Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Thoughts on the new Olympus E-M1 MkII

Pre-orders are now happening at stores like B&H for the new Olympus E-M1 MkII. Some initial (Olympus initiated) user reviews are also beginning to surface, with images that give some indication of what the camera (paired with the new 12-100mm f4 IS Pro lens - more on that later) is capable of. This is not one of those reviews. Unfortunately, despite me best efforts, Olympus doesn't send me any gear to test. So I haven't had my hot little hands on a pre-production model, and can't give any genuine feedback on how it handles, what the low ISO is like, and how damn fast the autofocus system is on this thing. So what's this post for exactly?

E-M1 MkII from the front. Yummy!
Well, like many Olympus users, I've been waiting with a great deal of excitement for the release of the E-M1 MkII. The original E-M1 is a great camera, and has been a worthy flagship model for the past three years. But I have the E-M5 MkII, which in many ways is a 'better' camera than the E-M1 - so I've been eagerly awaiting the E-M1 MkII to tempt me to upgrade. And on paper, the E-M1 MkII is certainly the temptation we all hoped it would be. 15fps burst shooting at full RAW, 20MP sensor, fully articulated rear LCD screen, dual card slots, dual image processors, 4k video, and incredible dual AF 121 point (all cross type) on-chip contrast and phase detection focusing that might very well be a sports shooters dream - and the DSLR killer many thought it could be.

But then we get to the elephant in the room - and the 'other' specification on paper that it shares with a top range DSLR - the price!

The fully articulated rear LCD screen a-la the E-M5 MkII. Great to see!
Along with many other people eagerly awaiting this camera's release, my enthusiasm was severely dented when the expected price was announced - $1,999US body only ($2700NZ). In the UK it's even worse - initially expected to sell for around £1850 ($3000NZ). If you include the new 12-100mm f4 IS Pro lens, it brings the total up to an eye-watering $4000NZ. And for many, many enthusiast photographers (me included), that's simply too expensive. For the body-only it's over $1000NZ more than the original E-M1 is selling for at the moment ($1600 vs $2700). Is it really a full $1000NZ better camera? $500NZ I could argue for - maybe. But $1000NZ more! C'mon Olympus - seriously?

I know there will be a few with deeper pockets than I that will simply have to have it - and so for them the money won't really be a problem. All power to them. Wish that was me - I really do. But for a very large percentage, Olympus's pricing of the E-M1 MkII has lead to a lot of head scratching, and disappointment. Even the initial chatter from Olympus-sponsored shooters and elite camera reviewers has expressed concern over the pricing for this camera.

New HLD-9 grip will add even more to the price!
Sure, the price will come down after the initial RRP has been set - but probably not by much - and certainly not by $1000NZ. Can Olympus really justify full-frame DLSR prices (it's more expensive than a Canon 6D), even with their flagship camera?

Some on the forums have suggested that Olympus are obviously drawing a very specific line in the sand with this camera. They are going after the professional shooters who would otherwise spend twice as much again on a 1Dx (etc), while making the 'enthusiast' line of E-M5's and E-M10's for us mere mortals. And this may be true - especially when you look at two of the three new lenses they released at the same time. The 'Pro' designated 12-100mm f4 and 25mm f1.2. They ain't called 'Pro' for nothing.... and also come with the price to match the quality. I suppose that for a 'Pro', quality means expensive. They expect to pay four times more for anything your average Joe would pay for their gear -as long as it also comes with pro-level build quality and IQ.

The new 12-100mm f4 IS 'Pro' lens
And while we're on the subject of lenses... I've got some concerns over the new 12-100mm f4 IS Pro - namely that f4 constant aperture. Don't get me wrong, it looks like a nice lens - both in terms of build and IQ (from what we can tell from the initial internet reviews). But when we talk about micro four thirds sensors, it's 'generally' accepted that the shallow depth of field capabilities of the lens/sensor combination is doubled when compared to traditional 35mm film cameras or full-frame digital. So a constant f4 aperture sounds great - and is 'ok' for full-frame, but actually corresponds to an f8 constant aperture on a micro four thirds system. Not really sounding so flash now, is it? I don't know of any DLSR shooter who would pay $1300US for a 24-200mm f8 lens, even with great build quality. I guess Olympus wanted to give the new E-M1 MkII users a solid walk-around 'kit' lens - but isn't that really what the popular 12-40mm f2.8 is for?

Zuiko 25mm f1.2 Pro lens - 'Excellent'
To me, the also new 25mm f1.2 Pro lens makes much more sense for the E-M1 user. For a prime it's big, and it's heavy - but it's also f1.2! Now we're talking. The lens will have bokeh to die for, and while I understand it's not always about beautiful bokeh, it's nice to be able to achieve it when you want/need to.

Personally, I'd give the 12-100mm f4 a miss, in favour of the 12-40mm f2.8 and 40-150mm f2.8 Pro - or alternatively make up a four kit system with even faster primes (like the 17mm f1.8, 25mm f1.8, 45mm f1.8 and 75mm f1.8) .

Zuiko 30mm f3.5 Macro - really?
And then we come to the third new lens release, which, not surprisingly, has been somewhat overshadowed by the other big announcements. The Zuiko 30mm f3.5 Macro wasn't a surprise exactly - there had been several forum discussions around on its imminent release. But generally, the ultimate conclusion was 'why'? Did we really need a 30mm f3.5 Macro? Had you ever looked inside your camera bag and thought - 'you know, what I really need about now is a 30mm f3.5 Macro lens'? No, thought not. Me neither.

What would I have rather seen Olympus release instead? Well, since their 'affordable' primes top out at 75mm, I would like to see a 100mm f2.8 prime in their consumer line, or maybe even a 150mm f2.8 (or f4 if they must)? A more consumer based prime in the telephoto end would be great. After all, it's not just 'Pros' who enjoy shooting sports and wildlife - so a 'faster' prime alternative to the 75-300mm f4.8/6.7 would be great.

One final thought (promise).... why couldn't they just have called it the E-M2? I appreciate they've got this whole MkII thing going across the whole range of cameras - but seriously! The E-M2 is a whole lot easier to type than the E-M1 MkII. You just know it's going to get shortened to the E-M1-2 anyway. How confusing is that!? Just saying....


  1. Some very valid points there as always, but i am the bearer of bad news.. RRP in NZ has been announced at $3199 body only....

  2. Hi Hayden, Yes - I was prepared for that, given the price coming out of the UK. Was always looking like a $3200NZ body. Oh well - I guess I'll own one in ten years time when they are finally affordable on the used market ;-)

  3. Check out yhe GX8 its the bargain of the century in thr m43 world at the mo.Latest sensor and yes it is much better if u pudh your photography hard,brilliant fast focus and weather sealed whats not to like at a killer price


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