OM System OM-1 Mark II initial review: AI AF improvements to Stacked CMOS flagship: Digital Photography Review



Product images by Shaminder Dulai

The OM System OM-1 Mark II is a high-speed Micro Four Thirds camera based around a 20MP Stacked CMOS sensor. As the name implies, it’s an updated version of the flagship OM-1, with a series of hardware and firmware improvements.

Key Specifications:

  • 20MP Four Thirds Stacked CMOS sensor
  • Continuous shooting at up to 50fps with full autofocus, 120fps with AF/AE locked
  • In-body stabilization rated to 8.5EV
  • 4K (UHD or DCI) at up to 60p with 10-bit and Log capture options
  • Extended subject recognition AF modes
  • 5.76m dot OLED viewfinder with 0.83x magnification
  • 80MP multi-shot high res mode with 50MP hand-held option
  • Live composite, Live ND and Graduated ND mutli-shot modes
  • Environmentally sealed to IP53 standard
  • Twin UHS-II cards

The OM-1 Mark II will be available from February 26th at a recommended price of $2399, a $200 increase compared with the original model from February 2022. US customers ordering before Feb 25th will receive a second BLX-1 battery and $300 off select lenses, we’d expect other regions to be offering similar incentives to pre-order.



What’s new?

The OM-1 Mark II arrives two years on from the original model and offers a series of improvements, rather than a radical change of specs, compared with the existing model.

The OM-1 II uses the same TruePic X processor as the original model did and its headline capabilities are essentially the same, but the new version has more RAM onboard, which the company says underpins many of the changes that have been made possible.

So, while the max burst rate and video specs remain unchanged, the way features are implemented and the performance of the camera within the bounds of those headline figures have changed.

Improved AF

A ‘Human detection’ option in the camera’s subject detection system replaces Face/Eye detection. It should be better at recognizing smaller subjects as well as helping simplify the user interface.

The headline change is the improvement of the camera’s autofocus. The OM-1 II builds on what was one of the earliest implementations of machine-learning-trained subject recognition. The Olympus E-M1 X was the first camera to use machine learning to offer an AF system with AF algorithms that had been trained to recognize a broad range of subjects (previous rivals could only recognize people and domestic animals, typically).

The biggest outward change is that OM-1 II gains a Human detection mode, which extends subject recognition beyond just face detection but also means that all the camera’s recognition modes are now integrated within the same section of the interface (Face Detection was a separate mode on the OM-1).

The company also says the refresh rate of the AF system has been improved, boosting the performance of the (non-recognition-based) C-AF + Tracking mode as well as the effectiveness of the AI-trained subject recognition modes.

As before, you can specify what the camera does if the recognized subject ventures beyond your chosen AF area: stick with the subject or revert to focusing within your chosen area. This can be set separately for stills and video.

We’re also told the based C-AF tracking (without subject recognition) has been improved, which we’re looking forward to testing.

Improved IS

Another major step forward in the OM-1 II is its improved in-body image stabilization. The revamped system, which uses updated algorithms, is now rated to deliver an impressive 8.5EV of correction when subjected to industry-standard testing.

This is unlikely to mean that you can actually reliably shoot at 8.5 stops below the traditional 1/focal length shutter speed (with a 50mm equiv lens, that would be an exposure of around seven seconds), but it does leave the OM-1 II as the highest-rated camera on the market.

More blackout-free modes

The existing OM-1 offered true blackout-free shooting at its fastest shooting settings. The Mark II extends this to some of its slower burst rates, meaning that photographers who don’t always need to use the camera’s fastest rates still experience the benefit of the sensor’s rapid readout.

Bigger buffer

The most obvious sign of a hardware change in the Mark II is its deeper buffer. The Mark II can shoot 256 Raw frames at 50fps or 213 in its single (initial) AF 120fps mode. These numbers are around double the figures that the original model could achieve, and help boost the value of its high-speed capabilities.

In many circumstances, the benefit won’t so much be the ability to stay on the shutter for five seconds, but instead that it decreases the likelihood of the buffer being full at the moment you need to capture another quick 50fps burst.

Graduated Neutral Density filter

The OM-1 II’s GND feature lets you adjust the severity of the gradient and adjust its position and angle.

Building on the Live ND option, which blends lots of short exposures to give the effect of a neutral density filter, the OM1 II gains the ability to simulate a graduated neutral density filter.

It gives the choice of whether you want the gradient to have a hard, medium or soft edge, and whether you want it to have a 1, 2, or 3-stop impact (ND 2, 4 or 8). You can then use the four-way controller or the touchscreen to move the mid-point of the gradient, and the dials to rotate its angle. The front dial rotates the gradient effect by 15 degrees, while the rear dial makes single degree adjustments.

The camera’s Live ND feature has also been extended and can now simulate a 7-stop ND128 filter: a stop darker than the original model.

14-bit multi-shot Raw

The OM-1 II has the option to capture its multi-shot high-res images in 14-bit Raw. In both the 80MP mode that requires the use of a tripod and the 50MP mode designed for hand-held shooting, the camera can now store Raw files with the capacity for wider dynamic range that multi-shot shooting generates. It doesn’t appear that this additional Raw depth is used to store the image data any more efficiently, though: the multi-shot Raws are between 2.4 and 4 times the size of a single-image file. We look forward to discovering whether there’s an appreciable difference one we get independent Raw support for the camera.


Body and handling

The OM-1 II shares a body with its predecessor: a compact, dense body with a well-designed layout that offers extensive direct control, despite the camera’s small size.

The most obvious change between the OM-1 and the Mark II is that the camera now wears OM System branding across its viewfinder hump. The original OM-1 was at quite an advanced stage of development when Olympus divested its camera business, so it still had the previous company’s branding emblazoned on it, which the Mark II sets straight.

Beyond this, the handling of the camera is almost identical to that of the original camera. We say ‘almost’ because OMDS has changed the camera’s command dial to one with a rubbery coating. These offer an improved tactile feel and also make the camera a little easier to operate when using gloves.

The OM-1 II’s dials have a rubberized finish to them, improving the feel and making them easier to use when wearing gloves.

The result is a small camera with a huge degree of direct control but with a layout that means these two factors are rarely in conflict (unless you have very large hands). We remain impressed with how much direct access is available and how comfortable the camera is to hold and shoot.

The elimination of the separate face detection option means that subject recognition options can now take its place on the Super Control Panel, just below the White Balance setting.

Beyond this, the camera’s handling and operation remain unchanged. It continues to use the updated version of the Super Control Panel quick menu, making it easy to see and adjust the camera’s key settings.

The dizzying degree of customization of the camera is still present. For instance, you can set the two-position lever around the AEL button to switch between focus settings, at which point you can decide whether this affects the AF mode, AF area mode and chosen AF area, so that it does exactly what you want. However, newer features such as focus limiter and subject recognition mode aren’t options for what the switch changes, so you can’t use this feature to engage and disengage subject detection mode or switch between subject types.

Viewfinder and screen

Caption

The OM-1 uses the same 5.76M dot (1600 x 1200 px) OLED viewfinder as the previous model. The viewfinder optics give a finder with 0.83x magnification. As before, this can be run at up to 120Hz, with OMDS claiming a refresh lag of 5ms. It’s a large and responsive viewfinder.

As you might hope, the OM-1 II also comes with the little FL LM3 flash. This mounts in the camera’s hotshoe and can be rotated sideways and upwards, allowing you to bounce it. It’s not very powerful in itself, but as well as being a lot more flexible than a typical built-in flash, it can also be used to communicate flash information to external flash units using the ‘RC’ infrared system.

Battery

The OM-1 II uses the same BLX-1 battery as the previous model. This is a 16.4Wh unit that powers the camera to a CIPA rating of 500 shots per charge: a very slight drop compared with the existing camera. In the more efficient Quick Sleep mode, the rating jumps to 1010 shots per charge, but with the screens slowing and then going dark much, much more quickly after each interaction with the camera.

As always, CIPA numbers tend to significantly underestimate the number of shots you’re likely to get from a camera. Double the rated value isn’t unusual, and this number significantly increases if you’re shooting shots in bursts, where you’re unlikely to view each image individually for long periods on the rear screen.

The OM-1 Mark II is compatible with the existing HLD-10 battery grip, which adds a second battery to the camera.


Initial impressions

By Richard Butler

The first thing that’s likely to strike many OM System and Olympus users about the OM-1 II is that OMDS has chosen to update one of its most recent models rather than expanding or refreshing the rest of its lineup.

The company’s presentation about the camera talked in terms of “perfecting” the already impressive capabilities of the original OM-1, rather than significantly expanding them. A deeper buffer, improved AF performance and uprated image stabilization suggest the company’s engineers have been busy, though.

The new camera has more onboard memory, which we’re told enables some of the new features. The deeper buffer during burst shooting is the most obvious outcome, but it could plausibly also be underpinning features such as the virtual Graduated ND feature that requires lots of frames to be held while the processor blends them together. But it’s clear why the company has called this a Mark 2, rather than branding it as an entirely new model.

The move to a human detection mode within the camera’s subject recognition options, rather than face/eye detection that lives separately, helps improve the coherence of the camera’s operation. But there are still clear signs (such as the limited functions that can be controlled by the two-way switch) that this is a camera that’s been added to, year by year, rather than developed from a blank sheet of paper.

What it continues to offer is pro-level speed with camera/lens combinations that are appreciably smaller and lighter than larger formats. There’s a trade-off to be made for this, but features such as hand-held high resolution mode can help to overcome the differences.

The OM-1 II’s video specs are unchanged, compared with the existing camera.

OMDS has clearly recognized this, and if the improved AF performance makes the camera more effective for wildlife photography, then it could help strengthen the brand’s handhold in that niche. We’re still in the early days of testing the OM-1 II, but more effective autofocus, combined with the OM-1’s speed, its weather sealing and the availability of light long lenses, would help justify the company’s focus on its high-end models.

We’d love to see a continuation of the PEN line of small, classic-looking cameras, as they were some of the models that helped define the early promises of the move to mirrorless. But the speed and multi-shot capabilities Olympus and OMDS have developed make more sense in a rugged camera to be taken into the wilderness with a long lens for landscape and wildlife shooting. Arguably, some of these capabilities could also translate into a go everywhere/do everything travel camera, too, but for now the efforts have been concentrated on the OM-1 and OM-5 lines.

As with the move from the E-M1 II to the III, there’ll be people who wonder whether the changes could have been made as a firmware update, and it’ll be interesting to see whether some of the behavioral refinements of the Mark II are made available to owners of the original camera. But our first impressions are that the OM-1 II represents a meaningful advance in the areas that matter for its intended uses. Whether they’re meaningful enough to prompt OM-1 users to upgrade is something we’ll discover in the coming weeks.


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