When you first look at the Olympus E-M1X, you might scratch your head questioning who this camera is certainly for? Who would buy such a thing? It’s a big camera body with a relatively small, Four Thirds sensor. When you look at various other gripped, flagship-positioned cameras, such as the Nikon D5 or Canon 1DX Mark II, these are big, full-frame cameras. Though the E-M1X is indeed smaller and lighter than a D5 or 1DX II, it’s still the largest Micro Four Thirds camera released to time, with its large, dual-gripped design just like a full-frame flagship DSLR. And while having a pretty large body combined with a seemingly little sensor might feel like an odd combination, the E-M1X, much like its big DSLR competition, is very much a specialized tool designed for professional photographers. The gripped design and overall larger body are beneficial in many ways, such as more room for temperature dissipation, better ergonomics with heavier lenses, and improved operability in portrait shooting, to name just a few.
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Olympus OM-D E-M1X: Price
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And the E-M1X has a number of techniques up its sleeve, too, despite its seeming disadvantage of smaller sensor size. For one, the entire system is still inherently smaller thanks to the Micro Four Thirds system as a whole, as MFT lenses are very much smaller than full-body DSLR counterparts. Plus, the E-M1X packs a lot of horsepower and technological features under the hood that basically aren’t offered over in the flagship DSLR camp.
Yes, the smaller Four-Thirds system has some drawbacks in some areas, but the E-M1X has many unique advantages to offer for certain types of photographers that can’t really be found elsewhere in the market.
Olympus OM-D E-M1X: Design & Ergonomics
As mentioned, the E-M1X is a large camera by Micro Four Thirds specifications, with a dual-gripped shape and deep, full handgrips. While big, the large grips are properly contoured, making the camera very comfortable to hold, especially when using longer, heavier lenses like the 300mm f/4 Pro. Yet, despite the bigger body size, the Micro Four Thirds system allows for an altogether smaller program, with lighter, more compact lenses. So while the E-M1X is quite large in and of itself, this OM-D system remains compact and quite portable while also offering improved convenience, balance, and operability when using longer lenses.
Much like the E-M1 Mark II, the E-M1X also offers a plethora of customizable physical controls. There are some pleasing tweaks and improvements to the E-M1X’s controls, compared to the smaller E-M1 Mark II flagship, such as for example dedicated, pre-programmed ISO and direct exposure compensation buttons. The E-M1X also features larger, simpler to operate front and rear control dials as well as a joystick control for quicker AF point adjustments, among other things. Overall, the handles and layout are mostly similar to those of the E-M1 II, with some tweaks of the training course, but current E-M1 II owners thinking of adding an E-M1X to their bag will have no issues operating this camera.
One major aspect of the E-M1X’s burly build quality is its weather conditions sealing, which is normally top-notch. The E-M1 II already earned high marks for impressive weather sealing and toughness, but the E-M1X will take it up a level. Olympus literally blasts the E-M1X with jets of water from all angles in their checks, and the camera retains on ticking. Indeed, the E-M1X has an IPX1 waterproof rating. And though we haven’t yet subjected ourselves and the camera to that level of pounding rainout in the real world, the camera quickly withstood inclement weather and other dirty outdoor pursuits. One of the big strengths of the E-M1X is outdoor picture taking, particularly wildlife photography, so understanding that your camera can keep functioning in extremely harsh conditions is a critical feature.
Olympus OM-D E-M1X: Image Quality
Image quality is a bit interesting for this 2019 flagship camera. Despite the E-M1X being an all-new camera, its imaging pipeline is more or less the same as the earlier E-M1 Mark II. It uses the same 20-megapixel sensor and the same image processor (albeit with two of them this time). So, as the image quality is amazing for a Micro Four Thirds camera, there aren’t any changes or improvements to overall picture quality from the E-M1X when compared to E-M1 Mark II. Olympus has tweaked image processing to some degree, with enhancements to high ISO image quality, but we didn’t observe significant distinctions compared to the E-M1 II after upgrading the latter to v3.0 firmware.
In general, the picture quality form the E-M1X is impressive, especially at lower ISOs. It provides nice, fine detail resolution thanks to the lack of a low-pass filter, and accurate if slightly muted color rendition. Like other Micro Four Thirds cameras, the high ISO image quality lags behind that of some APS-C digital cameras and especially full-frame cameras. Given the higher price of this flagship camera, the high ISO drawback is perhaps more critical, seeing as there are numerous of full-frame cameras available at similar price points.
However, as mentioned earlier, the E-M1X offers image capture features found in no other camera, such as the 20fps Pro Capture mode in addition to a handy fresh Live ND mode that simulates using a neutral density filter. Among the big brand-new features is Handheld Large Res Shot mode. In addition to the standard 8-shot tripod-based Great Res Shot mode (shared with the E-M1 II and some others), the E-M1X includes a more powerful, more sensitive picture stabilization system, allowing for a new 16-shot Handheld High Res setting that captures 50-megapixel images (RAW and/or JPEGs). The image quality from these high res pictures can be excellent, and the ability to use it handheld is a nice boost to the mode’s versatility. However, the overall usefulness of Large Res mode continues to be fairly limited, as any kind of subject movement can cause picture compositing artifacts. And with the handheld mode, too much camera movement will cause the high res compositing to fail.
Olympus OM-D E-M1X: Performance
With image quality remaining very similar to the (updated) E-M1 II, the name of the game with the Olympus E-M1X is efficiency, with the biggest area of improvements and new features centering around autofocus and, particularly, AF tracking. The second TruePic VIII processor is primarily right now there for additional AF processing horsepower and performance improvements. For starters, the AF system all together receives an overhaul with updated AF algorithms. In our tests, AF speeds were incredibly fast, both in the field and in the lab.
One of the headlining features of the E-M1X is usually its fresh Deep Learning-based subject reputation and tracking program called Intelligent Subject Detection AF, which lets you tell the camera to immediately recognize and continuously track airplanes, trains, and automobiles (motorsports). Technologically, this is a really cool feature and one that works very well. However, if you’re a sports photographer, a wildlife professional photographer, or anyone who doesn’t shoot those three particular subject types, this feature becomes of little use to you. At this time, the three subject-recognition modes are hard-coded into the firmware, but we’d love to see future software updates that allow for additional subject matter types like people or animals.
Outside of its fancy brand-new A.I actually.-based AF mode, the E-M1X’s standard continuous AF performance is also top-notch, offering extremely accurate and responsive monitoring performance. The experience overall is very similar compared to that of the E-M1 Mark II. The camera does offer additional, customizable AF stage configurations for more subject tracking flexibility, and a fresh Eye Priority option for its Face & Eye Detection system that enables you to pick which eye to focus on.
Similar to the imaging pipeline, the continuous shooting rates of the E-M1X are identical to those on the E-M1 Mark II: up to 15fps with the mechanical shutter (No C-AF) and 10fps with C-AF, or 60fps with electronic shutter (No C-AF) and 18fps with C-AF. It’s interesting that regardless of the elevated processing potential of the E-M1X, complete with a second quad-core image processor chip, the E-M1X doesn’t offer faster burst prices. However, does anyone really need faster burst rates? For most subjects, 10fps or 18fps with C-AF is plenty fast, so we don’t really see much to complain about in that regard. With 18fps, the E-M1X is right up there amongst the top-tier sports and wildlife digital cameras of the modern world. To go along with its fast burst speeds, the E-M1X provides impressive buffer performance, testing similar to the E-M1 II. And because of the dual TruePic VIII processors, the E-M1X today has dual UHS-II SD card slots (the E-M1 II only had a single UHS-II slot), and buffer clearing instances are also much faster when shooting Natural+JPEG files even with a single card.
Olympus OM-D E-M1X: Conclusion
So, how to summarize the Olympus E-M1X? In a sense, it’s a bigger, burlier, slightly more specialized version of the E-M1 Mark II. It’s a secondary flagship OM-D body created for the sports, action and wildlife photographers who use much longer lenses and want/need the improved ergonomics of a gripped camera, and also the more substantial weather sealing. For additional subjects, the E-M1X performs, pretty much, just like the E-M1 Mark II, given its very similar image quality functionality and constant shooting speeds. Granted, with the more powerful picture stabilization, the addition of handheld Great Res Mode and the new Live ND feature, the E-M1X possesses a few more tricks for the non-action photographer when compared to smaller E-M1 II.
Overall, the E-M1X a very amazing camera that works extremely well, in virtually any environment. For many, however, it’s hard to appear past the $3,000 price tag coupled with its rather small Four Thirds sensor, specifically given that there are competing cameras at comparable prices with much larger sensors (and thus arguably better image quality). But, very much like other flagship digital cameras, several top-tier cameras are even more specialized for several use-cases and subject matter, and the E-M1X is definitely no exception. For some professionals, the primary focus is on sheer image quality, in which case a full-frame camera is perhaps the better choice. For others, it might be a low-light performance. The Olympus E-M1X, rather, fits into a unique niche that really isn’t prioritized by various other camera platforms thanks to the inherent style feature of the Micro 4 Thirds system: portability. If you’re an adventure photographer, travel photographer or even a sports shooter who carries multiple bodies, the small and lightweight system offered by the Micro Four Thirds platform can be a very enticing quality.