As the old saying goes, “Time flies when you’re having fun!” Beginning with some loaner gear that Olympus Americas provided at the end of May 2019, I’ve now been shooting with the Olympus OM-D E-M1X for 6 months. So… it’s time for an E-M1X 6 month review.
As noted in many of my previous articles, the choice of camera gear is an intensely personal one. Just because a particular camera or system works best for one photographer, doesn’t mean that it will for the next. That perspective is important to keep in mind as you read this E-M1X 6 month review. My objective with this article is to share my experiences with this camera… not to encourage anyone to buy something that is not appropriate for their particular photographic needs.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
Handling and Ergonomics
The more I’ve used the OM-D E-M1X, the more I have come to appreciate the handling and ergonomics of this outstanding camera. The internet has its share of criticisms about the size and relative weight of the E-M1X. “It’s huge and heavy for micro four thirds!” has been the common complaint. When compared to an E-M1 Mark II equipped with a grip, the difference is actually minimal. The integrated dual grip design of the E-M1X provides some advantages. Improved weatherproofing compared to using an add-on grip is an obvious one. Easy access to the dual batteries is another.
The E-M1X is simply a joy. It does not feel overly large or heavy when used. The dual grips are very comfortable, even after long days out in the field. Buttons and controls are well designed and positioned. They make the E-M1X a very efficient tool to use. Having important buttons and dials in the exact same location when shooting the E-M1X in either landscape or portrait mode makes changing shooting orientations seamless. It is obvious to me that Olympus engineers spent a lot of time listening to professional photographers when they designed the OM-D E-M1X. Three C’s come to mind when using this camera. Capable. Confident. Comfortable.
The best description is fast and accurate, especially for any kind of static subject. I have no complaints about auto-focus performance under low light conditions. This has been important when shooting handheld macro images with the M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 with extension tubes, early morning sunrise images, and photographing events in low light. The dual auto-focus joysticks allow for fast and accurate AF point movement.
Birds-in-flight do take a bit of getting used to when coming from another system. The continuous auto-focus setting works very reliably in a range of birds-in-flight conditions. The E-M1X allows for the creation of custom auto-focus grids which can be useful.
I’ve done some experimentation with the E-M1X’s Intelligent Subject Tracking and had some good success using the ‘Airplanes’ mode for birds-in-flight under certain conditions. I’m hoping that future Olympus firmware updates for the E-M1X includes a ‘birds-in-flight’ intelligent subject tracking option.
Continuous auto-focus with subject tracking needs a bit of additional development. The folks at Olympus are already aware of that and working on it. This was confirmed in an interview with the folks at DPReview. You can scroll forward to the 21:20 time code to watch the acknowledgement.
My experiences to date have been very positive with birds-in-flight. The E-M1X is the only camera I’ve used that made me feel confident that I could consistently capture images of swallows in free flight. I anticipate that my birds-in-flight experiences will only get better as Olympus does E-M1X firmware updates, and my skill level with the camera improves.
Prime birding season in Southern Ontario is over, and I got a late start in 2019. I know I still have a lot more to learn about how to best use the E-M1X for birds-in-flight. Suffice to say I am very optimistic about next spring! I’ve been confidently using the Low Sequential Silent Shutter mode, shooting at 18 frames-per-second with continuous auto-focus, without issue.
I didn’t get my M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter until late in the birding season, so I only got a modest amount of experience with it this year. I have been very impressed with its performance thus far. Auto-focus is fast and accurate and there is very little penalty in terms of image sharpness. The MC-20 is a great piece of gear that I’d recommend to any Olympus owner who wants to extend the reach of the M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 or M.Zuiko PRO IS 300 mm f/4 lenses.
When shooting birds-in-flight at fast frame rates (i.e. 18 frames per second with continuous auto-focus) I regularly captured well over 3,000 images and still had battery life remaining. Using Pro Capture mode does drain the E-M1X batteries somewhat faster. This is understandable since the camera is continually capturing and deleting images in temporary memory.
Even when ‘chimping’ regularly, using Pro Capture and putting additional strain on the batteries I always got more than 1,500 images during an outing and returned home with some battery life remaining. It should be noted that I always shoot in LF+RAW.
Overall, the image quality of my E-M1X RAW files has been better than I initially expected. There is more than enough dynamic range and colour depth for my needs. RAW files are predictable and respond well in post.
Not surprisingly I needed to adjust my approach in post processing as compared to working with my Nikon 1 files. Having more dynamic range and colour depth available makes things easier.
I’ve been creating a number of custom presets in DxO PhotoLab 2 which has helped me be very efficient with my E-M1X RAW files. As I had anticipated, E-M1X RAW files take less work in post than do my Nikon 1 files.
M.Zuiko PRO lenses provide excellent image sharpness and colour rendition. My hands-on experience with them supports the many very positive reviews that this family of lenses has garnered from various camera review websites. When compared to professional grade lenses in other formats from other manufacturers, the M.Zuiko PRO series lenses are excellent value. The M.Zuiko PRO lenses that we bought were worth every penny of investment.
In a word… outstanding. The additional functionality that comes from working with the E-M1X’s IBIS system is impressive. Taking multiple second, handheld images with the M.Zuiko PRO 7-14 mm f/2.8 or PRO 12-40 mm f/2.8 zoom lenses seemed surreal at first. I kept on expecting my photographs to show motion blur from my hand-holding technique. It has been a very interesting personal journey learning that I didn’t have to care very much about shutter speed when shooting static subjects handheld in low light conditions. This contributes to image quality in low light as base ISO-200 can regularly be used. The amount of flexibility and creative freedom that the IBIS system in the E-M1X delivers is difficult to put into words.
The E-M1X’s IBIS system is so good that I that can shoot Handheld Hi Res macro images without any problem. Recently I discovered that I could successfully capture Handheld Hi Res macro images when shooting with my E-M1X extended well out from my body and only holding the camera with one hand. The technology built into the E-M1X that makes this possible boggles my mind! The design of the grip on the E-M1X is also an important factor with this type of one-handed photography.
Pro Capture Mode
The Olympus Pro Capture Mode is something that any avid bird photographer needs to investigate. It is available on a number of Olympus cameras including the E-M1X, E-M1 Mark II and E-M5 Mark III. The amount of mode customization does vary by camera model. I have been using Pro Capture H quite a bit and absolutely LOVE this feature on my E-M1X.
The Pro Capture H mode uses a frame rate of 60 fps. This allows photographers to confidently capture images of precise action sequences.
It is difficult to describe the feelings of awe that are generated when using the Pro Capture H mode. The precise and unique images that can be captured on a consistent basis are simply astounding.
I cannot imagine being a bird photographer and not owning at least one camera that has the Pro Capture feature. Being able to capture full resolution RAW files when using this mode is incredibly useful for birding. It would also be important for a number of sports photography situations.
Handheld Hi Res Mode
This is another unique feature of the E-M1X that is easy to discount until you start using it. Some technique is involved, but it is actually very easy to use. It generates wonderfully detailed results.
By combining 16 images in camera, the E-M1X produces 50 MP RAW files. Not only can the detail be spectacular, but this handheld shooting mode also does a wonderful job virtually eliminating noise. Even at the upper limit of the mode which is ISO-6400.
Low Light Performance
When shooting in RAW, and with reasonable skills in post, there is no reason that the E-M1X cannot be shot at ISO-6400 on a regular basis as needed.
Using ETTR technique (expose to the right) can further improve overall image quality, especially when using higher ISO values.
Many cameras have weatherproofing, but very few can boast an IPX1 rating. A few months ago I was out photographing birds during an overcast morning. Two other photographers were in the general area. Both had double-gripped DSLR cameras with ‘big gun’ prime lenses, along with tripods and gimbal heads. When it started to rain reasonably hard, both of them packed up and left. I was still standing out in the rain photographing a perched egret. As one photographer was leaving, he asked me if I was worried about getting my camera gear wet. I smiled and replied, “Nope.” Shooting with an E-M1X is a liberating experience.
Putting the Olympus OM-D E-M1X in perspective.
For many people using a M4/3 camera may seem like taking a ‘step down’ from their APS-C or full frame camera gear. I can appreciate that concerns may exist about differences in sensor performance between these different camera formats. There’s no doubt that larger sensors do provide more dynamic range and colour depth when compared to the M4/3 sensor in the E-M1X.
It is important to remember that a one or two stop advantage in dynamic range or colour depth can quickly disappear as ISO values increase. If you’re like me and you prefer to shoot handheld, the difference in IBIS performance with the E-M1X can help equalize dynamic range and colour depth sensor performance differences with larger format cameras.
For example, according to DxOMark testing, there is no difference in dynamic range when shooting an E-M1 Mark II at ISO-400 and a Nikon D850 at ISO-800 (at the time of writing this article no DxOMark testing was available for the E-M1X). When both cameras are shot at ISO-200 there is a difference of 1.15 EV. At base ISO (200 vs 64) there is a 1.97 EV difference. So, when shooting at base ISO’s there is a 2 stop difference. After that, sensor performance tightens up to some degree.
Obviously there are situations, like photographing moving subjects in low light, where IBIS performance has no impact. Photographers who regularly shoot moving subjects at high ISO values would likely be better served with a full frame camera. On the other hand, landscape photography is one subject category where dynamic range is important and where IBIS can come into play when shooting handheld. Being able to shoot using slower shutter speeds enables the use of lower ISO values.
Additionally, the 2X crop factor of a M4/3 lens can result in the same landscape scene being captured with a more wide open aperture to create the necessary depth-of-field, when compared to a full frame lens at the same equivalent field-of-view. This could affect the ISO at which a scene is captured if the full frame lens needed to be stopped down to achieve the required depth-of-field. Using a higher ISO in this type of situation with a full frame camera would reduce its dynamic range and colour depth.
The features available with the OM-D E-M1X such as Handheld Hi Res, Live ND, Pro Capture, Live Composite and others, provide photographers with unique creative flexibility. These remain as abstract concepts until they are actually used. Then, their value is better understood and appreciated. I know that after 6 months I have scratched the surface of what is possible with the E-M1X from a creative standpoint. I can only imagine what lies ahead.
When buying interchangeable lens camera gear, the body we choose is only a part of the overall investment that we typically make in a system. Often we invest more money in lenses. M.Zuiko professional grade lenses are excellent value when compared with their full frame counterparts from other manufacturers. They are also comparatively small and light, providing a lot of system portability.
The biggest question…
I suppose the biggest question that a photographer could ask themselves when considering the Olympus OM-D E-M1X is “How much is freedom worth?” Freedom from not having to bring a tripod. Freedom from not lugging around heavy, bulky gear. Freedom from not having to worry about weather conditions. Freedom from not missing precise moment captures. Freedom to explore more creative options. For me, the Olympus OM-D E-M1X was more than worth the investment.. and the trade-offs for that freedom were small and acceptable.
E-M1X 6 month review verdict
The Olympus OM-D E-M1X is the finest, most capable and innovative camera that I have ever owned. During the past 6 months it has met or exceeded all of the expectations that I had for it. There is simply no other currently available camera that meets my specific business and personal needs as well as the Olympus OM-D E-M1X. I have absolutely no regrets about investing in this camera body and a selection of M.Zuiko PRO lenses. Whether the E-M1X is right for you… is something only you can determine.
Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. All images were produced from RAW files using my standard process.
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