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A Tough Little Camera

Testing the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, as it survives the elements in the Pacific Northwest—and a bike crash

Tumbling through the air after getting thrown from my bike when the front tire hit a root, I hoped I’d be okay and wouldn’t break a rib, collarbone, or worse. In an instant, I had tucked, and rolled, and hit the ground in motion, minimizing the impact, and protecting my head with my forearms.

I got up, did an inventory of myself and the bike, and everything was fine. Wait, how’s the demo camera?!

It was good, too!

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II

Inside a bag attached to the front handlebars, the $1,999.99 Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II survived intact and is still functioning. Being upside down at the time, I didn’t see what the camera bag might have hit, but it was at least a clump of loam and for sure got jostled.

I was descending rapidly, banked off a berm and into a recently exposed root. The crash-causing root had probably been buried for decades, but the rain washed away the dirt on the trail, the same rain that has set records in the Pacific Northwest since they were kept.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II

So far the OM-D E-M1 Mark II has held up to the Seattle area wet weather and a bike crash. It’s a tough little camera and where I think Olympus technology fits with its competitors like Fuji and Sony. The smallest sensor of the three—Sony uses full-frame and Fuji a cropped sensor—produces the least heat and allows Olympus to build a sealed, lightweight, robust body, and pack it full of tech.

As I shared last week, what’s most important about buying a camera is finding a system you love. That’s because, in the step-up camera market (as the Japanese call it), there just aren’t any bad cameras. Where Sony excels at image quality and Fuji at film simulation, the Olympus excels in build quality. It delivers on the Micro Four Thirds promise of “reducing overall system thickness and size by aiming for a highly portable compact system.”

For those concerned that other sensor tech may have surpassed Olympus, take a second look, especially if shooting only in JPEG. I’ve shot with DSLR bodies that didn’t feel this solid. If you’re already in the Olympus ecosystem, then this is an obvious upgrade. One of the reasons why I started shooting with mirrorless is to reduce the amount of gear carried. It’s a total bonus that the OM-D E-M1 Mark II has been hardened and the specs updated to read like a pro’s field camera.

The impressive specs include 4K video, 18 fps with continuous autofocus and a high-capacity battery. If the camera had been on during my crash, it probably would have captured a crisp image with 5-axis stabilization and up to 5.5 shutter speed steps.

The OM-D E-M1 Mark II performs well on the street, too, with face and eye detection locking onto the Rapha Club members. This frame was taken at a busy intersection, when I was in New York a couple weeks ago. I tapped the rear monitor to target the focus as the group of cyclists rode past.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II

There were no crashes on that ride and multiple usable shots for a story. The dual quad-core processor in the OM-D E-M1 Mark II is so fast, it wrote images to the card, I took a look, and was set up for the next shot in a few seconds, reassured that my composition was correct and properly exposed.

With the OM-D E-M1 Mark II, you can capture the image, you can capture the moment; you just don’t get the tonality that a larger sensor would produce. That’s a matter of physics, not quality, and in the case of outdoor sports, the trade-offs are arguably worth it.

In comparison, I won’t shoot with a Sony in the rain, at all. The OM-D E-M1 Mark II is dust-, splash- and freeze-proof, and will operate in the 10º to +40º range, and I’m confident I could take it into sub-zero temps snow-biking this winter. And, with a line of lenses that are also very high quality and weatherproof, at $799, the travel lens kit is a great value, too, for those on the go like me. I haven’t needed to charge the battery since shoots in NYC and Seattle, and can also extend the life with a $249 grip.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II

Even if your usage doesn’t include coast-to-coast location shoots or bombing down a single track looking for the quintessential mountain bike scene, the OM-D E-M1 Mark II is going to meet your needs now and into the very promising future of mirrorless.

It’s worth noting, the Olympus half-frame camera was the original, premium compact camera. It was marketed to be as portable as a pen, and, thus the PEN name. By fitting twice as many pictures onto a standard roll of film and orientating them vertically (portrait), a palm-of-your-hand body resulted. Millions were sold, and 50+ years later advanced into what I’m carrying with me on my bike today, a Micro Four Thirds camera at 20 megapixels.

The beautiful hardware is obviously an effort from a dedicated team of engineers.

Even if those engineers don’t have a specific crash test protocol, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II passed it with me, and it’s a camera I’m happy to carry.

You can follow DL Byron on Twitter @bikehugger

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