I'm very encouraged by the new Olympus EM5 Mark 2. It seems to be a well thought out upgrade but it gives a certain comfort to current EM5 owners as well. I'll explain.

Image from the Olympus website. OM-D EM-5 Mark II

I'll get to the last point first. I dug through everything I could find about this new camera on DPReview (where they'll had the camera for a good while...), the Olympus websites around the world and in conversations with people who were familiar with the camera in advance of the launch. The one little nugget that I came away with was this..... for all intents and purposes the image quality from the sensor in the new camera is identical to the image quality in its predecessor. There might be slight tweaks or changes in output but nothing that can't reasonably be matched up in post processing. 

That means no matter how much the reviewers salivate over the new and improved model the people who are only concerned with the quality of the images they get out of their camera system won't have that nagging feeling that they could do better if they just spent a bit more money and jumped onto the newer boat. When it comes to conventional file quality they'll all be docking at the same time. That's a big deal because it really means that the usability of our existing camera purchases is quality equivalent and it assuages the fear that somehow the latest technology has once again left us behind (not that it ever really did). 

So, Olympus upgraded the OMD EM-5 and created a camera to compete in 2015. To their credit they didn't make wholesale changes that would affect the feel, haptics and usability of the camera for current EM-5 users. All the stuff they added (with the exception of wi-fi) makes a good camera even better and also introduces things like a high resolution/sensor shift feature as well as seriously upgraded video capability.

The feature that first caught my attention was the multi-shot/high resolution/sensor shift mode. I think when reading about the 40 megapixel files people will get excited but in reality only a very few will consistently make use of the feature and probably for the wrong reasons. Most people will play with it and then go back to conventional camera settings for the basic reason that it requires the camera to be locked down on a good tripod, aimed at a subject that won't move (at all) for a while, and can only be used at f8 and under. This feature works by taking eight exposures and moving the sensor between each exposure. That takes time. And it generates 100 megabyte raw files. Ouch. 

While everyone will focus on the perceived advantages of the increased resolution I think the color engineers had a different benefit in mind. Here's why: the first four exposures have the camera sampling each color at each sensor element. That gives you 100% accurate color instead of Bayer interpolated color. That's what the Foveon fans react to in their cameras. It's the accuracy of reading all the colors at all places that makes the color magic. It also eliminates aliasing and weird color shifts. And even within a 16 megapixel output it means more accurate fine detail. While landscapers and studio still-life shooters will credit the higher res of their files in their assessment of quality it's probably really the true color nature of the files that subconsciously makes their brains happier when they see these kinds of files. 

While this technology has been available in brutally expensive, medium format Hasselblad bodies it the first time it's ever been available in a consumer body. And a consumer body at such a comparatively low price point!!! Would I use the feature? Every time I put my camera on a tripod and shoot product for clients. The consideration in this kind of work will also be whether or not the lenses are up to the resolution task. But I would argue that the pure color without artifacts is the more important benefit so if you like what the lenses you have for this system do now you will still enjoy the real benefit of the feature. Good job, Olympus!!!

Moving on there are lots of other features that I don't really care about. I don't think any of us will see a difference between 9 frames per second and 10 frames per second. While the 1/8000th of a second is nice to have the 1/4000th of a second top speed of the previous camera was rarely an issue. Wi-fi? Yawn. If I can't use the camera to get my e-mail and stream Angry Birds then why would I care if it has wi-fi? Just more stuff to suck the juice out of batteries... And I can never get my wi-fi to work in the Sonoran Desert or in Big Bend Park so who cares. Oh, that's right---now wi-fi is critical for firmware upgrades.  Sure.

Here are some features I really do care about on the camera in general (we'll hit video in a second): 
The new camera takes the same battery as the previous model. I just stood up next to my desk and cheered. You see, I have four of the older camera and probably eight of the batteries for it. Now I can consider the new body without the agony of buying a couple more $50 batteries. You will need more batteries though since the camera is now rated for 300 shots instead of 360. That's the wonderful wi-fi's fault, I'm sure. 

I like the flipping and tilting screen. I wouldn't care if I just use the camera for stills because the new EVF is supposed to be at least as good as the one in the OMD EM-1 (which is incredibly good) but I do look at cameras like this for video as well and sometimes that screen mobility is just what the director ordered. 

Both screens (the EVF and the rear screen) have been much improved for resolution and I presume response time. 

So, to recap the photo benefits: Better screens, higher shutter speed, new high res mode, same batteries, same great imaging and color, same camera handling. These are all good. And they are somewhat compelling reasons to upgrade if you use your camera in a day-in, day-out professional capacity. But as I mentioned, if you are shooting for image quality then you may be happy right where you are (presuming you own the original EM-5). 

But to paraphrase Rene Zellweger in the movie, "Jerry MacQuire,"  "You had me at video...."

I know that many here don't give a rat's ass about video but I do and I think a few VSL members do so let's talk about where Olympus really updated this camera. It's mostly in the video capabilities. And I can tell this was top of mind for them when I look at the accessories. But we'll get to that in a second. 

Looking at the specs the number one thing Olympus did to upgrade the EM-5 into an EM-5 type2 was to vastly improve the codecs available to video shooters. Most importantly then increased the bit rate of the files and offered a "All-I" codec that takes up a bit more space in memory but makes editing easier and better.  Instead of shooting a around 20 mbs one can now shoot at 60+ mbs. I'm sure the quality difference will be obvious to all. If you need even more imaging quality in video the camera is set up to output uncompressed and clean video from the HDMI port into a 4:2:2 space. That means you get files that you can do a lot of work to in post processing without having them fall apart on your screen like and Oreo cookie that's spent too much time dipping into the glass of cold milk. 

Another new feature is a dedicated microphone input that doesn't foul the EVF. There was an adapter that fit into the original EM-5 accessory port but the cord management was blah and the connector stuck into your forehead if you tried to use the EVF for anything. In addition to the dedicated microphone input you can also adjust the audio levels manually----even during recording (Hello Nikon!!!! ever shot video with your own cameras???). 

One port that's missing on both the old and new models is a headphone jack. This is the reason I say that Olympus designed the new camera to be a much improved video camera. Not because of the lack of a jack but because the jack for the headphones is now built into the part of the two part battery grip that is closest to the camera. That moves the jack and the cable out of the way for the operator and means that if (when?) you take a hit to the headphone jack and break it the solution is to just buy another grip part; you won't have to send away the body for surgery. The grip system is now available in two configurations: you can buy just the piece closest to the body (with the front handle and control wheel) to gain the headphone jack while using the bottom part (the house of the extra battery) from your existing set-up. This, plus the continuity of the battery type, tells me that Olympus is learning to really value their current customer base. 

The next feature on my list to praise is the focus peaking during video. That's a wonderful thing for people who like to use manual lenses and do focus pulls during video. 

But considering that there are better video cameras out there when it comes to set up options, more varied and powerful codecs and the ability to do 4K (hi! Panasonic GH4) why would someone actually want to buy an Olympus EM5 2 to create video? The best answer comes right down to the awesome image stabilization built into the camera (and across their system of cameras). I've experimented with handheld video shooting using the existing EM5 and while the overall image quality isn't on par with other cameras there are lots of situations where being able to use the camera as a handheld unit with really good stabilization allows it to shoot images that are smoother that other cameras planted on handheld rigs. Sometimes just getting the shot is more important that trying to make the technical parameters of the file perfect. The new unit ups the ante by giving us a reasonably good (much better than before) video file while giving us the enhanced mobility with smoothness. 

It's like having a mini-SteadiCam in your hands but without the ruinous costs, months of training and enormous weight to deal with. I'm predicting that many sliders and jibs will lie fallow while a handheld craze sweeps web video. Mostly based around the handheld advantages of this new camera. 

In the end it all boils down to this: Do you need this camera? If you are happy with the still image quality of your EM5 or EM1 I would say no. They'll continue to provide great still images that are close to what the new camera provides (if not identical). If you plan to shoot exclusively video and use this as your primary video camera I would also say no. The Panasonic is a better moving image file generator in every respect except image stabilization (and most people who do video all the time know that the tripod is still the ultimate image stabilization tool). 

So who's going to end up buying this beside people venturing into the system for the first time (as opposed to upgrading...)???  I can see the owner of a Panasonic GH4 who shoots a lot of video adding this camera as a "B" camera. You could use it concurrently for second angle to the primary camera or you can use it instead of the GH4 when you want to imitate SteadiCam shots and create very smooth handheld moves with footage that matches up better than footage from the last generation. 

If you are primarily a still shooter and use the Olympus cameras as you primary tools this body goes a long way to move your further into the (profitable) video world by keeping you in your system of lenses and accessories while adding more audio solutions and better imaging quality (for video).  If you currently shoot primarily with an EM-5 the new camera becomes your primary camera and the older camera becomes your back-up. 

The beauty of this entire class of cameras is the combination of high image quality with high portability. The ultimate market for this camera is the photographer+videographer who is constantly traveling and documenting, interviewing and intercutting stills and video into programming. You can fit a production studio in a small case. With two really good f2.8 zooms that cover a huge range, along with a couple of microphones, a set of headphones and sack of batteries you can carry everything on to even the smallest commuter planes and be able to hit the ground and work---in both media. And you could do with the effective minimalism of a one person crew. 

Which finally begs the question----Will I buy one? You already know the answer. Whether I buy it the day it's available or wait until the middle of the product cycle I will get one. Why would I want one with all the other stuff I have floating around here? For the same reason I currently have four, nice shiny original EM5's----they punch far above their weight, are fun to carry and use and now I can add adequate video with handheld capability for those times when I want to be mobile, responsive and unencumbered by rigs and fluid head tripods. 

The interesting thing one quickly figures out in video production racket is that the "one camera" mentality of the still photographer is inefficient in the motion realm. Multiple cameras make good business sense. Not just as back-ups for each other but to use concurrently. And not all of them need to be of the ultimate quality. The primary camera should be great but second cameras that are moving can be "just good." I'm hoping that in the real world the video from the EM5-2 will be really good.  Shooting multiple angles during one take means getting a lot more done in a day. In the old days where shooting all revolved around one camera a crew needed to do multiple takes to get reaction shots, wide shots, establishing shots and close up shots. They also need to get cutaway shots. With only one camera it required moving from angle to angle and doing the scene over and over again. It sometimes becomes a continuity nightmare.

The last couple of times I did video interviews I used one camera on a tripod to the front of the interviewee, one camera 90 degrees to one side on a slider and a third from a rear angle. In post production I could go from camera to camera in editing and it worked really well. With a camera like the EM5-2 I would lose the slider and have the second camera operator shooting handheld. The more assets you have when you fire up the editing software the better. That's why we have (and use) more than one camera.

If you don't have a camera and you are a candidate for m4:3 format equipment you need to look long and hard at this one (the EM5-2) and the GH4. They are both incredible tools. They each do something different. It's okay to own both. 

If you want more info there's a good video from The Camera Store TV: Right Here

Added in the afternoon: Think maybe this time around Olympus is interested in video? Check out this commercial they made for the video side of the camera, it rocks. Olympus Action Commercial

Added at four in the afternoon:  A really good review of the camera as a video production tool by an Australian Cinematographer who mostly does feature films. He's a long term Olympus fan and he's got good samples to show. John Brawley's Blog about the EM5-2

A quick advertising note: Craftsy is offering a bunch of course at up to 50% off. It's a good way to learn new stuff. You might want to browse their photo offerings. I'll be looking at the cooking classes.....   Here's the link!