Product Reviews

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II Underwater Review

The Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II is one of the best options currently in the market for underwater photography

Olympus E-M5 Mark II Underwater Bundle

For those of you who aren’t new to the field of underwater photography, the Olympus E-M5 is probably familiar. The E-M5 has been one of the market’s leaders for the past 3 years since its release back in 2012. It arrived just at the right time, when the mirrorless market has become stronger and underwater photographers began to discover the joy of DSLR quality in a much more compact packaging. While the E-M5 bundles are still going strong, it is no surprise that the E-M5 Mark II only recently released is stepping into the shoes of its predecessor and becoming more and more popular among divers.

The E-M5 Mark II is loyal to the original E-M5 design, but with serious technological upgrades and great features which have been added.

Let’s go over a short comparison of the E-M5 Mk2 highlights vs the E-M5:

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II Olympus OM-D E-M5
Street Price $899 (Body Only) $499 (Body Only)
Sensor Live MOS 16.1 MP M4/3 Live MOS 16.1 MP M4/3
Flash External FL-LM3 – Swivel Head External FL-LM2 – Fixed Head
Battery BLN-1 Li-Ion BLN-1 Li-Ion
LCD Screen 1,037,000 dots, Tilt-Swivel 614,000 dots, Tilt Only
Max Shutter Speed 1/16000 sec 1/4000 sec
Wi-Fi Connectivity Yes No
Startup Time 0.8 sec 1.1 sec
Video Resolution 1920×1080 (60p/50p/30p/25p/24p)
1280×720 (60p/50p/30p/25p/24p)
640×480 (30p)
1920×1080 (60i)
1280×720 (60i/30p)
640×480 (30p)
Burst Rate 10.4 FPS 8.9 FPS
EVF EVF; 2.36M-dot LCD, 1.30x – 1.48x magnification, 100% coverage, 21mm eyepoint EVF; 1.44M-dot, 1.15x magnification, 18mm eyepoint
Focus Peaking Yes No
Dimensions 4.9 x 3.3 x 1.8 in.
(124 x 85 x 45 mm)
4.8 x 3.5 x 1.7 in.
(122 x 89 x 43 mm)

As you can see, Olympus has improved on the E-M5 Mark II in almost every field, producing a much better and more capable camera than its predecessor.

Controls have also been improved with two more FN buttons on the top, and a useful little lever which can be configured to change the dial function or the top FN buttons. We’ll get to that later. I can safely say that the E-M5 MII is the most highly configurable camera I’ve seen yet! One step further would be a feature that allows you to code the software yourself 🙂

Topside Performance

When buying a system like this, you probably intend to use it above water as well. Naturally, most of us aren’t lucky enough to be diving every day and even when on a dive trip, which many times takes place in exotic locations around the world, you want to be able to capture good images on dry land.

After traveling with the E-M5 Mark II for a couple of weeks, and even trying it out on my dear little niece and nephew, I can confirm that this is an awesome all-around camera! While the biggest barrier for DSLR photographers like me is the size and the grip, you get used to it pretty fast and the shooting experience is fantastic. (Btw, there are 3rd party grips available to improve your handling on it, we’ll be listing one shortly on our store).

My favorite feature on this camera bundle is the small flash unit, called FL-LM3. As opposed to many external flash units we have seen in mirrorless cameras, this one features a fully rotating flash head! Just like a standard hot-shoe strobe unit we are used to from DSLRs, only tiny and cute! Usually having an external flash unit instead of a pop-up flash is an annoyance, but here it’s just awesome! Of course it’s not strong enough to bounce properly from a 30ft ceiling, but for indoor photography at your own home, just raise the ISO a bit, point the flash up and shoot away!

Here are a few samples I took while testing it out:

The PT-EP13 Housing

PT-EP13 Underwater Housing for Olympus E-M5 Mark II

Olympus have been very consistent with their housings for the past few years. The PT-EPxx series are built per camera model out of Polycarbonate, depth rated down to 150ft (45m) with an interchangeable port system and fiber optic connectors for strobes. The PT-EP13 is a very good value housing, retailing at only $999, flat port included making it a great option as a bundle along with the E-M5 Mark II camera and the 14-42mm lens. The standard port can also be used with various other lenses such as the Zuiko 60mm, All 14-42mm models (There are 3), 12-50mm, 9-18mm and more.

The port locking system is a basic twist and lock, with a small flap inside the housing locking the port in place. Not as easy as high-end housings, but still fairly easy. The port is secured with dual O-rings so that’s comforting.

The back side of the housing is transparent, making it easy to see that the main O-ring is in place and no water is leaking. Buttons are very large and easy to reach. I have only tested it up to 30m and had no problems with any of the controls except one – The zoom ring became stiff under 10m and was hard to adjust, when using the 9-18mm with the standard zoom ring. I haven’t figured out yet if it happens with more lenses, but I will make sure to update here as soon as I have more info.

Installing the camera inside the housing is as simple as can be. Just make sure the On/Off control is raised up and slip it in. The housing features a rotating locking mechanism with an additional safety switch and feels very secure.

The flash unit fits perfectly inside the top part of the housing. No need to switch to a special UW mode on the camera as opposed to the previous housing of the E-M5. Remember to switch the flash unit to ON before you go diving! You won’t be able to change it underwater.

All in all the PT-EP13 is a solid housing option for the E-M5 Mk II delivering excellent value for money.

Underwater Performance

Taking the E-M5 underwater is a blast!! I was very pleased with every aspect of this camera and results were great.

Let’s start with some samples taken during my dives:

As you can see, with just 2 lenses, the Zuiko 9-18mm and the Zuiko 60mm you can get a huge variety of different shots, ranging from macro to wide and also some great fish portraits and medium shots.

The Zuiko 60mm is one of my favorite lenses. The wide range of focus is priceless, allowing you to shoot many types of shots in one dive. The lens is equipped with a mode dial to select the focus range you intend to shoot, making an easier job for the AF and speeding it up. The problem is that I’m greedy and don’t want to limit myself to either just macro or just medium shots, so I just select the whole range, which is not that bad, but you will run into a few focus searches during your dive.

UPDATE – New photos using the Panasonic 8mm Fisheye with the DP-100-EP Zen Dome:

If you are using the internal camera flash, a flash diffuser is included with the housing which can be very effective for close up shots or if you have amazing visibility. For lower viz and wide angle shots I wouldn’t recommend it since you will suffer from quite a lot of backscatter (That’s why you should get an UW strobe).

I like using my external strobes on Manual, so I found the best way to do that is to turn on RC mode, in which you can prevent the internal flash from affecting the shot, and save battery by setting it to the lowest power output. This method worked with YS-01 strobes set on Pre Flash mode, so it won’t necessarily work with other strobes.

Speaking of battery life, the E-M5 is outstanding! I can go through 3 intense dives with LCD screen on and flash on, without a problem. (Internal flash on lowest power output)

Video is one of the main reasons to get this set. With a full HD 1080p 60fps output and 5-axis stabilization, you can shoot some amazing scenes with it. I’m not the most talented videographer, but I will post some sample videos soon to show you the E-M5 M2’s perfomance.

Controls are the highlight of this camera! You can configure it to basically do whatever you want. I found that on Manual mode, setting the lever to change dial control from shutter / aperture to WB / ISO is a very easy method to control them underwater. Setting the FN1 button to AE/AF and then configuring it as back button focusing is also recommended for easy focusing for those who have a hard time getting the half-press right or when using gloves. Each setting combination can be saved as one of 4 MySets to switch between completely different shooting modes (e.g above water, underwater, Ambient / strobe light etc…)

The only problem is that you might get lost in all of these options and find yourself confused underwater. That’s why you should do your homework above water and set everything up in advance to minimize setting changes while diving. When in doubt, switch to iAuto 🙂

Bottom Line

The Olympus E-M5 Mark II is probably the leading choice for mirrorless M4/3 underwater photography to date. Matched with quality Zuiko or Panasonic lenses, you can produce top notch images and videos with it, maintaining a travel friendly compact package without compromising on quality. The shooting experience with it is smooth and comparable to that of a DSLR. I would strongly recommend it as a bundle with the Olympus housing, or with any of the more high-end housings such as Ikelite, Nauticam or Sea & Sea.

Browse housings here

Ran Mor
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  1. Stuart Serediuk August 18, 2015

    I have one of these awesome cameras. I picked it up this February and ordered the Olympus housing for it. The camera is, as I said awesome. The image stabilization is VERY good. The ISO sensitivity and range are incredible. The housing from Olympus has a few things that need to be addressed by Olympus. The fiber optic flash ports in the housing are folded into the clear flash portal/dome. If you are doing close up work, I suppose the flash port maybe useful, but everyone I know uses strobes. If you use a strobe, this stupid clear flash port blows out your image. So, Olympus has included a small piece of thin black plastic to shield the clear flash port. My fiber optic cables would always pull that plastic off. Argh. I covered the clear flash port with black tape and am now considering painting it over with black model paint. I don’t understand why Olympus did this to this housing. It is not marketed or designed for people using point and shoot cameras, but this is definitely a drawback to this housing. The video start/stop button is pretty much inaccessible to those wearing gloves, which is what we do here in Canada.
    I am planning on getting a Nauticam housing as soon as I have the $$. The camera, is however, excellent and i’m sure that I will be using it for a few years.

  2. Ran Mor
    Ran Mor August 21, 2015

    Thanks for your feedback Stuart!
    I also noticed the clear flash window problem, however, I generally don’t use TTL so I just set the internal flash on the lowest possible level and it doesn’t really interfere with my strobes, so that could be one way around the problem. Duct tap or black paint can also solve this.
    The video button with gloves is a problem indeed. Maybe try to solve it by gluing a small piece of something as an extension to the button, to help reach it.
    These housings aren’t perfect of course, but they provide good value. Upgrading to a Nauticam or equivalent would be the best choice of course, if your budget allows.

  3. Jay September 5, 2015

    Stuart, If you want to offset the new nauticam housing my email is to discuss.

  4. TRevor July 22, 2018

    Interested in Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II however I wish to use it for travel & wildlife photography over next 6 months before upgrading to Housing etc.
    Can you recommend a good Telephoto/zoom lens that is flexible enough for general use too ie street Photography & scenery etc?

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