Olympus E-M1X Field Test Part II

A closer look at the E-M1X's image quality and video performance

by Jeremy Gray | Posted 04/18/2019

Olympus 300mm f/4.0 IS Pro ED M.Zuiko lens (600mm equiv.), f/4, 1/2500s, ISO 1250.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

Recap of Field Test Part I

In my first Field Test of the Olympus E-M1X, I focused on the camera's design, usability, autofocus, performance and discussed using the E-M1X in the field within the context of landscape and wildlife photography. So far, my impressions of the E-M1X have been very positive, and it has become my favorite Olympus Micro Four Thirds camera. With that said, it being a Micro Four Thirds camera results in some concerns with respect to image quality. I will be further discussing image quality in this second Field Test. Also, I will be looking at the camera's video features and performance. Finally, I will offer my concluding thoughts on the E-M1X in general and how it fits into the current pro camera landscape.

Image Quality

Given that the E-M1X has the same 20-megapixel image sensor as the E-M1 II, there are not many surprises here in terms of image quality. The E-M1X has a native ISO range of 200 to 25,600, which can be expanded down to ISO 64, although the top limit of 25,600 is set.

Like the E-M1 Mark II, the E-M1X delivers solid image quality across much of its ISO range. From ISO 200 through ISO 1600, image quality is really good and certainly up to the task of making high-quality prints. At ISO 3200 and 6400, the camera begins to show a bit more noise, although you can still work raw files into usable form.

Olympus 300mm f/4.0 IS Pro ED M.Zuiko lens (600mm equiv.), f/4, 1/500s, ISO 6400.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

At base ISO (200), the E-M1X captures images with a good amount of fine detail. As you can see in the image below and the accompanying 100 percent crop, we can even see some detail in a snowflake on the chickadee's face, which is pretty impressive. With that said, we can also see a bit of visible noise, particularly in the background, even though the image was captured at base ISO. Further, there are a few artifacts in the feathers and a few unnatural-looking edges. All in all, though, the image quality at ISO 200 in particular is very good.

Olympus 300mm f/4.0 IS Pro ED M.Zuiko lens (600mm equiv.), f/4.5, 1/400s, ISO 200.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
Olympus 300mm f/4.0 IS Pro ED M.Zuiko lens (600mm equiv.), f/4.5, 1/400s, ISO 200.
100 percent crop of the above image. This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

When working with raw files, there is a pretty good amount of flexibility for adjustments. For example, in the image below, which was captured at ISO 1000 in back-lit conditions, I was able to recover quite a bit of highlight detail, which is totally absent in the JPEG image.

Olympus 300mm f/4.0 IS Pro ED M.Zuiko lens (600mm equiv.), f/4, 1/500s, ISO 1000.
Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
Olympus 300mm f/4.0 IS Pro ED M.Zuiko lens (600mm equiv.), f/4, 1/500s, ISO 1000.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

Another situation which warrants attention is how the E-M1X handles large overall exposure adjustments. In the image below, which is a pretty extreme example, the image is severely underexposed despite being shot at ISO 6400. This is because it was a low light situation at f/4 but I wanted to maintain a high shutter speed to ensure that the bird remained sharp. Despite having to make a rather significant series of adjustments in Adobe Camera Raw, the final image, while noisy, still looks pretty good. The colors retained their integrity and even after noise reduction, there's some fine detail present in the shot.

Olympus 300mm f/4.0 IS Pro ED M.Zuiko lens (600mm equiv.), f/4, 1/640s, ISO 6400.
Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
Olympus 300mm f/4.0 IS Pro ED M.Zuiko lens (600mm equiv.), f/4, 1/640s, ISO 6400.
Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

Ultimately, the E-M1X delivers good quality images across a fairly wide range of ISO speeds. The raw files are quite flexible, particularly for a Micro Four Thirds sensor, and the camera does well in many different situations, including shooting in low light.

Video

Video is not the primary focus of the E-M1X camera, but that hasn't stopped Olympus from including a wide variety of video features in their new flagship camera. The E-M1X can record 4K UHD video at up to 30 frames per second and DCI 4K, which has a 4,096 x 2,160 resolution, at a fixed 24 fps framerate. The 4K UHD video has a 102 Mbps bitrate, and the DCI 4K video has a 237 Mbps bitrate, so it is more than just resolution and framerate that varies between these two modes. In addition to 4K recording, the E-M1X can also record at a new 120 fps framerate for Full HD and HD resolutions.

Olympus E-M1X DCI 4K Video
4096 x 2160 video at 24fps. Shot with Olympus 45mm f/1.2 PRO lens.
Download Original (142 MB .MOV File)

The E-M1X has a dedicated video recording button on the top of the camera, near the shutter release, and also has a movie mode slot on the mode dial. You can record within aperture priority, shutter speed priority, automatic and manual modes either by recording while in a specific shooting mode or by adjusting the movie recording mode within the dedicated movie settings sections of the camera's menu. Further, while recording, you can move the autofocus point around the frame using the new joystick.

For users who wish to color grade video, there's a new OM-Log400 color space, which significantly flattens the video to allow for additional flexibility during the editing processing. The camera includes mic and headphone jacks and can record externally via HDMI.

Olympus E-M1X 4K Video #1
3840 x 2160 video at 30fps. Shot with Olympus 300mm f/4 IS PRO lens.
Download Original (496 MB .MOV File)

Olympus E-M1X 4K Video #2
3840 x 2160 video at 30fps. Shot with Olympus 300mm f/4 IS PRO lens.
Download Original (238 MB .MOV File)

Regarding video quality itself, the 4K video quality is quite nice across different lighting conditions. At low ISO, there is quite a bit to like about the E-M1X's video; it's sharp, the colors are nice and the camera does a good job with exposure.

Autofocus performance is a bit hit-or-miss. Generally, the camera is able to acquire focus, even in low light. However, there are occasional instances of hunting and some jarring transitions. Of course, you can also manually focus with the E-M1X, which works well overall. The camera offers focus peaking when shooting 4K video, which is a nice inclusion.

Olympus E-M1X 4K Video #3
3840 x 2160 video at 30fps. Shot with Olympus 12-100mm f/4 IS PRO lens.
Download Original (343 MB .MOV File)

As mentioned earlier, the E-M1X has high-speed video recording at Full HD resolution. It works quite well, although the downgrade from 4K to Full HD video quality is pretty stark.

Olympus E-M1X High Speed Video
1920 x 1080 video recorded at 120fps and played back at 24 fps (5x slow motion). Shot with Olympus 12-100mm f/4 IS PRO lens.
Download Original (65 MB .MOV File)

Overall, the E-M1X is a stills-centric camera, but it offers a lot of nice video features and performance.

Olympus E-M1X Field Test Overall Summary

An excellent addition to Olympus' Micro Four Thirds lineup

The E-M1X is a very good camera, there's no doubt about that. However, it is not an obvious choice for upgrading for existing Olympus camera owners. It does a lot very well and has very few weaknesses. However, there are cases to be made either for or against the camera.

The case for the E-M1X

There is a lot to like with the E-M1X. As I have discussed throughout my two Field Tests, the camera is designed very well and ruggedly built. It is enjoyable to use thanks to its very good control layout and ergonomics. Save for a somewhat lackluster electronic viewfinder, at least compared to similarly-priced cameras, there is almost nothing lacking with the E-M1X's user experience.

Olympus 12-100mm f/4 IS Pro M.Zuiko lens at 12mm (24mm equiv.), f/8, 1/400s, ISO 200.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

Turning to autofocus and performance, the story remains positive. The E-M1X has a pro-level price, and its performance lives up the billing. Autofocus is swift and decisive, and the camera can record images quickly in a wide array of continuous shooting modes.

When considering the Micro Four Thirds system as a whole, the E-M1X joins a suite of other cameras and Olympus accessories and has immediate access to many excellent lenses covering a wide range of focal lengths and lens categories. Due to its smaller sensor, the lenses are generally smaller as well, and this is particularly evident with the two lenses I most frequently used during my time with the E-M1X: the 12-100mm f/4 IS PRO and 300mm f/4 IS PRO. These lenses offer 24-200mm and 600mm focal lengths, respectively, in 35mm terms while maintaining relatively small form factors and lightweight designs. Much like the E-M1X body itself, the Zuiko PRO lenses are also well-built and include substantial weather sealing.

Olympus 300mm f/4.0 IS Pro ED M.Zuiko lens (600mm equiv.), f/4.5, 1/2000s, ISO 2000.
This image has been cropped. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

The case against the E-M1X

While there's a strong case to be made for the E-M1X due to its design and high performance, there are also shortcomings and many of them are directly related to the Micro Four Thirds system in which the E-M1X exists.

With a price of $3,000, the E-M1X is in the same company as cameras such as the Nikon D850, Nikon Z7, Sony A7R Mark III and Panasonic S1R. The E-M1X costs more than the E-M1 II by $1,000 and eclipses many very high-quality APS-C and full-frame cameras. As I discussed above, there are some pros to using a smaller sensor, such as the relatively small lenses, but there are also downsides. The 20.1-megapixel sensor in the E-M1X simply doesn't produce images as detailed or as clean as what you will get from (lower-cost) 20-something megapixel APS-C and full-frame cameras, and the E-M1X cannot match something like a 45MP Nikon Z7 or 42MP Sony A7R III.

Olympus 300mm f/4.0 IS Pro ED M.Zuiko lens (600mm equiv.), f/4, 1/3200s, ISO 3200.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
Olympus 300mm f/4.0 IS Pro ED M.Zuiko lens (600mm equiv.), f/4, 1/3200s, ISO 3200.
100 percent crop. This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
Olympus 300mm f/4.0 IS Pro ED M.Zuiko lens (600mm equiv.), f/4, 1/3200s, ISO 3200.
100 percent crop from original JPEG image. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

If you are someone who shoots at high ISOs frequently or simply enjoys having a high-resolution image file, the E-M1X probably isn't for you. Some of the upsides of the E-M1X can be found on more affordable Micro Four Thirds cameras, and it's not immediately evident that the E-M1X is necessarily a better choice than the E-M1 II for many photographers.

Summing up

Who is the Olympus E-M1X for? Someone who needs a robust weather-sealed camera that uses excellent and flexible lenses which are considerably smaller than their full-frame counterparts. The E-M1X is far from the most compact Micro Four Thirds camera, but it is also one of the most enjoyable to use thanks to its design and physical controls.

The camera is also well-suited to photographers who frequently photograph action and require accurate autofocus. If someone were very much into motor sports photography, in particular, the new artificial intelligence-based AF system may be enough to convince them to purchase the E-M1X.

Olympus 300mm f/4.0 IS Pro ED M.Zuiko lens (600mm equiv.), f/5, 1/800s, ISO 200.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

Personally, I am in a strange limbo with the E-M1X. I simultaneously love the camera and thoroughly enjoy working with it but would likely not buy one. I think that it is simply too much money for not enough image quality.

I understand that it is perhaps unfair to compare the E-M1X against APS-C and full-frame cameras, but that is the situation Olympus has created by pricing the E-M1X at $3,000. It's a pro camera, so it will be judged against other pro cameras, including ones with inherent physical advantages when it comes to the image sensor.

What I like:

  • Great image quality for a Micro Four Thirds camera
  • Video features and overall performance are pretty good
  • Video autofocus is competent in most situations

What I don't like:

  • Not as good in low light as similarly-priced competition
  • Also not as good at resolving fine details as APS-C and full-frame competition
  • Video quality is a little underwhelming, particularly in low light
  • The E-M1X is expensive

In some ways, this Field Test has been one of the easiest I've done because the E-M1X is a great camera and using it is a satisfying and rewarding experience. In other ways, it is very difficult because the E-M1X is challenging to evaluate. As a Micro Four Thirds camera, it's one of the best and definitely my favorite Olympus camera. As a professional camera, it has some relative strengths, but it also comes up short in some very important areas, including image quality.

Olympus 12-100mm f/4 IS Pro M.Zuiko lens at 12mm (24mm equiv.), f/8, 0.8s, ISO 200.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

For photographers fully invested in the Micro Four Thirds system, the E-M1X immediately becomes one of the best options on the market. For photographers who are not in the system, it is a tough sell. Whereas something like the E-M5 series delivers a great blend of build quality, compactness and value, the E-M1X delivers only on the first two of those three areas.

Perhaps the best way I can sum up the Olympus E-M1X and my experience with it is that I will be sad to see it go. I have shot with dozens of cameras and don't feel this way often. I believe that says a lot about the E-M1X.

 



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