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Working With Olympus FL-600R Flashes


Dallas

Working With Olympus FL-600R Flashes

I’ve had two of these small, but fully functional FL-600R flashes pretty much since I started shooting with Olympus full time and have done a fair amount of work with them, including small product photography and portraiture as well as some event coverage. To follow is a basic overview of how the flashes work and also how I use them.

FL-600R Features

After previously using a couple of Nikon SB-800 and SB-900 speedlights, getting these little things was quite a shock. They are minute compared to standard speedlights from Nikon and Canon. One of them is probably about half (or less) the size of an SB-900. However, in spite of their diminutive size, they offer much the same functionality of the Nikon CLS system.

The heads zoom according to the focal length of the lens you are using, they tilt and swivel too, allowing for bounce flash, plus there is also a wide angle diffraction panel built in along with a very small white bounce card (too small to be meaningful).

On the back of the unit is an LCD panel showing the various settings. This also has a backlight, but it needs to be activated manually - it doesn’t turn on when the flash is activated by the camera, which I think is something they should fix in firmware. There is a rotating selector wheel with directional key pad built in.

The units come in a nice nylon case and included is a plastic stand for remote use. Missing is a clip on diffuser. I’m not sure if you can buy one to fit these small units. Maybe somebody in China is making them?

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The one feature that this flash has which I haven’t encountered on any other portable unit is a built in LED for video. It can be set up to shine at various strengths from 1/1 down to 1/16 of its power. I can tell you that if you have this thing set to shine at 1/1 you are going to blind people. It’s very bright!

The flash has several modes you can set it to:

A mode - auto mode operates much the same as it does on any other portable flash unit. The sensor in the front of the unit reads how much light is being reflected back to it from the subject and when it thinks it has pushed out enough power it cuts itself off. It works pretty well with the OM-D cameras and provided you have it properly set up on your Super Control Panel (as fill-in flash, not Auto) you should get a decent exposure for snapshot type photos.

M mode - the FL-600R has full manual mode which is good news for any strobist. You can adjust the power from 1/1 all the way down to 1/128.

FP-TTL A mode - like most advanced flash units this one has the FP mode, which lets you sync flash up to the maximum shutter speed of the camera (1/8000s in the case of the OM-D range). This mode also passes full control of flash output to the camera, hence the TTL.

TTL - A mode - as per above, except that you are now limiting the flash to the max sync speed of the OM-D.

FP - M mode - full manual control but with the ability to sync at any shutter speed.

RC mode - remote control mode lets you set up the flash so that it is completely controlled by the camera when it is standing free. This is the equivalent of Nikon’s CLS mode where you can have several flashes working in three different groups. I’ll go into more detail on this later in the article.

SL - A mode - this is the slave mode combined with A mode (mentioned above). Not to be confused with RC mode, slave mode is where the unit waits to receive an optical trigger from any other flash unit and then pumps out light based on what it gets back from the sensor in the front of the unit.

SL- M mode - this is your quintessential “strobist” mode where the flash uses its built int optical slave and lets the photographer decide how much power it should dump out with each burst. Nikon users will know this as SU-4 mode on their speedlights.

Flash compensation is possible either from the camera or manually from the flash unit. This has a pretty wide range going from -5.0 all the way up to +5.0 stops.

The zoom can be set to change automatically or manually from 12mm up to 42mm.

The LED light can be set up to come on automatically to assist with auto focus acquisition in low light, or you can toggle it on or off manually. It’s also possible to set the strength of the light in the custom functions of the FL-600R.

Just on the LED settings; it can be very confusing to set this up to operate as an AF assist light because you have to co-ordinate settings on both the speedlight and the camera. Buried deep in the Olympus menu labyrinth is a setting for AF Illuminat. You have to set this to on. Then you have to go into the FL-600R’s custom settings by holding down the OK button for 2 seconds, find the setting that reads ILL and make sure that says A. Then, once you have done those two things you need to adjust the LED settings on the back panel of the flash to the A setting too. Only then will it automatically shine the LED to assist with auto focus.

And before you do this you really need to make sure that you have turned the power of the LED down to a reasonable level otherwise your subjects are going to be squinting horribly at you. Trust me on this - it’s not pretty! It’s a better idea to use the orange AF assist light of the OM-D than this thing, although that may also frustrate you as it can be distracting. I suppose once you are used to changing these settings in their respective places it isn’t as complicated as it sounds, but I have switched this “feature” off and set the flash to manually turn the LED light on or off. I find that at a lower power setting this is far less distracting to a subject and also provides enough illumination when you’re in a dark room. The downside is that when you turn it on what you’re doing suddenly becomes the centre of attention, just like shining a spotlight on a stage.

Working With On Camera Flash

The FL-600R compliments the OM-D cameras quite nicely. It’s well balanced and once you have decided which mode you want to use, you can get good results on a consistent basis. It’s getting to the comfort level of operation that takes a bit of getting used to. As with anything, practise makes perfect.

Regular readers will know that I was a huge fan of Nikon’s iTTL metering with SB speedlights. Put one of the SB units onto any Nikon camera, stick it in iTTL and your results are going to be spot on, 99% of the time, which takes the stress out of using on-camera flash completely. While the Olympus FL-600R also offers through the lens (TTL-A) metering the results are nowhere near as consistently good as Nikon’s. I find that the exposures in TTL A mode are usually under exposed by at least a stop and they also don’t respond well to bounced flash. I get widely varying results in this mode.

If I am shooting events I opt for M mode and using a bounce card attached to the flash I shoot in full manual mode, using a shutter speed and ISO rating that will allow ambient light to bleed in at a wide(ish) aperture. I’ll set the flash to a power setting that feels right and then I will adjust aperture until I am happy with the balance between subject and the ambient. It’s a little more primitive than using TTL mode, but once you get the hang of it you will feel a lot more like a real photographer. If I’m in a rush and I don’t have time to do any tests I will most likely use A mode with a bounce card and this works fairly well too.

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Above is an example of using manual flash settings in manual mode on the camera. Below is an example of using A mode where shutter speed was slowed and ISO boosted to allow more ambient in. Click to enlarge.

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Working With Off Camera Flash

RC Mode

Using the FL-600R off camera is where the home strobist will begin to enjoy the flexibility of these little flashes. As with the Nikon CLS system it is possible to set up an unlimited number of flash units that can be controlled from the camera in three groups, A, B & C on a common channel. From the camera you can use the little clip on flashes that come with the OM-D (or the pop-up in the case of E-M10 and certain PEN models) to act as the commander for the FL-600R. Or you can use another FL-600R as a commander.

Each group can be set to fire in any of the TTL, Auto, Manual or FP modes (TTL and M), so you can have a mix of these modes in different groups. For example, if I have a couple of the FL-600R’s on a white background I can set those to be in group A and have them firing in manual mode to keep the power on the background constant. Then I could have another FL-600R set to Auto or TTL mode on my subject in group B or C. The advantage of this is that I can control all the flashes from the Super Control Panel on the OM-D as well as adjust power settings for each group. It’s very cool. The image below is an example of the outcome of such a set up but using only one FL-600R for the background and another for the subject. Click to enlarge.

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From a practical stance this setup works quite well indoors in a smallish studio, but in larger environs or outdoors you may battle to get the remote flashes to see the commander pulses as the sensor is in the front of the unit. A workaround is to swivel the heads all the way around so that the sensor is facing the commander. This works fine in TTL and manual modes but will confuse the A mode as the flash will not be getting the proper bounce back from the subject that it uses to determine when to stop sending out power.

Before I invested in a couple of sets of studio strobes I used the two little FL-600R units to produce my usual run-off-the-mill 2 light small product photography setup. If I want to do a very quick basic setup I still use the Olympus flashes in a small light tent cube I have and I am quite happy with the results using manual mode in remote control. It saves me having to set up the big lights with all the stands and softboxes, etc.

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Above we see a single FL-600R used to illuminate the edge of the knife. Below a second FL-600R is added to produce the main key light. Click to enlarge.

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Slave Mode

Slave mode is different to the RC mode in that you are effectively turning the FL-600R into a dumb unit that fires only in A or M modes and is triggered whenever it sees another flash. This means it can be used in conjunction with any other kind of flash units that are firing simultaneously. Strobist stuff. I sometimes use them on clamps with spigots for setups where I might need another light attached to a part of the set that doesn’t allow for a light stand to be set up. They work well like this.

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Above shot shows how I sometimes use an FL-600R to light a white background (or other things) for product photos.

Product Observations

The problems that present themselves with small flashes come down to power. These units are fine for general snapshot type, on-camera photography, but if you are looking to light up an entire room with a single flash you’re going to have to push your ISO up or invest in a fair number of these units to make it all work. Price might be an issue with that idea as these sell for $300 each. Sure, while these units are a bit cheaper than the Nikon and Canon flashes that offer the same degree of flexibility, they are more expensive than equally capable Chinese brand flashes such as the Yongnuo’s. Granted those units will only work in manual mode and don’t offer the RC mode but therein lies most of the fun in strobism - manual mode.

The only thing that these FL-600R units don’t offer is a sync port, so attaching radio triggers that only offer cable connectivity to remote units for outdoor use means you will have to invest in a hot-shoe adapter that has a sync port built in.

Recycle time is pretty good. I use the GP Recycko AA cells in mine and unless I have forgotten to charge them up before a shoot, I get good recycle times. If you have an older Olympus E-series camera you will be happy to learn that this flash is fully compatible with those cameras too. I used it on both the E-3 and E-30 when I had them.

Improvements I would like to see are a simpler interface with the camera and also easier controls to use on the flash itself. The custom settings don’t make a lot of sense unless you have them memorised. Olympus could also provide a much better user manual for such a complex device. Another thing that could be improved is to provide some kind of audible sound to show that the light has recycled when it is off camera. In remote mode the LED blinks when the flash is ready to fire, but this can be distracting so I would prefer to have a beep (that can also be turned off when it isn’t wanted).

As mentioned at the start of this article, the FL-600R compliments the OM-D range quite nicely and gives you a lot of flexibility to get creative with bounce flash and also off-camera flash. They are very small and light so they don’t take up a lot of space in a camera bag either. If you have an OM-D and are looking for something better than the clip on flash (or pop-up in the case of the E-M10) this FL-600R should suit your needs very well. It may take a little getting used to, but once you have the hang of it you wil be able to use it quite creatively. All in all these units show that the Olympus micro four thirds system is very well fleshed out and mature. There is little you can't accomplish with it.

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Dallas, I got back into shooting events about a year or so ago.  I own two Olympus E-M5 bodies and I purchased three of the FL-600R flashes.  I found them to inadequate for my needs.  The main problems I had with them was lack of decent power and triggering the flashes remotely.  If I was close enough, the flashes would trigger from a main flash mounted on the camera.  But once I got more than 15-20 feet away, it was completely hit and miss with the RC.  

 

For close up work and for shooting in confined spaces, the flashes were fine, as your examples show, but after shooting two events with them, I sold all of them and moved in a different direction.  I used several different settings with the flashes and cameras but could never get consistent results with them.  Granted, I was shooting large halls and events so my needs were a bit different than most maybe, but I moved to a different system that has no TTL or anything like that, a completely manual flash system that works extremely well for my needs.  The Olympus flashes are a nice little system but they just did not work for what I was trying to shoot.

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Hey Rick, yes I wouldn't attempt to use these little guys to try and illuminate big areas. I'm curious though, how would you be setting up remote flashes at events? Normally I would only have a single onboard flash and I use a bounce card that attaches to the flash (as per samples above). 

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 In the old days I  would lug around a portable studio lighting kit, such as a Novatron system and run lights in different areas to light the scene properly, etc.  All that involved cords, battery packs, super long sync cords for the camera and so on.  Now, with the advent of radio poppers like Pocket Wizards and the availability of very small but powerful flashes, this is much easier than it used to be.  Plus, with digital cameras, you can see the results right away.  I use three flashes, one mounted on the camera with a  bounce card that is the main light and the other two flashes are placed at strategic locations to light the scene properly.

 

The main flash triggers the other flashes with a set of Phottix radio poppers.  The flashes are completely manual and are made by LumoPro.  The system has been extremely reliable and I get consistent results once I get it set up and run a few test shots.  I can fire the remote flashes at up to 100 feet away, possibly more.  The LumoPro system is powerful, but it is completely manual, and they are big- at least as big as my old Nikon SB-800 flashes, maybe bigger.

 

That was the real advantage of the Olympus flash- it was very small and lightweight and works great in smaller areas.  I was simply asking the system to do more that it was capable of.  That was my mistake as I really enjoyed using the Olympus flash but it just did not fit with what I was having to shoot most of the time.  I got very accurate exposures with the Olympus system and it was much quicker to set up and get great shots right out of the gate than the flash system I am using now, but it was simply not powerful enough for my needs and the RC was inadequate for what I was trying to do.  That is not the fault of the Olympus system, that was my fault for trying to push it beyond it's capabilities. 

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That sounds like a lot of work, Rick. 99.9% of the time the photos I do of people at events are purely for company internal use and there is no way I would be able to worry about the rest of the scene because I am moving around all the time. As you can see from the group shot above, I let the ISO climb up a bit and also slow down the shutter to get the ambient to bleed in a bit so that the scene doesn't look totally flash lit. Every venue has its own challenges though. 

 

What I do want to start doing is using a bit of Zack Arias' off camera flash technique where he holds the flash above his head with a small softbox. If you have seen any of his video series he uses that quite a bit. 

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      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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