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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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