Olympus Cameras – Then And Now Part 2

Before I get into how the MkII performs, I’d like to note some differences between the E-M1 MkI and MkII, and what were immediately noticeable. On unboxing the camera, the first thing that was obvious was that the MkII was slightly larger than the MkI and that was mainly in the height, making it more comfortable in the hand than the MkI, which required a camera plate to make it comfortable for me to hold. The other thing that is significantly larger is the battery, to provide much greater longevity, an issue that has plagued many mirrorless cameras, though I never really had a problem with the MkI batteries (I’ve been able to take 1400+ photographs on one battery). The MkII no longer sports an accessory port on the electronic viewfinder (EVF) hump, making that part slightly trimmer but, in other respects, the overall differences are mainly cosmetic with all the dials, buttons and levers pretty much as they are on the MkI. The MkII does differ in one other physical aspect, in that it has a fold out LCD screen rather than one that just lifts up and down, a source of constant angst and debate on forums.

Olympus E-M1 MkI with 7-14mm f4 lens and E-M1 MkII with 14-35mm f2 lens

Olympus E-M1 MkI with 7-14mm f4 lens and E-M1 MkII with 14-35mm f2 lens

Let’s address the first issue that I had with the MkII. The menu system of Olympus cameras has often been derided as being overly complex and difficult to learn, but this usually comes from those that do not use the system on a constant basis such as reviewers, those that use multiple camera systems and favour one over the other, or those that change cameras more often than their socks. The latter seems to be something very prevalent in the US where you can return just about anything, simply because you changed your mind. Not so in Australia; unless a product doesn’t work or function as advertised, it’s yours; just because you’ve changed your mind doesn’t cut it. So the menu system is complex for the uninitiated and that’s because cameras like the E-M1 are so configurable; you can assign functions and settings to just about any button, dial or lever and so the menus are very deep by default. That said, the menus are generally quite logically laid out and once set, you don’t usually have to delve back in, especially because of the very elegant and powerful Super Control Panel (SCP) that’s accessible with the touch of the OK button and allows quick adjustments for what are usually the most common camera settings and, thankfully, this aspect hasn’t changed significantly.

Olympus E-M1 MkI Super Control Panel

Olympus E-M1 MkI Super Control Panel

Olympus E-M1 MkII Super Control Panel

Olympus E-M1 MkII Super Control Panel

That said, even I had some issues, as Olympus had made a number of changes to the MkII menu that had me scratching my head for a time (it took about an hour to get the splinters out from under my fingernails). Overall, the MkII menu was very similar to that of the MkI, but some things had changed and that caused me to wonder what the hell was going on with my camera when I made the settings the same as for the MkI. My main issue was that low-light auto-focus (AF) was terrible, basically unusable, where the MkI focussed in almost total darkness. Eventually I found that it was partly due to the EVF boost setting, which no longer worked like with the MkI and required a different setting as well as a new AF scanner option. Anyway, I eventually I worked out what to do and was finally happy with the setup that mimicked my MkI, but it was pretty frustrating overall and I’m still not sure why things were changed like this. Why did I want to match the MkII to the MkI? When using two cameras, you don’t want to think when changing from one to the other, everything has to work intuitively and I’ve learned to use the MkI intuitively.

Olympus E-M1 MkI Main Menu

Olympus E-M1 MkI Main Menu

Olympus E-M1 MkII Main Menu

Olympus E-M1 MkII Main Menu

Anyway, once all of this was sorted out, I felt a lot more comfortable in doing some workable photography with the MkII, following my initial failures. In use, the first thing that I noticed was that the MkII mechanical shutter is unbelievably quiet. The E-1 that I mentioned in Part 1 has one of the quietest shutters of any DSLR, but the shutter on the MkII is quieter and more subtle. It’s kind of reminiscent of the shutter sound and feel that you get with leaf shutters in some medium and large format lenses. Of course the MkII also comes with the silent electronic shutter, where you don’t even know that it’s fired. The mechanical and electronic shutters offer you some very high frame rates, up to 15 fps with the mechanical shutter and up to 60 fps with the electronic shutter (but only with m4/3 lenses and I don’t know why). This was unheard of a few years ago and even today beats many DSLRs. One of the advantages of the electronic shutter is that there is no shutter to wear out, even though the mechanical shutter has a life expectancy of at least 150,000 actuations in normal use.

E-M1 MkII with 50mm f2 Macro Lens (a new addition) and Sunpak Auto 16r Pro Ring Flash (finally useful again after so many years)

E-M1 MkII with 50mm f2 Macro Lens (a new addition) and Sunpak Auto 16r Pro Ring Flash (finally useful again after so many years)

Tiny, tiny, spider - E-M1 MkII, 50mm f2 Macro Lens and EC-14 tele-extender

Tiny, tiny, spider – E-M1 MkII, 50mm f2 Macro Lens and EC-14 tele-extender

So, to the feature that really made me buy the MkII, the reported AF speed improvement with 4/3 lenses. Does the MkII focus faster than the MkI? No, it does not. I’ve compared both MkI and MkII under various conditions and see no real difference, with my lenses anyway. Initially the AF was significantly slower with the MkII, as the camera often hunted (for want of a better word), and badly at that. The latter effect was only displayed in the EVF, as if the EVF was first looking for focus before moving the lens elements (AF Scanner?). It’s difficult to describe the effect, but it’s nothing like what happens with the MkI. However, further experimentation with the settings did solve that problem, but it should not have been there in the first place. Another oddity that I noticed with AF is that if I tethered the camera to my PC, using Olympus Capture software, I didn’t get this effect at all, the camera focused just like the MkI. Some early adopters of the MkII reported that the MkII focused faster with 4/3 lenses than the MkI and I think that may have reflected firmware versions 1.1 and 1.2. When I received my camera, I naturally updated the firmware to version 1.3 and this may be the reason why I found such a difference. If Olympus did something to affect AF, it was not a good move.

Ancient Bark - E-M1 MkII and 50mm f2 Macro Lens

Ancient Bark – E-M1 MkII and 50mm f2 Macro Lens

Ivy - E-M1 MkII and 50mm f2 Macro Lens

Ivy – E-M1 MkII and 50mm f2 Macro Lens

Lichen - E-M1 MkII and 50mm f2 Macro Lens

Lichen – E-M1 MkII and 50mm f2 Macro Lens

So despite some frustrations and minor disappointments, overall I’m fairly happy with how the camera performs, though it’s still early days. As with my Android phone adventures, you can’t judge any product by simply doing a quick and dirty evaluation, you have to learn the product, it’s strengths and weaknesses and then carefully consider whether, as a whole, the device can and will function as you would like and as you would need. And more often than not, you have to learn to use the product before blaming it for any failures. Again, as this is unavoidably getting to be quite long in the reading, I’ll stop here and in Part 3 I’ll cover a number of other things that I’ve found where the MkI and MkII differ and, of course, more on how the MkII performs.

8 thoughts on “Olympus Cameras – Then And Now Part 2

  1. Shawn K.

    I’ve heard it suggested that a branching, menu replicating manual might help sort out settings. : )

    Reply
  2. Shawn K.

    I haven’t faced the particulars of the Mark II’s AF options, but it seems that having it all laid out would help a photographer better understand how everything worked together.

    Reply
    1. Ray Post author

      It would and I’m still working thing out. I suspect that that latest changes have been made to improve m4/3 lens performance, which may have affected 4/3 lens performance.

      Reply
  3. Brian

    Thanks for this post. I’m flbrit (Florida Based British Person on DPR ) and I appreciate your insights unless we discuss cricket! 😉

    Anyways, I’m entirely new to MFT but am an old film guy and Nikon DSLR user for a goodly number of years. Your comments both in the blog and on DPR have been of immense help during my conversion process.

    Right now I’v got the Flashpoint Controller and two flashes and love them. I’m also considering a macro flash system. I used and loved the Nikon version. I notice you use Sunpack. I assume you are very happy with this kit

    Reply
    1. Ray Post author

      Thanks Brian. Thankfully, cricket isn’t my cup of tea, it was the most depressing stuff I had to cover in my news days.

      Moving to m4/3 can be a challenge, but once mastered it’s fairly rewarding. The Sunpak flash is actually surprisingly good and while it has an auto mode, I prefer to use manual. How it compares to modern makes I have no idea.

      Reply
  4. Jayme

    Thanks for the write-up. I’ve had a similar long-term history with Olympus, starting digital with the E-1. I had it stolen years ago and moved briefly on to the E-5 but quickly bought in to the m43 system. Now I’m considering the em1ii upgrade. Thanks for your perspective. …I recently bought a refurbished e1 for $40 on ebay to replace that long ago stolen one… I may have to take it out shooting again after seeing your old photos. I still have my 50 2.0 though…

    Reply

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