Would You Buy the Olympus EM5 MK II

Olympus EM5 MK I. How long would a long exposure such as this (6 seconds) take on the new MK II? I estimate around 100" in the 40MP mode.
Olympus EM5 MK I. How long would a long exposure such as this (6 seconds) take on the new MK II? I estimate around 100″ in the 40MP mode.

Since Olympus announced the EM5 MK II I seem to have been asked repeatedly will I be buying the new camera. My answer is “not yet” and “probably not” (although I reserve the right to change my mind).

The spec for the EM5 MK II is very enticing. There is the 40MP RAW image size which looks ideal for Landscapes and indeed this is why a lot of people think I might buy one. My response to this is quite easy as the recent experience with the Nikon D800 reminded me that the additional pixels don’t matter all that much unless you are making a huge print (something I don’t do very often).

The  thing that I don’t really like about the 40MP image size is that it requires the sensor to move around very quickly. Apparently this can take a couple of seconds to take the required number of images to stitch into the finished RAW file. If there is movement in the scene it can lead to image quality issues. I would like to see this in operation before I embrace it. It also worries me that the sensor moving around could be prone to mechanical failure and even possible vibration which could also impact image quality. In any case, if I want to create a large print I can always use enlargement software (more on this in a later blog post)

The other improvements to the camera aren’t really that attention grabbing. Sure there is the improved sensor and image processing that might clean up the camera noise by a stop or two, but the EM5 was always great on image noise anyway. In fact the only thing that I think is a huge advance is the articulated rear screen which will move in any direction. That is the only feature that genuinely tempts me to move to the EM5 MK II but that doesn’t really justify the expenditure.

Now if anyone out there who reads this has the new MK II and previously owned an EM5, I would be very interested to learn if you think the new camera is a big step up and why.

29 thoughts on “Would You Buy the Olympus EM5 MK II

  1. Hi Robin. I got my new E-M5 MkII yesterday. The new viewfinder is a big improvement over the original and was the main reason why I waited for the Mark II before upgrading from my GH2 to an OM-D. Your original E-M5 already has a moving sensor that is used for image stabilisation. The 40MP high res shot mode in the Mk II uses exactly the same technology, so I don’t have concerns about mechanical reliability. Unfortunately there is currently no Lightroom RAW support for the MkII ORF files, so I am stuck with shooting JPEGs for now, but it is already evident to me that the high res mode captures a lot more detail. You are right of course that this introduces problems with moving subjects, so it will have to be used with care. The articulated screen is also a great benefit when shooting from a tripod. Whether the upgrade is worth it to you really depends whether you feel the need for a better EVF and think you might make use of the 40MP mode.

    1. Hi Ed,

      You do make a good point about the image movement but I still can’t convince myself that the precisio movement that will be required doesn’t have some flaws. Despite this, I don’t really need 40Mpixels. If the camera is sound then I will probably upgrade in due course but at present, very little is pulling me away from the MK I. Having said that I am really looking forward to taking a closer look at your MK II next time we meet up. Oh yes, and please do send me some RAW files (especially the 40MP ones) when you have had chance to get to grips with the camera.

  2. I’ve moved to OLY MFT a from Fuji in order to ‘downsize’ a bit so I pulled the trigger on the EM5ii but the so-called high resolution imaging was not the deal maker. I have tried it and I’m hard pushed to see any improvement on IQ to be honest and have it down as no more than a gimmick and certainly no reason for existing EM5 owners to ‘upgrade.’

    Lively camera though.

  3. Here’s an interesting hands-on review by Tony of the camera vs. D810. The conclusion was that landscape photographers would probably not like it due, though product and real estate photogs might. Here is the review:

  4. Thanks for sharing your article. Given that we haven’t seen issues of image quality degradation arising from image stabilization, and given that the high-resolution mode uses the same sensor-positioning technology as IBIS, I don’t anticipate the kind of vibration issues you mention.

    I do share your observation, though, that the added resolution of 36 or 40MP files really isn’t necessary for making prints up to, say, A2 or maybe even A1 size. I’ve successfully made very detailed A2 landscape prints that look great at normal viewing distances from 10 (LX7) and 11MP (1Ds) RAW files and feel that Micro Four Thirds’ 16MP images made with good glass boast image quality comparable to my previous Canon 1Ds Mark II and are entirely sufficient for these print sizes. In doing this work, I’ve found that good shooting technique and careful three-stage sharpening make a much bigger contribution to final print quality than more pixels.

    That said, I’ll take the extra pixels if I can get ’em from my current cameras. Oly’s use of pixel shifting leads me to wonder whether HDR software such as Nik HDR Efex Pro, which very effectively aligns multiple exposures, could similarly achieve an increase in resolution by offsetting the images in an exposure bracket by half a pixel. I don’t see any reason why this technique has to be done in-camera.

    1. Having printed A2 images from the EM5 and D800 side by side it is very difficult to pick one over the othere. Despite this I have found an enlarged EM5 image (using a good lens of course) seems to edge it. I suspect its because the very fine image noise starts to become noticeable and is perceived by the brain as detail.

      Now the point you make about belnding images is spot on. Take a look at PhotoAcute http://www.photoacute.com/. It might be a revelation if you haven’t seen this before.

      1. I have used PhotoAcute extensively with multi shots (8 RAW on a very sturdy tripod) from my old Olympus E-510/520 10Mpx cameras, and while the “super resolution” mode reduces noise and improves detail, it causes irregular pattern and aliasing artifacts that I find unacceptable (when examined at actual size). This defect with Oly images is also documented in the forum on the software company’s website. Therefore, I typically only use the noise reduction mode which maintains the same pixel area as the sensor. I don’t know whether the artifacts happen with the new OMD models, but judging from the High Res samples I’ve seen online, I would not expect PhotoAcute’s super resolution mode to produce the same quality as the High Res capture mode of the EM5-II. (Movement in the scene causes other issues, and there’s an option in PhotoAcute to eliminate spurious moving objects/people from some frames.)

        Note that in High Res captures, the artifacts produced by movement can be easily fixed by patching in detail from out-takes upsized to match. In Photoshop you could simply overlay the upsized out-take as a layer, apply a mask and fill with black, then selectively erase the mask in the local areas where there are movement artifacts. I doubt if the lower res patches will be noticeable if they are relatively small. Therefore, I think the conclusion that this technique is not suitable for landscape photography, is quite erroneous.

      2. Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I know the pattern that you refer to when using the Hi-Res mode. Yes it does happen with the Olympus and Panasonic and Canon 5D MKII. It doesn’t seem as obvious with the Sony though. What I would say is that this isn’t obvious once the image is printed, unless you are going to be making an enormous print. In terms of the hi-res mode for the EM5 MKII I am going to reserve judgement until I can try one out. At the end the day it’s personal experience that lets you know if you are happy or not.

      3. My moniker encapsulates my biggest gripe with the photography business. I am “squeezed” at both ends: by lowball competition and by the pressure to upgrade equipment. The cost of purchasing this new Olympus EM5-II camera that I think can do a decent job with architectural photography (my specialty) is much higher than just the camera itself. I already own legacy Olympus 4:3 cameras and lenses, but I am no longer competitive using the old camera bodies. I am miffed that my 9-yr-old computer system is incompatible with any of the available programs for processing the EM5-II’s High Res RAW files (including the upcoming Viewer 3 update), nor will it work for tethering. Also, the HDR function does not work with High Res capture. That will necessitate very time-consuming post processing of the 40Mpx images with HDR software, and it will require an updated computer with updated software and maxed-out memory which I can’t afford to buy now. I am extremely disappointed that Olympus continues to refuse to build a 17mm-equivalent Shift Lens, which they are fully capable of doing. I have even considered going back to shooting 4×5 film, which would guarantee quality results, but I know that would not be a wise business decision. As much as I love the Four-Thirds format, it looks like I may have to move to a Sony A7r plus one or two expensive UWA lenses. As a long-time loyal Olympus user, while I think the company has done a marvelous job of innovating, I feel they have let me down.

      4. I think I understand where you are coming from. There are thngs that I miss about my past cameras that have been pushed aside by technology, not necessarily for the better. I have yet to see an affordable panoramic camera that will rival my XPan but I can’t get parts. The scanner I use is 12 years old and seems to struggle with some Windows 8.1 PC’s, yet it can out perform any of the modern 35mm scanners. I also miss the eye detection focus control of my EOS3. I only had to look at a point in the frame when I pressed the focus button and that would become the point of focus. Having said all these things, I still love the performance of todays digital cameras and I can do so much more with them than film even though they will be shortly obsolete.

        On the subject of the Sony A7r, I’m sure it will perform great. The only thing that has put me off such a camera is the poor lens range. Yes you can use an adapter but then you are back into trying to make things work that weren’t really designed to work together. It could get almost as frustrating as the obselscence problem.

  5. Recently, you have discussed the value of a camera that feels intuitive and fits your style of shooting. This was primarily in relation to the Sony RX10. The main gripes for me regarding the EM5 II are related to its design. The so called advantage of the “fully articulated screen” is not a great improvement. It may be ok for video but it is awkward on a tripod where it should be in line with the lens. Also, Olympus decided to remove the adapter connection which makes it unable to utilize the VF4 or any other attachment that Olympus offers via this connector. For me, having a camera on a tripod requires the ability to be able to view looking down which becomes even more necessary as the camera is lowered to ground level. This is a classic scenario for landscape photographers. I always use the VF4 on my EM5 when using a tripod as trying this with the eye level is awkward and less precise. For a camera that was designed to operate on a tripod, i.e. multiple high res shot, it seems that Olympus has disabled the camera and tried to design one for video shooters instead. If I wanted a camera with that design I would choose a Lumix GH model. Also, the artifacts caused by movement would preclude me from using the high res mode for landscapes. Although this could be a very satisfactory mode for studio shooters. A much better designed camera for a tripod is the Lumix GX7.

    1. Good point John. I don’t like the EM5 MKI as much as the RX10 for usability although it is improved when the grip is attached. I may feel the same about the MK II. But for me the articulated screen would make a big difference. I guess it’s down to peoples shooting styles. I find myself not using a tripod very much these days.

      1. Then, to answer the question at hand, would you update, it seems the only reason would be the articulated screen as to use the high res feature you would need to carry a tripod. This doesn’t seem to be enough of a reason to me but you indicate it is a big one to you. I’m just curious – how or why?

      2. The reason I would like the articulated screen is that I find I am using the tilt screen more and more but also like to shoot a lot in portrait orientation. I often find myself frustrated by the tilt mechanism. But its not sufficient reason to ditch a great camera that work really well for me.

    2. John, please read my comment above, re patching in detail from out-takes in local areas where movement caused artifacts in the high res capture. I don’t own the EM5-II camera yet, so I haven’t done this procedure, but I think it will solve the problem without too much work in post, and will make the camera eminently usable for landscape work. As for the articulated screen, I don’t see any problem with placing the camera low or on the ground (on a tripod w/sidearm) and turning the LCD screen to aim upward.

  6. “According to Setsuya Kataoka, future OM-D cameras will be able to create multi-shot high resolution images in such a short time that photographers will be able to use the feature handheld. Mr. Kataoka, General Manager of Olympus’s product and marketing planning division and the man behind the R&D of the OM film cameras and the E system, spoke to us recently in the Czech Republic during a European event to demonstrate the features of the new OM-D E-M5 ll. He went on to explain that he expected the R&D team to make rapid progress in the development of the High Res Shot feature and that in time Olympus will be able to create a system will take less than 1/60sec instead of the current time of about one second.”

    This is the main reason you don’t have to buy the Mk2 that soon. Just wait a little and your wish will be fulfilled. At least, according to Dpreview

    1. That’s really interesting. If they can get the response down to 1/60 second and deal with the blending of moving objects it will be a game changer. In the interim I’m off to pick up a second EM5 body for an infrared conversion.

  7. Hey Robin, I pulled the trigger on mark II. So far I think that the build quality is a bit better than of the mark I, the viewfinder and rotating LCD are a big plus. High res mode has it’s problems, but I would use it normally during landscape shooting. The video shows a situation when a fast shutter speed is used during HR shot, and there is movement in the tree branches. But this as I experienced the worst case scenario, if the shutter speed is slowed down the movement artifacts are much less pronounced. And using HR shot in conjunction with ISO 1600 gives an averaged picture, with significantly less noise. Anyway it can be done with any camera, even with cellphone (http://photoncollective.com/enhance-practical-superresolution-in-adobe-photoshop). But using an in camera mode for this is very convenient.
    Other than that it’s good to have faster card writing speeds, and full HD video. The IBIS is also improved, using the 12-40 2.8 @ 12-25mm I could hand-hold to 1-1,5secs and have a hit rate of 65-70%, without any support.
    The metering system is spot on, compared to EM-5 mark1, going for ETTR is much easier. (setting exposure shift to +1 and with most scenes you are in 0.3EV accuracy, and after first blink of highlights with this setup there is 0.3 EV highlight headroom). I tried out these settings in various lighting setups, and scenes and gone through the pictures with RawDigger in conjunction of the pics from the mark1. The markII metering system is more precise in various scenes.


  8. In regard to the fully articulated screen, I can see your point that it could improve low angle portrait orientation, but I, as a landscape photographer, rarely use it in that mode. In fact, I bet I use the horizontal orientation 99% of the time so the flip down screen of the EM5 or even EPL5 is great for me. What I really can’t understand is why so many people now shoot vertical landscapes. That’s kind of an oxymoron to me as I have always thought landscapes are naturally horizontal. I concede that certain scenes seem to demand “verticalness” (if there is such a word), but I probably would shoot it horizontal and crop, if necessary, later. It seems most modern digital cameras were never really designed to be used, comfortably, in the vertical orientation as they become awkward and unwieldy, not to mention, that flash attachments hang way off to the left or right causing unnatural side shadows. This proves, for me, that most modern day cameras are actually poorly designed for ultimate comfort and ease of shooting. They have too many buttons, menus, switches, dials, and other doodads that create confusion and poor pictorial results. If only someone could design a camera like the Rolleiflex or Mamiya Twin Reflex that provided simple controls, always in the right orientation, and superb resolution, not withstanding their weight and bulk and, of course, that don’t cost as much as an automobile. It does seem that the EM5II would be a great camera for taking dog portraits at their low levels while maintaining the correct aspect ratios, but try this with a Rollei sometime and you will see how easy it is!

    1. I just posted a Landscape that demands a Portrait orientation 😉
      I do agree with your point about having too many bells, whistles and buttons on modern cameras. I want to get on with my photography rather than spend ages searching for the right function. I think this might be one of the reasons I like the RX10 so much. I have totally customised the limited button and dial set and it now feels very easy to use.

  9. Robin

    I upgraded from the mark 1 to the mark 2 purely on looks. It just looks a whole lot more ‘retro’ than the mark 1. Since then I have begun to love the new button positioning (and programming) to suit MY ideal camera desires. The articulated screen is excellent, the improved viewfinder is almost optical, focus peaking works really well and the IBIS is simply superb.

    Image quality doesn’t seem much better, other than sharper long zooms with the improved IBIS. The little additional flash is great, especially with the ability to turn it backwards and STILL operate a remote commanded flash, without adding the on-camera’s flash to the image.

    I am not really interested in the 40MP option, so that didn’t sell me the camera.

    If you’re budget-limited, stick with your mark 1. Otherwise, go get it! I love it.

    1. Thanks Pete. I think I am going to hold off at the moment. I have spent far too much on cameras and lenses recently (as well as web sites) and I need to get out with the kit more. I did pick up a second EM5 MKI and had it converted to Infrared. I’m so pleased that I did. At the moment I still can’t find a compelling reason to upgrade but thanks for adding your thoughts.

  10. It is interesting to see the problems with detail. I am no pro but have been increasingly frustrated with the sharpness of detail with my outdoor photography and have been unable to work out why until I saw your compare and contrast above. Noone seems to mention this when they rave on about the OMD. The images outside never seem to be 100% crisp sharp even when a tripod is used. I am not a good enough photographer to buy a second camera but even the iphone seems to produce sharper images!?

    1. The OMD is a great camera but the hi res mode is really only good for static subjects. In standard mode the camera is still great for landscapes. Most of the micro 43 lenses perform well at around f8 when shooting landscape. Hopefully your results will improve.

    2. If you want super sharp images, the Sigma Quattro cameras could be a good choice, although they have many limitations & shortcomings. The sharpness and detail with these cameras is almost comparable to medium format, and the price is quite low.

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