E-M1 Decision Factors

This article outlines some of the primary E-M1 decision factors that can be considered when assessing various E-M1 series camera bodies. This article is not an in-depth technical review that compares specifications between cameras. This posting identifies some primary issues that photographers can keep in mind when making a decision about which E-M1 model to purchase. The factors below are in no particular order.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 12-40mm f/2.8 @ 40, efov 80mm, f/4.5, 1 second handheld, ISO-200

Build Quality, Durability, and Weatherproofing

Olympus E-M1 series cameras all have a very solid reputation for their build quality. For most photographers any of the models mentioned would do a very good job for them from a build quality perspective.

Weather sealing has been an advantage of Olympus cameras for some time. At this point Olympus has three models that are rated to an IPX-1 standard. These are the OM-D E-M1X, E-M1 Mark III and the E-M5 Mark III.  The E-M1 Mark II does not carry an IPX-1 rating, although it is weatherproofed.

This video from Imaging Resources goes into significant detail about how Olympus does its weatherproofing. As you watch it, you’ll discover that the weatherproofing on the E-M1X was taken to a higher, professional standard than other Olympus cameras. While it has an IPX-1 rating, the E-M1X has been tested to an IPX-3 standard.

On a personal basis I can share that weather conditions have never held me back from using my E-M1X. I have shot under quite wet conditions that have caused other folks with professional bodies from other manufacturers to pack up and leave.

One of the E-M1 decision factors that you may want to consider is the importance of weather sealing for the type of photography that you do.

Weatherproofing and build quality will directly affect durability. You can also consider anticipated shutter life. The E-M1X and E-M1 Mark III are both rated for 400,000 shutter actuations. The E-M1 Mark II is rated for 200,000 shutter actuations.

If you are a photographer that tends to upgrade your camera body every 2-3 years, build quality may not be as large of a concern compared to someone who is expecting to use their camera for 5, 8 or perhaps 10 years.

Most of the professional photographers that I know do not replace their camera gear nearly as often as enthusiasts do. When I invested in Olympus gear my expectation was that I will be using it regularly for at least 10 years. I wanted the best build quality body Olympus had to offer, so I chose the E-M1X.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300mm, efov 600mm, f/8, 1/1600, ISO-1250, subject distance 12.2 metres


None of the photographers that I know have unlimited budgets when it comes to buying camera gear. Each of us needs to make the best use of our available funds when it comes to buying a camera.

If you don’t need some of the features like Handheld Hi Res, Live ND and AI Subject Tracking, a model like the E-M1 Mark II may be a great fit for your needs. It is the most cost affordable option and provides great value.

Some older photographers are at a stage in life where their next camera purchase is likely to be the last one they’re ever going to make. In situations like this it may be prudent to assess cost from a longer term perspective and to think beyond current needs. Buying a body that costs more, but has a few more features than you currently need could make sense if you plan to keep your gear for a long duration. Investigating the E-M1 Mark III or E-M1X may make sense if you think you may use some of the advanced technology found on those models sometime in the future.

When buying my Olympus gear, I looked at cost over a 10 year use duration. This resulted in a cost difference roughly equivalent to buying one or two cups of coffee per week over the anticipated life of the camera body.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/5, 1/200, ISO-200, subject distance 730 mm

Size and Weight

Shooting with a M4/3 system will provide photographers with size and weight advantages when compared to other camera formats. Within M4/3 there are differences between bodies and lenses.

Assessing your needs in terms of portability, size and weight is very important. It is also critical not to focus on just the size of the camera body, but rather on the entire kit that you are building.

Obviously an E-M1 Mark II or Mark III are both smaller and lighter choices than an E-M1X. If size and weight are your number one priority, then purchasing a body like an E-M5  or EM-10 and some of the non-weatherproof M.Zuiko lenses may make sense for you. Choosing f/1.8 primes versus f/1.2 primes also saves size, weight and cost.

The new f/4 constant aperture pro zooms like the M.Zuiko PRO 12-45 mm will be ideal for photographers wanting excellent quality imagining in smaller, lighter, and more affordable lenses.

On the other hand, you may be looking at M4/3 in comparison to a full frame system. You may want pro quality lenses. These could include faster constant aperture f/2.8 zoom lenses, and f/1.2 primes. In this case buying an OM-D body with a bit more heft to it may make sense as it would balance better with the weight of pro grade lenses. The E-M1X, E-M1 Mark III and Mark II are all well suited for use with M.Zuiko PRO lenses.

When I decided on the E-M1X, I was specifically looking ahead to the potential of purchasing the M.Zuiko 150-400 f/4.5 with built-in 1.25X teleconverter in the future. I wanted to make sure that I bought a camera that would balance well with a large, heavy zoom lens. The fact that the E-M1X was the largest and heaviest Olympus option was actually a benefit.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + N.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/8, 1/2500, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H mode, subject distance 5.1 metres

Integrated versus Add-on Grip

If you enjoy using double gripped cameras you’ll need to consider whether buying a body with an integrated grip makes sense for you. Or, you may want the flexibility of using an add-on grip.

When choosing between these options cost will come into play with the E-M1X being the most expensive choice. The additional cost is counterbalanced by better weather sealing with an integrated grip, more robust build, and a more efficient battery swap-out.

Another factor to consider is whether you want key camera controls to be in the exact same location when shooting in landscape and portrait orientations. This makes a camera body more efficient to use. Unless Olympus changes the HLD-9 grip design, it does not provide an AF joystick control. The E-M1X has AF joysticks for both landscape and portrait orientations.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-500

Intelligent Subject Tracking

Another factor to consider is whether the Intelligent Subject Tracking available with the E-M1X matters to you. And if so, to what extent.

For example, if you enjoy photographing car and motorcycle racing the E-M1X’s Intelligent Subject Tracking could be a major purchase decision factor. Information on how Intelligent Subject Tracking works is found between 12:45 and 15:30 in the link above.

I’ve used Intelligent Subject Tracking with the three existing modes: cars, trains and airplanes. The results are really quite amazing. If any of these subjects is a specific focus of your photography the E-M1X could make sense for you based on Intelligent Subject Tracking alone.

In some instances the E-M1X can be tricked into interpreting birds-in-flight as airplanes. When it works, the results are excellent with the E-M1X nailing focus virtually 100% of the time.

Unfortunately if the camera loses its bird-in-flight subject it can wander off completely, or revert to AF-C+TR which is not as dependable as AF-C for birds-in-flight.

I need to do more experimentation to identify when to use this mode for birds-in-flight.  I do see sufficient potential in Intelligent Subject Tracking that I have one of my custom C modes set up to use Airplane Subject Tracking for birds-in-flight.

One of the reasons that I chose the E-M1X was the potential for future Intelligent Subject Tracking modules that may become available in the future. I firmly believe that this technology is a game changer for various types of action photography. Olympus is on the leading edge of this technology and I anticipate more subjects to be offered in future firmware updates.

If Intelligent Subject Tracking is of no interest to you whatsoever, then the E-M1X may not make sense for you.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/8, 1/400, ISO-6400, subject distance 250 mm, Handheld Hi Res Mode

Handheld Hi Res and Live ND

If these features are of interest to you the E-M1X and E-M1 Mark III are your options. Both of these features work extremely well. Having shot thousands of Handheld Hi Res images over the past 12 months, I can’t imagine using a camera that did not have this capability. This feature can take handheld macro photography up a couple of notches.

Live ND is very easy to use and is very effective with waterfalls, streams etc. I anticipate that I will use Live ND more frequently when travel once again becomes a part of life in a post COVID-19 world.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-500. Pro Capture L

Extended Use Considerations

Overheating can be an issue when using a camera body intensively for a long duration. Many photographers use their cameras for fairly short periods of time and do not run into situations where their camera bodies overheat and shut-down.

When shooting client videos with my Nikon 1 kit I would bring three Nikon 1 V2 bodies with me so I could swap bodies out when they invariably overheated throughout long days of shooting.

The E-M1X has an integrated heat pipe system built into the rear section of the camera’s body next to the processor card. This heat pipe system has liquid inside which evaporates and wicks up to the cool end where it condenses and dissipates heat at the top of the body casting. This heat dissipation allows the E-M1X to run for extended periods of time, in hot environments and when using high levels of power consumption, without overheating.

Laptops and other computers also use heat sync technologies. The E-M1X is the only Olympus camera with a heat pipe system. At the time of its introduction the E-M1X may have been the first camera of any brand to incorporate a heat pipe… and still may be today.

If camera overheating has been an issue for you in the past, the E-M1X would be a good choice over other Olympus camera models.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/800, ISO-1600, subject distance 2.7 metres

IBIS Performance

If you’re like me and hate using tripods, IBIS performance will likely be one of your E-M1 decision factors. The two best Olympus cameras in terms of IBIS performance are the E-M1X and the E-M1 Mark III. Both provide 7 stops of stabilization. The IBIS performance of the E-M1 Mark II is still very good at 5.5 stops.

Using a camera with top IBIS performance allows a photographer to shoot handheld in low light conditions while keeping their ISO values at, or close to, base ISO-200. This enables a photographer to get the best dynamic range, colour depth and low light performance from their camera.

IBIS performance also is important when shooting with long, telephoto lenses at slower shutter speeds as it reduces camera shake caused by the photographer.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 194 mm, efov 388 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-6400, Pro Capture mode, subject distance 8.6 metres

Comfort, Handling and Ergonomics

A camera that is not comfortable to use, eventually ends up collecting dust. If you only use a camera on an occasional basis then comfort, handling and ergonomics may not be significant E-M1 decision factors for you.

If you’re like me and use your camera for 8 to 10 hour stretches at a time… comfort, handling and ergonomics will be very important E-M1 decision factors for you. Try to rent cameras that you are considering for at least a couple of days. Then go out and shoot with them for at least 6 continuous hours on each day. At the end of this hands on test, you’ll know whether the camera is comfortable to use, or not.

Of all of the E-M1 decision factors listed in this article, comfort, handling and ergonomics were the most important factors to me.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/2.8, 1/400, ISO-200, subject distance 950 mm

Specific Feature Considerations

Depending on your photographic needs, other specific feature considerations may come into play. Things like Built-in GPS. Dual UHS-II card slots. Starry Sky AF. Buffer size and speed, to name a few. While none of these factors will likely be at the top of a photographer’s list of E-M1 purchase factors, they may end up tipping the scale in the favour of one model over another.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 12-40 mm f/2.8 @ 40 mm, efov 80 mm, f/2.8, 1/6, ISO-3200, subject distance 2.4 metres


Each of the E-M1 series of cameras that are currently available are worthy of consideration if you are interested in a M4/3 camera system.

The E-M1 Mark II is an older model. It offers a solid range of features, excellent build quality, and is the most affordable option. For photographers who don’t need all of the latest Olympus technology, the E-M1 Mark II is a very good fit.

The E-M1 Mark III will be of interest to photographers who want technology like Handheld Hi Res, Live ND and Starry Sky features. With double the shutter life expectancy (400,000 actuations) compared to the Mark II, the E-M1 Mark III will appeal to buyers looking for some additional durability. The Mark III also has 1.5 additional stops of IBIS performance compared to the Mark II.

The dual grip E-M1X will appeal to photographers looking for top professional build, excellent ergonomics and handling, 7 stops of IBIS performance, and leading edge technologies like Intelligent Subject Tracking. With a shutter life expectancy of 400,000 actuations, a built-in heat pipe to dissipate heat, and weatherproof testing to an IPX-3 rating (camera is warranted to IPX-1), the E-M1X provides the highest professional build standards offered by Olympus. It includes many features that professional photographers value such as dual UHS-II card slots, built-in GPS/Field Sensor System, and dual batteries.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro with 16 mm and 10 mm Kenko extension tubes, f/5.6, 1/100, ISO-3200, subject distance 235 mm

Technical Note:

Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process.

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Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/8, 1/250, ISO-200, FL-700WR flash used, subject distance 1.9 metres

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11 thoughts on “E-M1 Decision Factors”

  1. Is it true that all the olympus cameras from about 2015 had the same sensor?
    Until the the new om-1 that is.

    1. Hi Stephen,

      I’ve only been using Olympus since June 2019 so I don’t know the history of the cameras. I had a quick look on DxOMark and it appears that the 20.4 MP sensor was used from at least 2016. I’ve never understood why some folks get hung up on sensor size and age. New sensors do not necessarily perform better than older ones in terms of dynamic range. For example the sensor in the Nikon D7200 which was launched in 2015 was rated at 14.6 EV of dynamic range. The D7500 which came out in April 2017 had a sensor that was rated at 14 EV in dynamic range.


  2. Hi again, Tom.

    I’ve been pondering a comment you made in one of your recent articles (I thought it may have been this one – – but I cannot easily check/confirm as Ctrl-F is blocked on your site) – wherein you said you mostly use Manual mode.

    This always intrigues me: I understand why it was used in the days when metering systems were primitive and/or on systems where it’s essential to always keep ISO as close to its base-setting as possible – but, neither of those limitations exist with the OM-D EM-1 range.

    Why would you not use Aperture or Priority modes (for whichever variant you mainly wish to control) and then let the camera suggest settings for the other variables? Is it just a matter of “old habits die hard” (such as my “focus and recompose” tendency !) – or is there a specific reason that you prefer the Manual approach ?

    Regards, John TKA

    PS. I’m noticing references thru-out Olympus OM-D manuals to ISO settings as “ISO sensitivity”; I know this is a VERY common misunderstanding, but it’s rather surprising to me that a camera manufacturer, who clearly knows better, would reinforce it by using that terminology (?!)

    1. Re my comment on Olympus’ reference to ISO: here’s an example from the OM-D EM-1 Mkiii manual (in the Manual Exposure section);

      When Auto-ISO is selected, “ISO sensitivity will automatically be adjusted for optimal exposure at the selected exposure settings.” … which is really confusing, on a number of levels.

      Curiously, the last few words in that sentence reveal the author’s true (and correct) understanding; “… at the selected exposure settings.” – That is, exposure is set when settings for aperture and shutter-speed are assigned; they are not changed (in any way whatsoever) when ISO settings are changed.

      Changing ISO settings will change the resulting *brightness* of the captured exposure (using manufacturer-specific methods, that may include signal amplification and/or tone-curve manipulation, etc).

      So, better terminology would be something like: When Auto-ISO is selected [in Manual mode], “an ISO setting will be automatically assigned to provide optimal brightness of the image at selected exposure settings.”

      This is not simply a pedantic point, since the only reason one would/should use higher-than-base-level ISO settings is to compensate for when we’re forced (for practical or creative purposes) to under-expose an image … Such as in a low-light scene where we need to compromise between shutter-speed and camera-shake when we’re already at wide-open aperture.

      So, it’s helpful to understand, in that scenario, that by increasing the ISO setting we’re actually *decreasing* exposure (which explains WHY there are implications for dynamic range and the signal to noise ratio).

      John TKA

    2. Hi John,

      Just as the old saying goes ‘there are many roads to the same destination’… there are various modes that a photographer can choose when using their cameras. It comes down to the personal preference of a photographer and what they find works best for them.

      As a photographer my preference is to always be in total control of my images whenever possible. I don’t want to defer any decisions to my camera, as this means I am abdicating some of my creative control.

      The ergonomics, handling and controls of my E-M1X are simply superb. By far the best camera that I’ve ever owned. This allows me full manual control coupled with speed of use. I have the over/under exposure warnings active which I find extremely helpful when composing images. When using my E-M1X I will sometimes purposely under expose an image, or use ETTR technique from time to time. I don’t want my camera overriding these types of creative decisions by using a semi-automatic mode like Aperture Priority.

      The controls of the E-M1X are so fast and easy to use that I can’t imagine why I would ever want to shoot in a mode other than Manual.


  3. Perfect timing, Tom – It’s as if you wrote this article with me in mind 🙂 !

    My choice decisions will be between the M1 mark ii and the M1 mark iii … the latter being very close to the M1X in pretty much all aspects except for form-factor and weather-proofing (as I understand it). I’m fine with the M1 body format: I have medium sized hands that work comfortably with my similarly sized Sony a7x bodies.

    Image quality wise, the M1 mark ii seems pretty much on-par with the M1 mark iii … with, interestingly/surprisingly, the photonstophotos.net site reporting better dynamic range results for the M1 mark ii in all scenarios (albeit, only by small margins) – – So that aspect is not a decider for me.

    The M1 mark iii has better reported IS (7 stops versus 5.5 for the mark ii) – but, the mirrorlesscomparison.com site found the difference to be undetectable in practice – – So, tho IS is one of the key factors in my decision to move to an OM-D (from my full-frame Sony mirrorless cameras), the Mk ii versus Mk iii differences are not a deciding factor for me.

    So, I’ve just gotta decide whether any of the new/improved advanced features of the M1 mark iii are worth the extra investment – namely;
    – Double shutter-life expectancy (200,000 vs 400,000)
    – Hand-held high-res (tripod only on the Mk ii … tho, I do wonder if I might be able to get away with hand-holding a HiRes shot on the Mk ii [??] … as I have very steady hands).
    – Live ND sounds interesting – – but, would I use it ? (Question to self !)
    – Joystick (on mk iii) for focus area movement – – I have that on my a7m3 – but turned it off/didn’t like it much.
    – I have no interest in video – – so, differences there are of no relevance to me.

    Have I missed anything ?

    John – TKA

    1. Hi John,

      My understanding is that the IBIS system works completely differently when HHHR is used versus the hi res tripod version. I seriously doubt that you could shoot handheld using the tripod mode. I know that I tried to do that a number of times and was never able to pull it off.

      With the HHHR mode the camera turns IBIS on and off between each of the 16 images used to create an HHHR image. It does this so it can sense the movement caused by the photographer, adjust for it, then the camera turns IBIS back on to shoot the next frame in the HHHR series. The hi res tripod mode follows an exact pattern with the IBIS shifting and does not allow for individual photographer movements.

      When I had the E-M1X and E-M1 Mark II during my Olympus Loaner Gear period I tried both cameras handheld at slow shutter speeds and I found the E-M1X to be noticeably better. One of the reasons that I did not purchase the M.Zuiko PRO IS 12-100 mm f/4 lens was that I could get the same results using the M.Zuiko PRO 12-40 mm f/2.8 with the E-M1X body. For my video work as well as for handheld still photography I would much rather have the extra stop of light. I found there was no noticeable difference using the M.Zuiko PRO 12-100 mm f/4 versus the M.Zuiko PRO 12-40 mm f/2.8 on the E-M1X. There was a difference when using those same lenses with the E-M1 Mark II. My experience may be different than other photographers but I found that the difference in IBIS performance was definitely noticeable and better with the E-M1X.


  4. Hello !

    Very informative, indeed ! Thanks for this article.

    And tour pictures are really beautiful. Olympus and Panasonic (in a less extent, Canon) are brands I love because they don’t hesitate to innovate, unlike Nikon that doens’t innovate and Ask you an horrible price for anything they sell.

    Shooting handheld like this… It is fantastic. Look at that shot ! Compared to Nikon 1 J5, only the 10-100 pd-zoom allowede to shoot 2 seconds without blurring (and the price is horrible) and if you don’t have it… don’t even consider to shoot handheld for 1 second !
    Also your camera is solide, protected and offers incredible image quality.
    I do like the image quality, the solid body and the superior stabilisation !
    Nice article and nice photographs, indeed !

    1. Thanks for your comment Andy… I’m glad you enjoyed the article and images! I think that the E-M1X demonstrates that a camera is much more than just the sensor inside. The weatherproofing, heat dissipation technology, and intelligent subject tracking in the E-M1X are amazing.


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