Could this new camera replace your DSLR?

Olympus OM-D EM-1 press pics for review story.
Credit Olympus
Photo of Mogens Johansen

The gloves are off: Olympus is unashamedly taking aim at the pro and high-end enthusiast market with the launch of its new Olympus OM-D EM-1 Mark II. 

The new mirrorless camera will go head to head with DSLR cameras such as the Canon 7D Mark II and the Nikon D500. 

A quick glance at the specifications of the new EM-1 Mark II certainly suggests it is a serious contender. Virtually all the internals have been upgraded; a new 20MP Live MOS sensor coupled with a TruePic VIII image processor allows improved high-speed performance. 

The camera can shoot 18fps in AF/AE tracking and up to 60fps with AF and AE locked. Olympus has also improved the video capabilities to 4K. 

The compact body is splash, dust and freezeproof and feels solid enough to withstand professional use. Despite its small size, the camera feels well balanced and comfortable to hold, thanks to a large grip. 

The buttons and dials are largely as on the previous model but, because it is aimed at the pro market, the photo and scene modes have been replaced with three custom settings on the mode dial. Dual SD card slots and a new long-lasting battery are some other notable additions that will appeal to both pro and enthusiast users.

“The slowest thing about this camera is the photographer,” says Burke Flynn, of Olympus, as he runs through some of the features with me.

“Because the camera has mechanical and electronic shutters, its speeds are blistering. AF tracking and speed has been the last bastion of the DSLRs. With this camera, we are going head to head with the 7D Mark II and D500; price-wise, we sit between the two and spec-wise we think we have them covered.

“The new, improved AF system has taken what used to be the weakness of the mirrorless and flipped it on its head. In a DSLR, most of the light goes to the viewfinder and a small amount of light is diverted to the AF phase detection unit. When the mirror is up, the AF phase detection unit loses sight of the subject and has to predict the subject movement. In our mirrorless, the AF sensor is built onto the imaging sensor, so it never loses sight of the subject.

“Another exciting development for us is Pro Capture. It is for anything where anticipation is required and it is utterly brilliant. With Pro Capture activated, the camera will take a running series of full resolution frames; just half press the shutter and it starts capturing a 14-frame stack to the buffer, so you effectively have 14 frames before you fully press the button.” 

I used the Olympus OM-D EM-1 for my daily assignments for a couple of days and really enjoyed using it. It never missed a beat and was much more discreet and quiet to use than my DSLR. The AF was faultless at a Fremantle Dockers training session and I was able to comfortably hand-hold the camera and the Olympus 300mm f/4 telephoto lens — when I use my full-frame DSLR with an equivalent 600mm f/4, it requires a monopod.

The excellent Olympus five-axis image stabilisation system allowed me to shoot perfectly sharp pictures of speakers at a business breakfast in a dimly-lit room without a hint of movement.

The fast, crisp electronic viewfinder was nice to use — a six millisecond delay from when the light hits the sensor to when you see it in the viewfinder, it ensures you don’t miss a thing. 

I like EVFs because what you see is what you get — they’re great when you need to use exposure compensation or when shooting in manual mode.

The Olympus OM-D EM-1 certainly has the specifications to compete with Nikon D500 and the Canon 7D Mark II. 

The EM-1’s smaller and has lighter body and lenses, and the five-axis image stabilisation system, certainly make it an attractive alternative to the larger and heavier DSLRs. 

However, the EM-1’s Micro Four Thirds sensor is small compared with the larger APS-C crop sensor of the Nikon D500 and the Canon 7D Mark II, and that may sway most professional users in the direction of the DSLRs. The Olympus OM-D EM-1 (body only) retails for about $2799.

Fact File

Olympus OM-D EM-1 Mark II specifications 


The Olympus OM-D EM-1 Mark II was lent to Mogens Johansen by Olympus.