From the start, a couple really great things struck me about using the Oly E-M5 Mark II. I always use it with the full HLD-8 battery grip, which gives me two batteries and excellent working time for a gig but also adds this little notch on the front grip handle.
Why's that important? My right pinky curls under that part of the camera grip just perfectly, and that miniscule little feature they carved in makes this Olympus the most comfortable/ stable, best-feeling camera I've ever used.
It also makes the E-M5 II a great camera for available-light shooters. If you're into shooting without a flash, guess what: some of the very fastest, most light-sucking lenses made today are for Micro Four-Thirds (or many fast, old lenses can be adapted), and the stable-to-hold, very adeptly image-stabilized little cam that this is makes those kinds of lenses and low-light setups enormous fun to shoot -- and can deliver results that the best professional photographers 20 years ago could only dream of.
This thing's specs are pretty much straight professional-grade. From the 1/8,000th-sec. max mechanical shutter speed and superfast 1/16,000-sec. electronic shutter to its densely solid-feeling, weatherproofed frame, there really is an awful lot of camera packed into the E-M5 II.
I used the original E-M5 -- my own equipment -- in a pro news environment, and not only loved it and took it through all kinds of stuff but even won awards with it against guys shooting all the usual pro-level DSLRs and "full frame" cameras. For me, photography is more than specs on paper; it's also the feel of the camera and other emotional factors you can't really measure. It's experience and feedback as an artistic tool. The old E-M5 worked great with all kinds of lens setups and made it more fun to use.
And the old E-M5 remains a fantastic camera to use that can give high quality results. You can still buy it new, and it's one of the best values out there. But I didn't realize just how much of a difference the E-M5 Mark II has made until I looked back on all my photos this year and noticed that all of a sudden around this past spring, there was something different -- like an extra level of quality -- in everything.
It was the E-M5 Mark II. You've got to love a company like Olympus... they basically took every feature of the original E-M5 and beefed it up, kind of took it from a "prosumer" cam that even pros could use to that extra measure of professional.
I don't mean you can smash it on the ground like an imbecile and abuse it and it'll just bounce back. I'm a professional photographer who has shot everything from news to big conventions and festivals to weddings but I always buy my own gear -- no one tells me what to use, I shoot how I like, and I'm never beholden to a job just to remain a photographer with all my gear.
So I take care of my gear like it's my own (because it is), but I've shot in very tough environments like heavy trucks and dirt-road courses. The E-M5 Mark II has done everything I've asked of it and produces noticeably high-quality results for both photos and video (and on that note, the built-in mics actually will do a high-quality job if you're not using/can't use a pro-quality plug-in mic).
Certainly with a lens like the Oly M. Zuiko 12-40mm f2.8, which is so good it can amaze you, even just that lens and the E-M5 Mark II would give you a very powerful, weather-and-dust-protected setup. The E-M5 II's crazy little bounce flash that comes with it and works off the camera's own power does pretty well for being so tiny, and I rarely carry the larger Olympus FL-600R or FL-50 flashes I have. I'd rather carry another fast prime instead.
My Oly 12-40mm stays in my bag at all times as a great all-rounder, but I'll carry an assortment of other lenses like an f/0.95 Voigtlander or two, maybe one of the fast lenses from SLR Magic, and/or a Metabones Speed Booster and old 35mm prime. By the way, if you try a focal reducer like the Metabones product, remember those things are expensive because they include superb-quality glass that can actually improve old lenses, whereas cheap knockoffs often use poor quality glass that's a waste of your time.
I chose the E-M5 II over the E-M1, and as it turned out that's been an advantage. I know that's also a really great camera, but Olympus has been making these sneaky, "sleeper" kinds of cameras now for decades, and I figured the E-M5 II, with basically all the same important features but in a slightly more compact package than the E-M1, would be kind of the all-around perfect cam. Besides, I did well with the E-M5, and buying the E-M5 Mark II lets me carry my original "5" as a second, well-matched body with another prime or as a backup, should I need or want to.
Back to that advantage I mentioned. I actually didn't like the E-M5 Mark II's flip-around rear screen at first. I thought the original E-M5's tilting rear screen, like the E-M1's, was handy for waist-level photography and was possibly tougher, and honestly that joint by which the E-M5 Mark II's rear screen folds out and pivots/connects to the body is probably the weakest point of this tough little camera. You could probably be using the LCD screen folded out and drop the camera or knock into something hard enough and break the screen right off, but in my use I haven't had any problems.
But here's the important part: Use the camera's electronic viewfinder and flip the LCD screen to the inside most of the time, leaving just the black "Olympus" black panel on the outside... and oh my... finally! You've got a camera that feels just like using a camera again -- NOT something with a stupid glass LCD screen on the back to press your face against!
And while you're looking into the E-M5 II's really, really good EVF, you can do all kinds of stuff without ever taking your eye away. I've learned this over time. You can be looking into the EVF with your thumb on that middle "OK" button at the rear, and you can learn your way by feel to that "Play" button, "Delete," "Menu" and so on. So without taking your eye away, for example, you can hit "play" and be screening back through photos, deleting a photo, hitting one of the knobs to zoom in and magnify photo viewing, playing back a movie, etc. etc. etc.
Don't get me wrong, I'll often flip out the LCD screen and have it to the side, maybe if I'm shooting a video or want to shoot less conspicuously. But the resolution in the E-M5 II's EVF is stunning and they must have a really fast refresh rate on it; it's great to use. The camera's exterior feels like the textures of -- and there are a lot of visual/construction cues to -- the OM series of film cameras, and I'm sure that was intentional.
So fold in that rear LCD screen when you don't need it, and you've got a camera that gives you some of that cool feel of the OM Series cameras, with just-right sizing and very significant leaps in performance. I found the camera's headroom for best-quality ISO is about one full 2x stop above the original E-M5's. That is, if I'd generally try to keep the original E-M5 from Low/200 to 800 or 1600 ISO and be assured of best quality results, I wouldn't hesitate to push to 3200 with the E-M5 Mark II in comparable situations if need be, and beyond that holds up well. The Mark II massages out and retains more detail in the image as you use the higher ISOs than my original E-M5 does.
And I'll tell you what, take that ISO range, plus the E-M5 II's very effective sensor-based image stabilization, plus some kind of fast-speed (wide aperture <f/2, f/1.4, f/1.2, etc.) lens possibility the M4/3 mount offers, and you can have yourself some of the most engaging, rewarding photography and video-making around.
Oh, one more thing: Using the eye-level finder with the rear LCD screen folded in won't have you fogging up the LCD screen with your cheek and nose as easily, especially out on a cold day where your breath is likely to steam all over the place.
There are weaknesses to the E-M5 II -- no product is perfect. First, when you get it, make sure you have the latest firmware version, since Olympus added some worthwhile features and probably software improvements, and you don't want to program in a bunch of custom settings and then get the system update and have to redo that stuff. So check that you've got the latest mini-update of Version 2.0, like 2.0.2 or whatever it is at the time.
One weakness I'd say there is is that the menu system can be tricky. Maybe I'm just an idiot or something, but I've found I can't necessarily make all the little menu settings/ adjustments for, say, movies and video unless I've got the top-left mode control dial set on "Movie." I mean, I guess that does make some sense when you think about it, but just know you have to learn stuff with this camera if you want the most out of it. As I've been using it over the last nine months or so, I've definitely gotten better with it.
What I'm saying is the E-M5 II has the right potential and capabilities -- just as soon as I was capable of using it to its potential.
Also, the bottom section of the HLD-8 battery grip is the same as the piece on the original E-M5. That means it's slightly lesser toughness/grippy texture grade and also has those same rubber pads on there that scuff up pretty much the first time you use them. It's a minor point, since the stupid thing still works really well and feels nice with the E-M5 Mark II. They made it work. And on the other hand, I've also now got a backup part sitting on my original E-M5 should I need one, and it's also a smart move to save a little on new production costs from a business planning perspective, if we're being honest.
A few words of advice: In the menu, go to the two gears in the left column ("Detailed camera settings"), then *G ("Color/WB"), then select "WB Auto keep warm color" and turn that thing off. If you're shooting available light indoors or something and have the camera on auto white balance, which usually works well, that "keep warm color" setting can leave you with too-orangey colors, to my eye, if you leave it on.
For still photos, I've found something really helpful: you can set the image stabilizer to "Auto." It works great -- the camera is sensing what kind of shake you've got and applying vertical and/or horizontal image stabilization. It's genius, and it helps you not have to think about that and focus your effort elsewhere.
For movie mode, I have image stabilization set to IS2, which turns off digital stabilization and only uses sensor-shift stabilization. Sometimes when using the additional digital IS with movies, it seemed to create a weird lag or video hangup when panning by hand, as if the camera was trying to overcompensate for the movement. So in my experience, video is better in most cases with just sensor-based IS, but you'll be surprised how good of results you can get hand-holding the E-M5 Mark II. It may be limited in its 4K video capabilities, but trust me, our answer to that should be, "Who cares?" The full HD and custom video settings available are superb and this camera can produce impressively high quality stuff.
Video performance is one of the bigger improvements from the original E-M5, and the Mark II also now has a built-in plug for an external microphone, which is pretty much an imperative if you plan on doing more serious video. There's also a proper X-sync terminal for those older flashes you may want to fire, just in case you missed that on the front-right of the camera, and even a headphone jack if you're using the HLD-8. That allows you to monitor live video sound or be listening as you play back video; the first time you use it, you'll realize how smart it was to include.
The E-M5 II also has the ability to use a silent, fully electronic shutter. Thank you for listening to me on that one, Olympus! That can be a massive advantage in certain situations, but it does have limits. If you're shooting under certain fluorescent lights, for example, the electronic shutter can be more susceptible to image "flicker" or what I think of as oscillating exposure, with horizontal lines like can happen shooting at a TV screen. Using the mechanical shutter, which isn't silent but is quieter and tighter than the original E-M5's already well-mannered shutter, will solve that problem if you find yourself encountering it.
I have to call out some really great control additions with the E-M5 II. There's a switch they added to the FN1 button to the left of the rear-right control dial; flip it down, and the default setting is then that you can spin the rear-right control dial to adjust white balance and the front-right control dial to adjust ISO. That has been hugely, hugely useful -- I'll find myself staring into the viewfinder, for example, in whacky lighting conditions, but I can flick that lever down and use the rear control dial to scroll quickly through WB settings and get it right.
Or there's the OK button at the rear of the camera, which is easy to find with your thumb by feel. You can also easily move up, down, etc. to hit the directional buttons without having to look, and pressing the down directional button, for instance, can get you to shutter adjustment. So again, without looking from the viewfinder, I might press that down button and be switching from mechanical shutter to silent shutter to maybe a timer setting (and you won't know I'm doing anything at all).
That's what I can tell you from using the E-M5 Mark II this past year. It's given me excellent results, and although I'm as advanced a user as you'll find, I've gotten much better at using it as I've done it more and put in more time. It's become my favorite and the most natural-feeling, capable camera of any I've owned. Also, it can use the new UHS-II SD cards, so keep in mind also that you can get the best performance out of the E-M5 II if you use one of those.
Hey, another BTW, Olympus put all these improved things into the E-M5 Mark II and then brought it to market for like $150 less than the price of the original E-M5. I paid the regular price for mine (as I did with the original), and with the camera this thing has proven to be in use this year, it's been well worth it. I actually don't mind rewarding a company like Olympus that is putting this much effort into giving its customers a great product and creative tool to use. But given the discounts/lens combo deals I've seen on it like over Christmas or a few special sales, it's just insanely good. I love mine.