NOTE: Article Author: Petr Bambousek, Translation by ChatGPT-4
On Tuesday, 30th January 2024, the arrival of a new OM-1 mark II camera, was quite unexpectedly announced. This is surprising because the usual cycle for releasing new camera bodies is typically three or even four years. And lo and behold, this time it has happened after just 2 years. What led to this? The process of rebranding certainly played a significant role. The existing technology under the Olympus name is gradually changing to the current OM System brand. This time, it’s the flagship OM-1’s turn. I was very satisfied with the first version of the OM-1, about which I wrote quite in detail after returning from an expedition to Ecuador and the Galapagos. Since then, I have undertaken several more wildlife expeditions to various corners of the world with it. Based on my experience, I would say that compared to its predecessor (E-M1 III), it was a revolutionary camera in many respects. OM System has now taken advantage of the current situation and the new camera bears not only a new logo but also brings a whole range of innovations. Therefore, I would call the modernized OM-1 II a welcome evolution in this context. I have been interestedly reading various passionate discussions that erupted after the first rumors leaked, revolving around a simple list of specifications. I wondered how wise such a step actually is. Is it better to wait for a new camera until the classic four-year cycle, or to seize the opportunity and bring an updated version to the market, so to speak, at halftime? Would a different name, perhaps OM-1s, have been more appropriate? Hard to say. Many people in the debates addressed the fact that the shift from the OM-1 is not very pronounced. I had the honor of using the new model since around October 2023, so I gained quite a head start in testing the real benefits for wildlife and nature photography. It’s clear to me that many owners of the existing OM-1 will be asking themselves: “is the upgrade worth it?”. Of course, every photographer will assess this for themselves according to their needs and possibilities. Considering that, as of the time I’m writing these lines, the camera is not yet for sale and many discussions are revolving only around paper parameters, I will try to convey my own impressions after three months of testing in the field in the following lines. I’ll rephrase the question a bit differently: “What does the upgrade specifically bring to wildlife and nature photography?“
Note: At the moment I’m writing these lines, none of my favorite programs (Capture One/Lightroom/DxO Pure RAW3) can yet open RAW files from the OM-1 II. Therefore, the images do not always have ideal color rendering or sharpness. As soon as these programs start supporting it, I will edit the photos again. At this moment, RAW can be loaded, for example, by OM Workspace, Affinity Photo 2, Luminar Neo, or Topaz Photo AI. As soon as Capture One fully supports RAW from the OM-1 II, I will write a separate article about the expedition to Borneo.
The rainforest in Borneo, my great passion and weakness
Late autumn and winter are quite calm periods for us in terms of photography potential, so I was looking forward to testing the camera thoroughly on my autumn expedition to Borneo. This gave me the opportunity to try out the new features and improvements in a real environment – heat, rain, poor lighting conditions, and animals, which are somewhat more complicated to photograph in Borneo compared to, for example, South America (where I hope to go with the new camera as soon as this March). It confirmed what I initially suspected remotely – we especially feel the real benefit when combining several new features at once. I will get to what I mean by this in a moment.
What’s new in OM-1 II?
When we read the list of new features of the OM-1 II, there are quite a few, to be honest. For clarity, I will list the most important ones as you will probably learn from various sources. I will save the specific benefits in real photography for later, referring to the individual new features by numbers, so we have something to rely on. From my perspective, the camera brings improvements in four main categories: user interface and control | shooting | focusing | computational functions.
Western Tarsier, Borneo, OM-1 II, OM 40-150mm/4, ISO 640, f/4, 1/80s
User Interface and Control
- The menu has several corrections in Czech language (I personally found 18) – goodbye “priorito disku”, “tl. zaostř. oblasti AF” and other gems
- The menu can now also be activated using the “trash” button – all key control elements are now accessible on the right side of the camera
- AI object detection has merged the detection of people with other subjects (birds, mammals, cars, …) – they are now in one place in the “OK” Menu and under the AI Detection activation button.
- Control wheels have a new rubberized surface – they are more pleasant to the touch, have a better response and do not tend to jam, noticeably easier to operate with wet hands or in gloves
- Body stabilization is now 8.5 EV – OM-1 had declared 7 EV in the body (8 EV with synchro IS)
- The buffer has more than doubled – we will talk about this more shortly
- Blackout-free shooting (SH2) can now be used from 1/160s – OM-1 had a minimum time of 1/320s
- Burst shooting (SH2) now has two additional possible speeds – 12.5 and 16.7 frames per second (fps) – which is a new extension to the existing 25 and 50 fps
- In ProCapture mode, you can set up to 99 frames before fully pressing the shutter – OM-1 could do 70 – and use the mentioned slower sequences. For example, with a sequence of 12.5 fps, we can capture a moment that happened almost 8s before fully pressing the shutter! With a bit of exaggeration, it means that if you fall asleep while waiting for the action and someone wakes you up a while after it starts, you still have a decent chance to catch it. 🙂 Provided, of course, you managed to keep the shutter pressed halfway during the dozing 🙂
- AF is again a bit more precise – OM-1 was a class better in focusing than its predecessor, OM-1 II goes a step further, handles birds in branches or behind grass better and sticks to the eye more reliably
- In the AF Menu, a function for tracking the object outside the AF point has been added
- It is possible to assign different focusing priority on the shutter and rear AF-ON – AI detection or active AF point – thus, both buttons can be used for focusing with different behaviors
- Detection of human faces has been improved by the detection of humans – the camera focuses even on a person standing with their back to it, focuses on the eyes more swiftly than OM-1
- When choosing AI Bird detection, you can select an individual in a flock and give it priority for focusing – it works best on calmer species, for moving individuals it is better to reduce the AF point in conjunction with active detection and tracking the object even outside the AF.
- The existing ND filter has been expanded to 7 EV (ND128)
- A new feature has been added – the Graduated ND Filter (GND) – which can be used in P/A/S/M modes, has a strength of up to 3 EV (GND8), and allows the use of three variants of transition hardness, adjustable via camera controls or touchscreen
- HiRes in hand-held and tripod modes can now also be saved in 14-bit – this can help in subsequent editing
Additional New Features
- The option for C-AF + TR has been removed (once AI Subject is active) – personally, I am glad, as it did not work reliably and some testers activated it to exhaustion to demonstrate that the AF in OM-1 was not yet perfected
- The option to set priority for the left/right eye in face detection has been removed – quite a surprise for me, I don’t see much point in removing features
- The camera is physically identical to the OM-1 – not a new feature in the true sense of the word, it is simply a fact worth knowing
- Vertical video recording is now possible
As you can see, there are quite a few new features. Some could probably be applied to the existing OM-1 via firmware, while others are supported by hardware and cannot be added to the original OM-1 (e.g., the buffer, rubberized wheels). Now, let’s look at the camera in action with animals.
Mormolice, Borneo, OM-1 II, Panasonic 9mm/1.7, ISO 1250, f/7.1, 1/20s
OM-1 II in Action
Although each innovation is practical in some way, I appreciated the new features in the shooting + focusing categories the most when photographing birds and animals. Their strength really stands out when they are used in combination. Here are three examples where this will be clearly visible.
I noticed a significant benefit of the new features when I had an unexpected opportunity to photograph sea eagles hunting fish in Borneo. Just like pelicans in Greece, the local eagles quickly noticed the advantages of following fishing boats and catching unused fish that the fishermen throw back into the water, as well as hunting fish that spontaneously come to the surface due to the boat’s movement. From a photographer’s perspective, several eagles circle over the forest in the distance, one of them gradually approaches the boat. Then it quickly descends and tries to catch a fish with its talons stretched out. After a successful hunt, it flies away with the fish in its talons. After a while, another individual approaches, and the whole process repeats at various intervals. My goal is to capture the phase of extended talons just above the surface and a nice phase of wings during takeoff.
Eagle, Borneo, OM-1 II, OM 150-400mm/4.5 IS TC, ISO 1000, f/5.6, 1/2500s
With the OM-1, I would set bird detection, SH2 mode, which allows shooting without disturbing flickering, and a sequence at a speed of 25 fps. An eagle approaches, I start focusing, and due to the buffer limit, I have about 5 seconds to photograph the action, then I have to wait about 15 seconds for the entire buffer to empty. I capture one eagle, miss the next, photograph the third, miss the fourth (if the hunts were somewhat consecutive). If I wanted to extend the shooting time = reduce the shooting frequency, I would have to switch to the classic silent shutter mode and record the action with flickering at each frame at a speed of 15 fps. Not terrible, that’s just how it works.
With the OM-1 II, I combine several new features – I also use bird detection, the AF detects birds a bit more precisely and holds focus on the eye better (10), I set the same continuous SH2 shooting, which allows shooting without disturbing flickering, an eagle approaches, I start focusing, and thanks to a larger buffer limit (6), I now have up to 11.5 seconds to photograph the action, then I have to wait about 30 seconds for the buffer to empty. But that is no longer necessary, it’s not necessary to exhaust the entire buffer for one eagle, so I have more photos available for the next action. If I want to extend the shooting time, I set a slightly slower sequence, but now I can still use the advantages of SH2 and choose 16.7 fps. (8), This gives me the possibility of continuous shooting of the scene without flickering for up to 21 seconds. I find that about a third of the time is enough for both moments (attack at the surface + takeoff). Capturing each action thus takes about 7 seconds, and thanks to the buffer space, I can immediately focus on the next eagle. By the time it arrives, the buffer is emptying, and I can photograph the eagles one after another with more precise AF, a frequency of 16.7 fps without flickering in the viewfinder, and a buffer that is hard to fill. That is something you will immediately love when photographing action scenes.
Eagle, Borneo, OM-1 II, OM 150-400mm/4.5 IS TC, ISO 800, f/4.5, 1/2000s
The blackout-free mode (SH2) was previously more suited for action photos. When photographing static species in poor light conditions of the rainforest, it was not very advantageous to use it, as the requirement of a minimum 1/320s also meant higher demands on ISO. I am standing in the rainforest in Borneo. The light is traditionally poor, as it is under the canopies of 40m tall trees, and in front of me on a branch, one of my target species appears – the Black-and-Yellow Broadbill. I set the sequence to 16.7 fps (8) and the blackout-free mode SH2 with a time from 1/160s (7). The more powerful stabilization (5) ensures a steady image, which is so much needed for precise focusing at the equivalent of 1000mm, and now it works more accurately and better detects the marten jumping between the branches (10). The marten is on the card! The increased comfort of capturing is clearly noticeable. The SH2 mode thus quickly became the standard setting for most of my subjects, not only action but also static ones. Only when there is a need to significantly reduce the exposure time, I switch to the classic silent shutter. You quickly get used to greater comfort.
Black-and-Yellow Broadbill, Borneo, OM-1 II, OM 150-400mm/4.5 IS TC, ISO 2500, f/5.6, 1/160s
A hornbill stands on a tree, surrounded by small fruits, and is throwing them into its mouth one after the other. I decide to capture the moment when the bird tosses a fruit before swallowing it. I could certainly do it the classic way, but I set the ProCapture mode. When the shutter is half-pressed, photos start saving to the buffer, and the moment of full press captures the scene with the pre-set history. It is practically impossible to miss the right moment. All this is saved in full RAW format without cropping at a frequency of up to 120 fps. For this moment, however, even 50 fps, which allows continuous focusing with improved bird detection (10), will suffice. The enlarged buffer (6) ensures that I don’t miss any of the up to ten consecutive attempts to swallow the fruit. The hornbill didn’t have that many fruits around it, so it was more than enough for all four real attempts.
Pied Hornbill, Borneo, OM-1 II, OM 150-400mm/4.5 IS TC, ISO 2000, f/5.6, 1/1600s
Larger Buffer, What Does It Mean in Practice?
Playing with the combination of functions opens a new approach to photography, and it’s up to our imagination how to use this potential. For my own needs, I conducted measurements to determine how long it is possible to continuously shoot an event on the OM-1 II without filling the buffer. I repeated the measurements several times to eliminate the deviation that must inevitably occur with my simple method. I used the fastest card available to me – Sony 32 GB with a read speed of 300 MB/s and a write speed of 299 MB/s. For photography, I otherwise use Kingston 128 GB cards with values of 300/260 MB/s, which are slightly slower but practically indistinguishable in practice (see below).
The data is in the order – used card, shooting speed SH2, number of RAW photos taken until the buffer is full, total shooting time until the buffer is full / time needed to empty a fully filled buffer
Sony 32GB – 50 fps, 239 photos, 5.12s / 31s
Sony 32GB – 25 fps, 282 photos, 11,5s / 31s
Sony 32GB – 16.7 fps, 344 photos, 20.8s / 31s
Sony 32GB – 12.5 fps, 444 photos, 36,5s / 31s
Based on these values, you can get an idea of the right speed for capturing the maximum time of the event in front of you – a deer fight will last longer than, for example, feeding young birds. And for completeness, a few more numbers.
Kingston 128GB – 16.7 fps (SH2), 330 photos, 20s / 32s
Sony 32GB – 10 fps (silent mode, with blackouts), 621 photos, 62s / 31s
Summary of My Observations
Bornean Pit Viper, Borneo, OM-1 II, OM 8-25mm/4, ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/125s
In these short examples, I wanted to describe how the current improvements on the OM-1 II impact real-world field use. From my perspective, the combination of significantly improved AF + the ability to reduce SH2 time to 1/160s + the option to lower the SH2 sequence to 12.5 fps + more than double the buffer size is perhaps the biggest “game changer” compared to the first version. The real benefit of the new features for photography, in my experience, is mainly improved camera control, more sharp photos, and increased comfort while shooting. After three weeks of shooting in Borneo (almost exclusively with the OM-1 II) when I picked up my favorite first-generation OM-1, I must admit that I really felt the difference and didn’t want to go back. Not that you can’t shoot with the OM-1, it’s still a great camera, but the OM-1 II is simply more comfortable for shooting. Whether it’s worth it for someone else to switch from the OM-1 to dive headfirst into the new model, that’s for each to decide.
What can the OM-1 II do now?
Bee-eater, Borneo, OM-1 II, OM 150-400mm/4.5 IS TC, ISO 1250, f/5.6, 1/100s
In the previous lines, I described the practical use of several new features, but it’s good to keep in mind that the OM-1 II is a camera literally packed with functions. Since I started using Olympus/OM cameras (2016), they have been continuously accumulating features, and I think it’s good to remind ourselves of the overall possibilities we now have on the OM-1 II. The (for me) key characteristics and functions of the OM-1 II are:
+ stacked sensor with 20 mpx resolution, which holds colors much better even at high ISO
+ 1053 AF points covering the entire viewfinder
+ besides five preset options, we can define our own size and shape of up to four more AF points
+ highly effective AF detection of birds, animals, cars, motorcycles, planes, trains, and people
+ AF detection works in all sizes of AF points, not tied to a specific AF mode
+ precise focusing on stars
+ ability to set any AF limiter range in the body regardless of lens limiters
+ option to set any color for the AF point within the RGB color range
+ extra strong stabilization, which compensates for 8.5 EV just in the body and allows shooting with wide-angle lenses for several seconds hand-held and with telephoto lenses pushes the possibilities well beyond usual habits
+ 11 programmable buttons with dozens of possible functions
+ control via phone including the ability to backup and upload custom camera settings
+ large buffer that allows continuous shooting without flickering for up to 36 seconds of action in full resolution
+ continuous focusing during shooting at speeds up to 50 fps and at a frequency of 10 fps with shooting for more than 60 seconds
+ HiRes function that allows shooting in resolutions of 50 or 80 Mpx in hand-held/tripod modes and 14-bit depth
+ ProCapture function that allows shooting images before full shutter press at speeds up to 50 fps with AF and up to 120 fps without AF in full resolution, in RAW format and with an optional range of photos in history anywhere between 1 – 99 images
+ Live ND filter function, which allows slowing the exposure time by 1-7 EV and simultaneously watching the effect of long exposure before the actual shooting
+ Live GND filter function, which allows using an internal graduated filter with selectable strength (GND2-8), fineness, and positioning
+ Live Time function, which allows watching the development of long exposures directly on the display, especially useful for night photography
+ Live Composite function, which allows shooting and online watching of creative images with the effect of gradually accumulating lights such as star trails, car trails, or light painting
+ Time-lapse function, which allows capturing up to 10,000 images at set intervals, optionally combined into a time-lapse video
+ Focus Stacking/Focus BKT function
+ HDR / EV BKT function
+ well-organized menu with immense customization possibilities and smart personal menu processing with the option to save up to 35 items in 5 tabs
+ option to create up to 4 custom camera modes (C1 – C4) for different occasions without limitations on functions with the option to assign these modes to buttons for immediate activation (modes like birds in flight, night macro, etc.)
+ resistance to rain, dust, and frost according to IP53 standard
What do I Miss in OM-1 II
Glowing Funghi, Borneo, OM-1 II, Panasonic 9mm/1.7, ISO 2500, f/5, 13s
I’ve really fallen in love with this concentration of functions, I enjoy combining and using them in my creations. Personally, I would add a few more to reach what I wouldn’t hesitate to call the ideal. Some options might not even be complicated to program. If someone from R&D takes care of this, I will be infinitely grateful and happy to explain in detail. Here are my main points from the wish book:
- crucial for me: allow defining several custom focusing modes, where it would be possible to specify not only the size and position of the AF point but also the focusing mode, choice of subject detection mode, and especially the stabilization mode – this would allow to quickly change the camera’s behavior for static and dynamic subjects
- allow adding functions to the split button on the left side of the camera – it would be brilliant to have dual functions like ND/GND or Focus Stacking / BKT and anything else there
- add a new button function that would contain all C modes and their number could be selected by holding and turning the wheel (similarly to, for example, selecting the strength of the ND filter)
- add a new button function that would allow setting a maximum ISO limit and minimum time where Auto ISO breaks in A/S mode
- expand the button function assignment window from the current 2 rows (8 options per page with help) to 5 rows (20 options per page without help) and switch these modes using INFO
- add a self-timer to night photography modes
- allow HDR/BKT shooting in the order -/0/+ and +/0/-
- improve Focus Stacking mode so that it works automatically by specifying the range of points A – B, where the camera itself calculates and sets the number of necessary images and intervals
- Focus Stacking should in my ideal world allow a larger number of images for composition, ideally 50 or more
- free up BKT and Focus Stacking functions when connecting HDMI to monitor development and settings on mobile/tablet
- If it does not significantly change the current speed of the camera or the quality of the photos, then of course I always welcome amenities like a global shutter or higher resolution
My current complete equipment including OM-1 II in my new Peak Design Travel Backpack 45l
After my experiences, I will stay with the OM-1 II. Currently, it is the camera with the most potential for further creation for me. Whether it’s the camera for you, everyone will figure it out in their own way. For a better idea of how the key new features on the camera work, I also uploaded a video with examples on YouTube (see below). Personal experience is the best, so I recommend visiting a store where you can get the camera in your hands, or even better, take advantage of personal workshops, where you will have the opportunity to try everything out directly while photographing animals. In February, an updated edition of my educational PDF will also be released, where you will find all the important new features and my proven settings for photographing animals. Have a beautiful time and enjoy photography mainly for the pleasure of creation itself, regardless of which camera brings it to you.
Also take a look at my impressions from using the OM System 150-600mm/5.0-6.3 IS lens.
Video in Czech language with English subtitles
Rainforest at Dawn, Borneo, OM-1 II, OM 150-400mm/4.5 IS TC, ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/250s