will be available in December 2016.