Olympus makes E-M5 second-gen with ultra high-res shooting and upgraded stabilisation

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been three years since Olympus resurrected its OM series of cameras, bringing the classic design into a new age with a digital body. We’ve seen a couple more OM-D bodies since, but now seems right for a replacement to the first generation E-M5.

And that new camera will be called… the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II.

Yes, the name is probably a dead giveaway that this is the second generation of this design, with Olympus taking one of its 16 megapixel LiveMOS sensors and reinventing the built-in image stabilisation system, keeping it in the design where the pentaprism of an SLR would normally be, but redoing the hardware and algorithms to make the system work quickly for both images and movies.

How is it reinvented?

While previous stabilisation allowed for one or two stops of difference, the new stabilisation technology will mean up to five stops are possible, meaning you’ll be able to stop a lens down to 1/4 shutter speed from 1/125 and let in more light without picking up on body vibrations (though if you move it, that’s another story).

Shown with the previous model (M5) in video capture, we saw much smoother filmmaking was possible, with the M5 Mark II resembling more the sort of thing you would get if you used a small Steadicam compared to the soft shake the original M5’s stabilisation achieved.

This new image stabilisation system also helps with a new specialist mode, capable of capturing very large “full-frame resolution” images with megapixel counts similar to what studio cameras can do.

“Our pixels are currently 4.6 or 4.7 microns in size,” said Quettfenn Lai, Product Specialist at Olympus Imaging in Australia. Providing context, Lai said that hair is 90 to 100 microns, and that the Olympus ultra-high resolution mode “has the accuracy to shift in 2 to 3 microns in physical length.

“What this means is that we have the ability to do some wizardry with how this camera captures scenes,” said Lai, going on to tell us that the E-M5 Mark II will take a series of up to eight photographs at half pixel offsets, shifting the sensor’s position by half a pixel using the voice coil motor mechanism in that stabilisation technology, an idea which translates into capturing something that is like a panorama, albeit tiny and more detailed. Images captured in this mode are 40 megapixel for a JPEG, while RAW photos can get as high as 64 megapixel, a file format which will create roughly 100MB images.

Printed images shown to us detail just how much more information is shown, with a photo of the Sydney Opera House revealing the tiles on the sails in more detail than most cameras would show us, while keeping everything else in the scene looking sharp, even from afar.

One thing of note is that because this mode relies on very, very, very small sensor shifting, you will need a tripod to use it successfully. That said, we can’t wait to try it with a macro (close-up photography), as this could reveal even more detail in the little world beneath us.

Beyond the image stabilisation, Olympus has also improved there auto-focus and now features 81 focus points, included a silent mode that is very hard for most people to hear, and made the silent mode capable of shooting at a maximum shutter speed of 1/16000 thanks to an electronic shutter.

And then there’s the design, and for the most part, Olympus has cleaned the body up, which was already good, making it feel firmer and better ergonomically, while keeping the whole thing solid.

In our hands, the OM-D E-M5 Mark II was very comfortable, with a soft grip near the thumb and a lower centre of gravity, which helps to bring the camera together and feel right. You’ll still find buttons and wheels to fondle, and there are certainly enough of these for most users to be happy, while the whole camera retains that retro ’70s style that won’t go, as well as the metal body, which we’re delighted to see sticks around.

Olympus has changed the touchscreen style here, moving away from the old vari-angle LCD that could only really be used top down and from slightly underneath, switch this time to one of those hinged LCDs that can show you the screen even from the front. The viewfinder also appears to be stronger, now boasting a 2.36 megapixel image with 100 percent coverage.

Video people will no doubt find that useful, as will the inclusion of several frame rates for Full HD video capture, including 24p, 25p, 30p, 50p, and 60p, with the ability to change auto-focus and shooting setting using the touchscreen while recording, different colours for focus peaking, and an option to get a clearer signal out of sound recording by using a powered microphone instead of a passive one.

WiFi control is also here, as is some element of ruggedisation, with the camera being dust-proof and splash-proof dependent on the lenses you use and if they’re from the Olympus range of equally rugged lenses, which several are, including the Olympus 14-150mm f4-5.6, which is being introduced with the camera.

One thing of note is that there’s no built-in flash, still, since the place this would normally go is where the image stabilisation technology sits, but Olympus will include a flash in the box, with the ability to change angles using this external flash, meaning you can bounce it if you need to, something we’ve yet to see from an in-box flash accessory.

As for pricing, we haven’t seen exact numbers from Olympus yet, but this one will be replacing the older E-M5, which has seen price tumbles in recent months, dropping to around the $500 mark with a lens. From what we understand, the first-gen will be retired, replaced with this model, suggesting the E-M5 Mark II will enter for near the same cost, or roughly $1000-1200 for the body alone.

Expect in March, and we’ll let you know more about pricing and availability when we have more.