Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of months (understandable given all the coverage of the electoral circus in the USA), you probably know that lots of people are absolutely outraged by the retail price of the new E-M1 MkII ($1999 in the USA). Lots of people seem to be frothing at the mouth, lots of expletives have been thrown about and millions of keystrokes have been spent on bashing Olympus throughout cyberspace. I’ve been taken aback by all this anger and hate-spewing, where does it come from? After-all, there is a simple solution: if you don’t think the camera is worth the price, don’t buy it! Given the competitiveness of the ILC market I’m pretty sure that Olympus didn’t price this camera without careful considerations of all the pros and cons related to it. But I think a lot of people thought they were going to get this new pro-grade camera with near super-natural speed and functionality for the same price as the original, so they are very disappointed…
Now I have to admit that I was a little disappointed myself because I thought the camera would come out around $1599 or $1699. So yeah, it is priced quite a bit higher than I had hoped. But you know what? I just bought a 1st generation E-M1 for $700 a few months ago and I’m perfectly happy with that camera. Sure, I’d like a bit more battery life, a bit more resolution and a bit more C-AF performance. But none of those would be enough to make me buy a new camera at this point, even if it was at $1599. What I’ve got right now suits my needs quite well. In fact, if I were to buy a second camera it would likely be a cheaper and smaller rangefinder style camera like the Lumix GX-85 or the PEN E-P5. But I’ll probably buy a couple of lenses instead, including the new 12-100mm and the 60mm macro.
However, if you are someone who needs the extra stop of IS (two if you pair it with the new 12-100mm f/4.0) or if you need the extra stop of High-ISO performance or you need 4K Cinema or you need to shoot 15-18 fps with excellent C-AF tracking or you need to shoot 60fps with S-AF, then this camera is actually a pretty good deal and an extra $300 won’t matter to you. If you are a pro or semi-pro and you have invested in Olympus pro glass, then this camera is a no-brainer. Will this camera help move people from full-frame DSLRs to M4/3? Probably not, except perhaps for wildlife shooters who like to trek in the forest and climb mountains and would rather carry 5lbs of gear than 25lbs.
But as much as I would have liked this camera to be priced lower, is it really overpriced? Just the fact that almost 4 years of inflation have passed since the original E-M1 plus the fact that the Japanese Yen has appreciated about 20% in the last few months, this alone nearly justifies the entire 33% price hike. Add to this the Japanese earthquake that has caused a rise in sensor prices…
But lets just look at the technology that went into this camera. A new custom-designed just for this camera sensor that bumps resolution up 25% while still managing to improve noise and DR and includes 121 cross-type phase-detect autofocus points as well as 121 contrast-detect points and has greatly reduced rolling-shutter effects. This alone probably cost a bundle. Dual quad-core processors with a super-fast data bus (this camera is almost certainly more powerful than your laptop computer) and increased buffer sizes all while lowering battery consumption. Just imagine the amount of technology and R&D that had to go into this. The best IBIS on the planet with 5.5 stops of stabilization in-camera and a further stop when combined with a compatible lens for an absolutely mind-boggling 6.5 stops of stabilization. If you do the math and start with the rule of thumb that 1 over the focal length (FF Equivalent) is the minimum safe hand-held shooting speed, then you you should be able to reliably hand-hold a 100mm (200mm FF eq.) lens at 1/2 of a second. Several testers have reported getting sharp multi-second hand-held exposures at 12mm. This is game changing, mind-boggling performance.
Then there’s the capability to shoot at 15fps (18fps with electronic shutter) with full continuous AF and AE and 60fps with AF and AE locked on the first frame. This too, is mind-boggling performance and faster than the huge $6000 flagships from Nikon and Canon. The Mk ii also features a Pro-Capture mode that starts buffering at full 60fps when you half-press the shutter and keeps the last 14 shots when you fully press the shutter. This is similar to Panasonic’s 4K Photo mode but it works at full 20 Mpix and 60fps instead of 8Mpix at 30fps. Truly astonishing.
So I say the technology alone and the amazing capabilities that this camera provides justify the price of entry. These things require a lot of R&D and miniaturising and manufacturing this kind of electronics isn’t trivial either. Is there any other camera that provides this combination of functionality, speed and ruggedness in such a compact package at anywhere near this price? I don’t know of any at this time. This is market-leading capability.
I also hear a lot of people complaining that this much money for a M4/3 camera is ridiculous or that for the price you can get an APS-C or even a FF camera with better image quality. I see two things wrong with this statement. First, there is the assumption that M4/3, being smaller, must be cheaper. While it is true that M4/3’s biggest successes have mostly come from small and affordable cameras, M4/3 has never been about cheap, but rather about a quality yet super-compact camera system. We have tons of excellent yet very small and lightweight lenses. It’s always been the case that you could find better sensor image quality at a lower price in the consumer-level APS-C cameras from Sony, Nikon or Canon, this is nothing new with the Mk-II. If pixel-peeping and obsessing over resolution and noise is your thing, then M4/3 is not for you, move on please. The smaller sensor will always be at somewhat of a disadvantage on that front. But those cheaper DSLRs will not have the functionality, speed, IBIS and build quality of the OM-Ds. Plus if you want top-notch optics, you’re pretty much stuck with buying their huge, heavy and pricey FF pro glass.
Bottom line is that if size and weight are not priorities for you, but pixel-peeping qualities are, then the M4/3 system is not going to be your best choice. But I myself just moved from a pro Nikon FF setup with all three f/2.8 pro zooms to M4/3 and I’m very happy to have traded-off a bit of image quality in order to have a system I can carry with me everywhere I go and that I actually enjoy using. In fact the superb IBIS and creative modes like Live Composite and Focus Stacking are opening new creative capabilities and making me enjoy photography a whole lot more. So in my mind, if you are comparing an M4/3 camera to an APS-C or FF DSLR it shows that you are missing the whole point of the M4/3 system in general and the OM-D line in particular: top-notch capabilities in a super compact system. And yes I say system, including the lenses, because a FF Sony A7 is basically the same size as an E-M1, but the lenses are huge!
So let’s chill a little bit on the price thing would you? Is the Mk-II expensive? Yes. Is it worth it? If you need that kind of capability, absolutely, it’s a bargain. If not, get yourself an E-M5 Mk-II or a G-85. You do not care about the compactness of the M4/3 system? Then look elsewhere and save yourself some money. But stop saying that Olympus is price-gouging. I highly doubt it. This is one of the most advanced cameras on the market today, at any price.
You can buy this fine camera from Amazon: