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Adopting the Olympus OM-D System Pt. 2


Dallas

If you have already invested in a well rounded camera system from any manufacturer, why would you want to look at getting an Olympus mirrorless camera and a bunch of micro four thirds lenses?

It’s a fair question and I think that you need to weigh up your options quite carefully before you go splashing down all your hard earned money, or selling off your old system and then regretting it later. You need to assess the advantages you'll enjoy before you do that. This series of articles is based on my own experiences and if you are looking to do a system change perhaps my needs might intersect with yours.

Size & Weight

The biggest and most attractive aspect of this system is that you’re cutting down the weight and size of your equipment by a considerable margin. If you consider the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 ED lens, the closest lenses to it in terms of light transmission and field of view from the big 135 system cameras are the Canon 200mm f/2.0 and the Nikon 200mm f/2.0.

The Canon lens weighs 2.54kg and is 208mm long. It costs $6,000. The Nikon weighs a little more at 2.93kg and is 203mm long. It costs $5800.

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Now these are both incredible high performance lenses from the big names in photo gear and I’m not suggesting for a second that the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 is their optical equal (I think it’s pretty close in terms of sharpness though), but the angle of view from the Olympus lens is very close to what the other two offer. It’s the same as a 150mm lens on the bigger sensor and its aperture is faster than both those other giant lenses. The main difference you may notice between the two big lenses and the Olympus comes down to the depth of field observed. The big lenses are awesome in this regard, completely blurring out the background, but I’ll tell you what, the Olympus 75mm can hold its head up very high too. The really big material difference between these lenses? Well, the Olympus 75mm will cost you $900 (+ $75 with the hood) and it weighs a mere 305g. That is slightly more than 10% of the mass of each of the two other lenses. It is only 69mm long, which if Mens Health is to be believed, is less than half the length of the average male erection.

While you’re mulling over those numbers in your head and looking at your nearest ruler, I want you to think about when you’d use a lens like a fast 200mm or equivalent. As a highly specialised short telephoto lens they’re typically used for indoor sports or stage performances. If you’re shooting live shows you’re probably going to pair this up with something like a full bodied pro DSLR like a Canon 1DX that weighs in the region of 1.5kg. You’re up to almost 5kg in your hands now with just one lens and camera body. Handholding that combo for the length of a 2 hour long live concert is going to result in arm fatigue, even if you’re fairly gym strong. If you’re not handholding you will have to bring along a monopod or tripod with a decent head. More weight. More things to look after. Those of you who have done photography at live shows will already know what a pain it is to have to try and use dedicated camera supports in the places where you have to shoot from.

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If you go to a show or indoor sports event with the big system your camera bag is going to be large. You’re going to need a lot of personal space around you to take things in and out of it and as somebody who has tried this before, it’s not always possible, especially if you’re in a theatre where other people who have paid to see the show are now having to put up with your enormous camera presence. Try walking into an arena concert with a DSLR and 200mm fast lens. You won’t get in, simple as that. But with an OM-D and a 75mm f/1.8 you’re looking way less conspicuous. Yes, you could use a different lens, such as a 70-200/2.8, but then you've already lost a stop and a third of light, or you could put an 85mm f/1.8 on an APS-C body, but that's probably as close as you're going to get. How good are the 85mm f/1.8 lenses out there compared to the Oly? In my experience of shooting both Nikon and Canon versions in the past... not even in the same sport, let alone ballpark. You just don't get lenses like this for DSLR's without paying huge money for them and making enormous trade-offs in convenience.

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The example of the 75mm f/1.8 lens is just one of many where the physical advantage of a smaller system is obvious. Travel photography is an area where the advantage is huge. Anyone who’s ever had to travel by air with a lot of camera gear knows just how stressful that can become. Over the past few years I have travelled domestically within South Africa for safaris and each time I have had to rationalise my kit just so that I could avoid being detected as a carry-on “over-loader” by the airline ground staff. The thought of having your precious camera gear checked in and falling prey to airport baggage handlers and automated sorting systems is enough to leave you sleepless.

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(this shot was taken in near darkness at very close range in a Himba hut in Namibia)

A system like micro four thirds is physically minuscule when compared to larger DSLR systems like Canon and Nikon, and to a fair degree even the APS-C systems. You are able to pack a lot more gear into a much smaller space without giving up much photographically. I am well known for using the ThinkTank Retrospective bags and I can get 6 lenses plus one of the OM-D bodies (with a battery grip) into the Retrospective 5’s main compartment. If I really want to I can also put a second OM-D body sans lens into the front pouch, or I can slip a couple of flash units in there. If you’ve ever seen the Retro 5 bag you’ll know how small it is.

Electronic View Finder (EVF)

For me another plus of the system is the Electronic View Finder (EVF). It’s a big change to using optical view finders, but it is the way of the future and in my humble opinion it will make you a better photographer if you know how to use it properly.

The EVF found in the Olympus E-M1 is awesome. It really is. Imagine you’re shooting something backlit. You need to increase your exposure by compensating if you want your subject to be properly exposed. Any good camera will have compensation on it, but you’ll have to chimp at your results to see the effects of it when using an optical view finder. With the EVF you’ll see the exact results before you’ve even taken the shot.

The E-M1 has what they call “Adaptive Brightness Technology” built in. So what this does is it adjusts the brightness of the EVF depending on the ambient light, but it does it in a way that doesn’t trick your eyes into believing that the image in the EVF is brighter than it actually is. What you’re looking at in the EVF is fairly representative of the scene in terms of its brightness and contrast.

You will also see what areas of your image are going to be blown out or blocked up detail wise by activating the highlights/shadow warnings. It works just the same way it does in Bridge or Lightroom, red marks the blown highlights and blue marks the blocked shadows. Again, you’ll see your results before you take or potentially mess up your shot. If you’d prefer to not see big blobs of red or blue, you could opt to use the live histogram instead.

Another advantage of the OM-D EVF is that you can activate the level indicator in the EVF to show you when your horizon is going to be skew, or you’re introducing key stoning by tilting the lens upwards or downwards. I find this pretty handy when shooting interiors.

Focus peaking is another very cool EVF feature you’ll find on the E-M1. I have set mine up to be activated with the Fn1 button, which rests just below my right thumb when holding the camera. If I am using a manual focus lens via adapter on my E-M1 I can get it into focus simply by looking for the brightly highlighted edges of my subject as I move the focus ring of the lens. It works very well. If you would prefer more precise control then you’d probably want to use the magnifier feature of the EVF. This takes a small portion of the scene and magnifies it so that you can manually focus more accurately.

Another E-M1 feature I have discovered that lends itself to being helpful is the HDR modes. Wouldn’t it be great to see what your HDR is going to look like before you make the exposures? This is what happens when you select one of these modes - you’ll see an expanded HDR preview in the EVF. As soon as you hit the release the camera will make its exposures, combine them in camera and then give you a single image. Too cool.

Something else that I have found to be an amazing advantage is that if I am outdoors I can look into the EVF to see my shots, zoom into them and also change the displayed information about them. If you've ever tried to see what's on the back of your LCD in daylight, you'll know how tricky that can be.

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In Body Image Stabilisation (IBIS)

This feature of the E-M1 is nothing short of remarkable. It was good on the E-M5, but now it’s ridiculously good and it is possible to hand hold exposures up to a couple of seconds and still get perfectly sharp images. For low light work where you don’t have a tripod handy it’s an advantage that can be the difference between a useful shot and something you throw away.

The real beauty of the IBIS is that you get stabilisation with any lens. Yes, even that old Nikkor 105/2.5 from the 60’s I have in my collection of old lenses is stabilised and unlike optical stabilisers where the jiggling of lens elements produces weird artefacts in the out of focus areas of your image (double lines for instance), the IBIS doesn’t seem to exhibit the same behaviour since its the image sensor that does the jiggling. It’s also very effective in video mode.

You can switch off the IBIS but I leave it on all the time. Why risk camera shake when you don’t have to? However, something I recently discovered is that you can also set the IBIS to only work in a certain axis if you want it to. For instance, if you are panning horizontally you can switch off the horizontal stabilisation and use only the vertical stabiliser. I wish I had thought of that when I was making panning shots of fast moving skateboarders recently.

Wifi Camera Control & Sharing

Several years ago when I got my very first iPod Touch I wrote a review of the OnOne app that allowed you to tether your camera to a laptop and control it from your iPod. It actually worked quite well, but the problem was that you had to have the laptop in the vicinity of the camera. It was a bit gimmicky, but seeing your camera’s live view being transmitted to your iPod was pretty darn cool.

Things have evolved a bit since then and one of the features of the E-M1 is the built-in wifi capability that lets you do the exact same thing as the OnOne Camera Control app did, except you no longer need a laptop to create a wifi network for the app to connect to. The camera now creates its own network and when you connect your smart phone or tablet to it, it allows you to not only control the camera, but also send its images to the controlling device for onward transmission to another location, be it a social network, image sharing service, or even Airdrop it to another Apple device. That applies to any images you have stored on the SD card - you can import them to your iPad or iPhone.

How is this useful? Well, here’s a real world example; when I am shooting tabletop product shots in my small home studio and I want my client’s opinion on whether they are happy with the way the products are arranged, I import the shot to my iPad’s Camera Roll via the Olympus Image Share app and I can email them a small version of the shot. I also prefer to see the larger Live View on my iPad than what's on the camera LCD screen.

Now, with the addition of Lightroom for iPad I can even do minor edits to the shot before I send them a sample. This is a real advantage and the screenshot you see below was done in exactly this manner. In the past I would have to copy the file to the computer, add it to the Lightroom catalog , edit it there, create a small version of it and only then could I send it off via email to my client. Bit of a rigmarole.

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Screen grab of Lightroom for iPad - I will be writing a more in-depth assessment of this app soon

The OIS app is still a bit of an infant though and in the future I hope to be able to send files to a service like DropBox or iCloud directly from the app instead of having to import them to the Camera Roll. I’m pretty sure that could be done in future upgrades.

The Tilting & Touch Screen

A lot of people think this is very gimmicky, but it's actually quite a useful thing, especially if you don't want to go crawling on your belly to make exposures of things at that level (think macro, etc). You can tilt the screen upwards to use it as a waist-level finder, then tap the screen like you would an iPhone to make an exposure. This is a nifty trick to use if you want to make candid shots of people who are unaware that they are about to be photographed. Street photographers will be in their element with this feature.

These are just some of the big advantages I have experienced with the OM-D system. In part 3 of this series I will talk about the compromises you will have to contend with if you are considering a switch to OM-D. That will be published next week Monday.

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Thank you for this series of articles!

 

One of the key drivers for us to leave Canon and move to M43 was the size and weight issue.   I got the wife a Tamron 150-600....she could not lift it on a 5DIII.    With a Panasonic 100-300 on her E-M1 she essentially have the same range and aperture speeds for 1/4 of the size and weight.   Remember, happy wife, happy life.

 

We have a friend who just had shoulder surgery.  He can no longer carry around his Canon kit.  We will see him at a photo club meeting on Tuesday evening.   I told him about the 12-40 lens.  He will be amazed that it can replace his 24-70 brick.  And the Panasonic 100-300 can replace his Canon 100-400, like it did ours.  The best camera and lens you can use.....the ones you can carry.

 

I have not found our M43 kits to hold us back.  Any limitations in our photography is due to our ability, not the capability of the equipment.

Edited by mcasan

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It's articles like this that really make this community stand out. If 99% of the blog-o-sphere were like this, we'd have a really value on our hands.

Thanks, Dallas.

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    • By Dallas
      Olympus South Africa very kindly loaned me an E-M1X for my recent Photo Safari to Sabi Sabi and while I only had a few days before leaving on the trip to become accustomed to the camera, I did manage to produce some great images (by my standards) while using it in conjunction with the Olympus 300mm f/4.0 PRO.
       
      The first thing that struck me about this camera when taking it out of the box is the sheer size of it. It is huge. If you’ve been using Micro Four Thirds bodies to get away from the bulk of traditional DSLR’s then you will not want this camera. I was quite shocked at its size initially, especially when compared to my gripped E-M1 (original) which I have been shooting since 2014. The Nikon D5 is only 15mm bigger in terms of depth, height and width all around, so for a small sensor camera to be so close in size to a flagship 35mm camera begs some serious questioning of the makers.
       

      Side-by-side view of the E-M1X and the original E-M1 with its grip
       
      So why did Olympus make this camera so big? When you begin handling it the answer falls into place. It’s designed for sports and action photographers who are used to the speed and heft of cameras like the Nikon D5 and Canon EOS 1D series. That’s the user market Olympus are targeting with this machine. It feels substantial in the hands and the ergonomics are such that if you’re used to a bigger camera, moving across to the E-M1X will be much easier for you to adapt to, especially since the Olympus is so highly customisable that you could easily set it up to pretty much emulate the ergonomics of your big DSLR. Well, maybe not the Canons which often require simultaneous button presses to activate certain things, but most certainly it would be easy for a Nikon shooter to make the change.
       

      Not much in it, dimension wise, is there? 
       
      So we now have a giant MFT camera that feels like a Nikon D5. Why didn’t they do what Panasonic has done and make a bigger sensor too? Good question. Why stick with MFT sensors if you want to attract the sports and wildlife shooters of the world? This is where the concept of MFT begins to make sense. The main advantage to be had when shooting this small format as opposed to 35mm is that MFT lenses are comparatively diminutive. For example, on my safari I packed in the Olympus 300/4.0 PRO as well as my older 50-200/2.8-3.5 SWD and a third un-gripped body with the Olympus 12-100/4.0 PRO. I also had the Pan/Leica 8-18mm lens in my bag because I wanted to make some photos of the lodge while I was there. Those items I took as a carry on in the ThinkTank Airport Advantage roller and while the bag was not exactly light once my laptop and other peripherals were in it (about 15kg total), had I wanted a similar focal range shooting a 35mm system, I would have had to pack a 600mm f/4.0, 200-400mm f/4.0 and a regular camera with professional wide angle and ultra-zoom lenses. There is no way you could take that as a carry on with 35mm, so you’d have to bring a hard case and pay for the extra baggage. You then also have the added stress of wondering if your precious gear will make it to its destination. Having been in this exact situation many times before moving across to MFT from Nikon 35mm I know exactly what the challenges of travelling with large lenses and heavy gear are.
       

      This is the gear I took on the safari in the ThinkTank Airport Advantage.
       
      Conversely travelling with MFT is easy. Even with the giant E-M1X body, the space and weight savings of the incredible Olympus PRO and Panasonic/Leica lenses is a Godsend. Also consider the additional overhead of having to bring along a support system for your big 35mm glass because I doubt you’re going to want to hand hold a 600/4.0 lens if you’re going on a photography trip where such a lens is wanted. You’ll also need to pack a monopod and probably a gimbal head too. MFT systems like Olympus don’t require any support other than your hand, even when shooting the 300mm f/4 PRO. The IBIS and lens IS combine incredibly well.
       
      Given its considerable girth, for the E-M1X to make sense as a photographic tool that is intended to win over 35mm users it also needs to have some other things going for it. It will need to have seriously fast and accurate auto-focus, plus it will need to offer decent image quality in low light. This is where things get interesting. Read on!
       
       
      Auto Focus
       
      I’m not a back-button focus photographer. I can understand the principle behind this method and I have tried it a few times, but I have been using single point AF-S for so long that trying to change that deeply ingrained behaviour is really hard for me. I’ve also never set up any of the cameras I have ever owned to work in AF-C mode with any degree of success, so I tend to stab at the shutter button rapidly to keep slow moving things in focus (it’s very rarely that I will find myself photographing fast moving subjects). This method has worked for me for quite a long time now. So when I started reading the autofocus section in the E-M1X manual (which itself is a gargantuan 680-odd pages long in just English alone!) I was staggered by the array of setup options for the AF system of the E-M1X. I simply didn’t have enough time before my safari to comprehend all the options it offers, let alone try them out in practical situations.
       
      As mentioned I always set up AF to use a single point in AF-S mode and I recompose once I see the green dot. I don’t use the grouped points, so for me learning something as sophisticated as the AF system on the E-M1X is going to require a specific set of applications, which currently I don’t have in my work. For people who shoot birds in flight, aviation, motorsport and fast action sports such as soccer, ice-hockey and the like, this is probably going to be a winner, especially since they have built in subject recognition for certain things like cars, trains and planes. Apparently these subjects will be added to in firmware as they build up better data on new ones. I can imagine that leopard detection might be a thing in the future.
       
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      Another thing I liked about the X is that you can assign the Home position for the single AF point to be in a different position when shooting in the portrait orientation. This is really handy for events when I find myself having to shift the AF point between shooting people at a podium and then switching to the audience in landscape orientation. Very nice feature.
       
      What I can tell you about the AF system as I used it, is that it’s reassuringly lightning quick and accurate for the wildlife subjects I was photographing. There’s no hunting unless you miss a contrast point, like all cameras I have ever tried. Focus is almost instantaneous, even when subjects are not so close.
       
      In summary, I don’t think that anybody coming from 35mm will be disappointed with the AF capability of the E-M1X. If anything they might be pleasantly surprised given the sheer array of options available to control how the system works.
       
       

      Wildebeest in the misty morning, no problem with auto focus here in spite of the grass
       

      Using my "repeated stabbing" AF technique I managed to get a moderately sharp image, but I reckon had I used the camera's AF-S mode here the shot would have been better. 
       
       
      Speed
       
      One of the biggest advances Olympus made with this camera is the CPU speed. This is a very fast camera in terms of how quickly it processes and reads off data from the sensor. It’s so fast that you can do sensor shift high resolution images handheld. I didn’t really try this out properly, plus Lightroom can’t read the resulting .ORI files so the handful of shots I did take with this mode active, I have to process in Olympus Workspace, which I am completely new to. Sorry! As such I can’t formulate an opinion right now on how useful it is based on such a small sample of images, but what I can say is that on stationary subjects I think it can work quite well. I’d love to try it out in studio doing product photography, but I think there might be some issues syncing it with studio strobes.
       
      Getting back to the intended sports user of this camera, there is the not-so-insignificant Pro Capture mode to consider as a lure for the photographers who want to simplify their lives and get great action every time. Basically with the mode active the camera writes continuously to the buffer while you are holding the shutter button halfway down. As soon as your critical capture moment arrives you trip the shutter and the camera will record whatever it has currently in the buffer to the card(s). This is kind of like shooting fish in a barrel really, especially if you have the patience to sit with your finger on the trigger waiting for a bird to take flight. You can’t miss the shot. Unless you’re like me and you get tired of waiting and the bird chuckles at you as you put down the camera just before it flies away.
       

      I'll settle for stationary birds
       
      On the subject of Pro Capture, this mode is set by changing the drive mode in Super Control Panel (SCP). However, the thing is you may (like me) forget to switch this back to a regular drive mode after failing to record the wretched lilac breasted roller taking off, and then at your next sighting you will end up with dozens of images of a stationary buffalo. Or worse still, you’ll be wanting to shoot a sequence of something happening, but after you accidentally trigger Pro Capture you will have to wait for the camera to write its buffer onto your card. If you have a not-so-fast card like me this could be a few seconds, followed by several more trying to remember where to switch off the Pro Capture mode. Ideally I’d love to be able to have Pro Capture activate by holding down a custom function button together with the shutter button. A Fn button on the PRO lenses would be an ideal setup for this pretty cool feature. While I had the E-M1X I couldn’t see a way of being able to assign that particular feature to any of the custom function buttons, so hopefully Olympus’ engineers will read this criticism and work out a way of doing it in future firmware upgrades. I did manage to set up a quick switch between normal and Pro Capture by using the Custom Modes, but that requires remembering to change modes between sightings. Duh.
       
      Regarding Custom Modes there are four of these that are assignable to the PASM dial, so if your memory is better than mine you can set up each custom mode for a different type of shooting simply by changing the mode. However, you’re going to have to have a Gary Kasparov like mind because the sheer number of custom settings on a camera like the E-M1X is mind-boggling. There are pages and pages and more pages of custom settings in the menus and if you’re not used to the way Olympus does menus, you’re either going to go stir crazy or require a lot of patience (and batteries) to get the better of it all. It’s not insurmountable though and experienced Olympus users will probably be able to set up their custom modes quite easily after a few weeks with the camera in the field.
       
      One thing I really liked about the X is that there is a Custom Menu area where you can save up to 5 pages of menu items that you regularly need to access. Storing an item in there is as simple as pressing the Record video button while the item is selected in the menu. That’s a very big plus for me and goes a long way towards personalising the Olympus menu system.
       
       
      Stabilisation
       
      The IBIS and lens IS combine in the E-M1X to create an extraordinary amount of stabilisation. I was using the 300/4.0 PRO on this body almost exclusively for the duration of our 7 days in Sabi Sabi and occasionally I would shoot birds sitting on nearby branches. When I do my focus and recompose technique the subject does what I can only describe as a “moonwalk” glide from one part of the frame to the other. There is absolutely no camera shake at all handheld, which when you consider that you are using a 4.1˚ angle of view is bonkers! Olympus claim a 6 stop advantage in handheld photography and I have no doubt that this is true. Given my sloppy technique this is yet another Godsend to make my images look much better than they should.
       

       

      Stabilisation with long lenses is incredible.
       
       
      Battery
       
      Battery life was pretty decent. The camera comes with two batteries and typically I only exhausted about 50% of the one each day. Granted I don’t shoot as much as everybody else. On this safari I took a total of 1726 images with the E-M1X, averaging 288 per day. So, assuming I were to exhaust both batteries in a day I would be able to shoot over 1000 frames before having to recharge them.
       
      However, it is also possible to charge the camera via USB-C, so if you did get trigger happy enough to shoot that many in a day on safari, you could recharge from a  power bank between sightings. Or just buy more batteries.
       

       
       
      Low Light
       
      Right, this is where the rubber hits the road as far as getting 35mm power-users interested in switching to MFT. I’ll say it at the outset, I was disappointed in the low light performance of the E-M1X sensor.
       
      For starters, it doesn’t seem possible to be able to set Auto-ISO to go above 6400 on the X. None of the expanded ranges are available when using the auto mode while shooting RAW, which I think is just silly. This is how I shoot these days. I always use Auto-ISO. On the original E-M1 I sometimes let this go as high as 12800 and while the images may appear grainy they have a certain film-like charm to them. You can’t do that on the X. You have to set ISO 12800 or above manually.
       
      As far as graininess goes, 6400 on the E-M1X is very grainy and there is also a major loss of colour fidelity. To be honest I was expecting much better performance from the sensor at high ISO, so for me this is a deal breaker. Since the camera is intended to compete against the likes of the Nikon D5 and Canon EOS 1D series (where higher ISO is a forte), it sadly falls well short in this area.
       
      Having said that, I think that if you buy this camera and invest some time in learning how to deal with the grain and colour issues in post production you could probably get some very good results.
       

      Shot at ISO 6400, you can see the grain in the background, plus there has been a general loss of colour saturation.
       

      But then in good light you'll get rewarded.
       

      Gorgeous colours from the Olympus. No adjustments in post.
       
       
      Cool Things I Liked
       
      The sound of the mechanical shutter is really soft. It’s a lot quieter than my old E-M1 and if you are in the business of shooting in quiet places (churches, meetings, etc) you may not even have to switch to electronic shutter and risk the rolling effects thereof. It’s nice and quiet.
       
      I really appreciated the built in GPS and weather sensor on the E-M1X. This camera will tell you what the barometric pressure, altitude and ambient temperature was on every shot you take. I wish Lightroom would pick up those EXIF fields, alas you have to use the Olympus Workspace software to read them.
       
       
      A Couple Of Nit Picks
       
      There are a couple of things that I didn’t like, most notably there is no loop for a grip strap in the base of the camera so you would have to put a plate onto there to accommodate one (I used the Peak Design Clutch with its little plate). That seems like a daft omission to me because the moment you have to put a plate on the grip you lose the comfort of shooting with it in portrait mode.
       
      I was also a bit disappointed with the EVF. The refresh rate and colour was all good, but it just seemed to lack a bit of bite. The EVF on my old original E-M1 seems sharper to my eyes, which is a little weird. I did try adjusting the diopter a few times, but it didn’t seem to improve things. It could have been a contrast setting in the menus that I missed?
       
      The one thing I really don’t like (and I have expressed my dislike of this before) is the flip out LCD screen. This is something video producers want, but as a stills photographer I truly don’t want this as it’s a very weak point of the camera just waiting to snap off in the right circumstances. I much prefer the tilting screen of the original OM-D’s. Olympus should make it an option for this kind of premium camera: which type of LCD screen would you prefer, Mr. Customer?
       
       
      Conclusion
       
      I wish that I could have kept the camera for just a little bit longer as there are many other areas I would have liked to explore its performance in, especially my daily bread and butter work of property and product photography. Alas, they are in short supply around here so it had to go back post haste.
       
      My overall impression is that it is quite an impressive machine. It offers the photographer a lot of very cool features, excellent customisability and ergonomics. It is a specialist camera, however, and as such I think that the intended market for it is going to be a hard nut for Olympus to crack, especially given its lack of high ISO performance, which is something the sports photographers demand.
       
      If you’re a day shooter or you shoot action in well lit arenas then the advances this machine brings in terms of auto-focus and customisability, plus the sheer plethora of outstanding MFT lenses available for the system makes it a very attractive option, especially for those who travel a lot for photography. You get the ruggedness, heft and weather proofing of a pro body and the lightness and compactness of much smaller lenses.
       
      For me personally I would love one, after all I got more keepers on this most recent safari than in all the 10 years of safaris preceding it, but… there is the matter of that eye-watering $3000 price tag to consider. With the recent firmware upgrade to the E-M1 Mk II now bringing its feature set closer to that of the X, it is going to be much harder for Olympus to pitch this camera at the wider market and existing MFT users with that price tag. If it were closer to $2000 I might be a lot more interested in buying one.
       
      My final advice? If you want the very best camera that MFT can currently offer you for stability, video features, ruggedness, crazy feature set and customisability, get the E-M1X. If you are expecting par performance with a 35mm pro camera for low light, rather save $1500, wait for the sensor technology to improve and get the E-M1 Mk II for now.
    • By Dallas
      Olympus South Africa very kindly loaned me an E-M1X for my recent Photo Safari to Sabi Sabi and while I only had a few days before leaving on the trip to become accustomed to the camera, I did manage to produce some great images (by my standards) while using it in conjunction with the Olympus 300mm f/4.0 PRO.
       
      The first thing that struck me about this camera when taking it out of the box is the sheer size of it. It is huge. If you’ve been using Micro Four Thirds bodies to get away from the bulk of traditional DSLR’s then you will not want this camera. I was quite shocked at its size initially, especially when compared to my gripped E-M1 (original) which I have been shooting since 2014. The Nikon D5 is only 15mm bigger in terms of depth, height and width all around, so for a small sensor camera to be so close in size to a flagship 35mm camera begs some serious questioning of the makers.
       

      Side-by-side view of the E-M1X and the original E-M1 with its grip
       
      So why did Olympus make this camera so big? When you begin handling it the answer falls into place. It’s designed for sports and action photographers who are used to the speed and heft of cameras like the Nikon D5 and Canon EOS 1D series. That’s the user market Olympus are targeting with this machine. It feels substantial in the hands and the ergonomics are such that if you’re used to a bigger camera, moving across to the E-M1X will be much easier for you to adapt to, especially since the Olympus is so highly customisable that you could easily set it up to pretty much emulate the ergonomics of your big DSLR. Well, maybe not the Canons which often require simultaneous button presses to activate certain things, but most certainly it would be easy for a Nikon shooter to make the change.
       

      Not much in it, dimension wise, is there? 
       
      So we now have a giant MFT camera that feels like a Nikon D5. Why didn’t they do what Panasonic has done and make a bigger sensor too? Good question. Why stick with MFT sensors if you want to attract the sports and wildlife shooters of the world? This is where the concept of MFT begins to make sense. The main advantage to be had when shooting this small format as opposed to 35mm is that MFT lenses are comparatively diminutive. For example, on my safari I packed in the Olympus 300/4.0 PRO as well as my older 50-200/2.8-3.5 SWD and a third un-gripped body with the Olympus 12-100/4.0 PRO. I also had the Pan/Leica 8-18mm lens in my bag because I wanted to make some photos of the lodge while I was there. Those items I took as a carry on in the ThinkTank Airport Advantage roller and while the bag was not exactly light once my laptop and other peripherals were in it (about 15kg total), had I wanted a similar focal range shooting a 35mm system, I would have had to pack a 600mm f/4.0, 200-400mm f/4.0 and a regular camera with professional wide angle and ultra-zoom lenses. There is no way you could take that as a carry on with 35mm, so you’d have to bring a hard case and pay for the extra baggage. You then also have the added stress of wondering if your precious gear will make it to its destination. Having been in this exact situation many times before moving across to MFT from Nikon 35mm I know exactly what the challenges of travelling with large lenses and heavy gear are.
       

      This is the gear I took on the safari in the ThinkTank Airport Advantage.
       
      Conversely travelling with MFT is easy. Even with the giant E-M1X body, the space and weight savings of the incredible Olympus PRO and Panasonic/Leica lenses is a Godsend. Also consider the additional overhead of having to bring along a support system for your big 35mm glass because I doubt you’re going to want to hand hold a 600/4.0 lens if you’re going on a photography trip where such a lens is wanted. You’ll also need to pack a monopod and probably a gimbal head too. MFT systems like Olympus don’t require any support other than your hand, even when shooting the 300mm f/4 PRO. The IBIS and lens IS combine incredibly well.
       
      Given its considerable girth, for the E-M1X to make sense as a photographic tool that is intended to win over 35mm users it also needs to have some other things going for it. It will need to have seriously fast and accurate auto-focus, plus it will need to offer decent image quality in low light. This is where things get interesting. Read on!
       
       
      Auto Focus
       
      I’m not a back-button focus photographer. I can understand the principle behind this method and I have tried it a few times, but I have been using single point AF-S for so long that trying to change that deeply ingrained behaviour is really hard for me. I’ve also never set up any of the cameras I have ever owned to work in AF-C mode with any degree of success, so I tend to stab at the shutter button rapidly to keep slow moving things in focus (it’s very rarely that I will find myself photographing fast moving subjects). This method has worked for me for quite a long time now. So when I started reading the autofocus section in the E-M1X manual (which itself is a gargantuan 680-odd pages long in just English alone!) I was staggered by the array of setup options for the AF system of the E-M1X. I simply didn’t have enough time before my safari to comprehend all the options it offers, let alone try them out in practical situations.
       
      As mentioned I always set up AF to use a single point in AF-S mode and I recompose once I see the green dot. I don’t use the grouped points, so for me learning something as sophisticated as the AF system on the E-M1X is going to require a specific set of applications, which currently I don’t have in my work. For people who shoot birds in flight, aviation, motorsport and fast action sports such as soccer, ice-hockey and the like, this is probably going to be a winner, especially since they have built in subject recognition for certain things like cars, trains and planes. Apparently these subjects will be added to in firmware as they build up better data on new ones. I can imagine that leopard detection might be a thing in the future.
       
      One feature that I didn’t try but thought was interesting is the Len Focus Range. This setup allows you to define the distances that the AF system should work in. It basically allows you to tell the camera not to focus on objects that are a certain distance away from you. For example, if you are shooting a sport like boxing or ice hockey, you could set this up to avoid focusing on the ropes and/or plexiglass between you and what you’re trying to shoot. Some lenses will have these limits built in, but with the E-M1X you can specify exactly how many metres you want to work within.
       
      Another thing I liked about the X is that you can assign the Home position for the single AF point to be in a different position when shooting in the portrait orientation. This is really handy for events when I find myself having to shift the AF point between shooting people at a podium and then switching to the audience in landscape orientation. Very nice feature.
       
      What I can tell you about the AF system as I used it, is that it’s reassuringly lightning quick and accurate for the wildlife subjects I was photographing. There’s no hunting unless you miss a contrast point, like all cameras I have ever tried. Focus is almost instantaneous, even when subjects are not so close.
       
      In summary, I don’t think that anybody coming from 35mm will be disappointed with the AF capability of the E-M1X. If anything they might be pleasantly surprised given the sheer array of options available to control how the system works.
       
       

      Wildebeest in the misty morning, no problem with auto focus here in spite of the grass
       

      Using my "repeated stabbing" AF technique I managed to get a moderately sharp image, but I reckon had I used the camera's AF-S mode here the shot would have been better. 
       
       
      Speed
       
      One of the biggest advances Olympus made with this camera is the CPU speed. This is a very fast camera in terms of how quickly it processes and reads off data from the sensor. It’s so fast that you can do sensor shift high resolution images handheld. I didn’t really try this out properly, plus Lightroom can’t read the resulting .ORI files so the handful of shots I did take with this mode active, I have to process in Olympus Workspace, which I am completely new to. Sorry! As such I can’t formulate an opinion right now on how useful it is based on such a small sample of images, but what I can say is that on stationary subjects I think it can work quite well. I’d love to try it out in studio doing product photography, but I think there might be some issues syncing it with studio strobes.
       
      Getting back to the intended sports user of this camera, there is the not-so-insignificant Pro Capture mode to consider as a lure for the photographers who want to simplify their lives and get great action every time. Basically with the mode active the camera writes continuously to the buffer while you are holding the shutter button halfway down. As soon as your critical capture moment arrives you trip the shutter and the camera will record whatever it has currently in the buffer to the card(s). This is kind of like shooting fish in a barrel really, especially if you have the patience to sit with your finger on the trigger waiting for a bird to take flight. You can’t miss the shot. Unless you’re like me and you get tired of waiting and the bird chuckles at you as you put down the camera just before it flies away.
       

      I'll settle for stationary birds
       
      On the subject of Pro Capture, this mode is set by changing the drive mode in Super Control Panel (SCP). However, the thing is you may (like me) forget to switch this back to a regular drive mode after failing to record the wretched lilac breasted roller taking off, and then at your next sighting you will end up with dozens of images of a stationary buffalo. Or worse still, you’ll be wanting to shoot a sequence of something happening, but after you accidentally trigger Pro Capture you will have to wait for the camera to write its buffer onto your card. If you have a not-so-fast card like me this could be a few seconds, followed by several more trying to remember where to switch off the Pro Capture mode. Ideally I’d love to be able to have Pro Capture activate by holding down a custom function button together with the shutter button. A Fn button on the PRO lenses would be an ideal setup for this pretty cool feature. While I had the E-M1X I couldn’t see a way of being able to assign that particular feature to any of the custom function buttons, so hopefully Olympus’ engineers will read this criticism and work out a way of doing it in future firmware upgrades. I did manage to set up a quick switch between normal and Pro Capture by using the Custom Modes, but that requires remembering to change modes between sightings. Duh.
       
      Regarding Custom Modes there are four of these that are assignable to the PASM dial, so if your memory is better than mine you can set up each custom mode for a different type of shooting simply by changing the mode. However, you’re going to have to have a Gary Kasparov like mind because the sheer number of custom settings on a camera like the E-M1X is mind-boggling. There are pages and pages and more pages of custom settings in the menus and if you’re not used to the way Olympus does menus, you’re either going to go stir crazy or require a lot of patience (and batteries) to get the better of it all. It’s not insurmountable though and experienced Olympus users will probably be able to set up their custom modes quite easily after a few weeks with the camera in the field.
       
      One thing I really liked about the X is that there is a Custom Menu area where you can save up to 5 pages of menu items that you regularly need to access. Storing an item in there is as simple as pressing the Record video button while the item is selected in the menu. That’s a very big plus for me and goes a long way towards personalising the Olympus menu system.
       
       
      Stabilisation
       
      The IBIS and lens IS combine in the E-M1X to create an extraordinary amount of stabilisation. I was using the 300/4.0 PRO on this body almost exclusively for the duration of our 7 days in Sabi Sabi and occasionally I would shoot birds sitting on nearby branches. When I do my focus and recompose technique the subject does what I can only describe as a “moonwalk” glide from one part of the frame to the other. There is absolutely no camera shake at all handheld, which when you consider that you are using a 4.1˚ angle of view is bonkers! Olympus claim a 6 stop advantage in handheld photography and I have no doubt that this is true. Given my sloppy technique this is yet another Godsend to make my images look much better than they should.
       

       

      Stabilisation with long lenses is incredible.
       
       
      Battery
       
      Battery life was pretty decent. The camera comes with two batteries and typically I only exhausted about 50% of the one each day. Granted I don’t shoot as much as everybody else. On this safari I took a total of 1726 images with the E-M1X, averaging 288 per day. So, assuming I were to exhaust both batteries in a day I would be able to shoot over 1000 frames before having to recharge them.
       
      However, it is also possible to charge the camera via USB-C, so if you did get trigger happy enough to shoot that many in a day on safari, you could recharge from a  power bank between sightings. Or just buy more batteries.
       

       
       
      Low Light
       
      Right, this is where the rubber hits the road as far as getting 35mm power-users interested in switching to MFT. I’ll say it at the outset, I was disappointed in the low light performance of the E-M1X sensor.
       
      For starters, it doesn’t seem possible to be able to set Auto-ISO to go above 6400 on the X. None of the expanded ranges are available when using the auto mode while shooting RAW, which I think is just silly. This is how I shoot these days. I always use Auto-ISO. On the original E-M1 I sometimes let this go as high as 12800 and while the images may appear grainy they have a certain film-like charm to them. You can’t do that on the X. You have to set ISO 12800 or above manually.
       
      As far as graininess goes, 6400 on the E-M1X is very grainy and there is also a major loss of colour fidelity. To be honest I was expecting much better performance from the sensor at high ISO, so for me this is a deal breaker. Since the camera is intended to compete against the likes of the Nikon D5 and Canon EOS 1D series (where higher ISO is a forte), it sadly falls well short in this area.
       
      Having said that, I think that if you buy this camera and invest some time in learning how to deal with the grain and colour issues in post production you could probably get some very good results.
       

      Shot at ISO 6400, you can see the grain in the background, plus there has been a general loss of colour saturation.
       

      But then in good light you'll get rewarded.
       

      Gorgeous colours from the Olympus. No adjustments in post.
       
       
      Cool Things I Liked
       
      The sound of the mechanical shutter is really soft. It’s a lot quieter than my old E-M1 and if you are in the business of shooting in quiet places (churches, meetings, etc) you may not even have to switch to electronic shutter and risk the rolling effects thereof. It’s nice and quiet.
       
      I really appreciated the built in GPS and weather sensor on the E-M1X. This camera will tell you what the barometric pressure, altitude and ambient temperature was on every shot you take. I wish Lightroom would pick up those EXIF fields, alas you have to use the Olympus Workspace software to read them.
       
       
      A Couple Of Nit Picks
       
      There are a couple of things that I didn’t like, most notably there is no loop for a grip strap in the base of the camera so you would have to put a plate onto there to accommodate one (I used the Peak Design Clutch with its little plate). That seems like a daft omission to me because the moment you have to put a plate on the grip you lose the comfort of shooting with it in portrait mode.
       
      I was also a bit disappointed with the EVF. The refresh rate and colour was all good, but it just seemed to lack a bit of bite. The EVF on my old original E-M1 seems sharper to my eyes, which is a little weird. I did try adjusting the diopter a few times, but it didn’t seem to improve things. It could have been a contrast setting in the menus that I missed?
       
      The one thing I really don’t like (and I have expressed my dislike of this before) is the flip out LCD screen. This is something video producers want, but as a stills photographer I truly don’t want this as it’s a very weak point of the camera just waiting to snap off in the right circumstances. I much prefer the tilting screen of the original OM-D’s. Olympus should make it an option for this kind of premium camera: which type of LCD screen would you prefer, Mr. Customer?
       
       
      Conclusion
       
      I wish that I could have kept the camera for just a little bit longer as there are many other areas I would have liked to explore its performance in, especially my daily bread and butter work of property and product photography. Alas, they are in short supply around here so it had to go back post haste.
       
      My overall impression is that it is quite an impressive machine. It offers the photographer a lot of very cool features, excellent customisability and ergonomics. It is a specialist camera, however, and as such I think that the intended market for it is going to be a hard nut for Olympus to crack, especially given its lack of high ISO performance, which is something the sports photographers demand.
       
      If you’re a day shooter or you shoot action in well lit arenas then the advances this machine brings in terms of auto-focus and customisability, plus the sheer plethora of outstanding MFT lenses available for the system makes it a very attractive option, especially for those who travel a lot for photography. You get the ruggedness, heft and weather proofing of a pro body and the lightness and compactness of much smaller lenses.
       
      For me personally I would love one, after all I got more keepers on this most recent safari than in all the 10 years of safaris preceding it, but… there is the matter of that eye-watering $3000 price tag to consider. With the recent firmware upgrade to the E-M1 Mk II now bringing its feature set closer to that of the X, it is going to be much harder for Olympus to pitch this camera at the wider market and existing MFT users with that price tag. If it were closer to $2000 I might be a lot more interested in buying one.
       
      My final advice? If you want the very best camera that MFT can currently offer you for stability, video features, ruggedness, crazy feature set and customisability, get the E-M1X. If you are expecting par performance with a 35mm pro camera for low light, rather save $1500, wait for the sensor technology to improve and get the E-M1 Mk II for now.

      View full article
    • By Dallas
      We have not reviewed this lens yet. If you have tried it, please enter your comments below.
    • By Dallas
      We have not reviewed this lens yet. If you have tried it, please enter your comments below. 
    • By Dallas
      I just got word that Olympus has updated the firmware in the E-M1 Mk II and this sees it now getting a lot more of the features that the E-M1X has, including improved AF, expanded ISO range (down to ISO 64) as well as some other stuff that I didn't even know these cameras could do. Here's Robin Wong to run through some of the details.  
       
       
       
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