Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  

Review: Olympus 75mm f/1.8 M.Zuiko ED MSC


Dallas

Over the years I’ve bought ridiculous numbers of lenses for many different camera systems, ranging from Nikon to Canon to Leica to Bronica and most recently the micro four thirds system. On all the systems there have been dogs, there have been stars and there have been run-of-the-mill lenses. I think I can probably count on the digits of one hand the number of lenses I have used that literally made me gasp when reviewing their drawing characteristics on LCD playback or in the computer.

Up in the top 5 of my best ever experiences are lenses such as my Nikkor 24-70/2.8, the Micro-Nikkor 60/2.8 (I use the older AF-D version), a Leica 180mm f/3.5 APO-Telyt-R, the Canon 400/2.8L USM and now joining them is this remarkable little gem from Olympus, the 75/1.8.

When Olympus first unleashed this lens there were gasps heard all around the online photography world. Some were saying it was the sharpest lens they had ever used and had bokeh on a par with the likes of the Nikon 200/2. Now that particular Nikkor is almost mythical when it comes to optical performance, so claims like this definitely got me excited. Especially since the lens they were waxing lyrical about is only a little longer than the standard 50/1.4 offered by most manufacturers of 35mm equipment and weighs a mere 305g. Of course 75mm on m43 offers the same field of view of a 150mm lens on the bigger format, which is pretty close to 200mm, a focal length I use a lot on my 70-200/2.8. I had to have one.

This article is more an assessment of how the lens worked for me on a recent shoot than an in-depth review. I’m never going to offer any form of resolution charts or figures on articles like this - all I’m going to do is talk about how the lens fits in with my needs and expectations.

Ok, so right off the bat I need to explain how I came to acquire the 75mm and how I used it on a paid assignment. Those of you who follow my posts over on Nikongear.com may have read about my purchase of a Nikon D7100 last month to use as a second body to help me cover a 3 day hotel conference here in my hometown. The intention was for me to use the D7100 with telephoto lenses such as the Sigma 70-200/2.8 and then also with the Sigma 120-300/2.8 OS later this year on the Namibia wildlife safari we’re doing. I would use my D700 with 24-70/2.8 for all the other shots.

When I got the D7100 home I immediately set about seeing how it played with those two Sigma tele zooms. Well, let’s be frank about this. Either I have totally lost my ability to hold a camera steady (even on a tripod), or there was something wrong with this camera. I tried every Nikon F mount lens I own (a fair number of them) and I couldn’t get it to produce a sharp image at all. I tried calibrating, I tried faster shutter speeds, I tried manual focus, I tried everything I have learned about photography since Y2K. No dice. It wasn’t working for me, so I took it back to the store and they were going to get me a replacement to try out. The problem was I was running out of time and had to get myself ready for this conference within a few days. They didn’t get the replacement in time so I had no option but to ask them for a refund. I then used that money to purchase the Olympus 75/1.8 with its hood, as well as the HLD-6 grip for my OM-D, together with a 2nd battery.

I will admit, I was a bit apprehensive going into this conference without a dedicated body for my 70-200/2.8. I would be using my D700 together with the 24-70/2.8 for the normal shots and then relying on the OM-D and the 75/1.8 for shots of speakers at the lectern as well as unassuming delegates in the audience. The apprehension soon evaporated when I got a look at the first shots taken at home with the lens set to f/1.8 and the OM-D set to ISO 3200. Good grief. Was I seeing this right? Could it be that sharp? Really??

After a couple of days of checking and re-checking wide performance in dimly lit rooms at home I felt confident that I would have no problems using the 75/1.8 on the OM-D for speaker shots, as well as whatever else might catch my eye from a distance. I felt comfortable that shooting the OM-D at 3200 would also be OK because even though it does exhibit a fair amount of noise, it’s very manageable within Lightroom’s own RAW noise controls. Having shot many conferences at this particular hotel in the past I knew what the lighting would be like too, which also eased my worried mind.

Here are some examples of speaker images shot at f/1.8 and ISO 3200 on the OM-D.

post-1-0-76045900-1369661228.jpg

post-1-0-00708500-1369661246.jpg

Here are some shots of the delegates in a pretty dim auditorium:

post-1-0-40488300-1369661194.jpg

post-1-0-90031500-1369661202.jpg

post-1-0-22242200-1369661212.jpg

On the first night of the event there was a "Mad Hatters" cocktail party at another hotel a few kilometres away from the conference venue. This is where the 75/1.8 really shone! Autofocus acquisition in the even dimmer lit bar was outstanding. I had to pump up ISO to 6400, but I was getting very usable shots that I could run through a noise reduction setting in Lightroom.

post-1-0-65169200-1369661236.jpg

Here’s my assessment of a few key features that photographers will be looking for in a lens review.

Sharpness

Oh yeah. This baby is sharp and most importantly, it’s sharp where it matters most - at the widest aperture. There’s literally no point in having a fast lens that isn’t sharp at its widest aperture. Yes, all lenses will get a bit sharper as you stop them down to a point, but the whole purpose of having a fast aperture is so that you can let more light into the camera, keep your subject sharp and smooth away the background. This lens does exactly that. At f/1.8 I’m getting stuff that is sharper than any other lens I have ever owned with an equivalently fast aperture.

post-1-0-78322400-1369661254.jpg

Bokeh

It’s as smooth as I need it to be. I’m very happy with the way it renders out of focus highlights. Smaller sensors like those found in the m43 system will normally not provide you with the subject/background separation that you get from bigger sensors, such as those found on DSLR’s. The Olympus 75/1.8 does a very good job of this though, as can be seen in all these images.

Build & Handling

The lens is just awesomely built. The only plastic found on this lens appears to be the lens caps and the bit that secures the front element into the barrel (you know, the place with the lens nomenclature etched in white lettering). Everything else is made from high grade metals. Not even the focus ring has rubber - it’s grooves are milled!

The focus ring is the smoothest you are ever likely to find on any lens. It’s still a focus-by-wire lens, meaning that the focusing ring doesn’t physically engage any of the elements, it merely issues a electronic command to the lens to move the glass inside. Personally this is never something I would see myself using.

Up until just a few weeks ago it was only available in the silver colour, but I believe that it is now possible to get a black version for the same money. I like the silver on my silver OM-D.

Autofocus Speed

On my E-M5 there’s a split second’s hesitation before autofocus engages, which after I did some testing, has more to do with the IBIS system starting up than it has anything to do with the lens. After that initialization of the IBIS the acquisition of focus on any object with sufficient detectable contrast, both near and far, is pretty much instantaneous. It’s darn near completely silent too. It was only when I had the IBIS turned off for testing that I actually heard any noise coming from the lens itself.

The Controversial Hood

Every lens review that you read online about this or any other Olympus lens for m43 will have the same gripes: why don’t Olympus include the lens hood when they sell us the lens? Why are the lens hoods so expensive? I’m going to break the mold a little on this issue and view the glass as half-full instead of half-empty. I bought this lens and made sure that I got the lens hood for it as well (as you can see from the product shot I took of mine right at the beginning). I had to pay quite a bit more for it, but so what? If you look at the price of the lens with its hood, you’re still well below the cost of an equivalent 35mm system lens at this quality level. Well below!

I am of the opinion that the Olympus range of primes for m43 are at the same premium brand level of Leica equivalents. That seems to be the approach Olympus are taking with their range these days, and rightly so, in my opinion. It’s a class above the competition. Have you tried pricing hoods for the Elmars and Elmarits? Summilux anyone?

The hood that Olympus uses on the 75/1.8 is made in China, but like the lens it is milled from high quality steel and secures to the barrel with a knurled tensioning knob, very much like those found on super telephoto lenses for 35mm systems. It’s not a bayonet fitting. I always want a hood on my lenses because I never use UV or 1A filters on the front of them. The hood acts as a degree of protection, should I ever get sloppy enough to put the front element of the lens at risk of damage. Paying a bit more for the hood for this lens didn’t bother me in the slightest. I reckon if Olympus are giving us an option of getting the lens for less than it would have cost with the hood, then that’s a plus, not a negative.

My Conclusion

It’s by far the most expensive lens I have purchased thus far for the m43 system, but it is also by far the best lens I have ever used on that system too. It does everything I need it to and it solved a very important problem for me when it comes to working at a distance in dim light with the small, very lightweight OM-D system. The sharpness and subject isolation is just about perfect for the kind of work I do.

I believe that if the next generation of OM-D improves the high ISO performance of their sensor, as well as the AF tracking to match that of the top end 35mm systems, there will be a flood of sensible indoor photographers looking to this lens to replace a lot of the 70-200/2.8 lenses usually seen at indoor events. I certainly didn’t find myself caught short at the conference I used it on earlier this month.

If you’re a m43 shooter, don’t dilly dally, just get it. If you've already got one, don't forget to rate it in our official member's ratings thread here.

  • Like 1
Sign in to follow this  


Comments

Recommended Comments

Thanks, for a great review, Dallas!

About the hood: it is made the same way that Olympus did in the 70'ies and early 80'ies for their OM system for lenses ranging from WAs to tele and macro lenses, and it's on par with what Leica would make or better!

  • Like 1

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

A well written user review. I have this lens as well, and find it remarkable in all respects. It, along with the Olympus 60 mm Macro lens are two of the sharpest lenses I've ever used.Richard

  • Like 1

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Good review, Dallas. With the results you've shown, this is a lens that will make you happy for a very long time. 

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

I bought it at once it was released, and this lens is the reason I will always have an Olympus camera:

 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/kibsgaard/7979190430/lightbox/

 

 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/kibsgaard/7979188676/lightbox/

 

this shot above I have also shot earlier with the Nikon 200mm f/2.0 showing here:

 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/kibsgaard/8036341613/lightbox/

 

 

 

another shot:

 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/kibsgaard/8327564644/lightbox/

 

 

Added: I also bought the hood - yes all in all pricey  for the whole packet compared to other lenses for M.4/3 but I think it is at least worth the money. Now I know the lens, and I would even have paid more, then, if they asked for it.

Edited by Kyndel

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

This blog (sorry, all in Japanese, but this is the blog often cited by nikonrumors.com) reveals that Oly 75/1.8 was actually designed by Sigma who filed the patent of the design of this lens:

 

http://egami.blog.so-net.ne.jp/2013-08-28

 

Please bear in mind that I'm not trying to add any negative info here.  Considering that ALL the latest Sigma lenses (35/1.4, 30/1.4, 18-35/1.8, 60/2.8  etc.) are known to be excellent performers, there is no wonder if this optical gem is yet another Sigma design.

Edited by Akira

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

This blog (sorry, all in Japanese, but this is the blog often cited by nikonrumors.com) reveals that Oly 75/1.8 was actually designed by Sigma who filed the patent of the design of this lens:

 

http://egami.blog.so-net.ne.jp/2013-08-28

 

Please bear in mind that I'm not trying to add any negative info here.  Considering that ALL the latest Sigma lenses (35/1.4, 30/1.4, 18-35/1.8, 60/2.8  etc.) are known to be excellent performers, there is no wonder if this optical gem is yet another Sigma design.

Huh...... :o  ;)

 

Thanks for sharing, Akira. Once again a hint that Sigma must have gone through some very serious changes, which is good for us. :)

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Once again a hint that Sigma must have gone through some very serious changes, which is good for us. :)

 

Indeed, Bjørn!  Sigma has been essentially very challenging company and have offered lenses with unique features throughout the years.  Unfortunately, they had to offer lower cost lenses to compete with those of camera manufacturers, which led to their questionable quality.  The recent change in their concept is highly welcomed.

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

This blog (sorry, all in Japanese, but this is the blog often cited by nikonrumors.com) reveals that Oly 75/1.8 was actually designed by Sigma who filed the patent of the design of this lens:

 

http://egami.blog.so-net.ne.jp/2013-08-28

 

Please bear in mind that I'm not trying to add any negative info here.  Considering that ALL the latest Sigma lenses (35/1.4, 30/1.4, 18-35/1.8, 60/2.8  etc.) are known to be excellent performers, there is no wonder if this optical gem is yet another Sigma design.

 

Thanks for this inside info on the Sigma-designed Olympus 75mm f/1.8 Akira.  This is very good info and I do not consider this as a negative at all.   :)

 

The only drawbacks to the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 are that it is not weather sealed and that it does not come with a hood which is sold as a pricey addition.  I have other weather-sealed m4/3 lenses to use when it is drizzling or raining so this is not too big an issue for me.  As to the hood, it is a shame that all my previous Olympus lenses (12mm f/2.0 and 45mm f/1.8) did not come with a hood but given how the lens deliver, I am willing to be scalped a bit (again) by Olympus for the hood of this lens.

 

Edit: Just checked and local Olympus distributor said no stock available of this lens.  Will have to wait still.

 

Edit: 2013-09-03: I was just informed that stocks now available so will pick one up when I get home this weekend.   :D

Edited by Larry

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

This blog (sorry, all in Japanese, but this is the blog often cited by nikonrumors.com) reveals that Oly 75/1.8 was actually designed by Sigma who filed the patent of the design of this lens:

 

http://egami.blog.so-net.ne.jp/2013-08-28

 

Please bear in mind that I'm not trying to add any negative info here.  Considering that ALL the latest Sigma lenses (35/1.4, 30/1.4, 18-35/1.8, 60/2.8  etc.) are known to be excellent performers, there is no wonder if this optical gem is yet another Sigma design.

 

More on the link between Olympus and Sigma regarding this lens:

 

http://www.43rumors.com/has-the-best-mft-lens-the-olympus-75mm-designed-by-sigma/

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Sure enough, the blog of the guy I mentioned above is also cited by 43rumors.  I wonder if the XXXrumors websites are all done by the same guy.

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Sure enough, the blog of the guy I mentioned above is also cited by 43rumors.  I wonder if the XXXrumors websites are all done by the same guy.

That thought has struck me too. :-)

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Just to add to Dallas' review of the Olympus 75mm f/1.8.

 

This lens is incredible and must have been designed to used wide-open.  Except for a bit less vignetting, it is hard to improve the performance of this lens by stopping it down.  The lens peak performance happens at f/2.0 to f/2.2 and remains good till f/6.3 where I notice the effects of lens diffraction.

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thank you Dallas for your nice review. I certainly agree with the superlative quality of this Zuiko Lens and I like the way you compare it with the traditionnal Leica M previous products.

 

To add to your complete analysis here is an extract of my blog related with the use of the Zuiko M.75mm f1.8 Lens:

 

 

M. Zuiko Digital ED 75mm f1.8: The Perfect Portraiter
 
P2090050+(1).jpg
 
Some would say a true cult lens. I certainly agree that the M.75mmF1.8 is an exception on its own. Despite its high price point, it worth every penny of it.
The lens by itself is beautifully design and crafted with the classic metal feeling and the very smooth manual focus damping. It is an heavy lens by M4/3 standards especially compared to the « polymer » products.
The results are outstanding. I meanly use this M.75mmF1.8 as a portrait (face) lens. I like the creamy effect of the out focused area surrounding the subject.
You have to pay attention to the weight of the lens by holding it the classical way using your left arm as a palm receptor. This position allow you to manually correct the focus with the OM-D E-M5 S-AF/MF autofocus mode.
I am not really fond of the big lens hood proposed except maybe with some strong punctual front light situations.
My only recommendation is to protect the front optical element of the lens with a first class neutral filter.
Yes the M.75mm F1.8 is a beauty by itself but it is also a competent tool that generate outstanding results.

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites


Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Similar Content

    • 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 not-so-insignificant 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 not-so-insignificant $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 not-so-insignificant 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 not-so-insignificant $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
      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.  
       
       
       
    • By Dallas
      Note: This thread will contain a series of entries about the Fotozones Wildlife Safari 2019, including images, impressions of the gear I used and anecdotes about the safari itself. I wrote some of it while on safari, but had to stop as my laptop just wasn't up to the task of proper editing, so I am now doing the editing at home and will add my favourite shots as I go. Please feel free to ask questions about the trip and the gear in this thread. 
       
      I've been in Johannesburg the past two days welcoming our 2019 Safarians, including @GrahamWelland, @CarreraS and @rbeesonjr. Yesterday we rented a minivan and drove about 90 minutes away from the airport hotel to the Kevin Richardson Wildlife Sanctuary. This is the home of "The Lion Whisperer" (Kevin) who campaigns tirelessly against the practise of captive lion breeding and canned lion hunting. There's a lot behind the story of how he came to have all these lions in his care, as well as 4 black leopards and a small group of spotted and striped hyenas, but I won't get into that right now. 
       
      I took along the Olympus E-M1X and 12-100/4 as well as the Olympus 300/4. So far, what I am seeing I am liking. A lot. That 300mm lens is just phenomenal. So much reach and so sharp, yet in such a small package. If you're a birder using MFT or you need a lens for distant wildlife as well as some sports, this is for you. The image below was shot from behind a chainlink fence. 
       

       
      This particular lion was quite menacing and twice he charged the fence towards us, which then set off a roaring frenzy between him, his brother and a group of white lions in the next enclosure who thought he was charging them. It was incredible to hear!
       
      Today we head off on our flight to Skukuza and the first official game drive of the 2019 safari. We are all very excited to get there!
    • By Dallas
      Olympus South Africa has very kindly loaned me a new Olympus E-M1X for my safari starting next Monday, along with a 300mm f/4.0 PRO. I have to say ... this camera is way bigger than I thought it would be. It hearkens me back to my days of running around with a Nikon D2H. This is it next to my original E-M1. You can't really tell the depth of the grip from this image, but rest assured, it's considerably deeper than my camera. 
       
      I will be writing a field diary during the course of the safari and posting it here on Fotozones, so if you are thinking of getting an E-M1X I will impart all my feelings and impressions on the machine as I use it on safari.  
       

  • Join Our Small Community

    Like what you see on Fotozones? Why not join up and make friends with like-minded photography enthusiasts from all across the planet. We are limiting our membership to no more than 2000 individuals, so if you are seeing this message there is still space available for you to join. We'd love to have you along. :)  

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By visiting this website you are agreeing to our Terms of Use, Privacy Policy & Guidelines.