Olympus E-M1X Conclusion

When you first look at the Olympus E-M1X, you might scratch your head wondering who this camera is for? Who would buy such a thing? It's a big camera body with a relatively small, Four Thirds sensor. When you look at 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 date, with its large, dual-gripped design just like a full-frame flagship DSLR. And while having a pretty large body combined with a seemingly small sensor might feel like an odd combination, the E-M1X, much like its big DSLR competitors, is very much a specialized tool designed for professional photographers. The gripped design and overall larger body is beneficial in lots of ways, such as more room for heat dissipation, better ergonomics with heavier lenses and improved operability in portrait shooting, to name just a few.

And the E-M1X has a number of tricks up its sleeve, too, despite its seeming disadvantage of a 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 much smaller than full-frame DSLR counterparts. Plus, the E-M1X packs a lot of horsepower and technological features under the hood that simply 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.

So, is the E-M1X the professional camera for you? Read on to find out!

Olympus 300mm f/4.0 IS Pro ED M.Zuiko lens (600mm equiv.), f/4, 1/3200s, ISO 200.

Design & Ergonomics

As mentioned, the E-M1X is a large camera by Micro Four Thirds standards, with a dual-gripped shape and deep, full handgrips. While big, the large grips are nicely contoured, making the camera very comfortable to hold, especially when using longer, heavier lenses such as the 300mm f/4 Pro. Yet, despite the larger body size, the Micro Four Thirds system allows for an altogether smaller system, 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 comfort, 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 dedicated, pre-programmed ISO and exposure compensation buttons. The E-M1X also features larger, easier to operate front and rear control dials as well as a joystick control for quicker AF point adjustments, among other things. Overall, the controls and layout are mostly similar to those of the E-M1 II, with some tweaks of 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 sealing, which is top-notch. The E-M1 II already earned high marks for impressive weather sealing and durability, but the E-M1X takes it up a level. Olympus literally blasts the E-M1X with jets of water from all angles in their tests, and the camera keeps 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 rain out in the real world, the camera easily withstood inclement weather and other dirty outdoor pursuits. One of the big strengths of the E-M1X is outdoor photography, particularly wildlife photography, so knowing that your camera can keep functioning in extremely harsh conditions is a critical feature.

Overall, the design, build quality and operability of the E-M1X is overwhelmingly positive. The camera feels nice, works wells, and can take a beating. However, we're a bit less enthused about the camera's EVF and rear LCD screen, both of which feel somewhat lackluster and outdated compared to similarly-priced cameras. While the EVF on the E-M1X does get upgrades over the E-M1 II's, such as better optics, significantly higher max magnification (0.83x) and slightly reduced latency, it keeps the same screen resolution as the E-M1 II and doesn't appear as sharp and crisp as other similarly-priced cameras. However, the 120fps progressive-scan EVF display is smooth and fast, making it easy to track fast-moving action. Similarly, the rear LCD is basically the same as that of the E-M1 II and even the aging E-M5 II. The touchscreen functionality works great and, overall, the screen does its job, but the display itself isn't as sharp or as high-resolution as competing, albeit more expensive, flagship cameras.

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, while the image quality is impressive for a Micro Four Thirds camera, there aren't many changes or improvements to overall image quality from the E-M1X compared to the 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 differences compared to the E-M1 II after upgrading the latter to v3.0 firmware.

In general, the image quality form the E-M1X is impressive, especially at lower ISOs. It offers 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 cameras and especially full-frame cameras. Given the higher price of this flagship camera, the high ISO disadvantage is perhaps more critical, seeing as there are a number of full-frame cameras available at similar price points.

Olympus 300mm f/4.0 IS Pro ED M.Zuiko lens (600mm equiv.), f/4, 1/3200s, ISO 3200.

However, as mentioned earlier, the E-M1X has image capture features found in no other camera, such as the 20fps Pro Capture mode as well as a handy new Live ND mode that simulates using a neutral density filter. One of the big new features is Handheld High Res Shot mode. In addition to the standard 8-shot tripod-based High Res Shot mode (shared with the E-M1 II and some others), the E-M1X features a more powerful, more sensitive image stabilization system, allowing for a new 16-shot Handheld High Res mode that captures 50-megapixel images (RAW and/or JPEGs). The image quality from these high res shots can be excellent, and the ability to use it handheld is a nice boost to the mode's versatility. However, the overall usefulness of High Res mode is still fairly limited, as any kind of subject movement can cause image compositing artifacts. And with the handheld mode, too much camera movement will cause the high res compositing to fail.

Furthermore, while the E-M1X is marketed primarily as a stills camera, it offers quite a wide range of high end video features, such as a Log profile, 4Kp30 and Cinema 4K at 24p (with image stabilization now), as well as 4:2:2 HDMI output and phase-detect AF in video mode. It's not quite as feature-rich as the Panasonic GH5, for example, but OM-D owners who shoot both photos and video will appreciate the improved quality options and advanced features.

40-150mm f/2.8 Pro: 150mm, f/2.8, 1/1250s, ISO 1250 (Shot with an E-M1X with Beta Firmware.)

Performance

With image quality remaining very similar to the (updated) E-M1 II, the name of the game with the Olympus E-M1X is performance, with the biggest area of improvements and new features centering around autofocus and, particularly, AF tracking. The second TruePic VIII processor is primarily there for additional AF processing horsepower and performance improvements. For starters, the AF system as a whole receives an overhaul with updated AF algorithms. In our testing, AF speeds were incredibly fast, both in the field and in the lab.

One of the headlining features of the E-M1X is its new Deep Learning-based subject recognition and tracking system called Intelligent Subject Detection AF, which lets you tell the camera to automatically 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 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 types like people or animals.

Olympus 300mm f/4.0 IS Pro ED M.Zuiko lens (600mm equiv.), f/4, 1/2500s, ISO 200.

Outside of its fancy new A.I.-based AF mode, the E-M1X's standard continuous AF performance is also top-notch, offering extremely accurate and responsive tracking performance. The experience overall is very similar to that of the E-M1 Mark II. The camera does offer additional, customizable AF point configurations for more subject tracking versatility, and a new Eye Priority option for its Face & Eye Detection system that lets you pick which eye to focus on.

Much like 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 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 despite the increased processing potential of the E-M1X, complete with a second quad-core image processor, the E-M1X doesn't offer faster burst rates. 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 cameras of the modern world. To go along with its fast burst speeds, the E-M1X has impressive buffer performance, testing similar to the E-M1 II. And thanks to the dual TruePic VIII processors, the E-M1X now has dual UHS-II SD card slots (the E-M1 II only had a single UHS-II slot), and buffer clearing times are also much faster when shooting RAW+JPEG files even with a single card.

Olympus 12-100mm f/4 IS Pro M.Zuiko lens at 12mm (24mm equiv.), f/8, 25s, ISO 200.

Summary

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 designed for the sports, action and wildlife photographers who use longer lenses and want/need the improved ergonomics of a gripped camera, as well as the more substantial weather sealing. For other subjects, the E-M1X performs, more or less, just like the E-M1 Mark II, given its very similar image quality performance and continuous shooting speeds. Granted, with the more powerful image stabilization, the addition of handheld High Res Mode and the new Live ND feature, the E-M1X does offer a few more tricks for the non-action photographer compared to the smaller E-M1 II.

Overall, the E-M1X a very impressive camera that works extremely well, in pretty much any environment. For many, however, it's hard to look past the $3,000 price tag combined with its rather small Four Thirds sensor, especially given that there are competing cameras at similar prices with much larger sensors (and thus arguably better image quality). But, much like other flagship cameras, many of these top-tier cameras are more specialized for certain use-cases and subject matter, and the E-M1X is 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 low-light performance. The Olympus E-M1X, rather, fits into a unique niche that really isn't prioritized by other camera platforms thanks to the inherent design feature of the Micro Four Thirds system: portability. If you're an adventure photographer, travel photographer or even a sports shooter who carries multiple bodies, the compact and lightweight system offered by the Micro Four Thirds platform can be a very enticing quality. Combined with the performance, durability and handling benefits of the Olympus E-M1X, you have a system that's extremely portable and capable in pretty much any environment or situation. All told, the Olympus E-M1X definitely gets the nod as a Dave's Pick in our book.

 

Pros & Cons

  • Terrific overall image quality for a 20-megapixel 4/3" sensor
  • Great high ISO performance for a Micro Four Thirds camera
  • Very good dynamic range
  • Phenomenal 5-axis IBIS system
  • Increased shutter durability
  • Tripod High Res Shot mode offers 50-megapixel JPEGs, 80-megapixel RAWs
  • High Res Shot can now be used handheld
  • High Res Shot mode also reduces noise & color artifacts, and handles motion better than previous models (though motion artifacts can still arise)
  • Focus stacking and bracketing
  • 121 cross-type on-chip phase detection focus points
  • Very fast single-shot autofocus
  • Autofocuses in very low light
  • New Intelligent Subject Detection AF feature works very well (but see related Con)
  • Fantastic C-AF performance
  • Incredible 15fps full-res burst mode with mechanical shutter, 60fps with electronic shutter
  • 10fps burst mode with Continuous AF (18fps with electronic shutter)
  • Generous buffer depths
  • Faster RAW+JPEG buffer clearing with UHS-II cards
  • Fast startup & mode switching
  • Accurate coverage from EVF & LCD monitor
  • Fully-articulating touchscreen LCD
  • A bevy of customization options
  • Flash supported with electronic shutter (up to 1/50s), including Tripod High Res mode
  • Pleasing 4K UHD & Cinema 4K (DCI) video with high bitrates (DCI 4K 24p @ 237 Mbps)
  • 4K video modes now work with image stabilization
  • Clean HDMI out with uncompressed 4:2:2 output
  • Dual SD card slots, both with UHS-II support
  • Extremely rugged body with IPX1-rated weather-sealing; Dustproof, splashproof & freezeproof
  • Larger handgrips adds more comfort & improved balance with longer lenses
  • Excellent external controls with responsive buttons & dials
  • New joystick control
  • Excellent battery life thanks to two batteries
  • Built-in Wi-Fi with Bluetooth
  • Field Sensor system (GPS, barometer, compass and temperature)
  • External mic & headphone jacks
  • USB 3.0 Type-C port
  • USB PD and charging supported
  • Two battery chargers included
  • Large & heavy compared to other Micro Four Thirds cameras
  • Expensive
  • 20MP 4/3" sensor can't match high ISO performance or dynamic range of most full-frame competitors
  • New Intelligent Subject Detection AF feature limited to just three subject types
  • Moiré & aliasing artifacts can be an issue due to lack of optical low-pass filter
  • Tripod High Res Shot mode limited to ISO 64-1600 (but Handheld mode goes up to ISO 6400)
  • Menus can still feel overwhelming & confusing
  • EVF is very good but resolution feels outdated compared to competition
  • No top panel status LCD


 



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