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The Journey To Being 100% Mirrorless


Dallas

Last year I co-led an epic, month long Photographers.travel safari from Cape Town all the way up through Namibia, to the border of Angola and then a little bit into North-Western Botswana for good measure, before heading back to Cape Town via Namibia. We did this road trip in two vehicles with 8 guests (all Nikongear.com members) and covered some 8500km (5300mi) in total. It was by far the longest road trip I have ever done. It was gruelling at times because of the state of some dirt roads we had to use, but it was well worth it because it also saw me shooting more photographs in that month long period than I have ever taken before, and getting my best results too.

 

I made a lot of discoveries on that safari. The most significant being that it was the beginning of the end of my love affair with the DSLR. When I got back from Namibia and began looking through my photos I had a whole new appreciation for my little Olympus OM-D E-M5 and what I could accomplish with it. I also noticed that I had done about 95% of my picture taking on safari with the Oly and not my supposedly superior Nikon D700. It wasn’t long afterwards that I began selling off my Nikon kit. I’m now a full micro four thirds convert as a direct result of my discoveries on safari. This article is an insight as to how that trip helped shape this transformation in my approach and the gear I now use to get the images I want.

 

A little background first. I live in Durban, the third largest city of South Africa. It’s located on the East Coast of the country, about 1600km (1000mi) from Cape Town. My business partner and I started putting together photo safaris in 2009 and we’ve been doing it ever since, making new friends from around the world every year. Last year we decided to do a trip that started in Cape Town and went all the way up into Namibia and the Kavango region of Botswana. The easiest way for me to get to Cape Town is to take a local flight. It’s about 2 hours flying time and because the two cities are of similar size (over 3.5 million people each) there are numerous flights between them every day. The planes used are typically jet-engined Airbus or Boeings, so you’ll have overhead bins for hand luggage. The airline I was on for this trip had a checked baggage restriction of 20kgs (44lbs) and hand luggage limits of 7kg (15.4lbs). I had a big problem in that my hand luggage made up of all my camera gear, laptop and other valuables weighed about the same as my suitcase, just under 20kg. It was all packed into a ThinkTank Airport Security roller that looks like a suitcase and while it was technically OK to use as a carry-on in terms of its size, the weight was definitely going to be an issue if the ground staff decided to take a closer look at it.

 

I’ve done this flying with camera gear thing enough times before and while I have gotten away with really heavy carry-ons in the past, I can’t begin to explain the stresses you go through during check-in. What if they don’t let you carry it on? What if there’s no room in the overhead bin by the time you get to your seat? What if there’s no overhead bin? The paranoia doesn’t abate. This time I got to Cape Town OK but of all the trips I’d made in the past, this one was by far the most stressful as far as gear goes and I was beginning to think that if I am going to keep on doing these photo safaris, I was going to need lighter gear.

 

So eventually the safari got underway in Cape Town amidst some horrific Cape winter weather. Cape Town has a wet and windy winter climate, which is the complete opposite of what I am used to in Durban where our winters are dry and mild. A lot of the activities we had planned on doing got scuppered because of the weather, so we had to console ourselves with lots of wine tasting. Photographically it’s a bit boring sitting around a table watching people sample wine (especially if your interest in it runs parallel with mine, which I must confess is not very high at all), but a lot of the places we visited in Stellenbosch and Klein Constantia had some interesting historical buildings so I often found myself wandering around wine cellars, taking shots of old oak barrels and even some of the vats they use to produce the stuff.

 

(click on the images to view them larger)

 

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The one thing I began to become aware of was that I hadn’t used my Nikon D700 at all yet on the trip, despite having some choice lenses to use with it. I had brought with me a little ThinkTank Retrospective 5 bag and inside it I had my E-M5 and 6 lenses, covering from fisheye up to 175mm (which is 350mm in “big camera” speak). It was light and inconspicuous, whereas my fellow travelers were all lugging monster DSLR’s and large bags around with them wherever we went. To the casual observer I might not have been a part of the same group, because trust me, a lot of people got a case of the Tom Cat curiosities whenever they saw this small army of DSLR users coming!

 

After enduring a few days of the Cape Town winter weather at its worst (apparently it even snowed on Table Mountain while we were there) we headed North towards Namaqualand, which is famed for its wide open plains of wild spring flowers. It was here that I discovered another massive benefit to using the Olympus E-M5. I didn’t have to crawl on my belly to get level with the flowers when composing a shot. I simply angled up my LCD, sussed out what was going on with the composition and then tapped the screen to take the shot.

 

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We spent a few days in Namaqualand going from farm to farm photographing the wild flowers before we made our first border crossing of the trip into Namibia and the enormously vacant landscapes it offers. This was what I had been longing for. This was where I was hoping to make some magical images!

 

Namibia is unlike anything I’ve seen before. It’s hard to describe the solitude of these massive, ancient and inhospitable landscapes. It’s as if the earth has a dried up patch on its skin, on which nothing appears to flourish. The moment you cross over the border from South Africa the geology changes dramatically. Our first stop was the Fish River Canyon, which is the second largest canyon in the world (behind Grand Canyon, USA). Photographically it’s difficult to capture the awe of this place. You need to explore it from many different locations and the best times for photography would be in the evenings, so you’d want to give yourself a couple of days to scout a good location and then take your shots. This makes it a bit of a challenge because during the day there’s not much else to photograph in the area, so you end up spending a lot of time doing nothing in camp, which is not exactly thrilling. We got there towards evening on the first day, so we did get some nice sunset images of the canyon. We revisited it the following morning at dawn, but I didn’t find it as interesting as the previous evening (photographically that is). The evening is definitely the better time for canyon photography as the rocks take on wonderful hues in the soft, dusty sunsets. Once again I found myself using the Olympus while the Nikon D700 slept in the big rolling camera bag.

 

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Onward into the desert proper we went after the canyon, our next stop being Sossussvlei which is where you find the enormous red sand dunes of the Namib desert, the oldest in the world. This rapidly becomes landscape photography heaven as you have the dunes coming into contact with the Naukluft mountains. We had three days in this amazing landscape. It was winter but it was still unbearably hot during the day, with temperatures easily climbing over the 40C (104F) mark. My objective here was to put my recently acquired LEE Filters Seven5 system to the test in the field. For those of you unfamiliar with this system it’s basically the same as the regular LEE filters drop in filter system except that it’s been made smaller for use on mirrorless cameras like the Olympus OM-D series. To put it as succinctly as possible, I just adore the images I got out of the E-M5 using those ND Grad LEE Filters. They are a must have item for anyone interested in landscape photography.

 

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After our time in the dunes came what has to be the most mentally demanding drive I have ever undertaken. Going from Sossussvlei to Swakopmund along the badly corrugated dirt roads was something that drove home just how desolate this place is. Roadworks departments might take years to get these roads re-graded. The actual distance isn’t that far, about 350km (217mi) but because you have to drive so slowly it takes between 5 and 6 hours to get there. If you’re not careful your vehicle might end up shearing a wheel right off its axle. This happens with disturbing regularity on this road.

 

Swakopmund is a sleepy little seaside town seemingly stuck in the early 20th century. Most of the buildings and architecture date from the time when South West Africa (as Namibia used to be known) was a German colony. German is still widely spoken here, in fact together with Afrikaans it’s the most commonly encountered language. Mornings are usually damp and misty as the cool air coming in off the Atlantic mixes with the hot and dry air of the desert often creating thick fog. We were there for three nights and each morning was the same; overcast and moist, gradually clearing towards lunch time. Apparently it’s like this most of the time. Thankfully it was considerably cooler than Sossussvlei (about 16C daytime high)! Photographically it is very interesting and well worth the visit. We spent some time in the town itself, getting the vehicles checked out after the horrendous drive there, plus we also went a little South to Walvis Bay to photograph the large flamingo colonies found there.

 

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Typical building found in swakopmund. Note the grey sky.

 

The dunes surrounding Swakopmund are fascinating and were the highlight of our stay in Swakopmund. It’s hard to believe that anything can survive in them yet on a couple of guided tours we were introduced to some of the creatures who do just that. From snakes to spiders and chameleons, they all somehow get by.

 

It was in these harsh desert conditions that I came to realise my days of lugging around a DSLR were almost over. Lying in my hotel room in Swakopmund one night I read online (with unbridled enthusiasm I’ll add) Olympus’ announcement of the E-M1. It addressed all the shortcomings of the E-M5, particularly where auto focus tracking is concerned. But it wasn’t so much that announcement that drove home this realisation, it was watching my guests and safari business partner lying on their bellies in the desert taking photos of a chameleon with their faces mashed against the view finder that truly drove home the sheer inadequacy of the DSLR design for me. In the midst of all the technological advances we have made over the past few years, major companies are still asking camera users to contort their bodies in order to frame a shot using old mechanical interfaces (mirrors and prisms).

 

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Moments before I took this shot I had been sitting next to these guests, also shooting the chameleon, but instead of taking the somewhat impractical measures of lying down in the sand, I had merely hunkered down, tilted my LCD upwards and once again used the touch screen of the E-M5 to make a series of super sharp, perfectly exposed images of the reptile zapping a grub at 9 frames a second. I could check the images immediately without the interference of the desert glare using the EVF. That was it. It was all I needed to convince me that the move to mirrorless was the way forward.

 

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We spent another 2 weeks in Namibia, moving from Swakopmund to Caprivi. Along the way I found yet another shooting situation where the E-M5 refused to accept the label of “inferior instrument” from its older DSLR cousins. In Damaraland there is a village of Himba people who live their lives according to their tribal traditions. We got to go inside one of the Himba women’s huts where she demonstrated to us how they bathe themselves using smoke. There we all were, 10 of us photographers crammed into this little hut where the only light coming in was via the short front entrance. Nobody else seemed to be taking photographs in the gloom. I was right next to the Himba lady and with the incredible Olympus 75mm f/1.8 ED lens I was able to make some awesome images of her ritual at high ISO.

 

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Photography is a wonderful craft and a great pastime. It’s evolved dramatically over the years and it’s continuing to evolve as new technologies are incorporated into camera designs. Since December my mirrorless m43 system has become the only system I use, both professionally and for my personal needs. All the Nikon stuff is gone. I have added an E-M1 body, Olympus 12-40/2.8 PRO, Olympus 45/1.8, Olympus 7-14/4 (4/3rds mount with MMF2), Olympus 50-200/2.8-3.5 (4/3rds) and a couple of Olympus FL-600R flash units. I’m ready for just about anything the world can show me, but the most important change hasn’t been so much about the new gear itself, it’s been about how the new gear has allowed me to rekindle my love for photography. It makes me want to take it everywhere because its so easy to take a bunch of lenses and accessories wherever I go in a small camera bag without any fuss at all. It’s all I have wanted for years.

 

The next big challenge I will put my m43 gear through are the two group photo safaris we’re doing later this year. We’re heading back to Botswana again on the first safari, this time to the Chobe region where big game and birdlife are the primary subjects. I’ll be using the Olympus 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 for that one as well as hopefully the new 40-150/2.8 PRO if it is out by then. We’ll stay on a houseboat for 5 days and then also spend some time on land in Chobe before heading to Victoria Falls for some action and more water based adventure photography. That trip is in September and there is still one suite left for a couple sharing if there is interest amongst readers (full information here).

 

Then the following month we head to Sabi Sabi for our annual Ultimate Big 5 Safari, which is to be honest, the best introduction to Africa and it’s wildlife you could ever hope for. You get closer to the Big 5 than you’ll get anywhere else and the photo opportunities are ridiculous. It will certainly be a great test of the long lenses that are available for the E-M1.

Maybe we’ll see some of you there too?

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Guest Douglas Olsen

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Enjoyed your article a great deal. Just got back to the US from visiting several countries in Africa, carrying a Nikon kit (two bodies, several lenses, etc.) and an Oly EM-5 with the 12-50 kit lens and what may be their cheapest 40-150 zoom lens. I found myself doing the same thing you mention here. Used the Oly more, in general. I haven't quite talked myself into selling all my Nikon gear yet, though I am beginning to see hand-writing on the wall, so to speak.

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      Not much in it, dimension wise, is there? 
       
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      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
       
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      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.
       
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      One thing I really liked about the X is that there is a Custom Menu area where you can save up to 5 pages of menu items that you regularly need to access. Storing an item in there is as simple as pressing the Record video button while the item is selected in the menu. That’s a very big plus for me and goes a long way towards personalising the Olympus menu system.
       
       
      Stabilisation
       
      The IBIS and lens IS combine in the E-M1X to create an extraordinary amount of stabilisation. I was using the 300/4.0 PRO on this body almost exclusively for the duration of our 7 days in Sabi Sabi and occasionally I would shoot birds sitting on nearby branches. When I do my focus and recompose technique the subject does what I can only describe as a “moonwalk” glide from one part of the frame to the other. There is absolutely no camera shake at all handheld, which when you consider that you are using a 4.1˚ angle of view is bonkers! Olympus claim a 6 stop advantage in handheld photography and I have no doubt that this is true. Given my sloppy technique this is yet another Godsend to make my images look much better than they should.
       

       

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

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

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

      But then in good light you'll get rewarded.
       

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

       

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

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

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

      But then in good light you'll get rewarded.
       

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

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