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Review: Olympus OM-D E-M1


Dallas

If you’re like me you will probably skip to the end of any product review and read the summary before delving into the parts that are important to you. I’ll save you the bother and tell you upfront that if you’re looking for a well designed, well equipped, excellent piece of photographic equipment you can stop reading right now and click this link to buy it. It’s a work of art. Just go get one. It’s everything a camera should be. There, I said it - are you back from buying it yet?

You haven't bought it yet? Wanna know more about it? OK, well, I guess you ought to read on a bit then. Grab a beverage because this review is about 4000 words long and there are quite a few images to look at too. It's a slightly different approach to the way I normally write a review, but I am sure you will find the information useful if you're planning on getting one.

Ergonomics

Camera ergonomics is one of the most important elements of photography. If you’re not comfortable with finding your way around your kit, you’re not going to be happy and at the end of the day your images will reflect that. The E-M1 has been very well thought out in as much as button position is concerned.

Buttons, Dials & Levers

At the most basic level there are 3 variables involved in photography that the photographer needs to be able to adjust quickly. These are the lens aperture, the shutter speed and the ISO. Those are the fundamentals and you need to be able to get to them quickly and without impediment, which is why older cameras had aperture rings and a dial on the top to select the shutter speed. Easy. Happily I can report that the E-M1 lets the photographer change all of those variables very quickly and much easier than an old retro SLR could.

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On the E-M1 there are a pair of dials on the body that you can assign to shift the value of each of these variables. The main dial is directly under your right thumb when holding the camera and the sub-command dial is integrated with the shutter release, so it’s easy to get to. Olympus have allowed these dials to be customised for each mode that the camera is in. So for instance, if you are in A mode and you want the rear dial to adjust aperture and the front dial to set compensation you can do that, or you can have them reversed. If you are in S mode you can set it up to work the same way, or if you have some kind of twisted brain you can make it work differently to A mode. You can also set the direction of the dials, which is quite a handy feature if you are coming from a brand of camera that works a certain way.

So as far as the two main variables (aperture & shutter speed) are concerned, adjusting them is real simple and you can compensate easily without having to press any other button on the camera. What about ISO? On the other OM-D model I have, the E-M5, getting to the ISO was a bit of a fiddle. You had to set it using the Super Control Panel. This was pretty easy to do, but if the last item you adjusted on the SCP was (say) the image quality, you’d have to navigate through the other options on the screen to adjust ISO. This involved several button pushes. On the E-M1 there is a lever integrated with the AE-L button on the rear of the camera that you can flip up or down. If you flip it down the two dials I already mentioned can be used to adjust something else on the camera, like ISO and white balance, for instance. So if I want to quickly change from auto ISO to a low value, all I do is flip down the lever with my right thumb and then use either of the dials to adjust it. How cool is that?

There are 5 different modes you can set this lever to, each of them re-assigns either the dials or a couple of the custom function buttons. It’s not as complicated as it sounds and I know that some of the reviews I read before I got the camera had me scratching my head as to what they were on about with the 2x2 system. All you have to do is choose which of the modes will work best for you in the menu and then remember what you’ve decided to use the lever for. I’ve set mine to Mode 2 which lets me use the main dial for ISO adjustments and the sub-dial for White Balance adjustments. Couldn’t do that with my Nikon D700.

The custom functions buttons are much easier to reach on the E-M1 compared to the E-M5 and they have a much nicer tactility than those of the E-M5. There are also quite a few of them compared to the older camera. If you have the HLD-7 grip for the camera there are 7 buttons you can assign just about any camera setting to. The trick is remembering what you’ve set, because in addition to these buttons you can also assign a function to each of the 4 navigation buttons surrounding the OK button and the AE-L button too!

This is where most people get scared off from the OM-D but really, there’s nothing to be afraid of. My advice is to write down the most important functions you usually use and then assign each button as you’d like. Having come from Nikon I have tried to keep my function buttons as similar to the Nikon layout as possible. I also haven’t assigned specific functions to all the buttons I am able to. This is how I have mine set up:

Fn-1 - focus peaking

Fn-2 - multi-function (this adjusts the highlight and shadows of the image using a tone curve)

Rec - I have left this to start the video when needed

AEL/AFL - left as is, it locks the AE value but could be set to drive AF if you like to shoot that way

Front top - set as DOF preview

Front bottom - set AF target to Home

B-Fn1 - DOF preview (it’s not easy to reach the other button when holding on the grip)

B-Fn2 - focus peaking

Up/Down/Left/Right - I have left these to select the AF area

OK, so you can assign a crap house full of functions into the buttons, but there is also a couple of buttons on the top of the camera that let you adjust the drive (FPS and self timer), HDR, AF method and metering method when held down and shifting either of the dials. This is very similar to the way many of the top-end Nikon bodies worked, so it’s a feature I am quite happy with.

Another cool feature is that you can lock the mode dial to prevent accidentally shifting from A mode to (say) P mode. I used to do this on the E-M5 quite often as it was easy to shift that dial. This one is a lot stiffer and now obviously with the locking function it’s a lot better.

I have read much squealing from other reviewers about the position of the on/off lever now being on the top of the camera, with the associated misery that it now requires you to switch it on with your left hand as opposed to your right. So what? Are you Lucky Luke or Billy The Kid that you have to be able to flick the camera on in a split second and take a shot? Why not leave it on if being ready quickly is that important? I think it’s in a better position now than it is on the E-M5.

So on the whole the ergonomics are great. Provided you can remember what you’ve programmed each button and dial to do you should be able to adjust camera settings very easily. I like the feel of the buttons and I especially like their positions. Much better than the E-M5.

Performance

There are a couple of areas that I demand performance from in my cameras. The main one is obviously image quality, which I will get to later on in the review, but close on its heels is auto focus performance. How does the camera work with the lenses I have?

Auto Focus

The E-M1 has both CDAF and PDAF sensors so it’s able to use the latter when using lenses for the 4/3rds system. Apparently it works very well, but as of the time of this review I don’t have any 4/3rds lenses so I can’t comment on that. What I can comment on is that when using a m43 lens there doesn’t seem to be any way of using PDAF instead of CDAF. The camera will only use CDAF with a m43 lens mounted.

The CDAF is very fast on every m43 lens I have used when in AF-S mode, but it does tend to be somewhat iffy when I switch to AF-C mode. There’s a C-AF-Tracking mode that pops up an on-screen target that looks just like something you see in the movie Top Gun when the F-14 Tomcat is about to blast the hell out of those Russian Migs. It moves around your EVF in exactly the same way and looks very cool.

I took a few shots of my niece giving her border collies a run on the beach (see image below) and most of them were in focus. I did battle a bit with keeping the subject on the AF target when shooting at 10fps, mainly because you lose the proper live view in machine gun mode, so with a telephoto lens it is very easy to lose your subject - this is about the only benefit of an optical view finder that miss. I must say though that the refresh rate of the E-M1 when shooting at high fps is a gazillion times better than the E-M5.

I haven’t played around enough with a live moving subject to be able to form an opinion on whether this tracking feature has improved since the E-M5 or not, so I will reserve judgement for now and address this in a separate article once I have had time to test it a little more, hopefully using a 4/3rds lens too.

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Image Quality

Superb. Do I need to say more? Really?? OK, it’s really superb. Best IQ of any camera I have ever owned. Better than the Nikon D700, definitely. The dynamic range and tonality is awesome, but what sets the E-M1 apart from other cameras is the colour it gives you. Skin tones are excellent and truly life-like. I haven’t photographed anyone with dark skin tones yet, but so far the caucasian skin tones I’ve shot under natural light and flash are spot on. I’m very happy to report that I don’t touch colour at all when I am editing the E-M1 files and I have the white balance properly set. This is a shot of my son, the chef. Only adjustment made here was to the background.

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A lot has been written about the JPG’s that the Olympus cameras produce. I’m not wild about shooting in JPG, but I did try it out and they seem pretty good. I have tested a few of the Art Filters, which if you have the camera set to RAW will give you a funky processed JPG and a RAW file even if you haven’t asked the camera to produce a JPG. The only one of these filters I find interesting is the grainy B&W. The rest seem quite gimmicky in an Instagram kind of way.

High ISO performance is excellent. I am quite comfortable shooting this camera at 12800 ISO, which is a full two stops more than I am comfortable shooting the E-M5 at. Yes, it looks a bit grainy, but if you run a noise reduction filter over it, you get a very usable image, which is useful for when I am in reportage mode in a darkened conference room and I don’t want to fire a flash. Actually the grain is decidedly film like in character. I kind of like it at 12800 more than at 6400 for some reason.

EVF

There has been a lot said about the EVF improvements in the E-M1 over the E-M5. It’s a lot bigger and the rendered image is a lot better too, thanks to many more pixels being jammed in there. As I mentioned in the AF performance part of this review, the refresh rate when shooting at 10fps is significantly improved over the E-M5, but you still don’t see a live view image when you’re bursting frames at that rate, so it can be hard to keep track of something that is moving fast when you’re using a telephoto lens. I don’t see this camera being used effectively for action sports, but I do think I would like to go and try some surfing photography with it, mainly because of the huge advantage of the smaller sensor on telephoto lenses.

Overall I prefer an EVF over an OVF. The advantages by far outweigh the negatives, especially as you gain so many shooting aids, like live highlight and shadow clipping, axis levelling, histogram, and not forgetting that you can see the image you just shot in the EVF without having to deal with outdoor reflections on the LCD screen.

Features

There are more features on this camera than I am probably ever going to use. However, there are a few that I would like to mention, simply because they are so cool and actually something that I can use.

Wifi Remote Control

If you carry around a smartphone you have a very handy remote control for your E-M1 that works on wifi. It is surprisingly easy to set up, even I managed it (my Lexmark wifi printer still sits plugged into my Mac some 3.5 years after I first bought it, simply because I can’t figure it out). What’s extra cool about this remote control feature is that the E-M1 transmits the live view image to your phone, so as far as making selfies goes, this is truly da bomb when used in conjunction with the self-timer. It’s also a neat party trick to confuse the hell out of your friends with. Over Christmas I got some peeps to hold my iPhone as if they were taking a shot while I held the E-M1 just behind them. It all looks fine until I point the camera at the back of their heads and they start to think I’m pulling an epic Dynamo Magician Impossible illusion on them. Much scratching of heads.

The Olympus Remote Image app can also be used to do other cool things, like transfer images directly to your smartphone from the camera, which can then be shared to Facebook. It can also use the phone’s GPS feature to geo-tag your images, which is pretty neat, although to be honest I’d have much preferred it if they put a GPS feature directly in the camera. I have also used my iPad Mini to connect to the camera and do some product photography. This is a very useful feature because I can see on a larger screen exactly where I might need to make adjustments.

I tried connecting to my desktop Mac using the SSID that the E-M1 creates but it doesn’t connect and simply times out. It would be nice to be able to shoot wirelessly directly to the Mac. I also hope that Adobe will start to give better support to Olympus products in Lightroom for tethered shooting because currently it doesn’t recognise the camera when it is plugged in via USB. This is a pity because I did enjoy shooting tethered to Lightroom.

Live Time Exposure

This is a very neat little feature that I’m sure I will put to great use the next time we are at Sabi Sabi doing night photography. When the camera is in manual mode you can set the shutter speed one notch beyond BULB to get to this feature. What it does is show you your image “developing” while the shutter is open during long time exposures. There is also a live histogram that you can use to gauge when to close the shutter. Very cool.

Focus Peaking

I really love this! It's so well implemented on the E-M1 and I am now quite confident to use any lens on the body with manual focus. It works so well. If you don't know what it is, basically when you have it on the camera detects the strength of edge contrast while you are manually focusing and shows up a bright white outline when that contrast is at its maximum. This allows you to get a good indication of when something is in sharp focus (provided it has discernible edges, obviously).

The Feel Of It

When I took it out of the box for the first time I was quite surprised by how small it still looks when compared to a DSLR. Yes, it is now slightly bigger than the E-M5, but not by all that much, especially if you have been using the HLD-6 grip with the E-M5. Having said that though, the changes Olympus have made by including the hand grip on the main body this time have made a big difference to the way the camera feels in your hands. I don’t have either huge or small hands, but it feels really good when I hold it. Solid.

I do have the HLD-7 grip for it, which makes it feel even better, but then it does start to take on small DSLR proportions. I am using an old Canon wrist strap I still had from my early days and this allows me to get rid of the need for a neck strap. Olympus do make their own wrist straps for the OM-D range (Olympus GS-5) and I will most likely be ordering one as soon as they get the stock in locally.

The materials used on the body are high quality alloys and plastics. The rubber coating feels good too. It’s not quite as grippy as that found on the likes of the top end Nikon bodies, but I prefer it because the Nikons tend to get very grubby looking in a short time.

I like that the eyepiece now protrudes away from the rear screen more than it did with the E-M5. This has made a difference to the eye sensor sensitivity (the sensor detects when your eye is at the EVF and switches off the LCD) - it now doesn't pick up your hand movements when you are using the touch screen.

Quirky Stuff

AF-Illumination Beam

The AF-illumination light has moved from the left side of the body to the right side and is very close to the hand grip. It doesn’t get blocked by this at all and is probably the reason why Olympus decided to move it there instead of keeping it on the left (although that area is now used by the PC-sync port).

However, this is not the ideal spot for my own purposes, reason being that when I am using the E-M5 to take candid stuff of delegates at conferences, I cover the beam with my thumb so that it doesn’t give me away. You simply can’t do this effectively with the E-M1, so I have had to switch it off in the custom settings. It’s not ideal because there are times that I would like to have it work because the Olympus FL-600R doesn’t have a nice AF assist function at all (it does double duty as an LED light for video so it’s really bright and makes people squint terribly). I guess I will have to make use of the MySet presets that Olympus use and have one with it on and another with it off.

AF-C Focus Confirmation Beep & Locking

Another setting that you need to look into under the AF settings is that when you are in AF-C mode, you can set the AF to lock based on how much activity it detects in the focus zone. The options are High, Normal, Low and Off. Setting this to Off means that your camera will try to re-acquire focus faster for whatever the AF target is looking at. I suppose this setting is to help with slower moving subjects in case you accidentally move the AF point off the subject and the camera then adjusts AF slower.

You’ll hear the focus confirmation beep in AF-C too, which is a behaviour that I don’t normally associate with AF-C focusing.

Home AF Position

One of the functions you can assign to any of the Fn buttons on the camera is the […] Set Home option. This is a very tricky thing to set up properly and it took me quite a while to figure out just how it works.

Say you are using the small AF target and you have it set to somewhere near the edge of the frame. To get it back to the middle of the screen you could press the direction buttons on the back of the camera repeatedly, but by using […] Set Home you can get it back there with a single button (whichever one you have assigned the function to).

So I set this up using one of the buttons but every time I pressed it all the AF points would illuminate and the camera would then randomly select any point based on wherever it could focus quickest. It drove me nuts.

Then I saw in the AF settings menu that there is also a bit about […] Set Home position for the AF target. It shows four options, the default of which is the entire AF target grid. There are also options to set the home position for the large single AF point and the small single AF point, as well as a grouped cluster of AF points. But the twist here is that you don’t have to select the central point as the home point, it can be any of the 81 AF points!

So you have to choose which of these options would work for you before setting the Fn button up to get back to wherever you want home to be. I found that very weird, but hey, even weirder is that you can calibrate the front and back focus for 37 of those AF points for every lens you have and the camera will remember them the next time the lens is attached. This is I believe for use with the PDAF system. God save the poor soul who is anal enough to want to do that. I’d rather slit my wrists.

Conclusion

The E-M1 is everything I need it to be for the kind of photography I do. It combines cutting edge technology with well thought out controls and it all comes in a small, lightweight package that is capable of doing everything and doing it well.

There are a lot of settings that you have to look at before you can go out and start shooting with this camera. Because it is so highly customisable I would suggest spending at least an entire day (or two) familiarising yourself with the options available and then go practise shooting at least a dozen times before you use it for a serious shoot. I have tried to set mine up as close as possible to the way I had my Nikons set up and so far apart from the odd issue I have had understanding the settings (like […]Set Home for example) it has been an absolute joy to use.

For the asking price of $1400 I don’t think you could ask for anything more. I don’t have any nits to pick. This is the bees knees for me. I will be adding some more shorter material related to my use of the E-M1 throughout the year and you can find those articles under the tag E-M1dD (I will apply this tag to all articles I write that are related to this camera).

Go get it. You won’t be sorry.

Here are a few more images (click to enlarge):

Shot at a live theatre show

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My other son, the aspiring musician

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My guitar is similar to this (not my Dad in case you were wondering!)

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Scrat, the Meerkat!

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Scrat's Mom

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More Sample Images Here

If you have any questions about the E-M1 please use the comments section below and I will be happy to answer you as best I can.

Footnote: please help me to make this website work financially by purchasing your E-M1 from Amazon.com if you are in the USA using this link. It won’t cost you anything more but I will get a sales commission if you do use the link. For South African readers you can order an E-M1 directly from me as I have a dealer account with the supplier (Tudortech). Just send me an email and I will advise you of the current price.

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Nice review Dallas. Thanks for reviewing this. I was going to get a EM5 and held one in a local store. But then news of the EM1 came out so I decided to wait. I too use D700 and a few lenses. But the weight of all the gear is becoming obvious. As an old Olympus user from the OM days this has my interest greatly. I read what you say about having too much stuff to carry. Maybe its because I am getting older.

Any way. How do you rate the video quality. I ask because at work I have been taking stills and video of work being done on jewellery. Stone setting etc. I had to borrow my sons D5100 for this as the D700 is a bit large sitting on my work bench, as well as no video. The smaller size of the camera sounds like it would be most suitable. Any thoughs you would have would be appreciated.

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Hi Len, 

 

I haven't actually even tried the video on this camera yet! I have used the video on the E-M5 and for my needs it is OK, but apparently the Panasonic cameras are better suited to video, specifically the GH2/3 models (well that's what I hear, anyway). 

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Guest Colin-M

Posted (edited)

Good review Dallas and the images speak volumes.

Yes, it is now slightly bigger than the E-M5, but not by all that much

I'm interested in the ergonomics, because when I tried an EM-5 a few months back, I was struck by how I seemed to end up holding and operating it with my fingertips. By comparison, with most full sized DSLRs (such as the better Nikons), they felt like they fitted into my whole hand (like the proverbial glove) and felt like part of me.

I didn't get that from the EM-5.

Do you feel the EM-1 overcomes that!

Edited by Colin-M

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      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
      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.
    • 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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