ARTICLE MENU
 


 

         
M4/3 System                                                                  
(8th September 2017)
3 Weeks in with an Olympus EM1-Mk2...

The GOOD - and the seriously BAD !!!

As a long time fan of Mirrorless cameras and the M43 system since Panasonic launched its original G1 back in 2009, I have been thrilled with the systems rapid progress and the direction of development as regards exceedingly capable lenses and camera sensors which now on flagship models exceed that of many large DSLR’s from only a couple of years previous.

For the last year I have been shooting with Panasonics fabulous GX8 which quite frankly performance wise has blown me away. I am totally confident when using it in any professional situation and have no concerns as it will always deliver the goods.

So why have I just bought an Olympus?

However for the odd free-time scenario when I am out playing there were a couple of features on Olympus’s latest OMD flagship the EM1-Mk2 that I was keen to try to see if they really could make my life shooting very difficult subjects a little easier. And hence decided to throw caution to the wind and blew some of the kids inheritance to test how well the new features would work.

Subjects in flight - no problem...

Photo - Dragonfly in Flight (Processed in RAW to taste) 
Camera: Olympus EM1-Mk2 @ 1/1000sec, ISO1600, S-AF, IBIS on.
Lens: Panasonic 100-400 @ 250mm, F5.6.

What it does well - the EM1-Mk2 using S-AF focus locked on instantly to the nearest subject even though there was a very busy background allowing - grab shots like this passing dragonfly in flight.
Click the dragonfly image to see a larger photo. 

Photo - Dragonfly in Flight (Processed in RAW to taste) 
Camera: Olympus EM1-Mk2 @ 1/1000sec, ISO1600, S-AF, IBIS on.
Lens: Panasonic 100-400 @ 250mm, F5.6.

What it does well - the EM1-Mk2 using S-AF focus locked on instantly to the nearest subject even though there was a very busy background allowing - grab shots like this passing dragonfly in flight.
Click the dragonfly image to see a larger photo. 

Strongly Backlight Subjects - no problem...

Photos - Heron Eating Fish (Processed in RAW to taste) 
Camera: Olympus EM1-Mk2 @ 1/1000sec, ISO1600, S-AF, IBIS on.
Lens: Panasonic 100-400 @ 250mm, F5.6.
(Processed in RAW to taste)

  What it does well - the EM1-Mk2 using S-AF focus locked on to the heron instantly despite the strong backlight which in the past would fool many auto-focus systems.
Click the Heron image to see a larger photo.   

Photos - Heron Eating Fish (Processed in RAW to taste) 
Camera: Olympus EM1-Mk2 @ 1/1000sec, ISO1600, S-AF, IBIS on.
Lens: Panasonic 100-400 @ 250mm, F5.6.
(Processed in RAW to taste)

  What it does well - the EM1-Mk2 using S-AF focus locked on to the heron instantly despite the strong backlight which in the past would fool many auto-focus systems.
Click the Heron image to see a larger photo.   

Happiness and Woe’s…

First off the Good:

  • Have I managed to get some amazing shots with it that I would have had great difficulty to do with my other cameras – YES.

Next the Bad:

  • Would I trust it to use on a serious once only chance shot – NO.

Okay so what’s the rub… ...Focus Drift !

Well ignoring the complex menu and poorly written full e-manual – whose explanation of the control which changes ‘3 fish’ to ‘1 fish’ is just a bigger picture of ‘3 fish’ and ‘1 fish’ (I don’t even photograph fish!) – the camera itself is certainly a powerful beast, albeit one that is initially very time consuming to setup for specific tasks.

‘IF’ setup correctly the EM1-Mk2’s general performance is startling but be warned of its speed. At first I had set the burst rate a little high on (totally) silent shutter and as soon as I nudged the shutter button for the briefest moment I had managed to capture about a zillion full resolution shots of my shoe in both jpg and raw, …which certainly brings a whole new context to the phrase ‘snappy performance’!

I mainly wanted the camera for features applicable to nature photography, where I felt the ‘phase detect + contrast detect’ auto-focus, the ability to set the auto-focus range within specified maximum and minimum limits, and the ultra high speed burst rate, could all add up to bring something special to the game.

The EM1-Mk2 does indeed find focus fast, very fast, even on incredibly difficult subjects such as a fast moving dragonfly against a busy background, where I have successfully managed to nail full frame bursts with ease using only the basic single shot auto focus S-AF setting (which is non tracking). Yet despite this there is something very strange going on when trying to photograph even the simplest of subjects which seams rather unexplainable… And this is where the EM1-Mk2 fails big time…

Photos - Heron burst sequence illustrating focus drift (OOC jpg's)
Camera: Olympus EM1-Mk2 @ 1/800-1/1000sec, ISO1600, S-AF, IBIS on.
Lens: Panasonic 100-400 @ 250mm, F5.6.

The heron photos below have been selected from a sequence of short bursts to best illustrate
the typical misbehaviour of the Olympus EM1-Mk2 focus system. All these were taken with
the camera set identically to focus on the centre of the image using a small focus area, yet
despite this the camera appears to choose to focus randomly around the image.
(The thumbnail images show the entire photo from which the larger images are crops.
I have indicated on each where I think the camera appears to be focusing.
The camera was using silent shutter and the settings remained constant.)
Click any heron image below to see a larger photo.   

Photos - Heron burst sequence illustrating focus drift (OOC jpg's)
Camera: Olympus EM1-Mk2 @ 1/800-1/1000sec, ISO1600, S-AF, IBIS on.
Lens: Panasonic 100-400 @ 250mm, F5.6.

The heron photos above have been selected from a sequence of short bursts to best illustrate
the typical misbehaviour of the Olympus EM1-Mk2 focus system. All these were taken with
the camera set identically to focus on the centre of the image using a small focus area, yet
despite this the camera appears to choose to focus randomly around the image.
(The thumbnail images show the entire photo from which the larger images are crops.
I have indicated on each where I think the camera appears to be focusing.
The camera was using silent shutter and the settings remained constant.)
Click any heron image above to see a larger photo.   

I first noticed the focus-drift when photographing a heron catching a fish

When taking a series of short bursts using a small central focus grouping the camera captured the fast action with ease, yet as soon as the heron slowly turned, the focus jumped all over the place – even towards the outside of the frame - and at one point took a totally out of focus shot despite the fact I had set it the camera to achieve focus as a priority over shutter release priority!

Now at first I thought this was possibly issues arising due to using a very long lens and me possibly wobbling, but since then I have taken the camera out on a simple task where the focus failed miserably at a critical decisive moment (unforgiveable), and have since run a series of small checks on focus and also consistency of sharpness:

Focus drift to nowhere!!!

This should have been an easy task, a very slow moving steam train with no panning involved. Learning from past experience I did not set the EM1-Mk2 on single point focus because when that focus point hits a plain featureless surface - which is very possible with parts of the locomotive - it will not be able to gauge how to focus. Hence a 5 point central grouping was chosen to ensure that it would always have a feature to lock onto within that range. However as can be seen below the camera decided otherwise:

Photos - The Flying Scotsman (OOC jpg's)
Camera: Olympus EM1-Mk2 @ 1/800sec, ISO400, S-AF, IBIS on.
Lens: Panasonic 14-140 Mk2 @ 14mm, F6.3.

Using the small 5 point central focus grouping on the EM1-Mk2 and fitted with the Panasonic 14-140 Mk2 lens on its widest angle setting, the camera locked onto the locomotive immediately. And I
took a series of very low speed bursts during which the camera constantly drifted in and out of focus.
(The images below illustrate the seriousness of the problem encountered. None of the blurred images have a sharp point of focus, yet the camera was set to not fire unless the image was focused correctly I was not sure how long the locomotive would appear when it arrived, but I was hoping to capture it between the speed sign and the building. It just fitted, however that was the shot with the worst blur  as you will see from the second to last image!)
Click on any photo below to see a larger image.   

Photos - The Flying Scotsman (OOC jpg's)
Camera: Olympus EM1-Mk2 @ 1/800sec, ISO400, S-AF, IBIS on.
Lens: Panasonic 14-140 Mk2 @ 14mm, F6.3.

Using the small 5 point central focus grouping on the EM1-Mk2 and fitted with the Panasonic 14-140 Mk2 lens on its widest angle setting, the camera locked onto the locomotive immediately. And I
took a series of low speed bursts during which the camera constantly drifted in and out of focus.
(The images above are a selection to illustrate the problem encountered. The thumbnails show
the entire image, and below that are full size 'Out Of Camera' JPG crops from the centre
where I focused the camera. None of the blurred images have a sharp point of focus,
yet the camera was set to not fire unless the image was focused correctly.)

Click any train image above to see a larger photo.   

Focus wandering away from the image centre:

The following image of people walking on Dartmoor is not the best example I could have chosen to illustrate the problem. But not realising at the time that I would be writing a critique in the future I went and deleted all the worst images while sat in the car. (This was at the Haytor top car park on Dartmoor in Devon (UK), which is one of the regular locations where I try out my newly acquired cameras and lenses whilst enjoying a mobile lunch overlooking the moors and south Devon coastline.)

Photos - People walking near Haytor (OOC jpg's)
Camera: Olympus EM1-Mk2 @ 1/1000sec, ISO400, S-AF, IBIS on.
Lens: Panasonic 100-400 @ 400mm, F7.1.

Again while using central focus points, the EM1-Mk2 appears to have decided to go against
my choice and instead it focuses slightly more sharply on the people in the distant left.
(The top image directly below shows the entire image, and underneath are crops selected from the centre where I focused and the people on the distant left where the camera appears to have focused.)
Click the images below to see full size crops.   

Photos - People near Haytor (OOC jpg's)
Camera: Olympus EM1-Mk2 @ 1/1000sec, ISO400, S-AF, IBIS on.
Lens: Panasonic 100-400 @ 400mm, F7.1.

Again while using central focus points, the EM1-Mk2 appears to have decided to go against
my choice and instead it focuses slightly more sharply on the people in the distant left.
(The top image above shows the entire image, and underneath are crops selected from the centre where I focused and the people on the distant left where the camera appears to have focused.)
Click the images above to see full size crops.   

Burst Sequence Sharpness Variation:

Having noticed how the sharpness in images from a burst seemed to vary from shot to shot, I set about attempting to eliminate any issues caused by my technique. Thus taking great care to carefully place the smallest single focus point on a horses eye whilst sat in the car and using the window as a rest to brace the camera I took a series of single shots. The test was repeated many times and the results always showed the same variation in sharpness levels:

Photos - Horses - Eyelashes (OOC jpg's)
Camera: Olympus EM1-Mk2 @ 1/1000sec, ISO200, S-AF, IBIS on.
Lens: Panasonic 100-400 @ 400mm, F7.1.

The horse images below were extracted from a series of single shots and clearly illustrate the typical sharpness variation from shot to shot using the EM1-Mk2 and Panasonic 100-400 lens.
(The thumbnails show the complete image, and below that are full size 'Out Of Camera' JPG crops from the centre. Take particular note of the eyelashes.)

Photos - Horses - Eyelashes (OOC jpg's)
Camera: Olympus EM1-Mk2 @ 1/1000sec, ISO200, S-AF, IBIS on.
Lens: Panasonic 100-400 @ 400mm, F7.1.

The horse images above were extracted from a series of single shots and clearly illustrate the typical sharpness variation from shot to shot using the EM1-Mk2 and Panasonic 100-400 lens.
(The thumbnails show the complete image, and below that are full size 'Out Of Camera' JPG crops from the centre. Take particular note of the eyelashes.)

Since observing these anomalous results I have decided not to contemplate using the EM1-Mk2 for any serious work in its current form.

The complex menu and very poor guidance on setup combined with me being new to Olympus could I assume still be a large part of the problem. However upon searching online forums I see that ‘focus drift’  with the EM1-Mk2 is in fact a problem that many seasoned Olympus experts are also suffering, yet they were not having the problem with their Mk1's. Therefore my trusty Panasonic GX8 will for the moment remain to be the camera constantly by my side for professional work. Hopefully Olympus will have been made well aware of these serious shortcomings for their 'flagship' and maybe we can look forward very soon to a fix in a future firmware update or at least a manual with a far more detailed explanation on how to setup the focus 'properly'. Is this unforgiveable in such an expensive camera?

This focus-drift and sharpness variation with the EM1-Mk2 is an issue that
Olympus urgently needs to address ASAP. And until then I certainly won’t be
considering using the EM1-Mk2 for any mission critical situations
.


 Article © Adrian Harris