Is the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Poised to Make Waves in the 4K Video World?

Olympus Australia and digiDIRECT held a launch event in Sydney for the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Micro Four Thirds/Super 16 hybrid digital camera recently. I am often asked when I am going to try out and write about various cameras, lenses and accessories of interest to independent digital filmmakers and stills photographers, so the launch was a rare chance to see the OM-D E-M1 Mark II in the flesh, as it were, along with some of Olympus’ reputedly excellent M.Zuiko Pro professional lenses

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I am also often asked for the best advice I can give stills photographers and moviemakers just starting out as well as long-established professionals in both fields. Opportunities to see and try production hardware are few and far between here so my ability to provide that advice is limited by that, but one colleague in particular wanted to know my opinion of the Olympus OM-D cameras and Olympus M.Zuiko Pro professional lens series.

He is considering revamping his production kit now that small camera 4K movie production has become an affordable reality and wanted to know which lenses he should buy and what camera system in particular. He prefers primes over zooms but is happy to use zooms when he needs to.

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Micro Four Thirds/Super 16 Hybrid Camera

I did not have an opportunity to try out the OM-D E-M1 Mark II at the event so the best advice I can give is to check out the plethora of product reviews and information available online.

If a review loaner is available sometime soon I will be very keen to put the OM-D E-M1 Mark II’s 4K video and other capabilities to the test.

One thing I was told about the OM-D E-M1 Mark II was a standout – it is equipped with a button on the front of the camera that is allocated to custom white balance, crucial when shooting video and yet one that makers of other video-capable hybrid cameras often seem to forget.

The Olympus Micro Four Thirds M.Zuiko Pro Lens Lineup

Left to right, the Olympus M.Zuiko Pro professional lens lineup as of January 2017, including the 7-14mm f/2.8 wide-angle zoom, 8mm f/1.8 full-frame fisheye, 12-40mm f/2.8 standard zoom, 12-100mm f/4.0 travel zoom, 25mm f/1.2 prime, 40-150mm f/2.8 telephoto zoom and 300mm f/4.0 prime telephoto lens.

For the work my colleague does, a fast 25mm prime lens – equivalent to 50mm in 35mm format – is a mainstay so he wanted to know what I thought of the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 25mm f/1.2 Pro especially in combination with the OM-D E-M1 Mark II for shooing video.

My moviemaking colleague has other cameras to which M43 lenses can be attached without adapters, including those made by Blackmagic Design or via adapters such as Digital Bolex‘s D16 CCD sensor global shutter Super 16 cameras. So any new lens purchases need to work with a range of cameras, current and future, mostly in manual mode but with autofocus when advantageous.

He is a documentary cinematographer so matched manual cinema lens sets such as as those made by Veydra are not in consideration, though they certainly would be were he a feature filmmaker or specialized in the sort of pre-planned, focus-pulling style of cinematography that Veydra primes suit perfectly.

Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 25mm f/1.2 Pro

One of the two most recent M.Zuiko Pro lenses to appear, the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 25mm f/1.2 Pro is the second prime lens to join the Olympus professional lens collection.

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Although the 25mm focal length, equivalent to 50mm in 35mm format, is not one of my favourite local lengths of all time, 25mm most certainly has its uses when shooting stills and video. It is useful for full-length and half-length portrait photography, covering events conducted in available darkness as this product launch was, and is a much-used focal length in documentary and feature filmmaking.

I like 25mm lenses for face-to-camera interviews, interviewer-and-interviewee two-shots and product shots when I don’t need the immersive deep space feel better suited to extreme wide-angle lenses.

Although slower 25mm lenses have their place especially when breaking into video and stills photography, fast 25mm primes are invaluable when faced with a range of lighting conditions such as the one under which I shot the photograph below.

With aperture set at f/1.2 and my Panasonic Lumix GX8 at A for aperture priority and auto ISO, I manually focussed the lens on the eyes of the Olympus Australia staffer in the centre, allowing everything else in the image to fall into defocus aka bokeh.

One of the unknown pleasures of the GX8 is its clean HDMI-out 4:2:0 8-bit 4K video, non-DCI for sure but great for documentary moviemaking as a lightweight but powerful rangefinder-style camera, a well-kept secret that only filmmakers like Rick Young of Movie Machine seem to appreciate.

Invest in the coming Leeming LUT One for the GX8, set your camera up as recommended, shoot ETTR (expose to the right), apply the LUT in your NLE, rinse and repeat. Do the same for your other cameras. Doubtless a Leeming LUT One for the OM-D E-M1 Mark II will appear soon enough.

One of the several joys of Olympus’ M.Zuiko Pro professional lens collection is their clutch manual focus. Draw the focus encoder ring back towards the camera, spin it left and right, watch critical detail snap into focus with focus magnification or focus peaking, then shoot.

Under this focussing system the encoder ring goes from close to infinity in a quarter turn, perfect when focus-pulling or needing to snap from one focussing distance to another and back. Count me as a major fan of this form of manual focussing in contrast to manually focussing via encoder rings that spin and spin and spin.

My colleague tells me he is in the market for a fast wide-angle prime lens in the region of 12mm, and is considering the Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 12mm f/1.4 Aspheric lens as he is very happy with his Panasonic Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 Aspheric Power OIS lens. I wonder if Olympus is planning on expanding the prime lenses in its M.Zuiko Pro collection soon?

Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-100mm f/4.0 Pro

Although I had all bar one M.Zuiko Pro lens on my mental list to try out at the event, that exception being the M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro that I have had for a while now, the new M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-100mm f/4.o Pro travel zoom was second on my list.

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My interest in the travel zoom lens category had been piqued when trying out Fujifilm’s Fujinon XF 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR zoom lens last year. Given the long focal length range travel zooms encompass, there will be compromises in optical correction and the same applies to the lenses’ maximum apertures.

I managed to snap off a couple of frames before the lens was needed the other side of the room, but in the image below one can see a certain amount of barrel optical distortion in the white columns and ceiling.

This barrel distortion can be corrected automatically with in-camera JPEGs – I rarely shoot them as I much prefer shooting raw files only – and in correction-savvy raw processors and image editors.

Optical distortion when shooting video is another matter again though. Optical correction in non-linear editors (NLEs) would be far too processor-intensive and so one must grit one’s teeth and bear it. Hence the curved parallel horizontals and vertical one often sees in television shows.

This lens is in interesting proposition, with its long focal length range, slower maximum aperture than the M.Zuiko Pro collection’s other zoom lenses, relatively small size and low weight for its reach, and Olympus’ very first attempt at in-lens optical image stabilization (OIS).

The OIS in this lens reportedly works in conjunction with the OM-D E-M1 Mark II’s 5-axis IBIS (in-body image stabilization) though I would prefer to test that out in practice. The big question for Panasonic users is, will this lens’ OIS also work in conjunction with the IBIS in the GH5?

Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 8mm f/1.8 Pro

Older than the other two lenses I tried out, the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 8mm f/1.8 Pro was also on my wishlist of lens tryouts. Fisheye lenses are a low priority – I have resisted the temptations of the GoPro camera range – but this lens has potential for special situations like time-lapse stills and video in tight, poorly-lit spaces, or extreme close-ups.

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The outstanding feature of this lens is a much higher maximum aperture than other full-frame fisheye lenses of which I am aware, and its good light distribution with lack of noticeable fall-off though I was using it in poor lighting.

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The Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 8mm f/1.8 Pro is definitely one to try again in future.

Snapshots from the Event

Conclusions

I managed to achieve two out of three goals that night, briefly trying out the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 25mm f/1.2 Pro prime lens and the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-100mm f/4.0 Pro zoom lens. My short play with the  Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 8mm f/1.8 Pro was an unplanned bonus.

Other than the  Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro which I already own, I want to give the 7-14mm f/2.8 wide-angle, the 40-150mm f/2.8 telephoto zoom and perhaps the 300mm f/4.0 prime telephoto lenses a go.

The same applies to the OM-D E-M1 Mark II, the ostensible star attraction at the event but one which I did not manage to spend enough time with. From its specifications list, the OM-D E-M1 Mark II looks like it is a Super 16 hybrid video camera to be taken very seriously indeed, especially given Olympus has got it right with the small but essential things like custom white balance.

I look forward to learning more about the OM-D E-M1 Mark II’s video production features soon. This year is already a very interesting one for 4K video and the question now is which new camera and which range of lenses to consider investing in.

Image Credits:

Header image by Carmel D. Morris.

Tech Notes:

Colour photographs made with Panasonic Lumix GX8 camera using three Olympus lenses, the M.Zuiko ED 8mm f1/8, 25mm f/1.2 and 12-100mm then processed with ON1 Photo Raw 2017.

Monochrome event photographs made with Fujifilm X-Pro2 and XF 56mm f/1.2 R lens, then processed with ON1 Photo Raw 2017 using the Bogart Cool preset.

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