The OM-1 Mark II has certainly caused a stir. Here’s a deep dive into what this camera is all about and why it’s another winner and a bigger upgrade than you might first think.
A Brief History of the OM-1
The original OM-1 mirrorless camera lived up to the reputation of the groundbreaking analog namesake from the early 1970s. One of the first cameras released with a stacked BSI Live MOS sensor, it sported unique features and upgrades undreamed of in other systems.
Moreover, the new sensor in the OM-1 narrowed the gap and even overtook the performance of relatively recent high-end models from other brands. OM System photographers began capturing crystal clear images with fast shutters in low light. Furthermore, with that camera came seven stops of image stabilization, making increasing the ISO unnecessary to prevent camera shake.
Besides the sensor that offered greater dynamic range and noise control, the processor and memory were also upgraded, allowing the enhancement and expansion of unique features inherited from previous models.
OM Digital Solutions played to the camera’s strengths and built a camera for the great outdoors. Its distinctive characteristics meant it sold especially well to wildlife, macro, and landscape photographers, with many migrating to the system from others.s.
Furthermore, the compact size made both the OM-1 and its little sister, the tiny OM-5, popular with street photographers, and others, like me, who used it for weddings, portraits, and events.
Along Comes the OM-1 Mark II
It seems incredible that two years have passed since the OM-1 was released, but an update was due. A huge investment goes into developing an entirely new camera like the OM-1; I’ve heard it’s an eight-figure sum. That R&D isn’t thrown away with the second generation of any model.
The feedback we have from extensive early testing from demanding users is that the new body is delivering very meaningful benefits in a number of key areas and the [new telephoto zoom] lens is a great option for serious users between the existing tele-zooms. The most important news for us is that demanding and professional photographers feel that the system is moving in the right direction. Much as we would love to deliver a quantum leap with every release, it is not always possible due to hardware and/or software development limitation
- Mark Thackara OM Digital Solutions Snr Manager, Marketing Communications EMEA/US/OZ
That makes commercial sense for all camera companies. At the same time, the improvements must be enough to entice people to buy the new camera. I believe this has been achieved with the OM System OM-1 Mark II.
The OM-1 Mark II in Use
Sitting the OM-1 and the OM-1 Mark II side-by-side, there’s very little noticeable difference. The improved menu on the OM-1 has been carried forward to the Mark II. The camera also has the same sensor as the first version.
However, the OM-1 Mark II packs a more powerful punch in other important ways. It features double the buffer, a heavily re-optimized memory, and significant changes to the algorithms that drive the intelligent AI that this version uses to its advantage with its new and improved features.
Ergonomics of the OM-1 Mark II.
When you pick up the new camera, although it feels similar, you immediately realize that the front and rear dials are now rubberized. That made a big difference to me during my recent excursion to Finland, and I was wearing mittens on top of my gloves. Otherwise, the body looks and feels the same as it did before.
The size and weight advantages of the OM System are well known. In the past, my long fingers could not contort to reach the buttons and dials of 35mm behemoths. Strangely, although it is smaller, the OM-1 Mark II fits comfortably in my hands. It has a deep grip, making it easy to hold. Its various dials, switches, and buttons are accessible, even when wearing mittens over gloves. My wife, who has small hands, can also happily operate the camera too. Plus, those new rubberized dials also make a big difference.
Another new feature is the option to turn the image delete button into a menu button. Now, all the functions can be performed single-handedly with the right hand. That is especially useful when shooting in portrait mode or using the left hand to support a long lens.
Special Features of the OM-1 Mark II.
Upgraded: High Res Shot
This feature takes a series of photos in quick succession and combines them into a single 80-megapixel raw file and JPEG, now with the option of the raw file being 14-bit. That gives three times the number of tones in the image. There is a handheld 50-megapixel version too, taking advantage of the image stabilization.
Upgraded: Live ND Shooting
Saving you from carrying ND filters with you for long exposures, Live ND is an ND filter built into the camera. The OM-1 Mark II now gives up to seven stops, i.e., ND128. Although useful on its own, reducing the amount of gear you need to carry, it can be used in conjunction with an ND filter on your lens, delivering exceptionally long exposures even in bright daylight.
New: Live GND Shooting
As an alternative to Live ND, it’s now possible to have one, two, or three stops of graduated ND filter applied to raw files and JPEGs by the camera. There are three levels of feathering of the graduation: soft, medium, and hard. You can also change the angle of the graduation.
Taking focus bracketing one step further, focus stacking combines the bracketed images within the camera. You can merge up to 15 bracketed images, taken with one press of the shutter, and change the focusing differential between each image. You can also change the time between shots to allow a flash to recharge.
Many proficient macro photographers take advantage of image stabilization and do this handheld, and this has become even more possible with the OM-1 Mark II. Furthermore, the updated algorithm is designed to improve this too. I would encourage you to look at the excellent work of Jamie Rosencrans and Geraint Radford, both of whom show off this feature far better than I can.
Besides bracketing and merging focus, the OM-1 Mark II can bracket three, five, or seven exposures at two or three exposure values difference and combine them into a single High Dynamic Range raw file and JPEG. I can usually do this by hand-holding the camera. It’s exceptionally useful for me when shooting the sunrise, and there are black rocks in the foreground with details I want to show.
The Live Composite mode only adds new light to a frame. This is fabulous for, say, photographing star trails, where the foreground won’t over-expose. I’ve used it to photograph lightning and for light painting. Well beyond my skillset is the work of the work of Hannu Huhtamo who creates amazing images using this feature.
This has been one of my favorite features of these cameras for years, but it is rarely spoken about. On a long exposure, it is possible to watch the image gradually expose on the live view screen, with the histogram moving to the right. A second press of the shutter stops the exposure. The image refresh rate varies from half a second to 60 seconds.
Upgraded: Image Stabilization
There has been a 20% increase in Image Stabilization (IS) over its predecessor. The OM-1 Mark II now boasts 8.5 stops.
The following snap I’ve just taken from my desk was handheld using the new 150-600mm lens at 200mm. The shutter speed was 1/1.6 second. Remember, this is a camera with a two times crop factor compared to one with a 35mm sensor, so that would be the same as handholding a 400mm lens for that length of time.
Uniquely, the OM System camera allows the IS built into the camera’s sensor to work in conjunction with those OM System lenses that also have image stabilization built in.
Upgraded: Pro Capture and Blackout-Free Shooting
One of the huge upgrades of this camera is the doubling of the buffer size. If you are not aware of it, Pro Capture continuously buffers images and records the most recent of them when you press the shutter button. With continuous autofocus, the buffering is happening at 50 frames per second (fps), and it will buffer 256 frames. That’s 5 seconds' worth of images. In that way, you should never miss a shot when a bird takes to the wing or when the bride kisses the groom.
With single autofocus, the camera records a staggering 120 fps and will buffer 213 shots.
The camera also has improved blackout-free sequential shooting.
Upgraded and New: AI Subject Detection Focusing
Another great option for wildlife photographers is the AI Subject Detection. I have found this excellent for detecting partially hidden birds, obscured by twigs and branches, and for latching onto birds in flight with cluttered backgrounds.
You can now also select individual subjects in crowded scenes. That’s not only great for wildlife photographers but also events and wedding photographers, especially as Human Detection has been added. Furthermore, they are all accessible in the same place on the Super Control Panel, which gives quick access to important features.
I haven’t tried the vehicular options, but the bird, animal, and the new human detection are outstandingly fast and precise.
Starry Sky AF
Going out to shoot the night sky, focusing to get the sky and landscape sharp is a challenge, especially at wide apertures. Starry Sky AF does this for you.
How Is the OM-1 Mark II Performing?
If you’ve read my previous article about shooting in very low temperatures (-30°C). As some readers guessed, I was there primarily to test the OM-1 Mark II.
It performed without a glitch. I have so far run a good 10,000 frames through it, and it does a splendid job of getting the shot that I am after; the camera is good for 400,000 shutter actuations.
Like most photographers, there are some features that I use more than others. The Live GND is something new that I am using a lot, as is that extra stop of Live ND filter. They save me a lot of time fumbling with filters and dropping them in wet sand.
As I’ve been getting ever more into bird photography, the improvements to Pro Capture, Subject Detection, and IS are a boon. With the previous version, I found that setting the Subject Detection to birds would always pick up other animals and people if I hadn't changed the settings. I found the new version is more precise in that it does a much better job at detecting the subjects it's set to, but less immediate at focusing on, say, a dog if you have it set to detect birds. However, it will still find the eyes of a dog if you haven’t changed the setting. But latching onto the subjects it's set for is as good, if not better, than any other brand I have tried, and I've tried a lot.
The improved blackout-free shooting is great for birds in flight. Plus, the image stabilization is out of this world, as I demonstrated earlier.
Although the High-Resolution mode is useful for some, it’s not something that I need. However, I have tried it, and it works well, doing a far better job of dealing with moving water than the earliest version in the E-M5 Mark II from nine years ago. For some photographers, this will be a useful function, and the 14-bit raw files will impress them too, but not so much for me. As I said, different features will please different people.
What I Liked and What Could Be Improved Next Time
What I Liked
- Speed and accuracy of focus, especially the subject detection.
- Live ND 128 and Live GND are exceptionally useful.
- 20% increase in image stabilization up to 8.5 stops.
- Robust build.
- IP53 weather sealing.
- Multiple video recording options, including up to 4K 60p, 20x high-speed recording, and 120 fps Full HD slo-mo. H.264 and H.265 codecs, and log and flat color profiles.
- Intervalometer, including in-camera 4K timelapse movie production.
- Up to 120 fps/60p
- Compact, ergonomic design.
- Great image quality.
- A wide range of specialist features not available on other models.
- Large crystal-clear viewfinder.
- The widest range of compatible lenses of any system.
What Could Be Improved Next Time
- Being able to combine multiple computational shooting functions.
- I would like to see the option to have slower burst speeds, perhaps six actuations per second. That would be useful for group shots to avoid people blinking while using up less storage space and making culling faster.
- Although now greatly reduced, replacing the small amount of single-use plastic packaging with environmentally friendly alternatives would be welcome.
Like its predecessor, the OM-1 Mark II is a camera that has continued to break the mold; it’s definitely not a clone of every other camera out there, and it's good to see that OMDS are sticking to their guns and providing a product with features that tick the boxes of its user base. Consequently, it’s already proving to be a popular choice.
Moreover, I think the OM-1 Mark II will especially attract three types of people. First, will be those who already have an older Micro Four Thirds camera, such as one of the OM-D models, and want to upgrade to something that has even better image quality and more advanced functionality. Secondly, will be the serious photographers, especially wildlife and landscape specialists, who already own an OM-1 and would find the huge upgrade of subject detection and Live ND/GND helps them with their art. Finally, there will be those who were on the brink of either swapping over from or adding to their existing camera system and appreciate the benefits this camera brings as an alternative to what they own.
The camera is aimed at photographers of the great outdoors and harsh environments, but that doesn’t mean other photographers won’t use it too. I’ll continue to use mine for events and studio portraits, as well as producing videos for my clients. I'm already reaping the benefits of the upgrade and I've noticed my hit rate for birds in flight has significantly increased. Click or tap here to see the full specifications on the B&H website.