Bird Kingdom E-M1X High ISO Test

I recently went to Bird Kingdom in Niagara Falls with the objective of capturing some high ISO images with the Olympus OM-D E-M1X. What follows is a selection of 21 images ranging from ISO-3200 to ISO-25600. This Bird Kingdom E-M1X high ISO test article is based on real world image examples produced from RAW files.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 PRO with M.Zuiko 1.4 X teleconverter @ 210 mm, efov 420 mm, f/5, 1/30, ISO-3200, image from RAW file processed to taste
Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 PRO with M.Zuiko 1.4 X teleconverter @ 210 mm, efov 420 mm, f/5, 1/400, ISO-3200, image from RAW file processed to taste
Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 PRO with M.Zuiko 1.4 X teleconverter @ 210 mm, efov 420 mm, f/5, 1/100, ISO-3200, image from RAW file processed to taste
Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 PRO with M.Zuiko 1.4 X teleconverter @ 210 mm, efov 420 mm, f/8, 1/50, ISO-3200, image from RAW file processed to taste
Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 PRO with M.Zuiko 1.4 X teleconverter @ 210 mm, efov 420 mm, f/5.6, 1/100, ISO-3200, image from RAW file processed to taste
Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 PRO with M.Zuiko 1.4 X teleconverter @ 210 mm, efov 420 mm, f/5, 1/160, ISO-3200, image from RAW file processed to taste
Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 PRO with M.Zuiko 1.4 X teleconverter @ 210 mm, efov 420 mm, f/4, 1/125, ISO-3200, image from RAW file processed to taste

Minimum Expected Results

The seven images above represent the minimum results that I was expecting from the Olympus OM-D E-M1X. Let me explain…

It is very common for there to be a difference between the manufacturer’s stated ISO (i.e. the setting on your camera) and the measured ISO that is determined through laboratory testing.

For example, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II has a measured ISO of ISO-1366 when a camera setting of ISO-3200 is used. DxO Mark rates the camera’s low light performance at ISO-1316. I was expecting pretty clean images up to a camera setting of ISO-3200 with the E-M1X since it may use the identical sensor. Anything above that ISO value would be the result of work done in post processing.

I typically am able to extend my Nikon 1 gear usability by 2 stops in post. As a result I never hesitate to shoot my Nikon 1 cameras at ISO-3200.

When doing my Bird Kingdom E-M1X high ISO test I used ISO-3200 as my base, then went up from there. What I really wanted to discover was if I could get usable images at a camera setting of ISO-12800.

Going One Stop Further

Let’s have a look at a few ISO-6400 images.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 PRO with M.Zuiko 1.4 X teleconverter @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/4, 1/160, ISO-6400, image from RAW file processed to taste
Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 PRO with M.Zuiko 1.4 X teleconverter @ 210 mm, efov 420 mm, f/5.6, 1/200, ISO-6400, image from RAW file processed to taste
Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 PRO with M.Zuiko 1.4 X teleconverter @ 210 mm, efov 420 mm, f/5.6, 1/800, ISO-6400, image from RAW file processed to taste
Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 PRO with M.Zuiko 1.4 X teleconverter @ 210 mm, efov 420 mm, f/5.6, 1/500, ISO-6400, image from RAW file processed to taste

I think these are reasonable results at ISO-6400 since they represent one stop above the low light rating that the E-M1 Mark II has achieved with DxO Mark (i.e. manufacturer stated ISO-3200 equals measured ISO-1366).

Going to ISO-12800

The real challenge was to see if I could get usable results at a camera setting of ISO-12800. Here the results with the E-M1X are mixed. Photographs without deep shadows performed acceptably. Some artifacts are visible at this ISO level.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 PRO with M.Zuiko 1.4 X teleconverter @ 210 mm, efov 420 mm, f/5, 1/250, ISO-12800, image from RAW file processed to taste
Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 PRO with M.Zuiko 1.4 X teleconverter @ 170 mm, efov 340 mm, f/5, 1/160, ISO-12800, image from RAW file processed to taste
Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 PRO with M.Zuiko 1.4 X teleconverter @ 160 mm, efov 320 mm, f/4, 1/160, ISO-12800, image from RAW file processed to taste

If I owned an OM-D E-M1X I would be comfortable shooting in RAW up to ISO-12800 for certain subject matter under specific lighting conditions.

Where the OM-D E-M1X Struggles

Where the E-M1X struggles is with very dark subjects and backgrounds as we will see in the following three images.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 PRO with M.Zuiko 1.4 X teleconverter @ 170 mm, efov 340 mm, f/5.6, 1/80, ISO-12800, image from RAW file processed to taste
Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 PRO with M.Zuiko 1.4 X teleconverter @ 210 mm, efov 420 mm, f/5.6, 1/50, ISO-12800, image from RAW file processed to taste
Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 PRO with M.Zuiko 1.4 X teleconverter @ 210 mm, efov 420 mm, f/5, 1/1000, ISO-12800, image from RAW file processed to taste

The three images above took a fair amount of work in post and are not all that usable. When facing this type of subject matter and lighting, I would likely keep my camera at ISO-5000 or lower.

Pushing Beyond ISO-12800

I was able to push the Olympus OM-D E-M1X beyond ISO-12800 with specific subject matter and lighting as you’ll see in the following images.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 PRO with M.Zuiko 1.4 X teleconverter @ 210 mm, efov 420 mm, f/5, 1/800, ISO-16000, image from RAW file processed to taste
Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 PRO with M.Zuiko 1.4 X teleconverter @ 190 mm, efov 380 mm, f/5.6, 1/80, ISO-16000, image from RAW file processed to taste
Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 PRO with M.Zuiko 1.4 X teleconverter @ 210 mm, efov 420 mm, f/5, 1/400, ISO-16000, image from RAW file processed to taste

Just for the heck of it I pushed the Olympus OM-D E-M1X to its ISO limit. The last image in this article was captured at ISO-25600.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 PRO with M.Zuiko 1.4 X teleconverter @ 210 mm, efov 420 mm, f/4.5, 1/320, ISO-25600, image from RAW file processed to taste

Bottom Line of Test Results

Based on my non-scientific Bird Kingdom E-M1X High ISO Test, I’d suggest shooting in RAW with the Olympus OM-D E-M1X without any hesitation up to ISO-3200. If you have reasonable skills working with RAW files in post, getting usable images at ISO-6400 is a realistic expectation.

Pushing things to ISO-12800 will depend on subject matter, lighting, and post processing skills/software. It may take some time in post to get usable images at this ISO level. Some artifacts can be expected. Going beyond ISO-12800 is for the adventurous, or those that want to really push their post processing skills. Some success can be achieved beyond ISO-12800… although it is certainly not assured. Depending on subject matter, lighting, post processing skill, as well as image size and intended use, some folks may be able to occasionally push the Olympus OM-D E-M1X to its ISO limit when shooting in RAW. If nothing else… just for the fun of it!

Like other cameras, to get the most image performance out of the Olympus OM-D E-M1X photographers should shoot in RAW.

Technical Note:
All photographs in this article were captured using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. All of the photographs displayed in this article were produced from RAW files using my standard process.

Use of Olympus Loaner Equipment
All of the photographs in this article were captured using Olympus Loaner Gear which was supplied by Olympus Americas Inc. on a no-charge basis. We are under no obligation what-so-ever to Olympus Americas Inc. in terms of our use of this loaner Olympus camera equipment. There is no expectation or agreement of any kind with Olympus Americas Inc. that we will create and share with readers any images, articles or videos, or on what that content may be.

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6 thoughts on “Bird Kingdom E-M1X High ISO Test”

  1. Sir Tom,

    Excellent images – as usual – showing your capability as a photographer and processor of note.

    Best

    Leo Theron
    South Africa

  2. Tom,

    The Oly EM1X high ISO performance is not bad, not bad at all especially when shooting RAW. Even the ISO 16000 images are still okay especially when viewed on my 19″ monitor. I think the threshold for shooting jpegs in the 1600-3200 range. For RAW, it’s around 6400 in tricky light, around 12800 in good light and depending on the environment, subject, et al.

    Oggie
    http://www.lagalog.com

    1. Hi Oggie,

      In terms of shooting in RAW, ISO-3200 is a ‘no brainer’. I think if I owned an Olympus OM-D E-M1X or E-M1 Mark II I would set an upper limit of ISO-5000 for the Auto-ISO mode when capturing RAW files.

      Even though I always shoot in RAW + jpeg fine I rarely actually use jpegs. I shoot them primarily as reference for quick file reviews. If I was planning on using the jpegs I would likely keep them to ISO-1600, especially if used in somewhat larger sizes.

      Tom

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