Announcing the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II and the Tough TG-860
Olympus has just rolled out its brand new Micro Four Thirds OM-D E-M5 Mark II interchangeable lens mirrorless camera, available in Black or Silver, with a bevy of accessories, a new and improved M.ZUIKO ED 14-150mm f/4-5.6 II weatherproof lens, and a new Black, White, or Orange TG-860 rugged point and shoot.
Our friends at Olympus let us take the E-M5 Mark II out for a test drive, but before I dive into telling you about the Mark II experience, let me give you a quick rundown of the other new arrivals.
The new TG-860 point-and-shoot tough camera can dive down all the way to 50' below the waves (the TG-850 is waterproof to 33') and the redesigned TG-860 features a programmable button on its face that assists in shooting self-portraits (not sure who does that) and other functions. Also added to the TG-860 is Wi-Fi and GPS functionality for geo-tagging and quick image sharing. The camera is tough, but not everyone wants their gear to look like it just rode down a cliff strapped to the frame of a mountain bike. To further protect it, Olympus is selling the Silicone Jacket CSCH-124 to help keep it looking new.
The popular M.ZUIKO ED 14-150mm f/4-5.6 II lens is a cosmetically redesigned and weatherproofed version of the popular and versatile zoom for the Four Thirds system. It has a 35mm equivalent focal length of 28-300mm. Gone are the silver bands that were featured on the body the original version—this one is all black. Olympus has engineered a better tactile feel into both the focus and zoom rings, while making the lens ready for adverse weather conditions. The new version of the lens also features the ZUIKO Extra-Low Reflective Optical (ZERO) coating and it ships with the previously optional LH-61C lens hood as standard equipment.
The Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera was the standard bearer of the OM-D line until the arrival of the OM-D E-M1, in late 2013. The new Mark II version brings the popular EM-5 up to speed with some of the features of the Olympus flagship OM-D E-M1, as well as adding some unique features and accessories that make the Mark II stand apart from its stable mates.
I had the opportunity to spend a few days with the Mark II, and found it to be a capable and enjoyable photographic machine. Chief among the new features of the Mark II is its 5-axis VCM Image Stabilization system that gives the camera five-stop shake compensation. I put the IS system to the test, along with the weather-proof qualities of the camera and new 14-150mm lens, during last week’s non-Blizzard of 2015, in New York City. I had the camera’s ISO set to its native 200 and was shooting in less-than-favorable lighting conditions—heavily overcast skies with heavy snow falling—and had no problem getting sharp images zoomed out all the way to 150mm (300mm equivalent) and f/5.6. Even with early generations of image stabilization, getting a sharp image under these trying conditions would have been next to impossible. The Mark II, however, shook off the freezing temperatures, snow, and poor lighting to deliver high-quality images.
Another area of improvement for the new E-M5 Mark II is in video capture. When Olympus’s impressive 5-axis image stabilization first appeared on the E-M1, people were understandably excited about using it for video projects, as the stabilization is so good it rivals stabilization rigs like the Steadicam line, and it works well with just about any manual focus lens video shooters often find themselves using with mirrorless cameras. However, the E-M1 had a few quirks that made it hard to work into video production, most notably a very low-bitrate video codec, as well as a non-standard video frame rate (true 30 fps compared to 29.97 fps) that would slowly go out of sync with other cameras or external audio sources. Thankfully, the E-M5 Mark II adds a number of video-oriented features that should make utilizing the camera’s excellent stabilization a whole lot easier.
First, the E-M5 Mark II has the ability to shoot 1080p in a number of PAL and NTSC frame rates, including 23.98p, 24p, 25p, 29.97p, 30p, 50p, 59.94p, and 60p. It also is able to shoot in a range of bitrates up to 77 Mb/s, as well as a few different codecs, including Long-GOP h.264 compression for conserving space and inter-frame compression for higher quality. It also has different timecode options, including a free-run mode, as well as a headphone jack for audio monitoring. Of course, the real star of the show for video is still the 5-axis image stabilization, but the E-M5 Mark II makes it much more practical to use.
The high precision of the in-camera image stabilization system, coupled with the same TruePic VII image processor that lives in the E-M1, has given the E-M5 Mark II a high-resolution “sensor shift” shooting mode that was only previously seen in very expensive medium format digital cameras, such as the Hasselblad HD5-200c. The idea is that, when shooting from a tripod at a stationary subject or landscape, the photographer can activate this eight-shot mode, designed to produce the equivalent of a 40-megapixel image. When selected, the camera takes eight images, and the camera’s IS engine moves the Mark II’s sensor exactly 1/2 the width of a pixel for each image. At each new position, the camera then virtually achieves double resolution. The image processor then chomps on the data to produce a file similar to an image taken with a 40MP camera—a nearly 64MB RAW file—with less of a chance of artifacting and moiré than a standard image.
Important to note is that the sensor shift mode will only work on Olympus Four Thirds lenses and the aperture must be f/8 or wider. If the sensor shift mode is selected under low-light conditions, the camera can perform a maximum 64-second burst of eight eight-second images at an ISO up to 1600. And, to help process these files, Olympus will be releasing an Adobe CS RAW plug-in and updated Olympus Viewer 3 software at around the same time the camera starts shipping, later this month.
One of the pleasures of shooting with the Mark II is the high-resolution and nearly lag-free electronic viewfinder. Olympus put the same interactive EVF from the E-M1 into the Mark II. It features a 2,360k-dot-resolution screen at a magnification of 1.48x. Only the post-shot image reviews and the large amount of shooting data displayed over the image reminds you that you aren't looking through an optical viewfinder. Personally, I recommend turning off the EVF image-review option, especially if you’re taking rapid-action photos unfolding before you.
Also borrowed from the E-M1 is the 3.0" 1,037k-dot touchscreen LCD monitor. Unlike the first E-M5 that featured a tilting screen, the Mark II’s screen is fully articulated and can be swiveled around to face the front of the camera for composing those ever-important self-portraits. The LCD’s touchscreen functionality is integral to the camera’s operation, as there are numerous settings and options that are only available through the touchscreen interface and not accessible through the standard menus. The verdict is still out on this, but I, for one, miss the days where you could access everything through the camera’s menus and “standard” controls, but maybe I am old-fashioned.
EM-1 users who upgraded their firmware in September of last year have been enjoying a feature Olympus calls “digital shift.” The E-M5 Mark II has it, as well. Basically, a specialized function of the TruePic VII image processor gives any lens the ability to digitally shift to remove lens distortion when shooting architectural images. You may or may not have noticed that when you move a camera away from the horizontal position or slew it right or left from the 90-degree position in relation to a building, geometric distortion, or “keystoning” occurs. Using technology similar to that in modern post-production software that can remove distortion horizontally or vertically in an image, the Mark II allows shooters to perform these corrections prior to capture, using the front and rear command dials to adjust the image in the X or Y axis. Mark II shooters (and those with firmware-updated E-M1 cameras) can put the camera on a tripod, take aim at a building, and then dial out the distortion while looking at the image on the LCD. If you’re shooting RAW files, the camera will save an “uncorrected” RAW image along with the digital-shift JPEG image.
Are you taking photos somewhere and you don’t wish to be noticed? The E-M5 Mark II has a silent shooting mode that fires a burst of images of up to 11 frames per second, completely silently, using only the electronic shutter.
Like the E-M1, the new E-M5 Mark II comes with the unique Olympus modes that night photographers, especially light painters, love: Live Bulb, Live Time, and Live Composite.
Live Time allows the photographer to specify the time for a long-duration exposure, while Live Bulb lets the photographer open the shutter and see the image develop, in real time on the LCD screen. If you are taking a night photo, select the Live Bulb function, release the shutter, and let the fun begin. It is kind of the digital equivalent of watching an old Polaroid image appear slowly after it was ejected from the camera. Once your night photograph has the proper level of exposure and detail, you click the shutter closed and you are all done. There is no need for high-ISO test shots or exposure guessing.
Live Composite takes multiple images and combines them by, um, magically exposing bright areas of a changing image and combining them into a single shot. For example, when photographing a fireworks display, if you leave your shutter open for multiple explosions, you will inevitably overexpose the image. Live Composite takes several exposures of the bursts and then combines them into one non-overexposed image. Yep, magic.
I can tell you that, at night photography workshops, no matter what camera the participants are using, there is a bit of envy when someone breaks out an Olympus and fires up the Live Bulb function.
When compared to the E-M1, the first version of the E-M5 was definitely thin when it came to programmable buttons and control dials. The E-M5 Mark II features six programmable buttons and it also includes the E-M1’s “shift” lever that can dual-purpose the command dials with, literally, the flick of a switch.
Unique to the E-M5 Mark II is a tiny little accessory flash that helps in low-light situations. The included FL-LM3 Flash has a guide number of 9.1 (ISO 100) and has a tilting head to facilitate bouncing the light.
One of the complaints about the original E-M5 was related to the ergonomics of its thin hand grip. The new Mark II has a slightly larger handgrip, but it is nowhere as substantial as the E-M1’s grip. I believe Olympus purposely chose to keep the E-M1 and E-M5 Mark II bodies unique. To address the desires of those who want a larger grip, Olympus is rolling out two new optional hand grips for the Mark II. The External Metal Grip ECG-2 doubles as an L-bracket and incorporates an Arca-type compatible plate on both the horizontal and vertical portions. The External Grip HLD-8G has a slightly different feel, and is designed to connect to the HLD-6P battery pack. The combination of HLD-8G and HLD-6P, sold together as a kit, give the Mark II a pro-body look, additional battery power, and a vertical grip with shutter release, additional programmable controls, a headphone jack, and command dials. Like the E-M5 Mark II, it is dust- and splash proof.
Both grips gave me an improved ergonomic experience over the “naked” E-M5 and, given the option of grip or no grip, I kept heading out to take photos with the combination battery pack/grip, as I felt it didn't add too much weight or bulk to the package. I always like the way a vertical grip enhances the shooting experience. Speaking of weight and bulk, the E-M5 has neither—even in a bag with two lenses and some accessories. With a canvas Olympus bag over my shoulder, I was able to walk around New York for hours without feeling the weight of the gear—a far cry from my usual DSLR kit.
Interested in more accessories? Olympus has not forgotten about you. You can be faster on the draw with the shoe-mounted EE-1 Dot Sight. Like a riflescope holographic sight, the EE-1 is designed for quick aiming when shooting action and wildlife. Additionally, the E-M5 Mark II features better weatherproofing than the original, and for underwater use, the Olympus PT-EP13 Underwater Housing is specially built for the E-M5 Mark II.
With some great features borrowed from the flagship E-M1, coupled with its own unique highlights, the new Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II is a feature-packed and extremely capable camera. When its remarkable five-stop image stabilization is combined with the super-versatile M.ZUIKO 14-150mm f/4-5.6 lens, owners will have an extremely light and portable Micro Four Thirds system that is fun to use and can handle a wide variety of photographic and video challenges.