About a week before Christmas, I got the best gift I could have hoped for. Olympus sent me a pre-production Olympus OM-D E-M1X and I was pretty psyched. For more than two years I have exclusively used the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II camera and I have loved it. But on the Internet, a two-year-old camera doesn’t get much love. The forums want to see the NEXT best thing. Well, here it is. The “X” is a new camera, designed by Olympus – for professionals. It significantly raises the bar on Micro Four Thirds performance.
Everything I write here is based on the pre-production model. As this publishes, I am getting the latest firmware. As impressive as the camera may be, I can only assume it will get even better with the final version of the firmware.
I want to warn you that is a long article and it’s mostly just a list of the new features that I personally have tested or interacted with and my first glance, impressions thereof. I’ll put together another review based on usability, image quality, etc., after I get a month or so with the latest version of the firmware in the “X” camera.
If you don’t have time to read this whole post – the info immediately below gives you the main selling points of the “X.”
- Integrated Vertical Grip
- Precise Autofocus system with AF Multi-Selector, All-Cross-Type On-Chip Phase Detection AF Sensor, and Intelligent Subject Detection AF
- 18 FPS w/ Tracking AF – Pro Capture Mode and 60 fps High-Speed Sequential Shooting
- Dual TruePicVIII Image Processors
- The World’s Highest Image Stabilization Performance
Now that is out of the way – let’s cover some basics. The first thing you should know is that almost all the things you like about the OM-D E-M1 Mark II are here on this camera too – only on steroids with a few tweaks. This camera is squarely aimed at professionals, with a bent towards birds/wildlife, sports, action and related genres. But it will perform well for most types of photography.
It’s big for a Micro Four Thirds camera, but not as big as you think. It’s essentially the same size as the Mark II with a battery grip attached. No big deal. It’s still smaller and lighter than any similarly equipped DSLR. See illustration #1 for a simple comparison that should eliminate confusion you might have over how big (or small) the camera is (or should) be.
ABOUT THE SIZE ISSUE:
I want to take just a moment to personally express my opinion regarding the hysteria I have seen on some of the camera forums about the size of the “X”. I know, I know – NEVER read the comments, but occasionally I glance at them and I have to say, this issue needs to be put to rest right now. Yes the “X” is bigger than a Pen-F. The “X” is not designed as a street camera and stealth is NOT required for this kind of gear. That said, the “X” is still MUCH smaller and lighter than most DSLR’s. Look at the illustration below. Before I switched to M43, I regularly used a 600mm on a big DSLR body. As you can see, looking at the “X” – mounted with a 600mm lens (EFL) – the new camera is roughly half the size and weight of a DSLR with similarly long glass. You can complain about the size of the “X” if you want, but for me, it’s not an issue. Not even a little bit.
As for practical matters related to size – Even though it’s about the same size as the old camera with battery grip, there is a big difference in the new extended battery compartment. It’s permanently attached now via an integrated vertical grip and that’s a good thing. Here’s why. The battery grip holds TWO batteries. (Great news – your old Mark II batteries work just fine in the new “X.”) While in the past you could put a battery in the body and another in the grip (using the Mark II) it wasn’t very convenient. You had to remove the battery grip to get to the second battery. Now you can just install two batteries and you are good to go. Also, there’s no body flex. ANY camera with a detachable grip will be faced with body flex issues, i.e., the grip can get loose over time and twist (ever so slightly) on the body. That won’t happen with the “X.” It’s all one-piece. Very, VERY, sturdy and it feels just right in my hand. The entire camera body was designed for better hand-holdability and operation during fast, action shooting. And it works. It’s one of my favorite new things about the “X.”
In addition to the two batteries in the grip, the “X” also offers USB charging! This has been a most requested feature at the Visionary Summits and I am glad to see that Olympus listened.
The next thing I noticed is that the camera is just faster – at EVERYTHING. Start-up time is faster, recover time from sleep mode is faster, AF is faster, High Res shot is faster, etc.
The Mark II always seemed fast to me, but alongside the OM-D E-M1X, I can see the difference. It’s one of those features you don’t think much about or that you will even need until you see it in practice. It’s amazing. The “X” uses TWO of Olympus’ TruePic VIII image processors. WOW! Another advantage to the dual processors is that FINALLY – the Olympus camera matches most pro-level DSLRs in that you can access controls and image review while the buffer is filling or full. Believe it or not, even on the Mark II you have to wait for the buffer to completely empty to do routine tasks like review photos taken on the existing card, access the quick menu, etc. Now you can do all of that without waiting on the buffer. It may seem like a small thing, but it really made me happy to see that problem solved.
The ergonomics are slightly different on the “X” than the Mark II. There’s even a BULB setting now! (I know – why didn’t they always have a BULB setting?) Olympus paid a great deal of attention to making sure all the buttons and switches had a good tactile feel and that they are all in places that make sense. If you’re coming from a Mark II, perhaps the hardest thing to get used to is the MENU button on the left side of the camera body instead of the right. Two years of muscle memory are going to take a few months for me to replace.
A multi-selector is placed on both the vertical and horizontal portions of the grip so users can quickly select the AF area when looking through the viewfinder.
The height and shape of each button on the camera is designed to improve the experience of looking through the viewfinder and shooting.
Olympus even embedded the control dial to help prevent damage when accidentally bumping into objects.
Some additional highlighted features on the “X” are:
The viewfinder on the “X” is the best in the business. It uses a new four-element optical system that delivers a magnification of 0.83x (35mm equivalent.) The frame rate is 120 fps PROGRESSIVE! If you’re not technical you may not recognize how important this is, but progressive scan rates are a good thing as compared with interlaced video. The viewfinder is truly a thing of beauty on the “X.”
For those who obsess over things like shutter count, there is good news. The new shutter on the “X” is tested to more than 400,000 actuations.
The interface has been tweaked and refined and one of my own favorite new features is the new MyMenu feature, which lets you create a custom menu with up to 35 items on seven tabs. There’s even a nifty lockout selector that permits you to lock out accidental changes.
You can also now set the AF so that it works automatically for both vertical or horizontal positions.
There is a new group AF setting including 25 points which adds to the small, single, five-point, nine-point, and 121-point settings.
You can now also set a custom AF target mode that allows three levels of vertical and horizontal movement steps – up to 11 points per axis.
Another AF improvement is called Intelligent Subject Detection. It’s basically deep learning software that works with cars, planes and trains. (I am testing the planes setting on birds and will report back later on my success using this mode.) Think of this as a pre-defined use case where the AF will look for certain things (like a driver’s helmet in an auto race or the cockpit on aircraft) and will focus there. I suspect this is just the tip of the iceberg and that we will see much more development on this front from Olympus and other camera companies as artificial intelligence – or machine learning, etc., moves to the forefront of AF design.
The TRACKING settings are the same on the “X” as they were on the Mark II but now tracking works at up to 18FPS where on the older camera, 10FPS was the limit for AF tracking to work. It’s also fast
The demand for more and more impressive low-light performance in a camera is stronger than ever, so Olympus responded on the “X” with a new low-light limit of -6EV where you can still achieve accurate AF, even in low-light and even with low-contract subjects. I am very, confident in saying this is the best mirrorless AF in existence. You have to just see it in the real world to understand how good it is.
Anti-flicker is improved. The “X” automatically detects the frequency of artificial lighting and picks the best time to activate the shutter to avoid Flicker. You can fine tune the shutter speed to prevent patterns in both stills and movie mode.
The new camera has two UHS-II compatible SD card slots. The Mark II only had one UHS-II compatible slot and one non-UHS-II slot.
While I thought it was impossible to build a camera with better image stabilization than the Mark II, I was wrong. Olympus has upped the game here too. The “X” is capable of seven stops of IS body only and with the Olympus 12-100 f/4 IS Pro Lens, is capable of 7.5 stops. This means hand-holding images in the five to 10-second exposure range is absolutely possible. CRAZY!
For those who want lots of resolution – the “X” offers High-Res shot mode. The Mark II offered the same thing, but on the “X” it’s possible to shoot high-res, hand-held! There are some caveats here such as you need consistent light and moving subjects within the scene will be recorded at standard res, max aperture is f/8 and max ISO is 6400, but it does work.
And talk about WOW! A compelling reason for landscape photographers especially (but anyone may need this), Olympus has incorporated a new Live ND filter into the “X”. You can add an ND filter IN-CAMERA! It doesn’t always work the way you think it will, but most of the time it does and it’s a super neat feature.
Olympus Capture now supports (via Wi-Fi) transfer of captured images.
The “X” employs four different field sensor systems featuring GPS, Barometer, Compass and temperature sensor (Useful for helping me remember how cold it was when I was out in the field photographing birds in winter!)
The movie mode in the “X” sees a big upgrade. You can set up customization for autofocus during movie recording. 4:2:2 recording is supported. And the 237 Mbps high bit rate recording gives genuinely amazing, professional, results.
There’s 5-Axis Image Stabilization and electronic stabilization that enable ultra-smooth, handheld 4K and cinema 4K video recording, without the need for stabilizing gear. Image stabilization effect can be selected from three levels depending on the your posture and movement.
The OM-D E-M1X also supports OM-Log400 shooting, which allows for shooting without loss of details in shadows and highlights and without blowouts, along with color grading via a computer for a high degree of freedom over images.
120 fps high-speed movies are now supported in Full HD.
Across the board, Olympus has upped the ante on the OM-D E-M1X. At $2999, the price will be prohibitive for some, but pros will not pause because it’s roughly half what they would pay for a flagship DSLR. When I think about the roughly $6000 I dropped to buy the flagship Canon and Nikon bodies a few years ago, $3k sounds like a bargain. You may hear complaints that this camera is too big. These complaints will come from people who never tried to shoot with a Nikon D5S or Canon 1DXMKII or who simply aren’t the target audience for this camera. The OM-D E-M1X is smaller, lighter, than any flagship DSLR – period. On every front, I was impressed. It’s an amazing tool that will no doubt make my job easier. I feel like Olympus made this camera just for me (they didn’t – but I still feel that way!)
I will have more discussion on the E-M1X on the first episode of my new PictureMethods podcast so watch this site for more information.
I am an Olympus Visionary and I received this camera free of charge. I have tried to be unbiased as possible in this review.
B&H also has a special information page set up for those who want to learn all they can about this great new camera.