I've been on an older camera bing lately. I thought I'd revisit a contemporary camera that's been on the market for a while now. The Olympus EM-5ii.

I tend to be blinded to the virtues of the stuff I'm shooting in the present by the promise of the stuff I might be shooting in the future. Here's a case in point: the Olympus EM-5ii. I bought two of them back in 2015 when the camera was introduced. I knew I'd probably want to take advantage of the new video codec that yielded an All-I file at 77mbs, which was a much bigger file than the ones coming from my Nikon or Sony cameras at the time so I ante'd up for the battery grips which, in addition to doubling the shooting time also provided a headphone jack with which to monitor audio. 

My friend, James, and I used the two cameras to do a video for our friends at Cantine Restaurant. While I didn't really appreciate it at the time the cameras, and the combination of contemporary and legacy lenses did a great job capturing the unrehearsed clips that we moulded into what I think is a very nice video about the restaurant. While the EM-5ii files aren't as detailed and rich as the best files from the Panasonic GH5's they are absolutely perfect for what was made to be a web-only, 1080p promotional video. Unique at the time (and maybe still....) was the camera's uncanny image stabilization which worked as well in video as it does in still photography. The files were sharp and detailed and easy to edit in either Premiere or Final Cut Pro X. 

But most of my readers don't give a rat's ass about video, and that being the case I thought I would also make the point that the photographic files were in no way shabby either. I've included three images here from the daylong shoot we did at the restaurant. The brilliant I.S. in the cameras made tripods mostly superfluous but we did use them from time to time; especially if we were using really long focal lengths. 

I shot food and pours and people during the course of the day and used whatever ISO was necessary to get the shots I wanted. I mostly worked between 640 and 1600 and found that the files were as good as any other camera I've shot---as long as I used good lenses. We had high success rates with the Sigma 60mm DN Art lens (this will be the fourth time I have owned that lens....) as well as getting great images from a contingent of older Pen FT lenses from the 1970's. 

When I think rationally about the EM-5ii I wonder 1. Why I ever got rid of them? And, 2. What more could a photographer really want in day-to-day work? If you've never tried one you should. They are pretty delightful. After playing around with the focus on the newest Hasselblad MF cameras I can tell you honestly that, given a choice, I'd take a couple of EM-5ii's and the Olympus zoom lenses I got to use on the Panasonic cameras before I'd consider the H-Blad. Your kilometers may be more scenic....


  1. An OMD EM5III might just be the ticket.

  2. Yes this camera is still available and still getting firmware updates. The latest added focus stacking, for an in camera created file. I have this one on my radar, as I am split between the Em1 or the Em5mk2 to be converted to a full spectrum camera. Amazing that it came out in 2015.

  3. I have an EM5II and a couple of Oly Pro lenses. I use it for travel.

    People these days seem to have a problem with what they perceive as an "old and (too) small 16mp sensor".

    This is nonsense.

    I agree that the files the little Oly produces are lovely - helped by the fact that the lenses are great too.

    It remains a terrific camera system. All that most people should need, for most of the time.

    I have some great pictures on the wall of family and friends. As I type this I look up and see a print of our dog Digby running across a beach in Wales in joyful abandon with the family just out of focus in the background, with a bright, Simpsons-cloudy sky.

    Taken on an Em5II and a 50-150. It remains one of my favourite photos ever.

  4. Kirk wrote, "But most of my readers don't give a rat's ass about video ... "

    I wonder if that is true and if so, why. A poll of readers with their thoughts on the topic would be interesting.

    I am interested in video and get more interested every day. It turns out that converting a still photographer to video is difficult. In my experience, good video is hard and learning is humbling and time consuming. Often embarrassing.

    What the hell is a codec anyway? :)

  5. What could be better than a refound treasure?

  6. After a week with a rented Panasonic FZ2500 it’s clear that the EM5.2’s 1080p video in All-I mode leaves nothing to be desired. Nothing I can see, anyway. That sweeping statement applies only to 1080p. I was unable to spring for the V90 card you recommend for Panasonic’s All-I 4K video stream; it costs more than the camera rental. And since I’m quickly burning my way through Final Cut Pro’s 30-day free trial period my editing chops are almost nonexistent. So the odds are that my blundering about would not make best use of the superior quality.

    Comparing the two as a very inexpert user may be of interest to anyone considering making the jump from one to the other. First, the size, handling, and all-in-one lens give the Panasonic a clear lead in ease of use. The control menu organization actually makes sense. But, since the Panasonic is a more sophisticated video camera there are more choices to make. More opportunities for the new user to screw up. Call it a draw on that score — the Olympus menu may have been contrived by some techno idiot savant being held in solitary confinement, but once you find a usable combination of settings they can be left alone.

    The FZ2500 offers a delicious power zoom lens with at least three forms of direct control: a ring on the lens, a fast wide-telephoto lever up top on the body, and two buttons for slow zoom in/out at the base of the lens. This last option provides zooming which subtly ramps up at the start and down at the end — no abrupt stops and starts. This feature is a direct lift from Panasonic’s decades of experience in making video cameras for broadcast use and gives even a klutz like me the ability to incorporate professional-looking zoom moves on the fly.

    Exposure and focus aids, such as zebras to avoid overexposure and peaking for critical focus leave the EM5.2 way back somewhere in the dust. Not that Olympus doesn’t offer focus peaking, it just doesn’t work nearly as well. The killer feature for exposure control is found next to the slow zoom buttons at the base of the lens: a foolproof switch allowing the user to instantly choose among varied levels of neutral density filters. Outdoors, where clouds quickly come and go, and where action moves from shade to bright sunlight, this is a gift from those same decades of broadcast experience. Flip the switch and quickly fine tune exposure via a dedicated dial up top and you can move from dark to bright conditions in just moments.

    All of this and a lot more comes in Panasonic’s entry level camera for anyone seriously interested in video. God knows what awaits one who can justify the cost of a GH5 plus lenses.

    In one area vital to VSL readers the EM5.2 trounces the FZ2500: still photography. Perhaps I simply never found the right settings, but the Panasonic one inch sensor, brilliant as it is for video, did not produce JPEG stills of anywhere near the quality of the Olympus. Shooting raw files may balance that out, but my older versions of Lightroom and Photoshop won’t convert the raw files of either camera and limited time available made exploring third party raw converters (rental deadline rapidly approaching) out of the question.

    In summary, I won’t be dumping the EM5.2 and the few lenses I have for it to buy the FZ2500. The Panasonic is a superior video camera. I just can’t give up the Olympus JPEG quality for what could be a quick fling ending up nowhere when I run out of video subjects, which could easily be next week. Time to grit my teeth and get serious about familiarity and technique with the EM5.2.

  7. I've had one since it was released, and love it still, three years on. If an E-M5 mark III was released later this year, I'm not sure what would be compelling enough to make me want to upgrade. 4K video, a 20MP sensor, and whatever other incremental improvements one would expect from 3 years of advancement probably wouldn't be enough. Software changes that dramatically improves mobile workflow (I'd edit my photos a lot more on my iPad if it was easier to get the files over there), and/or a high rez mode that could be operated handheld might do it. Hopefully Olympus is thinking of things that I can't :)

  8. In April, 2016 Kirk posted a great article on "Optimizing the shooting performance of your one inch camera". For those of us that have older 4/3 cameras it would be great if Kirk would discuss how to optimize 4/3 shooting.

  9. I bought the E-M5II as soon as it came out in 2015 for stills photography, as an upgrade to my GX7. It is still my primary camera. Great for travel (default lens Olympus 12-40/2.9 Pro) and street (default lens Panasonic 14mm pancake). The images are nice although grain is ever-present in low light, and I use it for everything including sport, but the continuous AF is IMHO abysmal and I simply stick to single-shot AF mode. The camera quality is excellent and compact too, and the stabilisation is indeed so stunning that I think other people who think "IS is IS" really need to try this one.

    Links to a photo or two by the E-M5II:
    Spontaneous portrait 45mm f/1.8 lens: [IMG]https://www.mu-43.com/attachments/p2181315-jpg.580888/[/IMG]
    Indoor sports 75mm f/1.8 lens +TCON-17X: [IMG]https://www.mu-43.com/attachments/upload_2017-1-29_18-55-7-png.506417/[/IMG]
    Busker in the mall: [IMG]https://www.mu-43.com/attachments/pb240469-jpg.492341/[/IMG]
    Urban wildlife Panasonic 100-300 lens: [IMG]https://www.mu-43.com/attachments/pa070044-jpg.318534/[/IMG]
    Country wildlife, same lens: [IMG]https://www.mu-43.com/attachments/p4233352-jpg.121709/[/IMG]
    Adapted lens, Canon FD 135/2.8: https://www.mu-43.com/attachments/_3293200-jpg.118570/

  10. Some VSL readers might now care much about video, but I do. I currently use two Nikon V1s for shooting video, but I have had my eye on the Olympus EM-5 II and Panasonic G85 as potential additions/replacements to the video-camera lineup. Those two cameras seem to offer an enticing combination of very good image and video quality and stellar image stabilization at a very good price.

    Right now, however, my biggest concern is revamping my storage setup. I had an important hard drive on which I had stored video files and FCPX projects go belly up while a final master file was being rendered. My faith in hard drives has been somewhat shaken up by this incident. I am currently looking at external SSD drives to edit FCPX projects off of rather than external hard drives (although I would use HDs for file storage and project backups). If you ever feel like doing a post on storing and archiving video files and projects you will be guaranteed at least one reader on the subject.


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