The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II might be the most flexible mirrorless camera

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Olympus unveiled the OM-D E-M1 Mark II at Photokina this year, and the follow-up to the company’s original pro offering is the kind of evolution you’d expect from a digital camera coming four years later on. Everything about the camera has been touched, from exterior design, to sensor and processor, to software features, and the result is a compact, capable device that seems ready for just about any shooting scenario.

The device I got to spend a little time with was a pre-production sample, and final release timing and pricing are still to be determined for the E-M1 Mark II, but even so, using the updated camera revealed it has a lot of potential. It has 20.4 megapixel sensor, uses the micro four-thirds sensor size, two quad-core processors on board to handle image processing and advanced AF/IS, and a new bright electronic viewfinder with a max frame rate of 120fps and six millisecond lag for essentially real-time, smooth tracking of fast action.

The E-M1 matches table stakes for pro cameras with a solidly constructed, weatherproof and dustproof frame, but its body overall is much more compact than you’d see from most APS-C or full frame mirrorless or DSLRs. Olympus’ choice to stick with the micro four-thirds sensor forma means this camera is very compact, and even pairing it with the company pro 300mm f4.0 (600mm equivalent) lens still results in something you can comfortably carry on along with your other luggage.

A new 12-100mm (24-200mm equivalent) f4.0 M.Zuiko Pro lens ($1,299, ships in November) is the real all-arounder, however, in terms of pairings with the E-M1 II. This has a zoom range that covers the standard Canon photographer’s kit of 24-70 f2.8 and 70-200 f2.8 lenses in a single lens. It’s not as bright as those at max aperture, but in practice indoors, at least during the short time I had with it, it seemed plenty bright to produce clean images. Olympus also told me that the lens is designed to be optically sound and distortion free across the entire zoom range, avoiding the “sweet spot” pitfalls that beset most telephotos.

Besides the combo of the E-M1 II and that zoom providing pretty much unmatched wide- to tele-range in a package that’s smaller than most DSLR 70-200 lenses on their own, the camera also has a few other features that recommend it as a do-anything utility player. These include in-body 5-axis image stabilization, which pair with 4-factor stabilization in Olympus lenses that offer IS, for a 6.5-factor total stabilization effect.

This means butter smooth video handheld, even when shooting 4K (which the camera also supports). I tried this, and the results looked great, with the proviso that I could only see them on the viewfinder and couldn’t properly evaluate color accuracy or other factors. But the motion was rock solid – it was similar to what you’d get using a gimbal or steadicam with other cameras.

Another useful feature is the electronic shutter (which lives alongside a mechanical shutter option in the camera). This makes it possible to shoot completely silently (the only noise you hear is the lens autofocusing, ti’s actually a bit eerie), and to shoot burst mode at as much as an insane 60fps, depending on your settings. Even using the mechanical shutter, you’re going to get about 15 fps at the top end, which is, again, category leading.

AF is also fast and accurate, thanks to 121 cross-type AF points that cover essentially the entire visible frame. Basically, if you can see it on the VF, there’s an autofocus point that can probably hit it without requiring much at all in the way of focus and recompose.

The original OM-D E-M1 was a solid performer that still gets a lot of respect four years on, and this new iteration seems like it could be a true renaissance device, with tremendous potential for shooters who also need to delivery high quality video. Again, all of this is based on very limited initial testing, so I’ll reserve final judgement for a proper review, but Olympus definitely seems to have addressed the will of the market in terms of delivering on the promise of a compact pro digital camera.

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