NA-EM1II | Indonesia

Text by Hergen Spalink

Images by Hergen Spalink and Kerri Bingham

Olympus’ OMD EM1MKII is the long-awaited update to their ground-breaking Micro Four Thirds flagship camera.  We took the NA-EM1II with both a dedicated macro setup (Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 60mm f/2.8 Macro Lens) as well as the wet-mate system comprised of the WWL-1 and CMC that allows for both wide and macro on a dive using either the Olympus 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 EZ or ED 12-50mm F3.5-6.3 EZ lens for our latest trip to Bali, Raja Ampat and Triton Bay in Indonesia.  Here’s what we found makes this camera really special for underwater image making.

Autofocus

Too fast! The true power of the EM1MKII autofocus revealed itself after the focus light battery gave-out on a macro dive. A pygmy seahorse was in the perfect position and needed to be photographed.  Despite the lack of a focus light the pygmy materialized rather quickly in my viewfinder, the speed of the Olympus’ amazing autofocus unfettered by the lack of artificial light. I moved the focus area selector over the face of the pygmy and depressed the shutter halfway. As the pygmy rocked back and forth on his sea fan perch the camera kept his face in perfect focus. I was laughing so hard I almost forgot to push the shutter all the way. I was floored. Lightning fast continuous focus tracking of a pygmy seahorse face at around 1:1 without a focus light.  Normally I would revert to manual focus for supermacro but the MKII’s autofocus was more than capable of delivering the results I wanted.

In addition to allowing for macro when used with the wide angle zoom lens, adding the CMC to the Olympus 60mm macro is great for super macro as well, allowing Kerri to nab some images of the microscopic nudis and other benthic inhabitants of Bali.

For wide angle the autofocus was accurate even when shooting silhouettes and in low light conditions.  With the WWL-1 the close focus abilities are outstanding.

2×2 Flexibility

The ability to switch back and forth between wide and macro thanks to the WWL1/CMC combination is great but most of the time we want different settings as well.  The EM1MKII features a “2×2” lever. This lever, easily accessed on the NA-EM1II housing, allows you to assign different functions for each position (1 or 2).  See page 124 of the manual for further explanation.  This means that with the flip of a lever you can instantly switch your camera’s autofocus settings from your preferred macro settings to your wide settings and back again.  To take it a step further, the camera also has three custom modes (C1,C2, and C3) that allow for more extreme customization for three different shooting scenarios.  We usually set one for topside, one for macro and one for wide angle.

EVF

The EVF on the MKII is an improvement over the previous version and can be used in two modes, standard and S-OVF which stands for Simulated Optical Viewfinder. With the S-OVF mode the viewfinder will not show you the image as it would appear with your current exposure settings, it will show you how it believes the scene would look through an optical viewfinder such as on a DSLR camera.

This is great for macro but for wide it doesn’t take advantage of one of the great benefits of an EVF and that is to show you what your background (the water) will look like when you take the photo. If you use the standard mode that shows you the result of your exposure settings, it can be tough to compose with a bright background as the foreground will appear dark (the camera can’t simulate your strobe exposure). By assigning one of the function buttons to switch between the two modes you can quickly switch between composing and checking your background exposure. The function buttons are easily accessed via the housing.

We prefer back-button autofocus for macro, removing the focus from the shutter and only engaging the autofocus when the assigned button is depressed. In this case we assigned it to the rear right thumb-paddle control of the housing that presses the AE-L/AF-L button.

TTL or Flash Trigger

TTL with the MKII is accomplished with the supplied accessory hot-shoe flash from Olympus. The flash can be turned on and off via a lever outside the housing so no worries if you forgot to turn it on before placing it in the housing or if you want to shut it off for some natural light shots. As it is a compact hot-shoe flash the recycle time can be reduced when shooting with TTL to somewhere between 2-3 fps . One solution is to turn the Flash EV adjustment on the camera to “-1 stop” and compensate by adjusting the EV control on your strobes to “+1” if you can.

If manual strobe control is more your speed the Nauticam flash trigger gives rapid-fire (non-TTL) strobe triggering at up to 10fps. With the camera capable of shooting at 15fps with mechanical shutter (60fps with electronic) you’re really only limited by your strobe’s recycle time.  This is great for fast action scenes.

Performance

The EM1MKII is the flagship Olympus Micro Four Thirds camera for good reason. In addition to the awesome features discussed above, the camera is also a capable video shooter. With 5-axis stabilization, it takes the ability to shoot Cinema 4K at 24fps at 237Mbps to a higher level.

The battery life is excellent when compared to the previous model. We had no problem stretching one battery across two dives (use of the flash trigger extends battery life even more as does enabling the sleep function).

With killer autofocus, a variety of EVF modes, mind-numbing control customization and the ability to use the WWL1 and CMC make the OMD-EM1MKII one of the best Micro Four Thirds cameras to date and a worthy successor to the EM1.

The NA-EM1II is available now!

The setup used for this article was as follows:

Olympus OMD-EM1MKII with Olympus 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 EZ and Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 60mm f/2.8 Macro Lens

NA-EM1II Housing with Vacuum system, 45º viewfinder and WWL-1 and CMC attached via bayonet mount

Strobes were either INON Z-240 or Sea & Sea YS-D2

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