When I sat down at my computer to write this Olympus OM-D E-M1X Twelve Month Review I wasn’t quite sure where to start. So, I went back and reread the 6 month review I wrote in November 2019 to see if anything had changed in terms of my perceptions of this camera. And, what additional insights I could add.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
As regular readers know I’m not a professional camera gear reviewer. My website doesn’t have very many articles dedicated to gear reviews. I’d much rather be out creating images with a camera and sharing those experiences with readers, than spending time doing gear reviews. So, I suppose the best place to start with my E-M1X Twelve Month Review is for you to read the one I wrote after 6 months with this camera. Not much has changed, other than I love my Olympus gear even more.
Before you read any further into my E-M1X Twelve Month Review it is important to state upfront that the objective of this article is simply to share my experiences using the E-M1X. I am not suggesting that other photographers should change systems or do what I have done in terms of my choice of camera gear. Everyone should use camera equipment that best suits their needs.
So… grab a coffee or a cup of tea… this is a pretty long article.
One Became Two
I decided to start this E-M1X review at the end. By that I mean where I am today with my Olympus kit, and the OM-D E-M1X specifically. The E-M1X is a superb piece of professional camera equipment. It has done everything that I have asked of it… and is always ready for more.
I have come to rely on this camera to such a degree that towards the end of 2019 I bought a second E-M1X as a backup camera. After investigating less expensive options I realized that I wouldn’t have been happy with anything less than the E-M1X. I can’t think of a stronger form of endorsement than letting my wallet do the talking for me
Size, Weight and Cost
Since it was launched one of the most common complaints about the E-M1X has been its overall size and weight. For photographers who look at the size of the E-M1X and immediately rule it out as being not for them… they’re absolutely right. Anyone who can’t see beyond the physical size of this camera should be buying something else. The Nikon D6 or Canon EOS-1D X Mark III are also larger, double gripped cameras that do not appeal to all photographers. Let’s remember that we’re talking about professional camera models that have very specific audiences.
The E-M1X is large when compared to other M4/3 cameras, but is actually quite compact and light when viewed against the Nikon D6 or Canon EOS-1D X Mark III. I went to the manufacturers’ websites to obtain the following size and weight specifications.
Olympus OM-D E-M1X body only: 849 grams (1.87 lbs.)
Nikon D6 body only: 1270 grams (2.79 lbs.)
Canon EOS 1D Mark III body only: 1250 grams (2.76 lbs.)
Olympus OM-D E-M1X: 144.4 x 146.8 x 75.4 mm (5.7 x 5.8 x 3 inches)
Nikon D6: 160 x 163 x 92xmm (6.3 x 6.4 x 3.6 inches)
Canon EOS 1D X Mark III: 158 x 167.6 x 82.6 mm (6.2 x 6.6 x 3.3 inches)
So, when compared to other professional double gripped cameras the Olympus OM-D E-M1X is smaller and weighs about 1/3 less. Add the size and weight of full frame pro lenses in comparison to M.Zuiko M4/3 pro glass and the size and weight differences between these camera systems become even more apparent. While full frame double gripped cameras do a great job in specific situations like photographing moving subjects in low light, the E-M1X excels with portability and overall functionality. It also costs less than half of the other two cameras noted.
When comparing manufacturer list prices in Canada, for the same cost as a Nikon D6 or Canon EOS 1D X Mark III a photographer could purchase an E-M1X plus the three M.Zuiko PRO f/2.8 zooms (7-14mm, 12-40mm and 40-150mm, efov 14-28mm, 24-80mm and 80-300mm).
My E-M1X weighs about the same as the full frame Nikon D800 that I used to own. From a performance perspective there is no comparison. For the type of photography that I do the E-M1X easily runs circles around the D800. We need to keep in mind that these are very different photographic tools designed for very different jobs. That said, there is absolutely nothing that I miss about owning full frame camera gear.
The capabilities of smaller sensor cameras have always been underestimated, most often by people who have no in-depth experience with them. It seems that the level of aggression exhibited by critics in photography chat rooms is inversely proportional to their knowledge of small sensor cameras. Having used the Nikon 1 system exclusively for many years I have come to appreciate the image quality that is possible from smaller sensor cameras. When used in ways to maximize its strengths, and minimize its shortcomings, the Nikon 1 system is capable of very good results.
I’ve found the dynamic range, colour depth and low light performance of my E-M1X is noticeably better than my Nikon 1 J5 cameras, and significantly better than my V2 or V3 bodies. My E-M1X files take less time in post and have quite a bit more latitude with which to work. Given the shooting controls on the E-M1X it is also easier to capture a proper exposure upfront.
To be fair, I have not used any full frame gear for almost 5 years, and even longer for an APS-C camera, so I cannot provide any current firsthand experience. When working in post with M4/3 files, one does need to treat them differently when compared to working with files from full frame cameras in order to squeeze as much as possible out of them.
I appreciate that some folks may be concerned about image quality from a smaller sensor camera like the E-M1X. This really comes down to personal expectations and the proclivity of an individual photographer to pixel peep. It is simply illogical to expect identical image performance from a M4/3 sensor camera and a full frame one.
From a practical perspective the image quality from a M4/3 camera like the E-M1X is more than good enough for the majority of photographers based on what they actually do with their images.
I don’t often produce large sized prints from my files. My in-house print capability is limited to 24” roll paper with my HP Z3200 DesignJet 12-colour printer. RAW files from the E-M1X produce outstanding 61 x 81 cm (24” x 32”) prints which is as large as I have produced in-house. I have no doubt that even larger sized prints like 76 x 102 cm (30” x 40”) would still yield excellent results.
Low Light Performance
Obviously physics do come into play when working with a M4/3 camera, especially when compared to a full frame body. As can be expected noise is more prevalent at higher ISO values. I’ve not found this to be of specific concern and I have no hesitation shooting my E-M1X up to ISO-6400. Applying noise reduction to RAW files in post handles the issue quite well. If you check the EXIF data, you will see that I have included a good number of images in this article that were captured at ISO-6400.
If you consistently shoot at high ISO values, and if you are a pixel peeper who hates any indication of noise, your needs will likely be better met with a full frame sensor camera.
It is interesting to note that a number of professional photographers have switched to Olympus, and specifically the E-M1X. I think Andy Rouse summed it up best when he explained that the image quality of his E-M1X is “good enough for me.”
In terms of image quality it ultimately comes down to chasing the unicorn-like fantasy of image perfection, versus appreciating the practical reality and value of “good enough for me” image quality. From my perspective, being able to capture a wider range of photographs in new and different ways is worth far more than a bit of dynamic range, or some additional megapixels.
The outstanding IBIS performance of the E-M1X is a significant equalizing factor when it comes to comparing image quality between various camera systems. I hate using tripods. Being able to handhold my E-M1X for multiple second exposures extends its functionality significantly, and can help me get the most out of its M4/3 sensor. When I owned a Nikon D800 I was seldom able to shoot handheld at anywhere close to the camera’s base ISO in lower light conditions. Any camera’s dynamic range is at its highest at its base ISO. With my E-M1X I can shoot at the camera’s base (ISO-200) on a regular basis.
Being able to create landscape images before sunrise handheld at shutter speeds of 1, 2 or even 4 seconds changes a photographer’s perspective on what is possible and practical.
I’m a senior citizen so my physical ability to handhold my camera at extended shutter speeds has likely degraded over time. I’ve found that 1 or 2 second handheld exposures when using the M.Zuiko PRO 12-40 mm f/2.8 are not that hard to do. The most I tend to push that lens to still get usable images is a 4 second handheld exposure.
Due to the wider angle focal length, the M.Zuiko PRO 7-14 mm f/2.8 is easier to handhold at slow shutter speeds. I’ve had success doing handheld exposures of up to 8 seconds with that lens. Younger photographers with more physical steadiness than I possess could likely handhold at even slower shutter speeds when using an E-M1X.
IBIS performance not only impacts landscape photography but also macro photography, and the use of Olympus features like Handheld Hi Res and In-Camera Focus Stacking. It still amazes me that I can shoot Handheld Hi Res macro images, and handheld in-camera focus stacked macro images, with my E-M1X. I’ve even had success shooting Handheld Hi Res macro while holding my E-M1X with one hand and my arm outstretched.
How my camera enables me to do this type of photography boggles my mind. Until a photographer experiences what is possible with the IBIS system on the E-M1X it is impossible to fully understand how much this extends the photographic potential of the camera.
Working with 4:3 Rather Than 3:2 Image Ratios
When I first began using Olympus camera gear back in May 2019, I must admit that I wasn’t sure if I would like using a 4:3 image format. After using Nikon full frame, APS-C and Nikon 1 cameras for many years I was totally oriented to the 3:2 image ratio.
My initial concerns proved to be completely unfounded. I soon discovered that a 4:3 image ratio is a much more natural composition shape for a wide range of subject matter. It is especially helpful when photographing individual flowers, insects, and for portraits. Birds-in-flight also fit much better in a 4:3 frame as it allows for more vertical wing movement.
Overall a 4:3 image ratio is far more pixel efficient than using 3:2. Less cropping is needed when printing images to fit in standard 8” x 10” frame and similar 5:4 ratio standard picture frames.
Wide angle landscapes can be a bit more challenging. Photographers can take multiple images and stitch them together. This is something that many folks do with their 3:2 ratio cameras anyway. I’ve found that when creating landscape images with my E-M1X and its 4:3 image ratio, it makes me think more about incorporating foreground elements. The M4/3 format gives me more composition room to fit them in.
The most famous painting in the world is the Mona Lisa, which was created by Leonardo da Vinci in 1509. The painting has stood the test of time and is revered by many as the greatest masterpiece ever created. It measures 77 cm x 53 cm (30 x 20 7/8”). This is much closer to a 4:3 image ratio than it is to 3:2. The way I figure it, if creating something close to 4:3 worked for Leonardo da Vinci, it’s good enough for me!
Working with Olympus Menus
Most camera reviewers complained to varying degrees about working with the Olympus menu system. People moaned about how complex and difficult it is to navigate, compared to other cameras. I think the vast majority of these complaints are caused by the familiarity that a reviewer has with the menus in their favourite camera gear. Reviewers seem to have expectations that Olympus should parrot the menus in cameras that they own. This, of course, is an unrealistic expectation.
There’s no doubt that the menu on the E-M1X is quite complex and takes some time with which to acclimatize. The biggest reason for this is the sheer amount of customization that is available to a photographer with the E-M1X. It can be overwhelming if one attempts to do too much, too quickly.
One of the initial things that I did after I purchased my first E-M1X, was print a hard copy of the 682-page E-M1X Instruction Manual. When printed double sided with 2 pages on each side of a sheet of paper, it is about 17 mm thick (~0.67 inches). I have mine spiral bound and I’ve never felt compelled to read it cover to cover. About once a month I do reference it to get clarification on a particular setting or procedure.
When needing information I most often go to the Olympus Learn Center to look for clarification. I frequently do internet searches for printed articles, or use YouTube. There are all kinds of good and easily accessible information available to help a photographer. This reference material is often produced by Olympus Visionaries who do a very good job with their explanations.
The E-M1X does have a My Menu option where a photographer can pre-select specific settings that they use frequently to create a custom menu. At this point I have not had the need to use this feature. By pressing the OK button, or the Super Control LV button on the top left corner of the camera body’s back surface, the super control panel is quickly available. Most common settings can be adjusted there if needed. Folks who like using a touchscreen can program their camera using this capability on the rear screen. I hate using touchscreens and have this turned off on my E-M1X.
Photographers who are new to Olympus should have the same expectations they would have when moving to any new camera system. The menus will be different and it will take some time to learn them. Once you do, you can navigate around quite well. In my experience the reviewer complaints about the Olympus menu system are overblown and petty.
Increasing Reaction Speed Using C1-C4 Custom Modes
If a photographer wants to react to changing photographic opportunities very quickly they can set up various custom shooting profiles with the four custom modes. These are marked C1 through C4 and are found on the mode dial on the top of the camera.
I recently set these up on one of my E-M1X bodies and have each of the four custom modes set to various settings that I most often use for birds-in-flight. These include:
C1: AF-C with single point AF
C2: AF-C+TR with custom 3×5 auto-focus grid and Airplane Subject Tracking
C3: Pro Capture H with single point at 60 frames-per-second
C4: Pro Capture L with custom 3×5 auto-focus grid at 18 frames-per-second.
I’ve only been using these custom settings for a little while so I may change them over time. One thing is very apparent… photographers should definitely use these custom modes if they want to dramatically speed up their reaction time to changing photographic opportunities.
At some point I will be programming my second E-M1X with settings that I typically use for still photography subjects. These will most likely include Handheld Hi Res mode, In-camera focus stacking, Live ND, and perhaps HDR.
Nothing has changed with my assessment since my 6-month review. The E-M1X has very responsive auto-focusing that works very well in a wide range of lighting conditions. At this point in time the best setting for birds-in-flight is AF-C without tracking.
Experience has taught me that when using the Handheld Hi Res mode or In-Camera Focus Stacking it is very important to position a single auto focus point on a part of the composition that provides high contrast. This really helps the E-M1X’s IBIS system lock down to capture multiple frames before combining them in camera.
The E-M1X utilizes 121 cross type auto focusing points. I expect the auto-focusing performance to improve further as Olympus launches firmware upgrades. One of my biggest hopes is that we will see Birds-in-Flight added to the Subject Tracking capabilities in the future. The three subject tracking modes currently available work extremely well for the intended subjects.
Working with E-M1X RAW Files in Post
I use my standard workflow with my E-M1X files in post. I start by applying a custom preset in DxO PhotoLab 2 and use the Spot Weighted Smart Lighting Tool as well as PRIME noise reduction. I then export a DNG file into Photoshop CS6, and finish my images off with the Nik Collection.
Overall, I do far fewer corrections with my E-M1X files than I would when processing Nikon 1 J5 files. This is to be expected given the differences in dynamic range, colour depth and low light performance.
For many of my E-M1X RAW files all I do in DxO PhotoLab 2 is use the standard DxO camera/lens defaults, PRIME noise reduction, and the Spot Weighted Smart Lighting tool. Then I export a DNG file into CS6.
I find the RAW files from the E-M1X are predictable, have lots of flexibility and respond well in post. Overall, they are very easy and efficient with which to work.
Weather Sealing, Dust Proofing, and Freeze Proofing
The Olympus OM-D E-M1X has an IPX1 weather sealing rating, is rated to -10 Celsius, and has a Super Sonic Wave Filter for dust reduction. I’m not a ‘techie’ when it comes to camera gear so I’m not well suited to explain how all of this works.
Suffice to say that weather has never held me back from using my E-M1X. My original E-M1X body has never needed the sensor to be cleaned because of dust. I’ve shot in rainy conditions that have caused other photographers with pro gear to pack up and leave. Heavy spray coming from waves hitting the shoreline and covering me and my Olympus gear with water has never deterred me. I view my E-M1X as a go anywhere, photograph anything piece of kit.
This is a great feature that can be used without the need to carry filters in your kit. Providing up to 5 stops of neutral density filter effect, Live ND is a feature that I don’t often use, but it is great to know that I have it available whenever I need it. I never have to worry whether I have a set of ND filters with me.
There are some restrictions to keep in mind in terms of the fastest shutter speed available based on the amount of ND effect desired. For example the fastest shutter speed available when using ND32 (i.e. 5 stop effect) is ½ second.
As is the case with all cameras, photographers simply need to learn how to work within the technical limitations of their gear. I have found Live ND to be easy and effective to use for typical images of waterfalls. Experiments with other types of subjects will follow down the road.
Working with Pro Capture
This capability is nothing short of incredible, allowing a photographer to confidently and deliberately capture action sequences that were extremely difficult to photograph in the past. Until a photographer actually spends some time shooting with this mode they simply cannot understand what a game changer this is for action photography. There’s no way I can imagine going out to do bird photography without planning to use Pro Capture.
The vast majority of my Pro Capture work has been with the H setting, and shooting at 60 frames-per-second. This uses the first frame in an image run to lock focus and exposure for the balance of the photographs. When photographing birds in flight, either taking off or landing, this feature can produce some quite unique and compelling images.
The Pro Capture L mode uses continuous auto-focus and I think there are a number of specific situations where this feature can be employed with great effect. For example, tracking a tern while waiting for it to do a mid-air shake.
Working with Handheld Hi Res Mode (HHHR)
For those times when a photographer wants additional resolution, the Olympus Handheld Hi Res Mode provides instant flexibility without the need to lug a tripod around.
There are some caveats in terms of choosing very still subject matter and using a shutter speed that is appropriate for the skill level of the photographer. This mode can be used up to ISO-6400. Since the E-M1X captures 16 images, then combines them in post, using HHHR does a very good job dealing with image noise. I have absolutely no hesitation using this feature shooting up to its limit of ISO-6400, and have done this on a very regular basis.
While some people may think about using Handheld Hi Res mode primarily for landscape photography, it is also excellent when used for handheld macro photography, architecture, flowers, stationary animals, and shooting handheld in dark conditions such as museums and other such facilities.
The E-M1X produces a high resolution 50MP ORF RAW file as well as a standard resolution ORI RAW file, plus jpeg, when the Handheld Hi Res mode is used, This gives a photographer a lot of options in post and for future use.
The E-M1X also has a Hi Res Tripod mode which produces an 80MP RAW file. During my first year using the E-M1X I’ve never had the need to use this feature. Much of that is likely due to my aversion to tripods.
Handheld In-Camera Focus Stacking
I’ve done some experimenting with this feature and have had some good results with it when doing macro photography. I do find it a bit more challenging to get a good, crisp image with this feature when compared to using the HHHR mode. This is likely more to do with my lack of familiarity with this feature and my relative inexperience using it.
I’ve also pushed my E-M1X when using this feature, setting it for 15 images to stack in-camera which may be contributing to my success rate. The handheld in-camera focus stacking feature produces a finished jpeg file, as well as giving a photographer all of the frames used to do the in-camera focus stacking.
Comfort, Handling and Ergonomics
As noted in my E-M1X 6 Month Review, the handling and ergonomics of the E-M1X are simply wonderful. Buttons and dials are well positioned. They are easy to find and adjust without needing to look away from the viewfinder. I really like the different sizes, heights and textures that Olympus has incorporated with various on-body controls. These differences make it very easy to identify and differentiate controls by touch, in both landscape and portrait orientations.
Comfort is something that is often overlooked in camera reviews and some photographers don’t give this factor as much consideration as it deserves. For people like me who are often out using their cameras for long periods of time, working with a camera that is comfortable is a critical factor. A body that causes fatigue and discomfort can be very distracting from a creative standpoint. It also reduces overall project efficiency.
I have large hands and from the first moment that I picked up an E-M1X it felt very natural and comfortable to hold. Shooting with this camera for long 8-10 hour days has not ever caused fatigue or pain. When it came time for me to decide on a back-up Olympus camera for my business I very quickly came to the realization that I simply would not have been happy with anything less than a second E-M1X body.
The Pursuit of Freedom
As a photographer who has always hated tripods and carrying around more gear than necessary, the Olympus OM-D E-M1X with M.Zuiko lenses is a perfect camera system.
I have a medium sized shoulder bag that allows me to carry an E-M1X body M.Zuiko PRO 7-14 mm f/2.8, M.Zuiko PRO 12-40 mm f/2.8, M.Zuiko Pro 40-150 mm f/2.8, M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter, Kenko extension tubes, 2 extra batteries, 4 extra UHS-II SD cards, cleaning solution and cloth, blower, and two battery chargers.
All of the gear, including the camera bag, weighs about 5.8 KG (~12.8 lbs.). My Olympus kit allows me to shoot natively from 7mm to 150mm at f/2.8 (efov 14mm to 300mm). Using the MC-20 teleconverter extends my range to 300mm at f/5.6 (efov 600mm). Plus I have macro and extension tube capability.
Although it isn’t included in my regular Olympus kit bag, I also have an M.Zuiko PRO 45mm f/1.2 prime. This extends my overall photographic capability further and is ideal for portraits.
Other than the extension tubes, my entire Olympus kit, including my STF-8 Twin Macro Flash, FL-700WR Flash and FC-WR Wireless Flash Commander are all weather sealed to same standard as my E-M1X and M.Zuiko lenses. This adds additional flexibility and all weather capability.
One year later, the Olympus OM-D E-M1X continues to impress with its professional build, flexibility, IBIS performance, image quality, comfort and handling, as well as its unique image capturing technologies. It isn’t a camera that will appeal to everyone. For photographers who want a professional, double gripped camera that has real-life go anywhere, shoot anything capability, as part of a relatively small, lightweight, and cost affordable system, the E-M1X has a unique place in the camera market. It is an outstanding fit for my specific photographic needs.
Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Most images were produced from RAW files using my standard process. Some of the photographs displayed are jpegs produced in camera.
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