We live in great times to be independent filmmakers, don’t we? Picking up the right affordable tool for the job has never been so easy. Just look around and see the amount of cameras that we can choose from these days, and this is even before the great Panasonic GH5 takes the market by storm in a few months… at least on paper. While established companies like Canon, Panasonic, Sony and Nikon all have an assortment of photo cameras that can shoot video, newcomers like FUJIFILM and Olympus are now joining the race with quality alternatives.
If you’ve ever asked yourself, “What has happened? Why are these companies suddenly so eager to produce photo cameras that can shoot hight-quality video?”, the answer can be found in the changing Japanese market. It is only now that local photographers are requesting their beloved companies to implement that feature. If you’ve asked yourself “Why do so many new cameras only seem to come out half-baked in terms of features (for example in the absence of internal Log)?”, then the answer is simple: those professional photographers have no need for it, or even necessarily have an idea what is a Log curve for video. This is one reason why such requests never make it to the companies.
This is exactly what seems to be the case with the new Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II – a 4K-capable camera with a micro 4/3 sensor that has a lot of potential, but that lacks that important true Log curve feature. Here is the official answer I got when I raised the question to Olympus:
The reason for not having a log mode is that the E-M1 Mark II is concentrating on still images. Movie mode is an add-on in case a photographer would like to make a movie as well. However there is no technical reason not to make a log mode as well when we have demand from the market”
But first things first: for me, this is the time to confess that I’m a complete newbie when it comes to Olympus cameras. The reason is simple: up until now, I felt that there was no real reason to test the video capabilities of any of their cameras. True, Olympus always shined when it came to body/lens stabilization, but that feature alone was not enough to get me excited as the video quality coming out of those cameras was simply not good enough… until now. So please hang on and join me, the newbie, while I try to get the best I can out of this camera…
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Review
Olympus Japan was kind enough to supply me the camera and an Olympus ED 12-40mm f/2.8 lens for a short test, while Olympus Europe supported us with a camera and the very impressive Olympus ED 12-100mm f/4 IS for our lab test.
I asked the lovely Mira . if I could join her on one of her journeys, and follow her while filming a short episode for her very popular channel of over 247,000 subscribers. Mira is a young Canadian YouTube blogger who lives near Tokyo, documenting and sharing her life and experiences as a “gaijin” (foreigner), in Japan.
The night before, I made sure to do my homework and study the camera menus and learn about its capabilities. On the surface, it looked rather simple. Head to the Video Menu and set the camera to your desired basic settings mode. Settings like resolution, frame rate, method of stabilisation, “flat” picture profile or not… Here’s where you find all of that.
In order to dive deeper into the menu, press the camera’s Info button. You will be able to adjust Highlights and Shadow, or the general Picture Mode. (Some picture mode adjustments are not available in “Flat Mode”).
Ready and eager to test the camera, I decided that even the dark(ish) green(ish) EVF which looked completely different to my LCD screen wouldn’t delay me from getting started.
I met Mira the next day and anxiously took my test camera out of the bag, ready to shoot. A few minutes and shutter-pressing attempts later and the camera started recording. Call me mad, but it seemed that the camera wouldn’t start recording when looking at the EVF, but only when moving it away from my eye. Take one, and Mira is out of focus. I was counting on being on Autofocus Mode, as I wanted to jump straight into testing the camera’s famous stabilization system…
Another look at the menus and then at Mira… and still no autofocus. It had vanished, completely gone from my menu system. Those of you familiar with the Olympus camera and lens system can start pointing fingers now and call me a “newbie”. For the rest, I owe an explanation. The Olympus ED 12-40mm f/2.8 I used has a small clutch for changing between manual and autofocus, just as like on the Sony 28-135mm. Obviously the clutch must have moved while travelling to the location, preventing me from changing the focus position back to “auto”. Not being aware of this, I made what Olympus describes as “a common mistake among new users”…
Needless to say, I found myself a bit restricted when following Mira and had to be extra cautious not to lose focus. However, I did get the chance to test the truly impressive capabilities of the stabilisation system, and this WITHOUT the best available lens combination one can get, as the Olympus ED 12-40mm f/2.8 is not a stabilised lens.
We literally only had 2 hours to shoot before sunset and, besides the REC button playing tricks on me, the camera preformed well. Watching the material back at my editing suite, I made the following list:
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II – Our Findings
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II pros (in no particular order):
- World camera with a variety of resolutions and frame rates up to 60fps.
- Nice clean video quality with a data rate of up to 237 Mbps in DCI 4K 24p, (In the above video, the average data rate is 86 Mbit/s (measured with inspector).
- Outstanding built-in 5-axis Image Stabilization system. When combined with an Olympus IS lens, the level of stabilisation gets even higher.
- Clean HDMI output.
- Rolling shutter is well controlled. In our lab test it scored 10ms(!), performing better than the Blackmagic Ursa Mini, Sony FS7 (14ms) and Sony a7SII (25ms).
- Camera body features mic and headphone jacks.
- Controlling audio levels while recording is possible.
- Good touch screen autofocus (although autofocus performance in continues mode is not consistent).
- Proper manual focus assist, namely peaking and focus magnifying while turning the focus ring.
- Flipped LCD screen.
- “Picture mode” settings are adjustable. Unwanted profiles can be ticked off from the menu all together.
- Good built-in audio quality.
- Good low-light quality up to ISO 3200. ISO 6400 is usable, but please take into account that the overall noise levels in dark areas is more noticeable.
- Histogram settings – possible.
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II cons (in no particular order):
- Flat Mode, is not really “flat”.
- No 25p in DCI 4K mode.
- Very high contrast even in flat mode. You need to dig into the picture menu in order to make it “flatter”…
- LCD and EVF show very different pictures in terms of look. The EVF has the tendency to be saturated and greener.
- Eyepiece is stiff and non-removable. It makes it hard to work outdoors.
- At times, moiré is evident on fine patterns.
- Digital Convertor – Olympus’s version of digitally magnifying the picture while shooting video – falls short against Sony’s Clear Image Zoom technology.
- When changing between the 2 available stabilisation modes (M-IS 1/2), expect a significant crop factor in M-IS 1 and a decrease in video quality, as the body stabilisation works together with digital stabilisation.
- At times, the camera will freeze and become unresponsive. Something to monitor in the near future.
- No aspect markers (options from 4:3 to 2.35:1 would be valuable).
- If you are a fan of using “auto white balance”, take in account that the changes in color temperature are sudden and not graduated.
- Average battery life.
The OM-D E-M1 Mark II is a very big step forward for Olympus when it comes to video picture quality! In fact, it is one of the best video-capable photo cameras that I have recently tested. The higher video data rate along with the excellent stabilisation system makes it a valid option as an A-camera working tool. On the other hand, Olympus (like many of the other Japanese camera manufacturers) is very clear about the positioning of that camera. Here is an extract from our mail exchange with them:
It is a stills camera with movie capabilities and not the other way around. Therefore we expect that the user is not that experienced and we would like to support them to get a nice looking movie as much as possible. In case the market is requesting a log mode, we are open to change this in future firmware updates
You will have to agree with me that, in a way, this is a missed opportunity. But since it doesn’t look like it was made intentionally in order to cripple the product, there is still the possibility of change via firmware update and get much more from this wonderful device.
The competition is tough and will probably get even tougher the minute Panasonic announces their final GH5 specifications. As the OM-D E-M1 Mark II will be Olympus’s flagship camera for the next 2-3 years, I do hope that the engineers will consider to “go wild”, and be restricted only by camera hardware when implementing newer functionality and usability with future firmware updates.
A “flat” version of the above video can be looked at/downloaded here:
Camera settings for the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Review video: DCI 4K, 24p Edited on Adobe Premiere. Slightly color corrected in Premiere. Audio was slightly treated with audacity.
Not tested: HD video quality, and long shooting periods to determine if the camera overheats.
Thank you Mira for helping in executing this video.
Would you like to see Olympus add a Log curve as a picture profile? If you are a European user, would you like to see DCI 4K at 25p? Let us know in the below comment section!