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Thoughts on the Olympus E-M1 II after one month

Some six years ago I wrote a post titled “I have seen the future and it has no mirror”. I postulated that flappy mirror cameras of the type sold by Canon and Nikon would be replaced by by cameras without mirrors inside them.

Of course I was wrong, or if you were being kind (but why would you be) you could say I was partially correct. What has happened over the years since 2010 is that mirrorless cameras have indeed flourished, from companies such as Fuji, Olympus, Panasonic and Sony; with a corresponding decline in sales of those flappy mirror Canikons; but both have been overshadowed by a massive decline in the camera market as more and more people are finding their photographic needs are met with phones. The horror. If it goes on like this there will not be much of a camera industry to talk about any more. But just in case there is, I have another prediction: I have seen the future and it has no shutter.

In the past, cameras had two major components that you could classify under “moving parts”: the mirror and the shutter. We have done away with the mirror for many cameras, but the shutter remains; a clunky piece of machinery that exposes the sensor to the light and then closes again. Shutters have an expected actuation life, after which they may need replacing; they slap against the camera and can cause shake and fuzzy images, and they are a significant part of the manufacturing complexity (and therefore cost). If only we could get rid of them.

The alternative is something which is called an electronic shutter which is not actually a shutter at all. Instead the sensor is exposed to the light at all times, but only turned on for a capture when the shutter is pressed, at which point the image is read off the sensor, line by line. Sounds great, no noise, no shutter slap and a process that is much quicker than a mechanical shutter and therefore will allow more frames per second and higher shutter speeds. It’s the future. (Actually the real future is the global shutter which takes the image off the sensor in one step rather than line by line, but it’s the same basic principle).

But early iterations of the electronic shutter were disappointing. If the subject or the camera was moving while the sensor was being read, then weird, jello effect images could be produced. This was known as rolling shutter and it was the devil’s spawn; or at least not very welcome. So electronic shutter was something to use in desperation rather than a matter of course. But now there is the E-M1 II…

Electronic Shutter
Let’s cut to the chase and declare that the electronic shutter in the new E-M1 is magnificent, so much so that I have stopped using mechanical shutter altogether except in specific circumstances (when using flash or when artifical lighting might create effects).

It’s essentially silent (you can hear something is going on, but your subjects will hear nothing); and it is stupidly quick. Up to 18 frames per second with exposure and focus adjustment for every frame; or up to 60 frames per second with focus/exposure on only the first frame. The 18 fps (I am sick of writing frames a second) makes it the fastest sports capable camera on the market (I think), provided of course it captures enough of those frames in focus; which it does.

I bloody hate people who say “game changer”, but this is a game changer. I am now shooting by default at 18 fps. This means that a single shutter press and release will give me about five images, and so many times I find that those extra shots have given me a more interesting moment, or something as simple as avoiding having to use a shot which has someone blinking. It’s quiet, effective, and one day all cameras will have an electronic shutter as a default. I rest my case.

So there you are, reason enough to buy the new E-M1. You want more?

Focus
Instant, both with single and continuous focus. Acquisition is immediate and continuous focus I would reckon is about 90% there in returning sharp images with only the occasional hiccup (my experiences being with windsurfing, SUP, and polo, your experience may differ). I have had less success with continuous focus + tracking, the little green box indicates that it is tracking correctly, but the results are not consistent. Firmware update please. You can read more on my focus experiences here.

EM124333s

EM120357

High Speed capture
You can walk around all day firing off at 18 frames a second, but sometimes you need more. For instance when you want to smash things with a hammer and record the moment, to amaze your friends and bore people at parties. That’s when 60fps comes in useful:

EM122080


Pro Capture

High frame rates are all very well, but what if my wife has decided to pop a balloon with a pin (with absolutely no prompting from me)? If you press the shutter when you see her attacking the balloon, you will miss the moment. But Pro Capture (stupid name for a great feature) has the camera continually collecting 14 images when you half press the shutter, and then saves the most recent 14 when you actually press the shutter plus the ones that follow. And so:

EM122250

Can also be used to capture insects taking off:
EM125511-2

Hi-res
But Spike, this camera only has 20 megapixels, that’s not enough for my job of sticking shit photos on Instagram shooting glamour models for billboard display. Fear not young troll. The E-M1 II has a Hi-Res mode which will knock out 80 megapixel images faster than you can say “that’s not a glamour model, that’s your dubious sister”. More on this here.

Focus bracketing
Among the many bracketing options, focus bracketing allows you to take up to 999 images, each focused in a slightly different places. Blend them together to create more depth of field than is possible with a single shot. You can fiddle around with a special focusing rail with other cameras, but the E-M1 does it for you in camera. It will even produce a blended image for you if you ask it nicely.

shell11
(Taken with E-M1 Mark 1 which had the same feature).


Image stabilisation

Olympus image stabilisation has always led the way, and the new E-M1 takes it to new levels, up to 5.5 stops are claimed. This would impress the hell out of me if I knew what that meant. I just know I can shoot at low shutter speeds without fear of my caffeine infused ancient shaking hands screwing up the image. Combine it with the stabilisation of the 12-100mm lens and people are hand holding shots at 5 seconds or more; nuts.

Live time and composite mode
Clever shit that let’s you watch a long exposure image being created and can handle changing light against a dark background. Think fireworks.

Battery Life
My record is 2,000+ images with some battery life remaining. I have bought a spare, not sure when I will use it.

Twin SD cards
One slot for very fast cards and one for fast cards. Very useful for me as I have a tendency to go out for a shoot while leaving the card full of shots from yesterday still attached to my computer….

Waterproof
Allegedly; although my personal wetting of the camera has been restricted to a spatter of drool when I first took it out of the box.

Image quality
Better than before, with less base noise and more pixels to play with. But Spike, it can’t match the IQ of a full frame camera. True you pixel-peeping idiot; but how many of the features detailed above has your boring box got? Thought so.

Other stuff I haven’t mentioned.
This heading included so you can’t moan in the comments that I left something out.

All of these features in a camera which is a joy to handle. A plethora of buttons and dials to customise as you wish, with an improved grip and more depth so it sits in the hand even better than before. Once you have set it up you have no need of the admittedly complex menus, with the “Super Control Panel” only a button press away should you wish to change anything. It’s a little bundle of fun to use.

DSC04146

Finally, and something those who are fond of cross brand camera comparisons tend to ignore, there are the lenses.

There is so much tasty glass to choose from, my choices are:
60mm Macro – Extra wonderful when used with focus bracketing.
75mm F1.8 – Second best lens I have ever owned
40-150mm F2.8 Pro – Sports and near macro.
12-100mm F4 – Come walk with me
42.5 F1.2 Nocticron – Best lens I have ever owned.

Great lenses, a powerhouse of a body; for me there is no better combination (your experience may differ). Six years on from my first M43 camera, the GF1; I finally have a system I am completely happy with.

Although I am not sure I like the new fold out screen; when is the Mark 3 released…..?

This Post Has 24 Comments
  1. Er.. You do know that almost all DSLRs have rolling shutters, not just those with electronic shutters. CMOS sensors quite universally use rolling shutters. So that’s not something “the big box cameras” have that much better. If there’s something better in a physical shutter, it’s not this.

    1. Er. DSLRs have electronic first curtain shutter in Live View, but this is used in conjunction with a mechanical shutter.

      Which is why the top of the range Canon, the 1DX can only manage 14 fps (JPEG, not RAW) and its highest shutter speed is 1/8000th of a second, whereas the E-M1 II can do 18fps (RAW) and has a highest shutter speed of 1/32000 of a second.

      1. Yes, I know. But that mechanical shutter is still a rolling shutter. I’m trying to say that the mechanical shutter isn’t any better than an electronic one, at least if that is considered.

        1. It’s true that a most mechanical shutters roll down for high shutter speed shots. The flash sync speed is the fastest shutter speed with the sensor fully exposed.

          However, even 1/250 is fast enough that “rolling shutter,” the slanted effect noticed as an object moves rapidly through the frame, is not noticed.

  2. Haha, “boring box”, nice 🙂
    Refreshing review, really! How much is there to say if something really clicks with you.
    I waited and waited for something to fall in love with to replace my Panasonic G5, it’s this, I think I’ll go buy it tomorrow. Been some time since I was that excited about a Camera 🙂

  3. I’ve spent a few hours reading and enjoying your blogs.
    Thank you for the entertaining and the information you’re providing.
    I have one question, though:
    Are all the photos shown here on your blog(s) directly out of the camera or did you do PP sharpening (or in-camera sharpening)?
    I’m very impressed with the crispness of your shots, but I’d like to confirm the above before I buy a Mark ll and find my shots aren’t as sharp as I expected without PP.

    1. I always shoot RAW. In most cases I can export JPEGs directly from Lightroom with no additional sharpening.

      This one, for example, I shot yesterday: https://flic.kr/p/StnXJc

      It has been cropped, but no extra sharpening applied.

      Of course the level of sharpness is more down to the lenses than the body, although IS definitely helps.

      It’s a magic camera, blows me away every time I use it.

    1. Forgot to add:
      I have an E5, 2 EM-1’s, an adapter that allows all my E5 lenses to fit the m4/3 mount, an m.12-40mm pro, m.60mm macro, and an m.40–150mm pro in transit from Adorama – in addition to a myriad of other lenses.
      It looks like the Mkll is the only piece of the puzzle missing!

      1. Your blog was the trigger. I bought the Mark II and so far, love it. With the 40-150 pro lens set at 150mm I was amazed at how sharp my 1st test shots were – hand-held. I could read license plates on moving cars 400+ ft. away – and they were still sharp!

        However, I think it’s going to take the rest of my life to learn all it has has to offer.

  4. Wonderful review. I used M43 for about four years, then ‘jumped ship’ to A7R2 but decided to keep one toe in the water by holding on to my EM1 and EM10 and two primes (75 and 20). Guess what makes it into my minimalist travel sling bag? The A7R2 with 85 Batis and the EM10 with Lumix 20. Your article tempts me to go ‘back’ to M43 100% but a) I know i’m fickle, that’s my personality, so I’ll just regret it, and b) full frame has a few advantages, one of which is better low light performance and another of which is subjectively better dynamic range. And yes, “cropability”. But the fact remains, I absolutely never travel without my EM10/Lumix 20 combination. Thanks for a friendly read.

  5. I love my new EM1.2. Now if I could just learn how to use many of these great new features having come from years of GH1 and GH3 use…

  6. Just bought the EM1.2. Love it. Your review is brilliantly witty. Great fun. I love reading this review almost as much as shooting pics with this Queen!

  7. I too love my camera. Pretty amazing. Have not been able to pick up my GH4. I have some of the same lenses and I have to say I am so impressed with Olympus glass. I agree on the 42.5 and the 75. I use the 40-150 more than I thought I would as I never used the Lumix 35-100 that much.

    Just shot NHL hockey with the 40-150 and ProCapture. Amazing. It is like watch on second of video and choosing the best frame at full resolution. This IS the best electronic shutter on a still camera.

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