There have been a handful of camera announcements over the past few weeks, but perhaps the most exciting news has revolved around the new Olympus E-M5 MK II. I will be doing a full video review on this camera in the next month or two, but in the mean time I wanted to share my first impressions of this camera, as Olympus have officially just stepped up their game.
If you come strictly from a video background, you may not be that familiar with Olympus as a brand since their focus and customer base so far has been largely photography oriented. That said, those of you that have been shooting with Lumix cameras (such as the GH series) may be a bit more familiar with Olympus as their cameras are also based on the Micro Four Thirds platform, meaning many GH3/GH4 shooters own at least a lens or two from Olympus.
Up until now, Olympus really haven’t offered any cameras that were particularly enticing to video shooters – mainly because of a lack of a 24p frame rate option. For me personally, this is a huge deal breaker when considering any camera as 99% of what I shoot is 24p. Unless explicitly asked to shoot at 29.97 by a client, or if I am over cranking for slow motion shots, 24p is still the gold standard for me and an absolute requirement. The other big drawback of Olympus cameras up until now has been the fact that their internal recording capabilities have been limited to very low bitrates, topping out at 20mbps. This is pretty minuscule when compared to cameras like the GH4 which can do 10 x that at 200mbps.
Although Olympus hasn’t really been a big player in the video market, they have been shaking things up in photography for some time now. The original Olympus E-M5 and it’s bigger brother the E-M1 have become the go-to cameras of choice for many photographers, as they offer some incredibly powerful features in very small and well built camera bodies. Both boast an in body 5 axis stabilization feature that allow literally any lens (even fully manual vintage glass) to be stabilized internally – much like the system found in the new Sony A7R, which is truly incredible. The E-M1 and E-M5 also offer great low-light performance when compared to other MFT cameras, and are fantastic for high speed photography work… Especially the E-M1 which is able to shoot stills continuously at 10 frames per second.
The build quality of Olympus cameras (and lenses for that matter) have been truly fantastic, especially when considering the price point. The overall feel, ergonomics and usability of their cameras has really set the standard (at least as far as MFT cameras go), which is likely why so many photographers have moved over to Olympus. Surprisingly, many professional photographers gave up shooting on full frame so they could move over to the Olympus E-M1 as the benefits of the camera were so hard to pass up.
The E-M5 MKII
I’ve been keeping my eye on Olympus since I started more shooting stills photography in addition to video, but have never owned one myself. 95% of my work is video based, so if I am going to buy a stills camera I still want to make sure that it has excellent video capabilities too. As much as I was tempted by some of Olympus’ previous offerings for my photography work, it wasn’t until the E-M5 Mark II was announced that I started to consider Olympus as viable option since it seems to be just as great for video now too. Take a look at the specs to see why:
- 16MP 4608 x 3456 Live MOS Sensor with 5-Axis Sensor Image Stabilization
- 3.0″ Vari-Angle Touchscreen OLED Monitor & 2360k-Dot Electronic Viewfinder
- 1080p: 24p, 25p, 30p, 50p, 60p
- 77Mbps AVCHD Intraframe for 24, 25, 30fps, and up to 50mbps IPB for 50p and 60p
- ISO: 200-3200 (High Sensitivity Mode: 100-25600)
- Clean HDMI feed with 4:2:2 (likely 8-bit)
- SD, SDXC, SDHC Cards
- 40MP High Res Shot
- Peaking, Histogram, Exposure Clipping
- Built-In WiFi & Mic
- HDMI D (Micro), AV / USB Multi, USB 2.0, 1/8″ Microphone
- 10 Frames Per Second
- Dustproof and Splash-Proof Construction
- Availability: March 2015
- Price: $1,099
The biggest two issues with Olympus cameras in the past were the lack of 24p recording, and the low bitrate codec – both of which are now resolved. The E-M5 Mark II not only offers a 24p mode, but records at a bit rate of up to 77 mbps in ALL-I mode, or 50mbps in IPB mode. There are loads of other notable bonus features such as the ability to get a clean 4:2:2 output through HDMI (for ProRes recording on external recorders) and some great exposure tools – such as peaking, histogram, and exposure clipping.
At first glance it may still seem to fall short of cameras like the Lumix GH4 which can record internally at 4K, or the A7S with it’s mind blowing low-light performance, but I would argue that the E-M5 Mark II is just as serious of a contender. First and foremost, the lack of 4K recording is not a drawback for me, as HD is still the standard for the vast majority of productions that I work on, and if I really need 4K for a project chances are I’m shooting on a RED or more substantial cinema camera. Yes, the bit rate is lower than what you get on a GH4, however at 77mbps you really have nothing to worry about. If I’ve learned anything over the years it’s that specs don’t always tell the full story, and a clean 77mbps image from a great camera can certainly look better than 100+ mbps image from a camera with a poorer sensor and sub par color science.
Probably the biggest draw for me with regards to this camera is the internal stabilization. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to choose my lenses for a shoot simply based on the fact that they had image stabilization built in, even if they weren’t the optimal lens choice. Take my Canon 24-105 L series F/4 lens for instance. It’s a great piece of glass, there’s no question about that… But at F4 it is a fairly slow lens and there have been many times (even in low-ish light situations) where I’ve had no other choice but to use it and crank up my ISO – usually because I couldn’t shoot with a rig or stabilizer.
As far as production value is concerned, stabilization is key. Obviously certain cameras deliver better results than others, and there are many variables that factor into the overall production value of any given project (such as production design, locations, wardrobe, etc.), but when it comes to the camera department – it’s all about stabilization. A beautifully stabilized DSLR shot coming off a drone or jib arm will look far better than an extremely shaky handheld shot, even if it’s being captured on a RED. That’s not to say that there isn’t a time and place for extreme hand held work, but rather that as far as production value goes stabilization typically is more important to the viewer experience than camera choice. This is why gimbal based stabilizers like the Movi are causing so much excitement in the industry and even the use of drones is becoming commonplace.
The fact that with the E-M5 Mark II, I have the ability to simply take the camera out of the bag, attach any lens that I want and get beautiful stabilized images is truly remarkable. I am no stranger to camera rigging, and I have no problem taking my time on set with more complex camera builds or stabilizers… However, on a production where I am using a DSLR – chances are I need to move quickly, and am potentially shooting without a permit, meaning I need to keep my gear to a minimum.
John Brawley did a fantastic writeup on the camera, and also posted a behind the scenes video of his E-M5 Mark II shoot, which I’ve shared below. I really love the colors, skin tones, and overall feel of that E-M5 Mark II delivers, and it’s particularly interesting to see how some of these shots were captured with no rig:
The Canon 5DS & 5DS R
Olympus wasn’t the only company to announce new cameras lately, and in fact Canon largely stole the spotlight with their latest 5D models – the 5DS & 5DR. Both cameras are absolute beasts when it comes to stills photography, as they feature a 50.6 megapixel sensor which brings these cameras into medium format range, at least as far as resolution is concerned. The only real difference between the two is that the 5DS R has Low-Pass Filter Effect Cancellation, which essentially means the images will be even sharper, but may run the risk of suffering from moire and aliasing.
Here are the specs:
- 50.6MP (Max Res: 8688 x 5792) Full-Frame CMOS Sensor
- 5DS R has Low-Pass Filter Effect Cancellation
- Dual DIGIC 6 Image Processors
- 3.2″ 1,040K-Dot ClearView II LCD Monitor
- MPEG AVC/H.264: 1920 x 1080p / 29.97 fps / 25 fps / 23.98 fps
- MPEG AVC/H.264: 1280 x 720p / 59.94 fps / 50 fps
- MPEG AVC/H.264: 640 x 480p / 29.97 fps / 25 fps
- 1920 x 1280: ALL-I 11 min. (654 MB / min.)
- 1920 x 1280: IPB 33 min. (255 MB / min.)
- 1280 x 720: ALL-I 13 min. (583 MB / min.)
- 1280 x 720: IPB 38 min. (196 MB / min.)
- 640 x 480: IPB 97 min. (78 MB / min.)
- Crop Shooting: 1.3x 30MP and 1.6x 20MP
- 61-Point High Density Reticular AF
- 150,000-Pixel RGB+IR Metering Sensor
- ISO 100-6400 (Extended Mode: 50-12800)
- Built-in Mic
- Mic, Mini-HDMI, USB 3.0
- 5.0 fps Burst Shooting
- Anti-Flicker Compensation
- User-Selectable Shutter Release Time Lag
- Dual Compact Flash and SD Media Slots
- Availability: June 2015
- Price: $3,699 for 5DS & $3,899 for 5DS R
There is no question that these cameras will be incredible tools for stills photography, but as far as video is concerned they aren’t going to be anything to write home about. As we’ve seen with cameras like the Sony A7S, a low pixel count is actually far better for recording high quality video for a number of reasons. First off, lower pixels often mean bigger pixels which is preferable for low light shooting, not to mention that a lot of internal processing needs to take place for a camera to reduce an extremely high megapixel image down to HD video resolution.
The fact that the 5DS and 5DS R don’t offer 4K recording and really don’t have any substantial video improvement above and beyond what we might expect from Canon, tells me that these are purely directed at stills photographers. While they may produce fairly nice video under the right circumstances, at a price point closing in at $4000 there are far better options out there, all of which are optimized for video as opposed to stills.
Once I get my hands on the 5DS / 5DS R I will be sure to do a proper writeup or review, and who knows – maybe I’ll change my mind on these cameras. But for now, I’m not holding my breath.
In the mean time, stay tuned for my Samsung NX1 video review coming in the next couple of weeks, and then my E-M5 Mark II review shortly after!
Noam Kroll is an award-winning Los Angeles based filmmaker, and the founder of the boutique production house, Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television, and in various publications across the globe. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!