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Street Photography with Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II (Michael Letchford)


This is a guest post from Michael Letchford. The article has been first posted on All images and text used with permission from the author.

Street Photography with Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II
e-m1 mark ii – a huge upgrade from the e-m5 mark ii?

In an earlier post I described my experiences shooting Street Photography with the OM-D E-M5 Mark II and gave many examples of the projects I shot with it over about a two year period. I still have that camera and, of course, the lenses I invested in for those projects. Coming from the Sony A7, my first mirrorless camera, I can honestly say that working with the E-M5 Mk II was a genuine revelation.

So, in this review of my subsequent upgrade to the E-M1ii, I will avoid rehearsing the specifications and technical differences between the two camera and I’ll concentrate on my practical experiences with the newer, flagship model.

Read the earlier post for details of my earlier changeover from the Sony A7 to the E-M5ii. As I said in that post, I found the E-M5ii to be an ideal camera for Street Photography, being small, light, fast in operation and silent – everything you could want to be able to make images inconspicuously working the streets of London. The autofocus was quite a surprise too – very fast to lock on to the subject and very accurate, probably because of the number of focus points and the benefit of both contrast and phase detect autofocus technology. Perfect for fast response Street work.

During those projects I also attended several workshops with photographers who were using the E-M1 Mark I and I saw first hand the advantages they were claiming for the E-M1 over the E-M5 . At that time though, the E-M1 was expected to be superseded by the Mark II version, so, although I was keen to try an E-M1, I was very happy to continue exploring the E-M5ii. In some ways, it was the better camera, having been released early in 2015 sporting Olympus’s latest technology, whereas the E-M1 was first introduced as their flagship model in September 2013. It was to be almost three and a half years before the E-M1 Mark II was actually available from suppliers! But worth the wait!

So, it was in February 2017 I was finally able to get my hands on the upgraded E-M1 Mark II. All my ‘photobuddies’ were expecting a minor upgrade, but we were all surprised at the actual difference in performance, rather than just the specification changes.

Is your Bag Safe? – Olympus OM-D E-M1ii, 12-100mm f4 at f5.6, 1/250s, ISO 200

One much hoped for change in the upgrade was for improvements in Dynamic Range from the new 20Mp sensor and in particular a practical improvement in how the camera deals with and renders highlights. The E-M5ii was really tricky in that respect, easily ‘losing’ highlight detail during capture and often exhibiting a precipitous, ‘cliff edged’ tonal gradation behaviour at the top of the exposure curve, so, you had to very carefully expose to the right in capture, constantly checking the histogram, and then be cautious in post processing to not lose the highlight detail that had survived thus far.

What about the E-M1ii then? Well, the numbers don’t quite tell the real story but I can say, in practice, that the E-M1ii is definitely able to deal with these challenges more effectively than the E-M5ii. The image above was taken in very strong sunlight with deep shadow detail and I think the E-M1ii has handled the skin highlights very well, preserving a smooth tonal gradation in the girl’s forearm and producing a quality result, and even in the sharp transitions from bright to mid-tones in the girl on the right’s face.

DxOMark Dynamic Range Olympus OM-Ds.png

Given the frustration I’d encountered with the E-M5ii, especially in post processing, and leaving aside the twenty five percent increase in sensor resolution, it was mostly this aspect of the camera body and sensor upgrade I was really primarily interested in. In terms of the raw numbers, DxOMark’s lab testing of the E-M1ii shows a small but significant enough increase in overall dynamic range versus the E-M5ii; between a half and one whole stop, depending upon ISO setting, as shown in the graph on the right here (courtesy of DxOMark Image Labs):-

The shot above was taken in London’s Covent Garden area, but this one below was taken in Paris later in the year and is another good example of how well the E-M1ii handles highlights. I don’t think I could have used this grabbed shot if it had been taken on the E-M5ii – there simply would not have been time to check all the parameters before firing the shutter:

Spooky Dancer – Olympus OM-D E-M1ii, 12-100mm f4 at f5.6, 1/400s, ISO 200

So, while we’re on the subject of Paris Street Photography, I was lucky enough to attend two of Valerie Jardin’s Paris workshops in 2017. She has a very easy going style of hosting her workshops, preferring to be out walking the streets than spending hours pouring over technique. She begins her workshops with a slideshow review of her own work – to inspire and demonstrate the possibilities in Street Photography, and, but for the last session reviewing attendees selected images on the final day, the rest of the time you are pounding the streets trying to keep up with her. I can recommend it!

Here are some more images from those days spent shooting in Paris:

OutReach – Olympus OM-D E-M1ii, 12-100mm f4 at f5.6, 1/800s, ISO 200


Struttin’ ‘er Stuff – Olympus OM-D E-M1ii, 12-100mm f4 at f5.6, 1/100s, ISO 200
Hair Lines – Olympus OM-D E-M1ii, 12-100mm f4 at f5.6, 1/800s, ISO 200


In Sympathy – Olympus OM-D E-M1ii, 12-100mm f4 at f5.6, 1/5000s, ISO 800


Girls Aloud – Olympus OM-D E-M1ii, 12-100mm f4 at f5.6, 1/1250s, ISO 800

I’ve often wanted to try my hand at capturing a unused street scene with multiple characters and still get some sense of compositional order and a focal point, so I was quietly pleased with the attempt shown above. It’s not easy to manoeuvre inconspicuously around such a large group of excited ladies, who clearly are having the time of their lives, all dressed up, constantly on the move and, quite obviously, raring to go to the party!

f…..What!!? – Olympus OM-D E-M1ii, 12-100mm f4 at f5.6, 1/10s, ISO 200

This image above shows quite a change of pace and demonstrates another strength of the E-M1ii that of its image stabilisation, both in-body and in-lens. This was hand-held shot taken at 1/10th sec using the long zoom and yet pretty nearly perfectly stable. I was impressed; yet again.

The image below is probably going to remain one of my all-time favourites. It was taken just a few yards from the image above. I noticed the scene out of the corner of my eye, raised the camera to shoot, fired the shutter release and a fraction of a second later, he was gone! Her expression says it all.

The Proposition – Olympus OM-D E-M1ii, 12-100mm f4 at f5.6, 1/160s, ISO 200


Final Offer – Olympus OM-D E-M1ii, 12-100mm f4 at f5.6, 1/100s, ISO 200


Smokin’ Connection – Olympus OM-D E-M1ii, 12-100mm f4 at f5.6, 1/200s, ISO 200


The Chase – Olympus OM-D E-M1ii, 12-100mm f4 at f5.6, 1/250s, ISO 800

Finally, for the last few examples, I’m returning to my favourite capital city – London. It’s just a quirky as Paris, of that there is no doubt, but there are times when I come across scenes that just defy explanation:

Paper Boy – Olympus OM-D E-M1ii, 12-100mm f4 at f4, 1/125s, ISO 200

Just to demonstrate, once again, the improvement the E-M1ii offers when dealing with challenging lighting:


Forkin Sun – Olympus OM-D E-M1ii, 12-100mm f4 at f10, 1/400s, ISO 200

And finally, a touch of humour and our beloved quirky Britishness:


Jumping for Joy – Olympus OM-D E-M1ii, 12-100mm f4 at f4, 1/125s, ISO 200


I could not be more pleased with upgrade from my Olympus OM-D E-M5ii to the new Olympus E-M1ii. It has given me a tool that provides for any shooting situation I am likely to encounter working in Street Photography. The new sensor, uprated resolution, rapid autofocus with contrast and phase detection, superb stabilisation, increased dynamic range. lower noise, better performance in highlight roll-off and, just as importantly, superb handling in the field.

Absolutely Highly Recommended.


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