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Touching Base with the Olympus Stylus 1


Dallas

As photographers we obsess about the gear we use to get the images we want, quite often going overboard in “gearing up” for photo opportunities by taking numerous lenses and other accessories with us on simple excursions where photography might not be the primary reason for the outing. All this really does is slow us down. While we’re busy thinking about what lens or body to use the brightly coloured bird flies off the branch, or the kids arrange themselves in a Cartier-Bresson like decisive moment that’ll never be seen again. I’m just as guilty of this behaviour as any other photographer is.

What I’ve been looking for forever is a small, “Swiss Army Knife” like camera with a great lens and features that I can actually use and that won't leave me feeling like I have compromised too much photographically by bringing it with me. I’ve tried a few “bridge” cameras in the past but many of them frustrated me with complicated interfaces, poor imaging ability or just stupid design elements that invariably got in the way of enjoying the process of photography. Things like slow start-ups, massive size, weird button positions, lacklustre lens performance, shutter lag, not enough zoom range and so on can really put a damper on photography. Some cameras hit some of the bases, but miss many others that we as passionate photographers really want. The quest has been to try and find a camera that hits as many of the bases as possible.

When it was first announced I immediately grew excited about the Olympus Stylus 1 as a possible solution to this need of mine for a great compact camera, but I wasn’t sure if the quality of the images would be quite up to the level I’d want. Then I saw Robin Wong’s review and I was like, “OK, this is the real deal. This is a camera I should be giving serious consideration to.”

Olympus SA managed to get one in my hands (a pre-production model) just before we went off to our Wild Waterways Safari this September. I had originally purchased an Olympus PEN E-PM2 with a 14-42mm kit lens to use as my point & shoot for this trip, so I took it with too, but it barely got out of the bag as I fell head over heels for this little Olympus Stylus 1.

You can click on these images to view an enlarged version.

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What Is It?

Some might describe the Stylus 1 as a “bridge camera”, but because that term is often used to refer to cameras that don’t quite cut the mustard in terms of their image quality or feature set, it seems a little unfair to use it on the Stylus 1.

What we have here is a fixed zoom lens camera that offers the same range as a 28-300mm f/2.8 35mm system camera. I don’t know of any other camera that gives you that kind of bright, constant aperture zoom range. The Stylus 1 has a feature set that is as fully fleshed out as most mid-ranged DSLR cameras, including wifi, a tilting touch screen, brilliant EVF, wireless flash compatibility, 3x ND filter, 1080p HD video and many other features. In fact, there’s very little you won’t be able to accomplish photographically with the Stylus 1, so I’m hesitant to call it a bridge camera. I think a new term is needed for this kind of camera.

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The 35mm equivalent of 300mm f/2.8 let's you get close enough to subjects without putting yourself in their faces

Who Would Buy One?

The current asking price is $699 which might be frowned upon since you can pick up a plastic DSLR with a couple of kit zoom lenses for less than that. In fact, even some of Olympus’ own PEN series of micro four thirds cameras with bigger sensors can be had for less money (the PEN E-PL5 with 14-42mm lens is only $599), so what’s the attraction here?

It’s the lens. This camera sports an amazing, fast, constant f/2.8 i.Zuiko zoom lens. It’s not the kind of lens you will find on any other bridge camera or mirrorless system camera. If the likes of Nikon or Canon were to build a lens like this for their DSLR’s it would be immense in size and not very practical. And it’s that zoom lens practicality combined with an excellent feature set that makes this camera very attractive. It hits many of the bases photography enthusiasts need to hit. I would certainly buy one.

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By positioning the subject in front of a distant background you can get a lovely blurred effect in spite of the small sensor

How Does It Feel In Hand?

I was quite surprised at how small it is, in spite of its DSLR-like appearance. It certainly looks like a business camera and it borrows many DNA cues from its bigger OM-D cousins. You get the same tilting touch screen at the back, plus the EVF is the same big and bright one found in the OM-D E-M5. Its menu system is the same as the m43 Olympus cameras, so if you’ve ever used those you’ll be right at home figuring out how to set it up, although if you’re more used to something like the Nikon menus you might find the Olympus approach very confusing at first.

There is a protruding grip on the right side of the body that my middle finger naturally curls around and around the back a similarly protruding thumb rest gives me a confident purchase on the body. It doesn’t feel like it will easily slip out of my grip.

The buttons are small, but they offer a better tactility than what you’ll find on the E-M5 (who’s buttons feel somewhat “spongey” in comparison). The mode dial and command dial also feel good and click positively when moved.

The one thing I don’t like is that it comes with a neck strap. I put it on the camera but took it off and replaced it with a long wrist strap instead. It handles much better that way.

An interesting departure from the typical modern camera design is that instead of there being a sub-command dial on the front of the camera there is a dial around the fixed lens which does different things depending on how you have set it up. So if you’re from the era where aperture rings had to be turned to select a setting you’ll feel right at home doing that with the Stylus 1.

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Getting It Set Up The Way You Want

The one thing Olympus users are never short on are ways to customise their cameras and the Stylus 1 doesn’t disappoint in this regard. As with the OM-D cameras most Stylus 1 buttons are customisable, albeit a little differently than the OM-D. For instance, while there are 2 Fn buttons on the camera, only the Fn1 and Rec buttons can accept a dedicated single function. The Fn2 button on the front bottom of the camera can be pressed repeatedly to toggle through whichever functions you have assigned to it in the menu. That’s quite different to the OM-D approach and it took me a while to figure it out (I’m not one of those RTFM guys as you’ve probably already figured).

The other thing that threw me off on more than one occasion was that there is a lever connected to the Fn2 button. When this lever is moved to it’s other position the function of the ring around the lens changes, depending on how you have assigned it. You can get it to zoom the lens or activate the manual focus assist when you’re in MF mode. The camera I got for review had been set to activate the zoom so when I accidentally shifted this lever, I found myself zooming instead of changing apertures, which was quite perplexing, especially when I found myself trying to open aperture to f/2.8 in fading light while looking at an enormous African elephant on the banks of the Chobe river! I thought that the camera might be broken. I can’t recall how I figured it out, but it was a relief when I did.

Speaking of zooming the lens, there are three ways to do this. There’s the typical T - W shifter around the shutter button, the lens ring method I mentioned above, plus there is also another T - W shifter button on the side of the lens. The latter does a much slower zoom, so is more suited for video purposes.

I almost exclusively shoot in Aperture priority mode, so that's where I begin with setting up any camera. I want to be able to quickly change the aperture and also find the exposure compensation easily, so on the Stylus 1 I had the lens ring set for aperture and the command dial set for compensation. I am also a fan of the Olympus Super Control Panel, so I have that switched on in A mode too. It makes getting to all the important settings very easy.

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Stealth Mode

Something that bugs me with many compact cameras is the use of the pseudo shutter noise. The Stylus has this too, so the first thing I did was turn it off. I discovered that without it on the camera is practically silent. There’s a barely audible click when taking a shot, so for use in places where you need to be quiet the Stylus 1 is even more silent than a Leica rangefinder.

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Speed

Unlike the compact and bridge cameras of old, the Stylus 1 is very responsive. Turning it on is quick, about a second for the lens to emerge and become ready to shoot. Shutter lag is negligible, so for fast moving subjects you’re all set. You will also get 7 frames per second, which is better than some DSLR’s pitched at professionals these days. On the downside the maximum shutter speed is only 1/2000s, but if things get too bright for that you can engage the built-in 3x ND filter.

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Cool Features

The Stylus 1 actually has a lot in common with the E-M5, but it also has a few of its own tricks up its sleeve. A couple of features of this camera that appeal to me are that it has a built-in 3x ND filter, plus there is this really funky virtual horizon feature graphic that shows an elliptical disk inside a circle during live view. When the disk is visible you know that the camera isn’t level, so as you change camera position you get immediate feedback on how straight you have the camera from the accelerometer. I much prefer this method of finding the levels than the standard one that shows the vertical and horizontal gauges.

The touch screen is the same as that found on the OM-D cameras. It tilts up and down and you can set it to trigger a shot when touched or simply set the AF point. I can’t imagine using a camera without this feature these days.

The Stylus 1 also has the same wireless flash capabilities as the OM-D cameras, except that instead of having to attach the clip on flash you get with an OM-D and PEN camera, it has a pop-up flash that serves the same function. Those readers familiar with the Nikon CLS system will find the Olympus wireless flash system does pretty much the same thing, letting you control up to three groups of remote flashes from the camera.

The zoom lens has a neat cover that opens four spring leafs when the camera is turned on. On our Wild Waterways safari our guests were enamoured with this novel way of keeping the zoom lens protected. The cover screws off easily and it’s possible to use an optical 1.7x teleconverter to increase the zoom range by 70% without losing the bright f/2.8 constant aperture. I didn’t get one with the review camera so I can’t comment on how good it is optically.

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The Part That Matters Most - Image Quality

Resolution

Because it has a smaller sensor than the micro four thirds cameras, Olympus didn’t cram it chock-full of pixels. They stopped at 12 million of them. For some people who prefer to have more pixels this might be somewhat disappointing, but for me it’s fine. I’m not into pixel peeping or printing large, so this is a good enough resolution for me.

Sharpness

The images I took on the safari were all very sharp, even when fully zoomed in. I hardly ever stopped the aperture down beyond f/2.8 to try and shorten the depth of field, but shooting at f/4 did sharpen things up a little bit more. The lens only stops down to f/8.

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Lens Flare

Pointing this camera into the setting sun in Botswana definitely showed up some red flare spots, so I had to play around with my angles a little to try and minimise the effect. I got some good shots from it.

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Above shot shows the flare spot, which I managed to alleviate below by adjusting the camera angle and a little post processing.

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High ISO

If you’re shooting in RAW and processing the ORF files with Adobe’s ACR/Lightroom engine you’re going to pick up noise even at a lower ISO, but its not an unpleasant noise. More like grain, which on Olympus cameras looks decidedly like film like. I was floating my auto-ISO between 100-3200, but in hindsight I think that 800 is probably a better upper limit. Beyond that you’re losing detail and dynamic range that might be acceptable to some, but not for me.

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ISO 3200 is usable, but it isn't quite up to the same levels as you'll get on the PEN and OM-D models

Conclusion

The Olympus Stylus 1 is a camera that I like very much. I like the thinking behind it, which in Olympus’ own marketing terms goes like this: DSLR sophistication, compact convenience. That pretty much sums it up. You’re getting a well built, very capable camera that provides excellent IQ from its awesome lens, but is a no-fuss compact. I found myself using it a lot on our safari and I am very happy with the images it produced.

If I could improve anything about it for another iteration it would be for Olympus to re-design the EVF to be a little more discrete in its appearance. With the DSLR-like prism hump you lose the ability to slip it in a shirt pocket easily. The Panasonic GX-7 tilting EVF design is a lot more practical for compactness, so if Olympus were to make a Stylus in a rangefinder type design it would most definitely be something I’d want to carry around everywhere. In its current form factor the Stylus 1 still needs a bag that is a bit bigger than the sort you’ll use with a true compact form like the Sony RX-100 for example. Whether the compact market will live long enough to see something like the Stylus 1 being re-designed remains to be seen, especially in light of Panasonic’s recently announced CM1 smartphone.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for a great little camera that hits more bases than it misses, you won’t be disappointed with the Stylus 1. It will be very hard for me to send this little fella back to Olympus.

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Yours truly at the Victoria Falls (image taken courtesy of Pepe Jones)

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Dallas,

 

How "manual zoom like" is the control ring method of zooming in and out?

 

I hate the powered zoom methods of zooming as they tend to be not as precise for me and either under or over shoot the desired length.   I much prefer the manual method, even if it is fly-by-wire like the Olympus m43 lenses.  The powered zoom lens is also what turned me off the LX100 as well.

 

Otherwise, pretty solid review.  The other killer for me in these fixed lens zoom cameras is the high ISO performance.  I think my limit is what I am getting with my EM5.  Happy to use it up to ISO 2500 for color shots and 6400 for B&W conversions.   ISO 800 would not satisfy my needs.

 

I do see where this and the LX100 would appeal to many, especially if they do not tend to get assignments or environments that require a significant amount of non-flash low light shooting.

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Andrew, I would avoid using that lens ring to zoom. It is very choppy, whereas the other two zooming options are much smoother. 

 

It would be amazing if Olympus could match the ISO sensor performance of the E-M5 in a camera like this, but that would require a much bigger lens, which would make it not so compact anymore. 

 

Something I forgot to include in the review is that it has a "Super macro" mode that you activate by changing the AF mode in the SCP. Once you have it activated you lose the zoom feature, but you can get pretty close to your subject. 

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Dallas, thanks for an enthusiastic review. It seems that the Olympus Stylus 1 should be a pleasure to use.

IMHO anyone considering the Olympus Stylus 1 should first give a long, hard look at the Sony RX10 and Panasonic DMC-FZ1000 (or the DMC-LX100 as already mentioned, if reach is less important than size).

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That was a good read Dallas.

Seems like a fine little camera, not sure how the images would look 

when view much larger but as you said for the sort of results you wanted

on this occasion the camera seems to have performed pretty darn well.

 

The lens seems to give great clarity and detail and it's the sort of camera

one could literally take anywhere.

I reckon it's going to be a very popular camera and it certainly has portability

and practicality on it's side.

 

cheers

Tony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

       

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

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

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

      But then in good light you'll get rewarded.
       

      Gorgeous colours from the Olympus. No adjustments in post.
       
       
      Cool Things I Liked
       
      The sound of the mechanical shutter is really soft. It’s a lot quieter than my old E-M1 and if you are in the business of shooting in quiet places (churches, meetings, etc) you may not even have to switch to electronic shutter and risk the rolling effects thereof. It’s nice and quiet.
       
      I really appreciated the built in GPS and weather sensor on the E-M1X. This camera will tell you what the barometric pressure, altitude and ambient temperature was on every shot you take. I wish Lightroom would pick up those EXIF fields, alas you have to use the Olympus Workspace software to read them.
       
       
      A Couple Of Nit Picks
       
      There are a couple of things that I didn’t like, most notably there is no loop for a grip strap in the base of the camera so you would have to put a plate onto there to accommodate one (I used the Peak Design Clutch with its little plate). That seems like a daft omission to me because the moment you have to put a plate on the grip you lose the comfort of shooting with it in portrait mode.
       
      I was also a bit disappointed with the EVF. The refresh rate and colour was all good, but it just seemed to lack a bit of bite. The EVF on my old original E-M1 seems sharper to my eyes, which is a little weird. I did try adjusting the diopter a few times, but it didn’t seem to improve things. It could have been a contrast setting in the menus that I missed?
       
      The one thing I really don’t like (and I have expressed my dislike of this before) is the flip out LCD screen. This is something video producers want, but as a stills photographer I truly don’t want this as it’s a very weak point of the camera just waiting to snap off in the right circumstances. I much prefer the tilting screen of the original OM-D’s. Olympus should make it an option for this kind of premium camera: which type of LCD screen would you prefer, Mr. Customer?
       
       
      Conclusion
       
      I wish that I could have kept the camera for just a little bit longer as there are many other areas I would have liked to explore its performance in, especially my daily bread and butter work of property and product photography. Alas, they are in short supply around here so it had to go back post haste.
       
      My overall impression is that it is quite an impressive machine. It offers the photographer a lot of very cool features, excellent customisability and ergonomics. It is a specialist camera, however, and as such I think that the intended market for it is going to be a hard nut for Olympus to crack, especially given its lack of high ISO performance, which is something the sports photographers demand.
       
      If you’re a day shooter or you shoot action in well lit arenas then the advances this machine brings in terms of auto-focus and customisability, plus the sheer plethora of outstanding MFT lenses available for the system makes it a very attractive option, especially for those who travel a lot for photography. You get the ruggedness, heft and weather proofing of a pro body and the lightness and compactness of much smaller lenses.
       
      For me personally I would love one, after all I got more keepers on this most recent safari than in all the 10 years of safaris preceding it, but… there is the matter of that not-so-insignificant $3000 price tag to consider. With the recent firmware upgrade to the E-M1 Mk II now bringing its feature set closer to that of the X, it is going to be much harder for Olympus to pitch this camera at the wider market and existing MFT users with that price tag. If it were closer to $2000 I might be a lot more interested in buying one.
       
      My final advice? If you want the very best camera that MFT can currently offer you for stability, video features, ruggedness, crazy feature set and customisability, get the E-M1X. If you are expecting par performance with a 35mm pro camera for low light, rather save $1500, wait for the sensor technology to improve and get the E-M1 Mk II for now.
    • By Dallas
      I just got word that Olympus has updated the firmware in the E-M1 Mk II and this sees it now getting a lot more of the features that the E-M1X has, including improved AF, expanded ISO range (down to ISO 64) as well as some other stuff that I didn't even know these cameras could do. Here's Robin Wong to run through some of the details.  
       
       
       
    • By Dallas
      Note: This thread will contain a series of entries about the Fotozones Wildlife Safari 2019, including images, impressions of the gear I used and anecdotes about the safari itself. I wrote some of it while on safari, but had to stop as my laptop just wasn't up to the task of proper editing, so I am now doing the editing at home and will add my favourite shots as I go. Please feel free to ask questions about the trip and the gear in this thread. 
       
      I've been in Johannesburg the past two days welcoming our 2019 Safarians, including @GrahamWelland, @CarreraS and @rbeesonjr. Yesterday we rented a minivan and drove about 90 minutes away from the airport hotel to the Kevin Richardson Wildlife Sanctuary. This is the home of "The Lion Whisperer" (Kevin) who campaigns tirelessly against the practise of captive lion breeding and canned lion hunting. There's a lot behind the story of how he came to have all these lions in his care, as well as 4 black leopards and a small group of spotted and striped hyenas, but I won't get into that right now. 
       
      I took along the Olympus E-M1X and 12-100/4 as well as the Olympus 300/4. So far, what I am seeing I am liking. A lot. That 300mm lens is just phenomenal. So much reach and so sharp, yet in such a small package. If you're a birder using MFT or you need a lens for distant wildlife as well as some sports, this is for you. The image below was shot from behind a chainlink fence. 
       

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

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