After about six weeks field testing the Olympus OM-D E-M1X and three M.Zuiko pro zoom lenses, the Olympus Loaner Gear will be going back shortly. I thought this would be an opportune time to give readers some real world impressions of the OM-D E-M1X. This article won’t be regurgitating reams of specifications and the like. The internet abounds with that information. This article focuses on what it was like to actually use this camera gear.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
Overall design, handling and ergonomics
In a nutshell the Olympus OM-D E-M1X is a beautiful, well designed camera. Yes it is ‘big’ for a M4/3 body, but that did not bother me at all. From a weight standpoint it is about the same as the Nikon D800 that I once owned. The E-M1X is square shaped and relatively thin.
Olympus Americas also sent an OM-D E-M1 Mark II for me to try as part of my loaner gear selection. It took me less than a day to rule that camera out.
Not because the camera isn’t capable… I just didn’t find it comfortable compared to the E-M1X. This was especially true when using a heavier lens like the M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8.
I have large hands and I could not get all three of my fingers of my right hand onto the Mark II’s grip. My little finger usually ended up underneath the body, or only partially on the grip. I found this awkward and it quickly gave me cramps in my right forearm when using the camera. The same thing happened when my youngest son held the Mark II when the M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 zoom was mounted on it. We both have large hands. I imagine that other folks would not have a comfort issue with the Mark II.
I suppose I could have considered a grip for the OM-D E-M1 Mark II, but I didn’t see the point when the E-M1X is already designed as a dual grip body.
Since my main objective in looking at the Olympus gear was to make my video business more efficient, it was critical that I could hand-hold the body for long periods of time. I’ve been out for 5-6 hour stretches numerous times with the E-M1X and have never felt fatigued using it. Yes it is ‘big’, but the body is well designed ergonomically and I found it extremely comfortable to hold and use for extended periods.
It was a delight shooting with the E-M1X. I really liked the position of all of the major body controls. The fact the controls are in the same position whether the E-M1X is used horizontally or vertically, allowed me to quickly get accustomed to the camera. Midway through my second day of use I could easily find the ISO button, shutter speed and aperture controls, exposure compensation, auto focusing points joystick, and the image review button without having to take my eye away from the viewfinder. I had never used an Olympus interchangeable lens camera before so I think this is a testament to the well thought out design of the OM-D E-M1X.
Auto Focusing Performance
I’m sure I only scratched the surface in terms of understanding the various auto focusing controls on the E-M1X, and how to use them properly. That said, I found the auto focusing to be fast and accurate.
I liked the selection of auto-focusing point patterns. They were easy to access and quick to adjust when necessary. The fact that owners can custom design their own auto-focusing patterns is a great feature that I’m sure many people will use. I didn’t bother playing around with this feature since I was using loaner gear.
I did some early morning photography, starting at 5:30 on a number of days. The E-M1X was able to acquire focus in fairly dim light without any issue. Far better than my Nikon 1 gear, but that is to be expected.
Moving auto-focusing points around using the joystick was very fast and efficient. I found it very easy to find the joystick with my thumb on the back panel of the camera and move focusing points around rapidly if needed. This was particularly useful with bird photography.
I tried the Continuous Auto Focusing with Tracking a few times but found it to be more of a distraction than anything else. Since I don’t have a problem manually panning with and tracking moving objects (like birds in flight) I found that the Continuous Auto Focusing option worked best for my style of photography. If you can track it, chances are the E-M1X can lock focus on it.
I don’t typically spend any time photographing trains, planes or motor sports. As a result I didn’t try out these special E-M1X auto-focusing options. They were never of that much interest to me so I didn’t want to spend any of my limited time on features that I will likely seldom use.
Other reviewers seem to go on and on about auto-focusing performance, quoting hit rates and such. My overall assessment is best summed up by my experience photographing swallows in free flight. The OM-D E-M1X is the only camera that I have ever used for this specific subject matter that actually created a feeling of confidence. When I pressed the shutter release for an AF-C run I felt confident that I was going to capture some usable images of swallows in flight. And, I consistently got usable images. End of story.
Image Quality and Post Processing
Given an underwhelming still photography experience with Panasonic M4/3 gear in the past, I must admit I wasn’t sure what to expect with Olympus. I was very pleasantly surprised.
The RAW files have lots of dynamic range and colour depth. Not to the level of a full frame camera like the Nikon D800… but more than enough for my needs.
I upgraded to DxO PhotoLab 2 so I could get E-M1X RAW file processing capability. This was important for me as I didn’t like the Olympus out-of-camera jpegs very much. Of course, I almost never use out-of-camera jpegs from any camera so I’m biased in this regard. To my eye, the Olympus jpegs seem to ‘smear up’ early and lose some sharpness. Perhaps due to in-camera noise reduction. I was using the E-M1X default jpeg settings so perhaps things would have looked better with some custom tweaking.
I don’t feel using jpegs from the E-M1X does the camera justice. There is so much more that can be done with the RAW files it is almost criminal not to use them.
I spent some time to develop some custom presets for the E-M1X in DxO PhotoLab 2. These are based on subject matter and lighting conditions. Not a full compliment of custom presets like I have for my Nikon 1 system, but enough to get me through the field testing period. These presets worked well and I was very pleased with how DxO PhotoLab 2 worked with the E-M1X RAW files. Everything seemed stable and predictable. It will take some time to develop a full set of presets… but it will be worth the effort.
As per my usual post processing approach, I would export a DNG file into CS6. I found that I didn’t have to do as much work in CS6 with the Olympus files as compared to Nikon 1 files. For some subject matter (flowers for example) I didn’t even need to use the third leg of my post processing regimen… the Nik Collection. For other subject matter it still made sense to finish my files off in the Nik Collection.
I am totally comfortable capturing still image RAW files with the Olympus OM-D E-M1X up to ISO-5000 without any hesitation. Going to ISO-6400 and perhaps a bit beyond is something I would do, depending on subject matter and lighting. Very dark or underexposed images at ISO-6400 and higher can be problematic.
Image sharpness when using M.Zuiko PRO f/2.8 zoom lenses is excellent. I had recently read some of the reviews that have been done on the selection of M.Zuiko PRO f/2.8 zoom lenses. All of them were glowing. I tend to take some reviews with a grain of salt as I’m not sure if they are factual… or just glowing to stimulate some sales and commissions for the website. In this case, Olympus PRO f/2.8 zoom lenses deserve the excellent ratings that they have been given.
Overall, I have been more than satisfied with the image quality of the OM-D E-M1X. The images are sharp, have pleasing colour rendition and noise in RAW files can be easily dealt with in post with PRIME noise reduction in DxO PhotoLab 2. To get the most out of an Olympus OM-D E-M1X I feel that people should definitely shoot in RAW.
The Olympus OM-D E-M1X (and its smaller brother the E-M1 Mark II) are two cameras that actually come close to, or match, the frame rates of my Nikon 1 gear. I regularly capture full resolution RAW files using a frame rate of 60 frames per second with my Nikon 1 equipment. It is almost an everyday event for me to shoot at 20 frames per second while using continuous auto focus. I would find using a camera that could not replicate these frame rates quite limiting for my style of photography. The OM-D E-M1X’s top AF-C frame rate is 18 frames per second. It can shoot at 60 frames per second with the first frame locking focus, just like my Nikon 1 cameras can do.
Buffer Size and Speed
The OM-D E-M1X has two card slots, both capable of using the latest UHS-2 cards. Since the two Nikon 1 camera models that I currently use both take micro SD cards I didn’t bother buying any SD UHS-2 cards for my field testing as I would have no use for them afterwards.
Even when using SanDisk 32 GB Extreme PLUS micro SD cards in the E-M1X I rarely had any issues filling the buffer or waiting for it to clear. I would imagine that using SD UHS-2 cards would make a noticeable improvement in performance.
In a word it is excellent. I regularly went out and captured over 2,000 still images (RAW plus jpeg) in a day and would have lots of battery life left. Sometimes I would be using some of the second battery, but some days I could rack up over 2,000 images on the first battery alone.
You may have read reviews that complained about the battery life notification on the E-M1X not being able to read each battery separately. This has been fixed. The camera now clearly lets a photographer know which battery they are using and how much percentage charge is remaining. When the first battery has been drained, the on screen notification switches to battery two with charge remaining information.
The in-body image stabilization of the Olympus OM-D E-M1X is excellent. I discovered that I could shoot video hand-held quite easily. Specific camera moves will take some time and practice, but overall I found shooting typical video scenes hand-held to be comfortable and efficient.
I don’t do a lot of longer exposure hand-held photography but I did make time to do some rudimentary testing. When using the M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 fully extended (efov 300 mm) I could easily hand-hold at 1/30 without the need to brace myself, or challenge my brain with any unnecessary concentration.
To get consistently usable images at slower shutter speeds I needed to brace myself against some kind of solid support. When using a support I could get usable images with a shutter speed of 1/8 with very good frequency. Slower than that was hit or miss. At 1/2 second I was unable to get images I would consider acceptable when shooting with the lens fully extended.
The M.Zuiko PRO IS 12-100 mm f/4 zoom lens has stabilization built into it. This syncs with the IBIS in the E-M1X body to provide additional stabilization. I did some slow shutter speed tests with this lens. When shooting hand-held at the wide end of the zoom (12 mm, efov 24 mm) with no bracing support I could consistently get usable images at 2/3 of a second to 1 second, almost without needing to think about it.
When braced up against a street light post I was able to get consistently good results up to 2.5 seconds, and a good percentage of keepers at 4 seconds. As a certified senior citizen I thought that performance was quite acceptable.
I was not successful shooting hand-held with the M.Zuiko PRO IS 12-100 mm f/4 beyond 4 seconds.
My best success came when using the M.Zuiko PRO 7-14 mm zoom. I found that when ‘free standing’ I could reliably get acceptable images when shooting hand-held with shutter speeds up to 2 seconds at a 7 mm focal length. When using a wall or other external support I could get acceptable images using a shutter speed of 8 seconds at 7 mm.
Hand-held Hi Res Mode
It is simply amazing. I found it very easy to use, and the results can be spectacular. Obviously it is important to choose reasonably static subjects. Good hand-holding technique is also required. It is important to make sure that the shutter speed you are using is fast enough for the subject matter. If you body position is a bit awkward when hand-holding the E-M1X to produce this type of image, you will need to compensate with a faster shutter speed. For photographers who do some periodic work with clients who want larger size files, the E-M1X’s hand-held Hi Res Mode is an excellent solution.
Shooting the E-M1X at higher ISOs tends to be less problematic when using this mode as the blending of multiple images seems to help eradicate, or at least hide, noise. An example is the image below.
I think the Olympus Hand-Held Hi Res Mode is one of those features that many photographers will look at as ‘nice’ or ‘interesting’… but many will underestimate its usefulness. Once you begin to use it… your mind will identify all kinds of subject matter where it could be helpful to produce a 50 MP file hand-held when needed.
For studio work or other images captured with a tripod, the E-M1X Hi Res Triopod Mode produces stunning 80 MP RAW files.
This is another innovative feature that is pragmatic and practical. I’ve used it a few times (always at the 5 ND level) and found the results to be very solid. I hate using tripods and I often forget my ND (neutral density) filters when out with my camera, so having an in-body ND simulation like Live ND is a no-brainer for me and a very welcome feature.
This is another in-body adjustment that is very practical. It allows you to see the amount of keystone correction you are doing in-camera with your photograph in real time… before you take your image. The increments of the adjustments are not at a ‘fine tuned’ level but for most people it will be sufficient and a great time saver. The Keystone Compensation would likely not replace the need for a tilt and shift lens for higher level architectural photography. For folks who do real estate photography and similar work on a regular basis this feature is a real time saver. It should be noted that Olympus software must be used to make adjustments to RAW files when this feature is used.
This is an incredible feature that allows a photographer to capture full resolution RAW images that other people simply cannot get. It does this by recording up to 35 images before the shutter release is fully engaged. It is so easy to use… it should be illegal. Pro Capture allows for precise moment captures, even if a photographer is a bit late pressing their shutter release. It can make the difference between getting your shot… or missing it completely. For specific situations with sports and nature photography this feature is superb.
As noted in some previous articles, my industrial client work requires more depth of field at any given aperture, rather than shallow depth of field. Using full frame gear is simply the wrong format for the work I do.
The IBIS in the OM-D E-M1X is very good allowing me to shoot hand-held for most typical video scenes ‘right out of the box’ with no practice. More complex camera movements will take some skill development. 1080 HD video is a little bit soft, but still usable. 4K video is quite good. There is a 1080 HD 120p slow motion mode that will come in very handy for many people… me included. At this point the slow motion video does not have continuous auto focus so some pre-planning for this type of video clip must be done.
The video recording frame rates available with the OM-D E-M1X suit my needs without any issues. Some reviewers have complained about certain frame rates not being available. Since Olympus tends to add functionality to their cameras when firmware updates are done, I think it is reasonable to assume that additional video capabilities will be coming in the future.
Being able to shoot hand-held when doing my industrial client videos has the potential to take the simplicity and efficiency of my productions to a completely new level.
Five or six years ago when I was using a Nikon D800 for my client video work I would show up at a client site with a car full of gear. Numerous studio lights, extension cords, tripods of all sizes, camera slider, stablizer, skater dolly etc. Switching to Nikon 1 gear allowed me to leave all of my studio lights at home. I only needed a smallish LED for occasional hand-held fill-in light.
The Olympus OM-D E-M1X gives me the potential to arrive at a client site with a single mid-sized shoulder bag containing one camera body, four lenses and a smallish LED. Everything else can stay at home. That level of freedom opens up all kinds of other video production possibilities.
Pigeon-holing the Olympus OM-D E-M1X as a ‘sports and wildlife’ camera does it a great disservice. The E-M1X is a terrifically well rounded and capable stills and video camera that is able to handle a wide range of subject matter and assignments.
Once you start using the E-M1X, it becomes apparent that you are holding a technological chameleon in your hands. It can adapt to so many situations and handle them confidently.
The handling and ergonomics of the E-M1X cannot be fully appreciated until a photographer actually uses it in the field. It is a comfortable, efficient, time saving machine.
I cut my photographic teeth over four decades ago in the advertising department of a community newspaper. We had to capture our images quickly and get them right the first time… every time. We didn’t have the luxury of re-dos. The Olympus OM-D E-M1X is the epitome of that philosophy… get it done fast… and get it done right the first time.
Photographers will need to clearly assess their needs before deciding if the Olympus OM-D E-M1X is the best solution for them. If you absolutely must have a low light monster of a camera… the E-M1X isn’t for you. If you are large sensor focused and simply can’t accept using a M4/3 system… so be it.
Ultimately, investing in an Olympus OM-D E-M1X with a selection of M.Zuiko Pro lenses comes down to choosing efficiency, flexibility and innovation over sensor size.
All photographs in this article were captured hand-held 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 post processing approach.
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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