I’ve written an extensive FIRST LOOK post that outlines all the features of the new camera – here and a comparison post that shows the differences between the OM-D E-M1 MK II and the X – here.
In this post, I want to briefly describe the way the new Olympus OM-D E-M1 X camera shoots and my experience with it from a shooter’s perspective. I’ve had a few weeks to work with the final firmware and have some general handling impressions that I want to share.
The shooting experience is one of the most undervalued by the newer photographer. But pros care deeply about it. What good is a one trillion megapixel full frame sensor that can take noiseless photos of a black cat, in a black barn, on a moonless night, if using the camera is no fun or hard to work with? Here are some basic impressions of the new “X” – hint – it is both fun and easy to work with!
GRIP & ERGONOMICS
The first (and most important) thing I want to talk about is the new grip and how it feels in the hand. After all, unless you shoot with a tripod all the time, you spend most of your time with your hand on the camera. In that case, it better be comfortable if you want to have the ability to photograph for hours at a time.
I’ve handed the new X to three different photographers that I know and who own the MK II. The first thing they asked – each and every time – blew me away. What did they ask me? They asked me if it was lighter than the MK II with battery grip!!!!!
It is actually around a pound heavier. But because Olympus researched the heck out of this and did a fantastic job of engineering, the grip is SO comfortable to hold on to that it makes the camera seem easier to hold than the MK II with battery grip. That does give the impression of being lighter than it is. This was a total surprise to me. I didn’t expect it, but am grateful for it. The camera is just a joy to hold all day, and whether or not you are vertical or horizontal with it, you have all the controls IN THE SAME PLACE! This is just brilliant.
I’ll describe this more in-depth by talking about another new feature, the new AF selector joy stick. This little addition to the X camera has already become a favorite for me. Once you get used to it (think muscle memory) then it becomes MUCH easier to move the AF selector to the focus point I want using this joystick. Back to the horizontal / vertical thing – Olympus put a joystick on the camera in TWO places, so that whether or not you are shooting horizontally or vertically, you find your thumb at the exact same location. This is so valuable in fast shooting situations that it may be the most valuable feature on the camera – for guys like me anyway who shoot fast, moving (and often flying) objects. Being able to quickly, accurately, and immediately move the AF point where I want it, no matter the body’s orientation is amazing.
The buttons and their surfaces have all been redesigned too. You may not realize how important this is until you pick up and shoot with the camera. I know the backstory here and I know how hard the engineers worked to make this experience as comfortable (yet predictable and accurate) as possible. They hit a home run here.
It’s nearly impossible to describe in a blog post, but the new E-M1 X is just, plain, FAST! The addition of a second processor speeds up every single function inside the camera. You might not think that means much. I have seen people on the forums say – “Same old sensor, why upgrade?” Well the answer is COMPUTATIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY. Think about the difference between the first cell phones/flip phones and today’s latest, and greatest iPhone or Android phone. The processing power in today’s phones is much greater so many new features can be added and the existing features perform better.
The sensor may be the same in the MK II and the X, but you can tell the difference between shooting with both cameras and it’s pretty easy to spot. Little things, that added up, become big things. Things like the AF is faster. It’s faster at acquiring the subject and also better at tracking it. Things like better low-light performance. Things like faster (and larger) buffers for continuous shooting.
The larger/faster buffer (particularly for RAW) is really helpful. I have already made images with this camera that I would have missed with the MK II waiting for the buffer. Plus I really like being able to make camera adjustments, and reviewing images while the buffer clears. You can’t do that on a MK II.
The speed of everything that the camera does is improved, and while I never felt like the old model was slow, I do believe the new speed of the X is worth talking about.
For the type of work I do, IS is important. The MK II, when paired with the 12-100 f/4 Pro Lens or the 300 f/4 Pro Lens offers SYNC-IS. (Reportedly, when the new super zoom ships – it too will offer SYNC-IS.) This is the best image stabilization anywhere – the best on the market, regardless of format. I used to think it couldn’t be improved upon but, I was wrong. Olympus wrung another half stop out of the image stabilization system. Is that a big deal? Probably not to most of you, but it is absolutely noticeable to me. I have worked at an effective focal length of 840mm and routinely use a shutter speed of 1/50th of a second, hand-held, with very sharp results. I could go lower but haven’t had to. When I used a DSLR I couldn’t hand-hold an 800mm lens at any shutter speed and get a sharp shot. I had to have it mounted to a tripod. Period.
The REAL WORLD battery life on the MK II surpasses that of any other Mirrorless Camera I have tested, but having two full time batteries in the OM-D E-M1 X has been a life-saver. With all the new power and features I actually expected battery life to decline but it didn’t. I can go most of a day shooting on two batteries unless it’s very cold outside. Worse-case-scenario, bringing two more backup batteries leaves me 100% confident that my camera will go the distance.
I recently tested the new X camera while photographing gulls in the snow. I went to a well-known place in the harbor by my home and found the usual gaggle of photographers there, despite the inclement weather. Each of them had plastic of some sort around their cameras and lenses to protect from the elements while my Olympus OM-D E-M1 X was naked as a jaybird. They asked me if I was worried about water damage. “Nope,” was my one-word reply. Knowing I can work in any sort of weather, without fear of harm to the camera or its lens, makes me more likely to focus on what matters, i.e., my subjects.
These are just five areas where the camera shooting experience on the new camera is notable. The ability to be more confident and comfortable with my gear leaves me free to concentrate on the things that really matter, like telling compelling stories with my camera that will move the people who happen to see my images. When a camera can simply disappear into an extension of my mind and body, it is frankly a miracle. And that is what the new X does for me. It just disappears. I forget it’s there. It’s an extension of my eye. I just SEE better when I am using it. It’s all very ethereal and hard to describe so my best advise is to forget all the camera forums. On February 25, 2019, put one of these babies in your hand and feel the difference for yourself. You will be glad you did.
DISCLAIMER: I am an Olympus Visionary