Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  

Rough Guide: Micro Four Thirds Zoom Lenses


Dallas

I get asked by other photographers quite often for a quick overview of the big differences between the Micro Four Thirds (m43) system and the DSLR systems such as Canon and Nikon, or basically what they should be looking to purchase if they decided to make the switch from larger format cameras to smaller formats and keep the same functionality they already have.

There’s a lot of information available out there on the internet, but it takes a lot of time to read through it all and it’s made all the more difficult if you don’t know anything at all about the m43 system or what to investigate. So I have put together this rough guide series to shed some light on what products stand out in each respective area of interest. It’s by no means exhaustive, but it should give you a good indication of what to investigate further if you’re serious about moving to, or adding this format to your photography gear.

The first in this series deals with the “Holy Trinity” type zoom lens options, namely wide angles, general purpose and telephotos. These are my own opinions based on research I have done myself and supported wherever possible by personal experiences of the items.

gallery_2_394_52572.jpg

Best Wide Angle Zoom Lens Options

Panasonic 7-14mm f/4.0

Olympus 9-18mm f/4-5.6

Olympus 7-14mm f/4.0 (four thirds)

Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO (not available yet)

I only had a very brief exposure to the Panasonic 7-14mm lens when I was first getting back into the m43 system about 2.5 years ago. I had just bought a Panasonic GF-1 for a good price from a store that was clearing all their Panasonic m43 inventory and their asking price for the lens was around $500 at that time. I put it on my GF-1 and took a few shots around the store, but it felt very unbalanced on such a small camera and I thought, geez, for $500 I could buy a nice DSLR lens that I didn’t already have, so I passed. Little did I realise that the actual price of the lens was closer to $1200, so in hindsight I should have zapped it up.

I ended up getting the Olympus 9-18mm f/4-5.6, which is a much, much smaller lens. It’s collapsible too, so if you’re limited for weight you really can’t ask for more. I find that it’s a nice sharp lens and performs really well in landscapes. Obviously it’s not nearly as wide as the 7-14mm options, but it does well in its range (similar view to 18-35mm FX lenses). I used this lens extensively on our safari to Namibia in 2013 and was really pleased with all the results I got shooting those harsh desert landscapes. The lens has held up quite well in the cosmetics department too, having accompanied me on many photo excursions for work and play since I got it.

gallery_2_394_3610.jpg

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to buy the older Olympus 7-14mm f/4.0 lens that was originally designed for use on the Olympus DSLR’s. If you mate it with an MMF adapter you can use it on the OM-D’s with varying degrees of autofocus compatibility. It’s terrible on the E-M5 (hunts like crazy) but it works decidedly better on the E-M1, which has the necessary phase detection AF sensors on the imager itself. Image quality wise it’s very, very good, but it’s also very, very expensive at $1800. It has full weather sealing so if you’re using it on the E-M1 with the MMF-3 adapter you will have a weatherproof solution. The downside is that it’s very large and therefore it doesn’t balance well on an E-M1 without the HLD-7 grip, which defeats the purpose of having a smaller kit (this lens is of similar proportions to the Sigma 12-24mm FX lens).

gallery_2_394_34121.jpg

Big and heavy, the Olympus 7-14mm f/4 is an expensive option but well worth the money

The final option is the announced, but only available in 2015 all new Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens. This will be one of the siblings making up the Holy Trinity of Olympus pro zoom lenses and if the already existing 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens is any indication of the quality we can expect, I think it is most likely going to be the one to get, mainly because of its native mount to the m43 system.

If you can’t wait for that one to arrive then you would probably do well to get the Olympus 9-18mm lens as its by far the cheapest option. You could always sell it once the PRO lens arrives. I will keep mine as a lightweight option.

sml_gallery_2_394_58028.jpg
Best General Purpose Zoom Lens Options

Panasonic 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6

Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8

Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO

Olympus 12-35mm f/2.0 (four thirds)

There are three pro spec lenses here to chose from on my list above, but there are also a myriad of consumer grade kit lenses available from both Panasonic and Olympus, including many variations of the 14-42mm. I haven’t used many of them but there is one consumer grade standout lens and that is the one in my list here, the now discontinued Panasonic 14-45mm. This one is really very good and prior to my getting the 12-40mm it was my go to lens for the E-M5. I still use it sometimes, especially if I am doing work in a dodgy location where the possibility of being liberated of my gear is relatively high. At least the loss of this lens as opposed to the PRO version would be easier to bear.

The Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens is something else. This is a beautiful piece of glass from Olympus. Well finished, wonderful optics and extremely fast focusing on the OM-D bodies I have. I rate it as being better than the Nikon 24-70/2.8 I used to own and that’s saying something because as anyone who has used the Nikkor knows, it’s a serious optic too. However, to get the best out of the Nikkor you have to stop it down to at least f/4. The Olympus lens is sharp right from f/2.8.

I don’t know too much about the Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 but it was on the market long before the Oly arrived. Reports I have read from many users are all positive about this one, so if you can get one to try you should definitely do that. An advantage to this lens is of course that it has built in image stabilisation, so if you have chosen a Panasonic body instead of an Olympus one for your m43 system this will be stabilised whereas the Oly lenses won’t, since Olympus bodies have image stabilisers on the sensor, thus making any lens you mount on the camera stabilised.

gallery_2_394_261433.jpg

Olympus 14-35mm f/2.0 - one of the fastest zoom lenses with a constant aperture.

The final stand out lens is again a four thirds lens that you can use on the E-M1 with an MMF adapter. I have not used one, but stop and take another look at the figures on this lens. The constant maximum aperture is f/2.0. That’s right, it’s a whole stop faster than any of the other pro lenses! At $2300 it’s certainly not a cheap option, but if you want a fast zoom lens they don’t get much faster than this. Downside is of course the physical size, so unless you have a true need for the speed of the lens you’re better off with the native mount options.

Best Telephoto Zoom Lens Options

Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8

Olympus 35-100mm f/2.0 (four thirds)

Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO (not available yet)

Olympus 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 (four thirds)

Olympus 90-250mm f/2.8 (four thirds)

One of the biggest advantages of a small sensor like m43 is that telephoto lenses are typically much smaller than their DSLR counterparts, yet offer just as tight an angle of view. It surprises me that more birders haven’t adopted m43 as a system because there is such a wonderful array of both exotic and practical telephoto lenses available. Not only that, with adapters you can put any lens on the camera and capture the best central part of the optics of that lens with an m43 size sensor. Obviously you will need to be quick on the manual focus, but with slower moving subjects and focus peaking functionality (not to mention the IBIS on Olympus cameras) you have a field of view that is typically half of what you’re seeing on an FX camera.

gallery_2_394_40276.jpg

The ultimate safari lens! The 90-250mm f/2.8 offers an angle of view equal to a 180-500mm lens on FX format.

If your primary interest in the m43 system is to get a good telephoto lens for longer reach, like wildlife or sports, you’re probably going to want to look at the four thirds range where there are a number of options that will truly knock your socks off (and lighten your wallet). The one stand-out lens that I would love to use is the 90-250mm f/2.8. In FX terms it gives you a 180-500mm angle of view, with the constant f/2.8 aperture. I cannot think of a more useful range for wildlife safaris than that. At $6k it’s not going to be within everyone’s reach, but when compared to the Nikon and Canon 200-400mm f/4 options and their respective costs it starts to look a lot more interesting.

gallery_2_394_23046.jpg

The Olympus 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 is a very capable, compact telephoto option for m43

I have the Olympus 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 which offers the FX equivalent of a 100-400mm lens. It’s a lot cheaper than the 90-250mm and it’s also a much faster optic than the Canon 100-400mm and the Nikon 80-400mm. Having owned the Canon 100-400mm IS when I first got into digital photography I can say in all honestly that this Olympus lens beats the pants of that Canon, by a long way. It’s sharper, has great contrast and colour too. I haven’t ever used the Nikon 80-400mm lenses so I can’t draw a comparison with it. Obviously the main advantage on the Oly is the faster aperture at the long end, which is a whole stop and a third brighter than the Canon/Nikon options, but there is also another advantage in that it is much cheaper at only $1200 compared to the $2800 asking price for the new Nikkor. It is also fully weather sealed and the hood has a hatch that slides open so you can use your polariser or variable ND filters easily. It’s the lens I am going to be using on safari this year.

Panasonic haven’t really developed much in the longer telephoto area, however they were the first to introduce a pro spec shorter range telephoto in the form of the 35-100mm f/2.8. This is your general purpose telephoto lens similar to the 70-200mm f/2.8 FX lens that is mostly used by wedding photographers. User reports on this lens are all mostly very positive and at $1200 it’s an attractive option.

There’s another 35-100mm lens that will blow your hair back and that is the Olympus 35-100mm f/2.0 for the four thirds mount. Yes, that’s right, it’s an f/2.0 optic, constant throughout the zoom range. I have handled this lens briefly as a colleague of mine owns one, plus I have seen some of his images shot with it. On the E-M1 this lens is jaw-droppingly good. I can’t even begin to describe how sharp and punchy it is. It will set you back around $2500 but if you can get one and you don’t mind the size of it, you will not be disappointed with what it can do. Highly recommended!

gallery_2_394_12859.jpg

Olympus 35-100mm f/2.0 is a lens to die for!

The last lens to mention in this first instalment of the Rough Guide series is the announced, but as yet not available Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO. This will be the one I buy, mainly because it will be affordable and also it’s a native m43 mount, so no adapter is needed. It will autofocus with the CDAF system on the E-M1 so I will be able to shoot at 10 frames per second with it. Not really required, but nice to have. The expected street price is said to be around $1300.

These are the top end lens options open to those who are thinking about adopting the m43 system. As mentioned at the start of the article there are other cheaper options too, so if you’re put off by the prices of some of these lenses, do have a look at the other options too.

As a final note I should add that there are at least three Olympus adapters available to mate the older 4/3rds lenses to the m43 mount. These are the MMF1, MMF2 and MMF3. They all do the same thing and there is no difference in auto focus performance between them, but only the MMF3 has the weather sealing, so if that's an important feature for you to have then you ought to opt for it. It's slightly more expensive than the others at $160. Panasonic also make an adapter that does the same thing, the DMW-MA1 and it's much cheaper at a shade over $100. Not sure if that one is weather sealed. There is no glass in these adapters so image quality is exactly the same on m43 as it is on 4/3.

In the next edition of this series I will have a look at the prime lenses for the system.

If you're thinking about buying any of these items please consider starting your shopping at our affiliate retailers by using any of the links to their shops found at the bottom of the page. This will be most appreciated.

  • Like 3
Sign in to follow this  


Comments

Recommended Comments



Very useful info Dallas thanks for that. It might be useful to include (links to) your own image samples of real world use.  

 

With regards to

 

"An advantage to this lens is of course that it has built in image stabilisation, so if you have chosen a Panasonic body instead of an Olympus one for your m43 system this will be stabilised whereas the Oly lenses won’t, since Olympus bodies have image stabilisers on the sensor, thus making any lens you mount on the camera stabilised."

 

the Panasonic GX7 is the only Panasonic MFT camera so far with in-body stabilization.

Edited by Luc de Schepper

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Dallas, glad I could provide some useful info. It's just the GX7 came upon my radar recently due to a dealer discount of € 100 in Holland so pricing is it now € 699 (about 25% off since introduction). I'm considering adding a MFT camera plus some lenses (Pana/Leica 15mm f1.7, Oly 25mm f1.8 or 45mmf1.8) as a lightweight alternative to my Nikon Df set. Though I guess it might be the sensible thing to do to wait which product announcements Photokina brings, in September.

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Ya, that would be a good idea. I don't expect too many new announcements in the m43 lens line at Photokina, but there may be some new entrants to the format. If Sigma was going to make a Foveon based m43 camera that would be the right time to announce it. Given their new lines of lenses for other formats maybe we can also hope for some new Sigma lenses that fit the m43 mount. 

 

The Oly 40-150mm was supposed to be available from Photokina, but locally we can only expect to get it in January. 

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm focusing more on the top of the line lenses or stand-out consumer lenses for this series, Andrew. I have the Oly 75-300mm and it's OK, but not a pro lens. 

  • Like 2

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm focusing more on the top of the line lenses or stand-out consumer lenses for this series, Andrew. I have the Oly 75-300mm and it's OK, but not a pro lens. 

 

Gotcha.  Thanks for the clarification.   ;)

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

i love my 75-300.  And my 14-140 oly.

 

From my research so far, I can see some great quality images produced from the Olympus 75-300, and effectively getting that 150-600 equiv field of view/reach.

 

For the price, a new Oly 75-300 is half the price of an equivalent in reach Tamron 150-600mm.   

 

I just wonder when an equivalent pro equivalent will be introduced?

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

 

It surprises me that more birders haven’t adopted m43 as a system because there is such a wonderful array of both exotic and practical telephoto lenses available.

Assuming this is not a rhetorical question, here's my two cents. The main reason is that for a long time continuous AF performance in m43 cameras has been inadequate, to put it mildly. I understand that the E-M1 has somewhat changed this, but this is a relatively recent development. To make matters worse, the tastiest long lenses (2.8/300 and 90-250) are extremely expensive (the 4/300 may change this) and near impossible to find used. Add to that the fact that the size advantage over APS-C isn't that great and it's really no great mystery why m43 hasn't taken off in birding circles.

For all its flaws, the Nikon 1 system pretty much ticks all those boxes and is a great success among birders (I sometimes suspect that this niche is what's keeping it alive). With recent and planned developments, m43's prospects among birders will likely improve, but for the time being it's not even a contender.

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

I never used an Olympus DSLR. Did they also suffer from the C-AF problem that is often mentioned wrt to m43? I just look at those lenses and think to myself that they are so well suited to wildlife photography that they really should have attracted more interest. Until I started shooting m43 I had actually never really even known about their existence. I guess you could put that down to some poor marketing on Olympus' part. Or their DSLR's just weren't that good. 

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Assuming this is not a rhetorical question, here's my two cents. The main reason is that for a long time continuous AF performance in m43 cameras has been inadequate, to put it mildly. I understand that the E-M1 has somewhat changed this, but this is a relatively recent development. To make matters worse, the tastiest long lenses (2.8/300 and 90-250) are extremely expensive (the 4/300 may change this) and near impossible to find used. Add to that the fact that the size advantage over APS-C isn't that great and it's really no great mystery why m43 hasn't taken off in birding circles.

For all its flaws, the Nikon 1 system pretty much ticks all those boxes and is a great success among birders (I sometimes suspect that this niche is what's keeping it alive). With recent and planned developments, m43's prospects among birders will likely improve, but for the time being it's not even a contender.

I agree completely to this asessment. The 300/4 and hopefully a 1.4x teleconverter will be very important for m43, in order to make any inroads into the birding market.

I never used an Olympus DSLR. Did they also suffer from the C-AF problem that is often mentioned wrt to m43? I just look at those lenses and think to myself that they are so well suited to wildlife photography that they really should have attracted more interest. Until I started shooting m43 I had actually never really even known about their existence. I guess you could put that down to some poor marketing on Olympus' part. Or their DSLR's just weren't that good.

It's only the E-M1 and (to some extent) the E-M5 that can really exploit what the old 43 lenses can really do in terms of optical performance, all due to the improved sensor tech and AF in the E-M1. Add to this the EVF that is a vast improvement over the tiny OVFs in the old 43 cameras. These are the prime causes why things have only recently started moving for Olympus. Edited by bjornthun

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Dallas, many thanks for sharing this review with us and also for your other articles about your M43 journey.  I have found all of them to be very helpful.

 

I have just acquired a new E-M1 and several lenses, so my M43 journey is now getting serious; although I have had a Panasonic G3 for nearly two years, the E-M1 is in another league and I must say that I really like what I am seeing in the E-M1.  FWIW, my wrecked neck and shoulder are definitely not objecting either!

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm really happy to hear that, Hugh. Like many others, buying into the m43 system was a major step for me, but it was one I have no regrets about at all. Discovering all these lenses and the associated ease of use due to their (mostly) small size has been a joy. 

 

I will also be doing a Rough Guide on the Olympus Flash system in the weeks ahead. Next week though I will look at the prime lenses I have used and the ones I am hoping to use soon. 

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Great piece Dallas, I can't see this system replacing my dslr gear yet, but as a supplementary

system it could be interesting.

It would also mean I could reduce my investment in one primary system.

 

I think we've all deduced over the last weeks/ months it's horses for courses, perhaps a combination

of both systems would offer the most bang for the buck. 

I need to do more research to bring myself fully up to speed.

 

Thanks for the inspiration and education.

 

Tony

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

I agree Tony, absolutely. I'm also on the fence for a supplementary system to my Df. For me MicroFourThirds is about the lenses, mostly small, lightweight and high quality. The Fuji X-system is great but for me too close in size to the Df especially the lenses vs my Nikkor prime lenses. Not much to win for me with that system. 

 

Dallas, it might be useful to mention size and weight of the MFT lenses in the upcoming article on prime lenses. And an image of some lenses with a size comparison against a universal symbol like a beer can  :)

Edited by Luc de Schepper

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Having re-read through this entire thread carefully there have been some flaws highlighted, which upon closer inspection throw serious concerns over 

whether this alternative system is all it claims to be.

It seems prudence may be necessary to avoid disappointment with the claimed total performance of this relatively new package!.

I'm glad I know the Nikon system well enough to know it's limitations

and it's virtues, not yet confident I can say this about any alternatives.

 

Sometimes wish things were more clear cut, I really hate wasting money, perhaps there is still only one choice where ultimate image quality and camera performance reigns! 

Personally I'm not prepared to take a backward step concerning image quality even if it would encompass a smaller lighter camera system.

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Tony, what concerns about the m43 system do you have on your mind, more specifically? Maybe we could help you out.

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hmm... well, as you all know what happened with me is that when I introduced the OM-D E-M5 into my life 2 years ago I simply stopped using the Nikon D700 for much other than covering events. Part of the reason I didn't use the E-M5 extensively as a work camera back then was because I didn't really have the good glass for it.

 

As soon as I got the E-M1 I realised that there was a LOT of really good glass  for m43 out there and I could do pretty much everything I needed to do in a much lighter, more technologically advanced fashion. The D700 just couldn't complete on any level with what I was doing with those two small cameras and all the new glass I had acquired with them. The image quality advantage of the D700 at high ISO has been surpassed by the E-M1 in my opinion and in reality I very seldom need to shoot at values higher than 3200, so both OM-D's I am happy with there. 

 

Autofocus with m43 lenses on both cameras is more than good enough for the subject matter I like to shoot. In saying that I am sure it's not a patch on the likes of the D4s or D3s, but I can't afford those cameras and in all honesty their weight factor is a massive disadvantage for me. 

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Having re-read through this entire thread carefully there have been some flaws h perhaps there is still only one choice where ultimate image quality and camera performance reigns! 

Personally I'm not prepared to take a backward step concerning image quality even if it would encompass a smaller lighter camera system.

 

Ultimate image quality and (ultimate) camera performance are not what MFT is about. It's about the best possible image quality and camera performance in a system of cameras and lenses that is designed to be significantly smaller  and lighter than cameras with larger sensors. If the image quality of MFT (or any other "smaller" sensor cameras) is sufficient is for each to decide.

 

Things like needs and wishes are also to be considered. If I would mainly shoot sports or needed the best in high iso performance I wouldn't think of switching to a MFT system. 

 

Personally, I would like a second camera system (one camera, one zoom lens and a few primes) to complement my Nikon Df and lenses, for that purpose MFT seems to tick the boxes. Does the lesser image quality of MFT bother me? It did for a while until I noticed I was downloading RAW samples and comparing them with Nikon D700 and Df files. It was not until I looked at real world images of great MFT images that I realized the image quality is sufficient for my intended purpose and I am (as usual) the limiting factor to the end result.

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Ultimate image quality and (ultimate) camera performance are not what MFT is about. It's about the best possible image quality and camera performance in a system of cameras and lenses that is designed to be significantly smaller  and lighter than cameras with larger sensors. If the image quality of MFT (or any other "smaller" sensor cameras) is sufficient is for each to decide.

 

Things like needs and wishes are also to be considered. If I would mainly shoot sports or needed the best in high iso performance I wouldn't think of switching to a MFT system. 

 

Personally, I would like a second camera system (one camera, one zoom lens and a few primes) to complement my Nikon Df and lenses, for that purpose MFT seems to tick the boxes. Does the lesser image quality of MFT bother me? It did for a while until I noticed I was downloading RAW samples and comparing them with Nikon D700 and Df files. It was not until I looked at real world images of great MFT images that I realized the image quality is sufficient for my intended purpose and I am (as usual) the limiting factor to the end result.

 

Which almost exactly describes why 35mm cameras came into being in the first place when the standard studio pro cameras were half or full plate monsters, "press" cameras were hand-held 5x4" semi-monsters, and amateur cameras were fixed-lens folding types which used a variety of different roll films from 120/620 upwards.

Those who dismiss mirrorless with a condescending wave should perhaps take more note of history - their current FX/135 brick-sized pro cameras are direct descendants of the 35mm format cameras which have grown to be as large and unwieldy as were the final iterations of medium format pro film cameras (Mamiya RB/RZ, Pentax 6x7, Hasselblad etc). That there is room and a need for systems of similar size to the last compact pro 35mm cameras (Nikon F2/FM, Olympus OM-*, Pentax K etc) to fill the gap has already been shown by Olympus, Panasonic, Fuji etc, with Nikon testing the water of this growing sub-set with its still-too-large Df.

  • Like 1

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Dallas, I agree about the Oly 12-40/2.8.  I love this lens, the way it handles, and the results it gives me.  While it's not as compact as the slow kit zooms, it gives me more choice in apertures given m43's 'low ceiling' of acceptable apertures due to diffraction.

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi Dallas,

               Would be interested in your thoughts / experience on how well the EM-1 handles the 55-200 4 thirds lens from a fast AF view point compared to how one might expect the 40-150 f2.8 to be have. Considering getting one of these & have seen a couple of negative reviews on the 55-220 - not from an optical point of view, but from the AF handling via an adapter on the EM-1.

 

Thanks

 

David

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

       

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

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

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

      But then in good light you'll get rewarded.
       

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

      View full article
    • By Dallas
      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.  
       

    • By Dallas
      There is no review for this lens yet. Please feel free to post your own review (or images taken with this lens) using the comments section below. The best review received will become the stub record and the author will be credited with the record. 
       
      Feel free to ask questions about the lens in the comments section, but please keep all comments on topic so as to avoid clutter. We especially invite members to share their images taken with the lens in the comments. 
       
      To get notifications of new posts to this lens review record please click the "Follow" button on the same line as the title. 
       
      These records will always be non-commercial and no affiliate links to sellers will be found here. 
    • By Dallas
      A few weeks back I wrote a short piece about how I was having a serious bout of GAS after discovering a new Panasonic Leica 8-18mm lens sitting in a local electronics store. At the time I managed to resist the overwhelming urge to purchase the lens because they didn’t have pricing for it. And I also didn’t really have the kind of money lying around that I could justify such a purchase with. It’s not a cheap lens. So it stayed in the store.
       
      It turns out that the lens was a demo unit on consignment to the retailer from Panasonic South Africa and not a stock item (Panasonic stuff is like hen’s teeth here in SA). I wrote to the local agents and asked if I could borrow it for a couple of weeks to write a review. They agreed and the result is this review.
       
      Who's It For?
       
      Where can I begin? If you are interested in this lens I am sure that you have already gone through all the typical reviews that you will find from the usual suspects on the internet. You know, the guys who’s job it is to review lenses and tell you all about the specs, how sharp it is, what they think is wrong with it, even though hardly any of them have ever worked a day in their lives as actual photographers using these tools. Then, at the end of the review they ask you to buy the lens using their links so that they can get commission on the sale. That’s their job, I guess, but I’m not one of them. I’m reviewing this lens based on what it can do for my photography business. Nothing else. If it’s rubbish I will say it’s rubbish. If I bought it myself then you’ll know it’s worth having.
       
      Those of you who follow me here on Fotozones will know that I work full time as a professional photographer doing various types of work and over the past 5 months that work has included a lot of real estate photography. This is a genre of work that I really enjoy. I have been using an Olympus E-M1 body and Olympus 9-18mm f/4.0-5.6 lens.
       
      My methods for shooting RE are a little different to your typical RE photographer in that I don’t use flash and I simply refuse to work in the abortion of logic that is called Photoshop. Everything I do is processed in Lightroom using a 3 frame HDR bracket, a bunch of presets and an eyes-on visual inspection of each shot I present to my client. The only batch work I do comes at export time. My images are used on the internet and not for print.
       
      Yes, I could spend a lot more time getting a better result by following the methods of those who use multiple ambient and flash exposures and then spend an inordinate amount of time in Photoshop painting in masks and a myriad of other tricky things. But if I followed that sort of workflow I would not be able to do the same volume of work I am doing for the kind of money I am getting paid per property. It just wouldn’t work out.
       
      So, I have created a workflow that sees me in and out of a moderately sized 3-4 bedroomed home in under 30 minutes. I know what compositions are typically needed for RE photography, so the thing that takes me the most time on location is leveling my camera (assuming the client has prepared their home for the shoot and I don’t have to move much of their stuff around). The leveling is done using the built-in levels on the Olympus E-M1 and the bracketing is done automatically, requiring a single shutter press - a great feature of the E-M1 cameras I use. On average I deliver about 25 edited images per property and I shoot sometimes up to 5 properties a day.
       
      On the editing side of things I probably spend as much time per property as I do on shooting, so I have been on a quest to reduce this time overhead as much as I can.
       
      My RE editing process comprises selecting the three frames I need to blend in the Lr HDR program, running through a few presets, such as correcting converging verticals and with the Olympus 9-18mm fixing the somewhat noticeable barrel distortion seen when shooting at 9mm. I have also found that while the 9-18mm lens is plenty sharp enough, when I am shooting towards bright light sources such as windows, I get quite a bit of blooming around the window frames using my shooting method. If I was using flash and Ps masks to blend in layers this wouldn’t be an issue, but the time that would take isn’t an option for me on these jobs. I need to reduce the amount of time I spend doing the editing, which is, I suppose, really all about fixing up these 9-18mm lens “issues”.
       
      All the wide angle zoom lenses that I have ever owned and used (and there have been quite a few of them) have had their own little idiosyncrasies. When I first started shooting property I had the Nikon D200 and Sigma 15-30mm, which was a pretty good lens, but you needed to work on the warm colour that the lens had. Later I used the Nikon D700 with that same lens, which was eventually replaced with the Sigma 12-24mm FX frame lens, an insanely wide beast but one that required a great deal of care when composing. It wasn’t really good for interiors at 12mm because of the amount of crazy distortion on the edges you could make a tiny room look like an auditorium, so I would have to zoom in to about 16mm to make things look normal(ish).
       
      When I moved to micro four thirds there were only 2 options for wide angle lenses offering more than a 100˚ angle of view. There was the impossible (for me) to find Panasonic 7-14mm f/4, which had a lot of bad reviews and didn’t do well with light sources at all, or there was the lens I have been using, the Olympus 9-18mm f/4.0-5.6. For a time I did have the Olympus 7-14mm f/4.0 in 4/3 mount used via the MMF adapter, but that thing was just as big as a Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8, so not really practical as an RE lens (if, like me, you moved to MFT to get away from the bulk).
       
      When Olympus brought out their 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO I thought my prayers had been answered, but as you would have read on my review of that lens, it just can’t handle the type of work I wanted to use it for. The flare caused by that massive front element is a major problem and would drive any RE photographer insane. Also, there is something about the way it compresses scene edges that just looks very unnatural to me, so I passed on it.
       
      That has left me with the diminutive Olympus 9-18mm as my only interior lens and to be honest, apart from the window bloom and barrel distortion which can be fixed it’s perfectly fine. And small.
       
      Enter the Panasonic Leica 8-18mm f/2.8-4.0 Vario-Elmarit lens.
       
      As I mentioned in my previous article, this is one really nicely designed and constructed wide angle lens. It is significantly bigger than the 9-18mm Oly though, especially when the hood is attached, so that’s not a plus in my book. When I am working on these RE jobs I carry all my camera gear in the smallish ThinkTank TurnStyle 10. The size of my gear for work purposes is very important to me.
       

      I put both the lenses on my product table to show you the difference in size. 
       

      This is the 8-18mm on my E-M1 without the grip
       

      And here's the 9-18mm on the same body. 
       
      In that bag I have one Olympus E-M1 body (sans grip) with an L-plate, the Panasonic GM1 and its 12-32mm lens, plus my Samyang 7.5mm fisheye, which I use when I find myself in really tiny bathrooms (I straighten the fisheye in Lr using the profile provided). My back-up body is the Olympus Pen E-PL5 and also in the bag are my spare batteries and a small power bank for my iPhone (running google Maps for most of the day does tend to run your device’s power down).
       
      When I first mounted the 8-18mm to the E-M1 it didn’t fit in the bag, so I had to re-configure it a little, resulting in the removal of the GM1. Once I did that it has become an easy fit and I also have the 9-18mm now on the Pen body, just in case.
       
      In the 2 weeks that I have been using the 8-18mm I have photographed over 20 properties with it. The first one I did I was very interested to notice that the metering on the E-M1 coupled with this lens was definitely giving me darker images than I get with the 9-18mm using the same bracketing sequence. I’d say it was about a stop darker and especially noticeable where I had bright windows in my compositions. Not a biggie, but interesting nonetheless.
       
      What was more immediately noticeable though was that the blooming around the windows was nowhere near as dramatic as is the case with the Olympus 9-18mm. With the Oly I tend to use a negative clarity to try and make it look a bit more flattering, but with the Leica that isn’t needed at all. There is still some blooming, but it doesn’t require anywhere near the same kind of attention my Olympus lens needs. In fact, the 8-18mm makes mincemeat of the 9-18mm where that is concerned. And there, already, is more than enough of a reason for me to upgrade to it. Not having to deal with the windows in post on my RE shoots saves me a ton of processing time and headaches.
       

      A typical scene I am faced with in my job as an RE photographer. This one was a 3 frame bracket, each a stop apart, blended in Lightroom, no flash at all. I'll take this result all day!
       

       

      Some exteriors of the higher end homes I shot in August/September 2018. 
       
      But what about other applications?
       
      I’ve had the 9-18mm for a long time. It was one of the first lenses I bought after I made the switch from Nikon and I have made some of my most memorable landscape images with that lens, particularly in Namibia when we were on safari there in 2013. I have the LEE Seven5 filter set and an adapter ring so that I can use it on the 9-18mm. This is another problem with the Olympus 7-14mm 2.8 PRO. If you want to use it to make landscapes with any kind of filter system you have to buy some ridiculous after market apparatus to put any kind of filters on the lens, since it has no filter thread. Not the case with the Panny 8-18mm. You can take off the hood and the lens body acts as a kind of shroud for the front element (which does move in and out, but never beyond the tip of the body). This means that all I have to do to use my LEE Filters is buy a 67mm adapter for the holder. Presto. I will have a better landscape lens, designed by Leica. Unfortunately I didn’t get enough time with the lens to be able to do any meaningful landscape photography, but I did take it down to the beach one overcast day. Below are a few samples of that outing.
       
      As a walk-around lens for street photography I think the Olympus 9-18mm is much better. It’s a lot smaller and as such is much less conspicuous, not to mention easier to carry in a small bag along with a normal perspective lens.
       
      How much of a difference does that extra 1mm make on a MFT frame? If you’re an outdoor shooter you won’t notice it, but if you’re like me and you’re shooting interiors then the extra 7˚ on the wide end can make your life a little easier, especially if you don’t have a fisheye lens for those really tiny bathrooms. Or kitchens. 
       

       

      Shot at 8mm
       

      Shot at 9mm
       
      Sharpness
       
      As far as sharpness is concerned I don’t really see a big difference between the two. Obviously the Leica designed optics of the 8-18mm will be better at micro-contrast and as mentioned before the coatings are more flare resistant than the 9-18mm, which does mean that you have to do less work in editing.
       
      You should be able to get the same results from either lens in most applications, the notable exception being my primary need of real estate photography. I’m sure that the propellor heads at the main techie sites will have done some kind of measuring that will allow you to compare the differences. I have no interest in that stuff, so it plays no part in my review process. Honestly, I don’t think anybody even makes an unsharp lens anymore, so why bother with such banality.
       
      Cost Considerations
       
      The main consideration for a person who is considering buying a wide angle lens for their MFT system is usually cost versus benefit. Looking at the price difference between these two items the Panasonic is nearly double the price of the Olympus, so it should offer a lot more. Does it?
       
      Yes, it is much better made and it has the Leica pedigree, so that can, to a degree justify the $450 extra you’ll have to fork over to own this lens. In my case the savings in editing time totally justify the not insignificant outlay. And I really like the look and feel of this lens enough to say, screw it, I will have it, one way or another. However, if you’re traveling to somewhere distant and size / weight is a factor, you should think about the Olympus 9-18mm instead.
       
      Bottom Line
       
      You won’t be disappointed with the 8-18mm. Unless you’re a propellor head looking for something to nit pick over. Or you have size constraints. I give this lens full marks. 

      View full article
  • 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.