It's really difficult to be objective about things I own that make me really pleased with my purchasing choices. And perhaps the photographic internet would be a more civilised place if we all didn't think like that. But we like what we like. I've only got to look at my Gretsch Electromatic and I go all dreamy eyed. It may not be the best guitar in the world, but I have this overwhelming desire to pick it up and play it everytime I see it. And yes, I did buy it because I loved the look of it. It happens to be a fine instrument, but when I decided to buy it before even playing a note on it, I didn't know that.
I've had that relationship with Olympus Cameras ever since the Digital Pens first appeared and my ongoing infatuation with Olympus and their chrome retro chic, old school aesthetic shows no signs of diminishing. Some of the Pens I bought didn't last long, because they weren't actually that good. But somehow I've managed to own three E-P1's plus lots (and lots!) of other E-P* and E-PL*'s, which usually sat on the shelf while I drooled over them and then get sold on in mint condition to somebody on ebay. I vowed many times to stop doing that, but it doesn't seem to make any difference. Because I really wasn't going to buy the OMD E-M5 II, I really (really!!) wasn't, but somehow it seems to have ended up on my camera shelf.
Now it is a fine camera, there is no doubting that and I have actually used it quite a lot. But I have alternatives and it's certainly not the best all round camera I have, nor the best at anything really. But it sure looks good. I took out the above outfit - Olympus OM-D E-M5 II + Panasonic 15mm f/1.7 and Olympus m.Zuiko 75mm f/1.8 out the other day and had one of those smile on my face excursions with a camera I really like using. The pictures were fine, usual high quality from current day m4/3, but the enjoyment was in the creating of those images with what is, for me, one of the most aesthetically pleasing cameras ever made. My Leica T (Typ 701) still holds pride of place for me, but the E-M5 II is a close second. It looks (and handles) particularly good with the smaller section of the two part grip attached, which gives it the look of a rangefinder crossed with a film SLR and I seem to have found it irresistible.
So - Just thought I'd put all that in first (full disclosure) before I actually go on to answer the question in the title of this post.
First off - Here are all my articles on the camera - http://www.soundimageplus.com/search?q=E-M5%20II&f_collectionId=541cb9b2e4b0ab6a6f724547
So is this the best mirrorless currently has to offer? Well no, probably not and that's an impossible question to answer anyway, but without hesitation I will assert that it's one of the best.
- Excellent image quality. m4/3 has really raised it's game in recent years at high(er) ISO's, which complements the already excellent rendering of images at the lower settings.
- Solid Video offer. Not always the case and Panasonic are still the mirrorless leaders for me, but Olympus video is much more usable than it was.
- The IBIS (In body Image Stabilisation) is superb and has finally convinced a long term doubter. (Me!)
- The 40MP / 64MP high res mode. Restricted to still subjects currently, but impressive none the less.
- While still not at DSLR levels the focus / press shutter / capture image time lag is better than many other mirrorless cameras and works very well. Nowhere near as annoying as the Sony clatter and better than the wimpy Fuji (non electronic) shutter. You can also set it up for total silence or anti-shock, both of which work well.
- Very (VERY!) good range of lens options. For me second only to Nikon.
Regular readers will know already what I'm going to put in the negative column.
- Poor battery life
- Those menu's. I use lots of different cameras but I still can't get my head around the way Olympus do things. I have no problem whatsoever with any other system, but my E-M5 II still seems to have a will of it's own. It doesn't of course, but I can find no logic in the way things are organised. I may well have a blind spot here, but I'm not alone in this.
So to phrase the question in the title in a slightly different way - 'Is the Olympus OM-D E-M5 II the best mirrorless has to offer me and the way I like to work?' Then I would reply no, the Leica T (Typ 701) has the number one spot for that, but the Olympus is a close second. And going back to aesthetics again (which I don't seem to be able to escape whenever I start writing about Olympus) this camera does remind of a Leica. No, it's not hand made and the optical quality of the lenses still falls short of Leica engineering standards, but that 75mm f1/.8 is a damn fine lens and for what it offers me is one of my all time favourites. And Olympus do manufacture their cameras to a very high standard. I've actually used the 35mm film SLR cameras this is based on and I have to say, I'd rather have this digital incarnation any day.
So an excellent camera and one that ticks a lot of boxes for me. And ultimately whether it is the best of anything and whether or not I can be objective about it or not, doesn't really matter. I like using it and that means I'll probably go out and create images with it. And just like my Gretsch Electromatic makes me want to make music, that's a good thing. And can any of us really ask for more than that?