Olympus Takes Micro Four Thirds Pro with OM-D E-M1X

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It's fast, tough, built for professionals and, surprisingly, it packs a Four Thirds sensor. This is the OM-D E-M1X Mirrorless Camera from Olympus, a shocker of a release that takes advantage of everything the Micro Four Thirds system has to offer, all while providing outstanding tech that will make shooting sports and wildlife easy. Fortunate enough to go hands-on prior to launch, we took the camera up to chilly, snow-covered Vermont to test its action-oriented focus and rugged build quality on the slopes of Killington Mountain.

Definitely Durable

Integrated battery grips make it very clear that the camera is rugged and meant for professional work—especially since it can hold two batteries. The pro focus is mostly because not many want to deal with that extra weight. A hallmark of Olympus cameras has always been weatherproofing and strength, with the E-M1X, perhaps, being the best example of that tradition. I never worried about it. I would be cautious putting some of my cameras down on snow on the off chance they sink and acquire dangerous drops of water, but I would trust the E-M1X in the most epic of snowball fights. A bonus is a Supersonic Wave Filter and dust-resistant coating on the sensor that keep you virtually worry-free about spots on your photos.

Importantly, it feels good in the hand—even with gloves on—crucial for cold-weather use where keeping your fingers toasty is a top priority. The design is good with the usual Olympus flair and buttons nicely spaced. Switching to the vertical grip doesn't cost you any control, either. A pro-oriented function is a customizable lock switch, or C-Lock, preventing you from accidentally changing settings at the worst moments. For example, if you are shooting basketball in a gym with consistent lighting and want to lock down your shutter speed, aperture, and ISO, you can configure the camera to lock all the control dials when the switch is set.

Being mirrorless, photographers are going to rely heavily on a screen for composing their images. Luckily, the electronic viewfinder here is nice and large. It offers 2.36m-dot resolution and 0.83x magnification for clear viewing. Thanks to the system's emphasis on speed, it can reach a frame rate of 120 fps and has a lag time of just 0.005 seconds, for smooth motion. At the back is a standard 3.0" 1.037m-dot LCD, though it does offer a completely vari-angle design and touch functionality, for maximum versatility.

Around the camera body you will find an assortment of slots and ports to get any job done. There are dual SD card slots behind a secure door, both of which are UHS-II compatible for getting the best speeds. A PC sync terminal and hot shoe are available for flash photography, while headphone, microphone, and Micro-HDMI ports will appease videographers. In addition, there is a USB Type-C port that supports up to 100W of power delivery—trust me, this is an underrated feature, because it charges both batteries quick—and a 2.5mm port for remotes.

Wireless connectivity is a thing these days, of course, and the E-M1X has the latest tech. Built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are obvious for their ability to connect directly to smartphones for easy sharing via the O.I.Share app on iOS and Android. An integrated Field Sensor System is part of Olympus's magic, by including a GPS module, electronic compass, manometer, temperature sensor, and acceleration sensor. A handy feature is the Olympus Capture tethering application, now able to support wireless tethering, as well as standard USB connections. And, for image processing, Olympus Workspace will provide plenty of control over editing and managing your photos.

The Best Four Thirds Quality Yet

It is no small feat to improve on image quality from generation to generation. The Olympus OM-D E-M1X can now claim to be the King of Micro Four Thirds with its 20.4MP Live MOS sensor and dual TruePic VIII processors. It is superb image quality they are squeezing out of this sensor, with images taken at base ISO being highly detailed. The readout is also fast, limiting the effect of rolling shutter in images taken with the electronic shutter and improving the maximum shutter speed to 1/32000 of a second. Sensitivity has been improved, as well, with an extended range of ISO 64-25600.

Images look great straight out of the camera. We used a natural profile and the colors turned out quite nicely, even with dramatic pops of color surrounded by the whites, grays, and browns of snow and forest. The camera can be used easily for landscapes and portraits, in addition to its focus on sports and action, making the system quite versatile. Color rendition is respectable and exposures seemed accurate, though the snow did throw off the occasional shot when clouds reduced contrast in the overall scene. If you are happy with Four Thirds performance, this camera is at the next level in the system.

Still, you can't choose a smaller sensor without taking on some of the drawbacks. Namely, this is NOT a low-light camera. It is truly the single fault of the camera. Yes, you can carry a 600mm equivalent lens all day, even up and down a mountain, with surprising ease. Autofocus performance is outstanding, with its ability to track speedy subjects and distinguish between the person you want in focus and the background you do not. But, when the sun starts getting real low, it just doesn't hold up in terms of overall image quality and autofocus performance.

Back to the good stuff—video. Olympus isn't exactly huge in the video world, but those who want to take some high-quality video with their main stills camera will benefit from a couple of key improvements. OM-Log is now a thing, meaning you can capture a wider dynamic range in your videos, as long as you are cool with some post-processing. For filmmakers, the E-M1X offers a DCI 4K mode with true 24.00 recording and a 237 Mb/s bitrate with IPB compression in 8-bit 4:2:0 internally, or 8-bit 4:2:2 externally. UHD 4K can reach 30 fps at 102 Mb/s while Full HD and is available for slow-motion 120 fps recording. Additionally, time lapses can be created internally in UHD 4K in a dedicated mode with up to a 5 fps shooting rate.

A Need for Speed

Action moves fast. That's the whole point, right? So you need a faster system to capture it. Here comes the revamped AF system of the E-M1X. Sporting 121 all cross-type phase-detection AF points and 121 contrast-detect areas, this camera makes it easy to track your subject. Plenty of control is available for focusing, including options such as Group 25-point, Group 9-point, and Group 5-point for making sure you can work with different subjects. Custom AF targets can be made and a focus limiter can dramatically improve performance.

Intelligent Subject Detection AF is the newest capability of the system, because it uses deep learning to identify subjects automatically and focus on them properly. Working with planes, trains, and automobiles has never been easier. People benefit too, since Face Priority and Eye Priority AF modes are present. Finally, it has been optimized for low-light work down to -6 EV. It's impressive to see, as the green box manages to dance along the screen quickly following along with whatever subject happens to be in your view at the time. What more can I say besides, "It works." That is one of the best compliments you can give to an AF system.

Speed isn't just AF, it's fps too. The killer spec? Up to 60 fps with the electronic shutter. More reasonably, however, photographers will be working with the mechanical shutter at up to 15 fps or using the electronic shutter at up to 18 fps to maintain full AF performance. When working at these speeds, the buffer is good for 103 raw files at 15 fps, 74 frames at 18 fps, or 49 shots at 60 fps. Bumping to JPEG will extend these shooting times. These speeds do place it among the fastest cameras you can get today, meaning if you have a need for speed, the E-M1X is a camera to consider. It is fast, though I would want a deeper buffer for some circumstances.

Pro Capture Mode makes an appearance here for good reason: it is ideal for capturing fast-moving subjects. With a half-press of the shutter, you can start recording and buffering up to 35 frames, then at the peak of the action you can hit the shutter and keep shooting, ensuring you get the shot by recording everything before and after the critical moment. It works well with the speed of the system, though it does fill the buffer quite quickly.

Stabilization for Days

Well, maybe seconds. I will say that the stabilization provided by the E-M1X is easily the best on the market by a wide margin and holds true to its claim of making it possible to capture sharp, handheld exposures lasting a second or more. Shooting with the M.Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.2 PRO Lens, a 90mm equivalent, I was able to handhold the camera for a second and get a sharp image. And I mean a literal second. Hearing the shutter drag for that long was concerning, and made it even more shocking when this first take came out tack sharp.

Rated for up to seven stops with any lens you want, this stabilization system is amazing. Perhaps the only downside is that it moves around so much that vignetting on certain lenses can become more apparent, or even move around the frame if you are shooting bursts of photos. When paired with a lens such as the M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-100mm f/4 IS PRO—an awesome versatile lens we used—that is equipped with its own IS system, you can get 7.5 stops. Specifically, Olympus says that you can shoot for up to four seconds and get usable images with this lens and the combined stabilization of the camera. And yes, you definitely can. I was shaking from the cold and still managed to sneak it up to 2 seconds; I imagine, with proper form on a good day, this is very doable.

Another place this stabilization is useful is when tracking subjects. If you have ever tried to do fast pans or shoot sports with a long, un-stabilized lens, you know exactly how much of a pain it can be. I've done it before and know that a missed shot can be as simple as a slight movement that accidentally cuts off the athlete's hand, or in the worst case, their head. It helps with composing the image, as well as tracking them as they traverse the field and scene. It was very helpful with the M.Zuiko Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS PRO as we tracked skiers through moguls and slalom courses.

All the Modes!

Plenty of fancy modes are present in the E-M1X. The newest is Live ND, which can simulate the effects of an ND filter without using one. It works by taking multiple exposures and blending them together to blur the movement. You can use it with ND2, ND4, ND8, ND16, and ND32 settings to change how Live ND affects your images. Another multi-shot mode is the High Res Shot, now with both Tripod and Handheld options. Tripod mode is the best, taking eight frames with ever so slight sensor shifts to create a 50MP JPEG or 80MP raw image with significantly more detail than the sensor's usual 20MP resolution. It can analyze and compensate for subject movement blur to create a technically sound image with ease. Handheld is cool, because it can create 50MP images using 16 frames captured quickly, and advanced processing to analyze camera movement and composite a final image.

Making a return is the Live Composite mode. This is a long-exposure setting that shows you a preview as the image is captured, making sure you expose every element just right. The mode only records new light sources over time, meaning it is great for star trails and car lights. Related to this are Live Bulb and Live Time, both of which assist in long exposures. Bulb lets you hold the shutter open for up to a minute while Live Time lets you press the shutter to start and then again to end it.

More commonly found modes include interval shooting for up to 999 frames with 1-second to 24-hour intervals and anti-flicker modes for maintaining consistent exposures while working in less-than-ideal lighting conditions. In-Camera Focus Stacking is possible, taking eight images in a row with shifting focus and then compositing these into a single frame with deep depth of field. For those comfortable with computers, you can capture from 3 - 999 frames to work with later on, using this mode.

The last couple have to do with lenses: Keystone Compensation and Fisheye Compensation. These correct for common distortions and can give you a real-time corrected view to preview what a final shot may look like. It is impressive that all these functions are built in because they used to require spending a lot of time in front of a computer to achieve previously.

Let There Be Light

It's more than just a camera today! A significant upgrade to Olympus's flash system is also being unveiled. At the top of the heap is the FL-700WR Electronic Flash. Looking much like your conventional speedlight, this has some classic Olympus weather-sealing along with a completely new to Olympus radio system. A video LED light serves as an added bonus for hybrid shooters and a 12-75mm zoom range ensure optimal illumination of your subject. For action shooters, the FL-700WR can reach up to 10 fps for 50 consecutive frames. A guide number of 137.8' at ISO 100 is very useful for most situations, while the radio system opens the door to more complex off-camera setups up to 98.4' away.

Don't worry, you won't have to upgrade all your flashes to the FL-700WR to get the advantages of radio communications, because the FC-WR Wireless Radio Flash Commander and FR-WR Wireless Radio Receiver are being released. The commander is exactly what we've come to expect, a shoe-mounted controller with an LCD screen for checking settings. The receiver is also quite simple, with a shoe for mounting your other speedlights and a PC terminal for hooking up studio strobes. All of the components here are dust- and splash-resistant, to match the cameras. Speaking of, this radio system is compatible with the OM-D E-M1X, OM-D E-M1 Mark II, OM-D E-M1, OM-D E-M5 Mark II, and PEN-F.

After going hands-on with the camera, I can say it lives up to its professional focus with outstanding speed and killer features, such as class-leading image stabilization. Image quality is great, though there is an obvious Achilles' heel in low light, and the high-res modes can greatly increase the versatility of the camera from simply an action camera to a capable system for landscapes and portraits, as well. I also can't forget about the body and its rugged charm. I forgot how nice it is to not worry about a few water droplets, or even an avalanche. This all culminates in an awesome camera that will seriously appeal to professional Micro Four Thirds shooters. More is coming to the system for those in the sports, wildlife, and action markets, with a new telephoto zoom and teleconverter in development right now.

How excited or surprised were you by Olympus's announcement of the pro-focused, sports-shooting E-M1X? Any features stand out for you? Are you looking to add this camera to your kit? Make sure to let us know your thoughts in the Comments section, below!

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14 Comments

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Does it shoot video? does it shoot 120fps or has auto focus?

Hi Ryder,

To pull from our article, here is a quick overview of the video specs:

For filmmakers, the E-M1X offers a DCI 4K mode with true 24.00 recording and a 237 Mb/s bitrate with IPB compression in 8-bit 4:2:0 internally, or 8-bit 4:2:2 externally. UHD 4K can reach 30 fps at 102 Mb/s while Full HD and is available for slow-motion 120 fps recording. Additionally, time lapses can be created internally in UHD 4K in a dedicated mode with up to a 5 fps shooting rate.

Adding to that, autofocus is available in the video modes.

I have an OM-D E1 Mark II and not sure I will invest in this "halo" product from Olympus.  The technology improvements are interesting but I am not normally an early purchaser.  I am interested to see if some of the tech gets placed in smaller bodies, what additional firmware upgrades bring, etc. I will keep using my Olympus in parallel with my Nikon d850 and 500 and wait and see what happens.

Yup, now waiting for E-M5 MIII hoping it inherits some of the tech.

Okay, if B+H is going to go all the way to Killington, could we get some raw samples to download?

RawTherapee 5.5. extracts them.

Hi J C.,

While normally we could release raw samples, we were working with a pre-production firmware with this camera, so we can't release original raw files as they aren't perfect examples of what production cameras will be capable of.

Thank you.

Now, DPReview has released raws, and specifically said their body has the non-beta firmware.

Imaging-Resource has also put up raws for download. 

My point is that firmware V1 seems to be available. 

Unfortunately, we no longer have access to the cameras. We had to return them to Olympus a few days before this review was published and we shot the images before the update was available.

We will make sure to keep this in mind if we have the opportunity to revisit this camera in the future.

I am trilled, an other high-end expensive camera body! 
No I will not upgrade.. I have the OMD E5 and I can do mostly anything with it except
bird in flight.  Reason I went into the m4/3 system is weight. I have the Pro 70-150mm
and the 300mm Pro lens plus from wide to standard.lenses. The big guns like Nikon and
Canon stay around the house or the vehicle. 

I don’t get it: $3000 for an MFT body that’s bigger and heavier than a full frame $2000 Sony A7III...and a Tamron RXD-equivalent lens costs $200 more? 

Great ruggedized features for sure. Those truly dedicated MFT enthusiasts with a large lens collection may find this attractive. But how many true pros and even advanced amateurs will leave the FF and APS-C world for an MFT size sensor? In today’s shrinking real-camera smartphone-threatened world, success comes from expanding share of that shrinking universe. I just don’t see this $3000 behemoth doing that.

Looks like Olympus has finally moved into the professional market.  While this camera is priced above much of the competition, I expect it will easily match or outperform that competition by quite a margin.   I am in a camera club wth over 100 members and have seen prints results from every camera line on the market.  The olympus cameras have held their own or outperformed in all cases involving prints up to 20x24 inches (the limit of submission sizes).  I expect that for sports and general commercial imaging purposes this could become the camera of choice.  The only place that the camera will not match is at print sizes larger than 20x24, where sensor size becomes a major factor.

Mel S:

Better weather sealing than a Sony A7III, much better.

January 2019, Sony still hasn't worked out making its mirrorless bodies easy to handle.

Mel S. wrote:

I don’t get it: $3000 for an MFT body that’s bigger and heavier than a full frame $2000 Sony A7III...and a Tamron RXD-equivalent lens costs $200 more? 

Great ruggedized features for sure. Those truly dedicated MFT enthusiasts with a large lens collection may find this attractive. But how many true pros and even advanced amateurs will leave the FF and APS-C world for an MFT size sensor? In today’s shrinking real-camera smartphone-threatened world, success comes from expanding share of that shrinking universe. I just don’t see this $3000 behemoth doing that.

I don't think that there are that many "true pros and even advanced amateurs" /who haven't already gone MFT for its existing advantages/ who would be converted by this body.  But compare apples to apples - if you have an A7III with a grip extender or frame to get the 90 degree hold, and a larger battery, it is again larger and heavier than the E-M1X.  And the lenses are still significantly lighter at the equivalent reach.  I am still pleased with the size/weight every time I carry and use my E-M1.

It depends on whether one can accept good enough quality versus chasing each new incremental feature or performance improvement.  These bodies equal or outperform FF image quality of a couple of generations ago, and users of those cameras seemed to sell their photos just fine.  That said, I agree that this is more likely to be a pickup for dedicated MFT users who need the feature set extension than a choir call from the heavens that converts Canikon pros.  The improvement in sports-related performance, in some cases beyond FF bodies such as in frame rate, might be a driver too.

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