This is my E-M1X 4 year review, which is based on extensive hands-on experience using this camera and a selection of M.Zuiko lenses. During this period we’ve all faced COVID-19 challenges which have limited some of our photographic opportunities, or even curtailed them at times. Through all of that I’ve managed to capture hundreds of thousands of handheld images. My two remaining tripods and a monopod have been collecting dust in my gear closet since I bought my first E-M1X.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge
This E-M1X 4 year review isn’t intended to suggest what camera equipment someone else should buy and use. Our choice of camera gear is an intensely personal decision. You should use whatever is the best choice for your specific needs.
The image above is a good example of the photographic freedom that the E-M1X represents to me. It was captured handheld through a glass enclosure with me positioned 1.3 metres (~4.25 feet) away from the subject, and obviously a fair distance from the glass enclosure.
I used a focal length of 400 mm, at f/6.3, with a shutter speed of 1/60. I utilized the E-M1X’s in-camera focus stacking set to 10 images with a focus differential of 4, and my ISO set to 400. The image is an out-of-camera jpeg that was adjusted in post. To me, being able to create an image like the one above in a crowded exhibit hall, shooting through a glass enclosure, strikes at the heart of photographic freedom.
Photographic freedom is attained through a range of equipment and personal capabilities, and once achieved a sense of calm confidence is created. That is exactly how I feel about my pair of E-M1X bodies and my selection of M.Zuiko lenses.
The in-camera focus stacked macro image above was captured using an M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro lens, a 10 mm extension tube, and a handheld shutter speed of 1 second. I wouldn’t have even attempted to create this image with that kind of handheld shutter speed with any other camera gear that I’ve owned… let alone use in-camera focus stacking.
Pushing ourselves and our camera gear is the best way that I know of to define the limits of our photographic freedom. It is based on two simple questions. 1) What more can I do with my camera equipment that I wasn’t able to do in the past? 2) How can I develop my skills further to increase my photographic options?
Debates about sensor size, and endlessly comparing camera specifications, are of no interest to me. I can honestly say that I couldn’t care less. There will always be differences in camera specs. Many of us will be tempted to vigorously defend our opinions about the importance of sensor size or certain specifications. What fundamentally matters is what we are able to create with our camera gear. All of this other stuff is a huge waste of energy and precious time.
My first two years.
My first couple of years owning my E-M1X bodies were spent learning the basics on how to use the cameras and identifying where my skill set was lacking. I realized early on that this camera would take me quite a bit of time to properly learn and understand. For the work that I do, the E-M1X threw out the rulebook and gave me a fresh perspective on how to capture the world around me.
Comfort, handling and ergonomics.
It is fitting that my E-M1X 4 year review addresses the importance of comfort, handling and ergonomics early on. Being able to be out in the field for extended periods of time with the E-M1X is a joy. I knew from the first moment that I held this camera in my hand that it was something special. My appreciation for the comfort, handling and ergonomics of the E-M1X has deepened over time.
Being able to change common camera settings effortlessly, and doing so without having to constantly look at my camera body makes things far more efficient. It also results in fewer lost photographic opportunities.
Since the OM-1 was introduced I’ve had a number of readers contact me, asking if I was planning to ‘upgrade’ my camera body. I could only smile inside. While the OM-1 may have some small advantages, I viewed its form factor as a large step backwards from my E-M1X bodies.
Not everyone will place as high a value on comfort, handling and ergonomics as I do. To me, these qualities are exponentially more important than some relatively minor increases in performance, speed, or small technical enhancements.
Regularly shooting at shutter speeds like 1/10th of a second became something that I didn’t even think about. Knowing that I can shoot handheld at extended shutter speeds like a full second, or push things to up to 4 seconds when needed, has extended my photographic freedom. It also allows me to utilize base ISO-200 on a regular basis. This enables me to take full advantage of the available dynamic range that my E-M1X offers.
In the past when shooting handheld with my full frame gear I would often need to use ISO-800 to allow for shutter speed or depth-of-field composition considerations. Being able to regularly shoot at ISO-200 with my E-M1X rather than ISO-800 with my previous full frame gear puts the two formats on a level playing field in terms of dynamic range.
I can’t comment on other people’s ability to handhold smaller camera bodies at slow shutter speeds. On a personal basis I know that I can’t match my handheld E-M1X slow shutter speed performance with my wife’s E-M1 Mark III, even though both cameras are rated at 7 stops of EV. I’m about 1 to 1.5 stops better with my E-M1X depending on the lens used.
Using a camera like the E-M1X at slow shutter speeds has extended my photographic freedom considerably, especially when it comes to handheld macro photography. Shooting handheld in-camera focus stacked macro images at 1/15 is a liberating experience.
I use Pro Capture H or L for the vast majority of my bird photography and for all of my insect-in-flight photography. This technology has enabled me to confidently capture a wide range of in-flight photographs. Going out to photograph birds or insects in flight without Pro Capture would be akin to leaving the house naked. I just wouldn’t do it.
Pro Capture enables a photographer to strategize how they can capture a precise action moment. This technology makes it possible to regularly and confidently capture some of life’s interesting nuggets. One of the risks of using Pro Capture is starting to think of the images created with it as routine. Fortunately I’m still like a small child when I use Pro Capture and it continues to amaze me.
High ISO performance.
Obviously folks who shoot predominantly at high ISO values would likely choose a larger sensor camera. I never hesitate to use my E-M1X up to ISO-6400, and view this as part of my standard operating range. On rare occasions I may decide to capture an action-oriented image in low light where I need to go beyond ISO-6400 in order to freeze the action. After some experimentation, I discovered that I could shoot beyond ISO-6400 under certain circumstances.
As long as an image is not underexposed I can often push things to ISO-10000 and even as high as ISO-16000. These higher ISO values work best when I can get a lot of pixels on my subject. When working in post it is important that I don’t lighten the shadow areas as this only serves to make noise more visible.
My standard process in post incorporates two rounds of noise reduction. The first step is to run my files through DxO PhotoLab, utilizing one of the Custom Pre-sets that I have programmed in the software. Every one of my pre-sets includes using DeepPRIME set to a value of 15. I don’t go beyond this value as I don’t like how my files react at higher settings. Getting my exposure correct is a critical factor in shooting at higher ISO values.
After exporting a DNG file into an old copy of PhotoShop CS6, I finish my files using either Topaz Denoise AI or Sharpen AI. I find that using two rounds of noise reduction is far superior to using either DxO or Topaz alone. I should probably note that all of the software that I use is out-of-date, as none of the programs I have is the most current version. I have no plans to update any of my post processing software as I’m happy using what I currently have.
Computational photography technology.
I love the creative options that my E-M1X provides me in terms of computational photography technologies. Functions like Handheld Hi Res (HHHR), in camera focus stacking, Live ND, Pro Capture, and Intelligent Subject Tracking all help to expand what is possible for me photographically. I’ve yet to use Live Composite… probably because I’d need to take out one of my tripods.
Having a number of technology options available to me when I’m deciding the best way to capture an image adds a lot of creative latitude to what I do. Computational photography technologies that are at my fingertips allow me to think about the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of creating a photograph using a broader context.
As we know, depth-of-field is impacted by four factors: lens focal length, aperture, distance to subject, and the subject’s distance to the background. One of the things that I like about my E-M1X and my selection of M.Zuiko lenses is the latitude they give me in terms of achieving the depth-of-field I need with my compositions.
Being able to use a wide open aperture like f/2.8 with a landscape composition and still achieve deep depth-of-field is one of the decided benefits of using M4/3 format equipment. This is made possible because of the availability of very short focal length lenses like the M.Zuiko PRO 7-14 mm f/2.8 zoom.
It does take some time to make the transition from thinking like a full frame camera owner when using short focal length lenses… and appreciating the deep depth-of-field benefits they can provide.
On the other hand, there is a misconception in the camera market that shallow depth-of-field cannot be achieved when using a smaller sensor camera like the E-M1X.
This is simply false. By using a longer focal length lens and paying attention to the distance between the subject and the background, one can easily create an image with shallow depth-of-field.
I have never felt constrained in the slightest when it comes to achieving the depth-of-field that I want with my E-M1X. Lens selection plays a part in that, as does understanding the four depth-of-field factors mentioned earlier.
Having 4 Custom Modes readily accessible via the E-M1X’s top dial makes switching between settings for different image opportunities a breeze. I have one of my E-M1X bodies set up for 4 different bird photography settings. My second E-M1X has its custom modes set up for landscape and other photographic genres. These easily accessible Custom Modes have allowed me to capture a wide range of images in quickly changing circumstances, or to respond to fast breaking photo opportunities.
Dust reduction filter.
After 4 years of rigorous use and countless lens changes, neither of my E-M1X bodies (or my wife’s E-M1 Mark III) has ever needed a sensor cleaning. The Supersonic Wave Filter does a superb job keeping the sensor clean.
Articulating rear screen.
Before I bought my first E-M1X I didn’t think too much about how important having an articulating rear screen could be. After 4 years of constant use, especially with handheld macro photography, I’ve come to assess an articulating rear screen as a ‘must have’ for this genre of photography.
I don’t make it a habit of constantly shooting in downpours or snowstorms, but I have used my gear quite a few times in very inclement weather without any issues at all. Not having to worry about wet conditions allows me to concentrate on creating my images, not fret about potential weather damage.
Auto focusing performance
I’ve always found the auto-focusing performance of my E-M1X to be fast and reliable. When Bird Detection AI was introduced I struggled a little bit… but that was my issue learning how to use that technology properly.
My style of photographing birds-in-flight is not one that relies on taking long, uninterrupted bursts of images. Instead, I take short duration pulses of images as I try to capture birds-in-flight doing something interesting.
As regular readers will know, I use a combination of Pro Capture L and Bird Detection AI when photographing birds in free flight. I typically use Pro Capture H set to 60 frames-per-second to photograph birds taking flight or landing.
When we were deciding which M4/3 lenses to buy for our camera system, I only considered M.Zuiko products. Part of that rationale was the M.Zuiko reputation for optical quality and solid build. The other factor was to help ensure that the lenses we bought for my client work would be compatible with current and future computational photography technologies.
We own 5 M.Zuiko PRO lenses and all have performed flawlessly in terms of optical quality and reliability. The three PRO f/2.8 constant aperture zooms provide wonderful flexibility.
The 60 mm f/2.8 macro is the Mighty Mouse of its photographic genre. I love using this lens handheld with either in-camera focus stacking or Handheld Hi Res (HHHR)
My birding/outdoor pairing of the 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS and PRO 12-100 mm f/4 IS is a great combination that provides excellent focal length coverage and solid optical performance.
My least used lens is the PRO 45 mm f/1.2 which does a superb job when needed. The fact that the PRO 45 mm is rarely used is due to my strong preference for zoom lenses.
My pair of E-M1X bodies will be in my camera bags for many years to come. When we first purchased our Olympus kit I anticipated that this system would meet my need for 7-8 years. I now see that service life being extended out to 10 years or more.
My enjoyment in using my E-M1X bodies and M.Zuiko lens system has increased with each year of ownership. Our Olympus kit has done everything that I’ve asked of it… and more.
There are some online comments/rumors that OM System has, or will be, discontinuing the E-M1X. Whether there will be a replacement body for it or not… doesn’t really concern me. I absolutely love the E-M1Xs I own and have no reason to change my equipment.
Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files or out-of-camera jpegs using my standard process.
For those readers who are interested in calculating equivalent field-of-view, multiply focal lengths for Olympus M4/3 cameras by a factor of 2. This is the 1,268 article published on this website since its original inception in 2015.
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