Olympus E-M1X Image Quality


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Realistic saturation levels with good hue accuracy.

ISO Sensitivity
64
200
400
800
In the diagram above, the squares show the original "ideal" color, and the circles show the color that the camera rendered. More saturated colors are located toward the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center. Mouse over the links to compare ISOs and click for a larger version.

Saturation. The Olympus E-M1X pushes darker reds by a fair amount, but most colors are pretty close to accurate in terms of saturation or even slightly muted such as yellows and light greens. Default mean saturation at base ISO of 200 is 100.2% (only 0.2% oversaturated), which is very realistic overall, but much lower than average these days making some images look a bit dull in comparison to most other cameras. Mean saturation remains quite stable across the ISO range, except at very high ISOs where it falls to a low of 94.9% at ISO 25,600 (likely in an attempt to help control chroma noise). Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than what's found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life.

Skin tones. The Olympus E-M1X did very well with skin tones, producing pleasant, realistic-looking Caucasian skin tones using Auto or Manual white balance that are just slightly on the warm side. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc.

Hue. The Olympus E-M1X exhibits good overall hue accuracy, with a Delta-C color error after correction for saturation of 4.94 at base ISO (the average is about five among cameras we've tested, and lower scores are better). And hue accuracy is good across the ISO sensitivity range. The only significant hue shifts are orange towards yellow, light green towards yellow, and cyan towards blue, that latter of which is quite common and deliberate to improve the look of blue skies. Hue is "what color" the color is.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Default Auto white balance was quite warm, but good color balance with Incandescent and Manual white balance settings. Slightly higher than average exposure compensation required.

Auto, Keep Warm Color On (default)
+0.7 EV
Auto, Keep Warm Color Off
+0.7 EV
Incandescent White Balance
+0.7 EV
Manual White Balance
+0.7 EV

Indoors, under normal incandescent lighting, color balance was much too warm and orange with the default Auto white balance setting. The E-M1X has a "Keep Warm Color" option for Auto white balance which is On by default. When turned Off, the results were too cool with a cyan tint. Results with the Incandescent setting were not bad, though, just slightly warm and yellow. The Manual setting was very accurate and neutral. The E-M1X required +0.7 EV exposure compensation here, a little higher than the an average amount of +0.3 EV needed for this scene. (Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.)

Outdoors, daylight
Realistic color, with good dynamic range and exposure.

Manual White Balance,
+1.0 EV

Outdoors, the Olympus E-M1X performed well, with accurate if somewhat muted colors and good exposure. Skin tones were very good if slightly warm with both Auto and Manual white balance settings in our "Sunlit" Portrait shot. The Olympus E-M1X required +1.0 EV exposure compensation to keep the mannequin's face bright, which is good but a little higher than average. Default contrast is a bit high as it is on most cameras, but despite the bright appearance there are relatively few blown highlights in the mannequin's shirt and flowers, which is much better than average. And noise in all but the deepest shadows is quite low for a 4/3" sensor. (Note that these shots were taken at ISO 200 as lower ISOs are extended settings with inferior dynamic range.)

Native Resolution
~2,700+ lines of strong detail in native resolution JPEG and RAW files.

Strong detail to
~2,700 lines horizontal
Camera JPEG
Strong detail to
~2,700 lines vertical
Camera JPEG
Strong detail to
~2,700 lines horizontal
ACR processed ORF
Strong detail to
~2,700 lines vertical
ACR processed ORF

In-camera JPEGs of our laboratory resolution chart reveals sharp, distinct line patterns up to just over 2,700 lines per picture height in the horizontal direction, and to just over 2,700 lines in the vertical direction, although some fairly strong aliasing is visible well before those limits. Complete extinction of the pattern doesn't occur until about 3,600 - 3,700 lines. Adobe Camera Raw wasn't really able to extract more resolution here but generated far less luminance aliasing, though false colors and color moiré are much more apparent past the limits of resolution. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail.

High-Res Mode Resolution
Over 4,000 lines in High-Res JPEG and RAW files.

Strong detail to
>4,000 lines horizontal
Camera JPEG
Strong detail to
>4,000 lines vertical
Camera JPEG
Strong detail to
>4,000 lines horizontal
ACR processed ORF
Strong detail to
>4,000 lines vertical
ACR processed ORF

An in-camera 50MP Tripod mode High-Res JPEG of our laboratory resolution chart reveals sharp, distinct lines past the 4,000 line limit of our chart, and of course an ACR converted 80MP files also shows resolution past 4,000 lines, however the ACR conversion does show checkerboard patterns and stepped edges which implies alignment isn't always as good as in-camera processing or Olympus' Workspace software. And because each color is sampled separately in high-resolution mode there are far fewer false colors, although some moiré is still present.

Sharpness & Detail
Sharp images though edge-enhancement artifacts on high-contrast subjects are visible. Mild noise suppression visible in the shadows.

Very good definition of high-contrast
elements but with some visible
sharpening artifacts.
Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur
detail in areas of subtle contrast.

Sharpness. The Olympus E-M1X captures sharp, crisp images, though as is often the case, edge enhancement artifacts are visible on high-contrast subjects such as sharpening halos around the lines and lettering in the crop above left when default settings are used. The amount of default sharpening is a bit aggressive and the halos are a little bright, but at least they are not very thick or too objectionable. Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.

Detail. The crop above right shows fairly mild noise suppression artifacts in areas of the mannequins's hair as base ISO, smudging individual strands together when contrast between them is low, though quite a few individual strands remain visible. Overall detail is very good for a 20-megapixel Micro Four Thirds model, and chroma noise is very low. Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears.

New Detail and Drive Priority Mode Settings

The E-M1X has a new Detail Priority mode which holds onto more fine detail at low ISOs than the default Drive Priority mode, but at the cost of more visible noise and shallower buffer depths in burst mode.

Base ISO (200)
Drive Priority
Detail Priority

As you can see above at base ISO, Detail Priority on the right does a better job at retaining fine detail than the default Drive Priority mode, though it's a pretty subtle improvement.

Native Res RAW vs In-Camera JPEGs
As noted above, the Olympus E-M1X does a great job at capturing lots of fine, crisp detail in its JPEGs, but more detail can often be obtained by carefully processing RAW files, while at the same time mitigating sharpening artifacts. Take a look below, to see what we mean:

Base ISO (200)
Camera JPEG, defaults
RAW via Adobe Camera Raw

In the table above, we compare an in-camera JPEG taken at base ISO using default noise reduction and sharpening (on the left) to the matching RAW file converted with Adobe Camera Raw 9.1 via DNG Converter 11.2 using default noise reduction with some strong but tight unsharp mask applied in Photoshop (300%, radius of 0.3 pixels, and a threshold of 0).

As is often the case, the Adobe Camera Raw conversion contains fine detail superior to the camera's Super Fine JPEG at default settings as can be seen in the mosaic crop and especially in the red-leaf swatch where much more of the fine thread pattern is resolved, though it does leave behind a lot more luminance noise at default noise reduction settings. In-camera JPEGs also have more "pop" as well, with higher default contrast and sharpening and saturation. Overall, though, the E-M1X's JPEG engine does a very good job balancing the detail offered by its 20-megapixel sensor with keeping noise in check, at least at low ISOs. (And its expanded low ISO 64 and ISO 100 settings do even better especially in the red-leaf fabric, but at the cost of lower dynamic range.) However as is usually the case, additional detail can be extracted when working with RAW files.

Tripod High Res mode RAW vs In-Camera JPEGs
The Olympus E-M1X's Tripod High Res mode produces in-camera 49.9-megpixel JPEGs, but High-Res .ORF files are converted to 80.1-megapixel images. Below, we compare the two at base ISO:

High Res Mode, Base ISO (200)
Camera JPEG, defaults
ACR RAW Conversion

As you can see, the Tripod High Res mode in-camera JPEG and RAW files both offer a lot more detail than the native resolution files in the previous comparison with far fewer aliasing artifacts, but the converted High Res RAW file only offers a modest increase in detail over the in-camera High Res JPEG, and also shows slightly higher noise. The converted High Res RAW file was also a quite soft so we cranked up the sharpening in Photoshop after the conversion to 500% with a radius of 0.5 pixels, and a threshold of 0 but it still appears to be a bit soft. Note that Tripod High Res mode is supported at ISOs up to 1600, and flash is supported (with a max sync speed of only 1/50s.)

The E-M1X now also features a Handheld High Res mode that can, as the name implies, be used when the camera is handheld. It captures 16 images instead of 8, however performance in the lab on a tripod wasn't quite as detailed as tripod mode was, and the RAW files it produces are limited to 50.3 megapixels. Note that maximum ISO when shooting Handheld High Res mode is increased to ISO 6400, but flash is not supported.

See our Field Test Part I for real-world Handheld High Res Shot mode examples and comparisons, and see our PEN-F review for more on the original Tripod High Res Shot mode.

ISO & Noise Performance
Excellent high ISO performance for its class.

Default High ISO Noise Reduction
ISO 64 ISO 100 ISO 200
ISO 400 ISO 800 ISO 1600
ISO 3200 ISO 6400 ISO 12,800
ISO 25,600

The Olympus E-M1X's images are quite clean and detailed at ISOs 64 though 400, though there's a minor increase in noise in the shadows as ISO sensitivity rises within this range and some very minor blurring of fine detail visible at ISO 400. ISO 800 shows more luminance noise, but fine detail is remains strong. At ISO 1600, we see some moderate detail loss due to stronger noise and noise reduction efforts, but sharpness and fine detail are still quite good. ISO 3200 shows a more noticeable drop in image quality, with much higher luminance noise and more noticeable noise reduction artifacts, though the noise grain pattern is quite tight and chroma noise is well-controlled. Fine detail takes a bigger hit at ISO 6400 with more stronger smudging and more noticeable noise. Image quality drops off rapidly from there, with much higher noise, visible noise reduction and sharpening artifacts, as well as a slight drop in saturation. Chroma noise which remains well-controlled up to ISO 12,800 is quite strong at 25,600.

Overall, though, high ISO noise performance is excellent for a Micro Four Thirds camera and high ISO JPEGs display improved detail retention and contrast over the E-M1 II running v1.0 firmware (the E-M1 II's recently released v3.0 firmware update brings its default JPEG processing on par with the E-M1X's). As always, see the Print Quality section below for maximum recommended print sizes at each ISO.

Extremes: Sunlit, dynamic range and low light tests
Very good dynamic range in JPEGs, and very good low-light performance as well.

+0.3 EV +0.7 EV +1.0 EV

Sunlight
The Olympus E-M1X did very well with this difficult shot, requiring slightly more than average exposure compensation of +1.0 EV to keep the mannequin's face bright in this harsh lighting. As mentioned previously, despite the bright appearance of the mannequin's shirt, dynamic range is surprisingly good, with only a few highlights blown and good detail in the shadows as well, though very deep shadows do exhibit fairly strong noise reduction. Still, performance here is well above average, particularly for a Micro Four Thirds model.

Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here. In actual shooting conditions, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown here; it's better to shoot in open shade whenever possible.)


Face Detection
Off at 0 EV
Aperture priority, f/8
On at 0 EV
Aperture priority, f/8

Face Detection. Like most cameras these days, the Olympus E-M1X has the ability to detect faces, and adjust exposure and focus accordingly. As you can see from the examples above, face detection worked well, as the image on the right with it enabled is much better exposed for the face without having to use any exposure compensation. An excellent performance under very difficult lighting such as this. Note that the E-M1X does not have a full Auto mode.


Outdoor Portrait Gradation Comparison
+0.3 EV

Gradation. Similar to dynamic range optimization systems from other manufacturers, the Olympus E-M1X's Gradation setting applies local contrast adjustments in an attempt to preserve shadow detail and prevent highlight clipping with the Auto setting. Above are examples of the Normal (default), Auto, Low Key and High Key settings applied to our "Sunlit" Portrait shot with no exposure compensation. Mouse over the links to load the associated thumbnail and click on the links to visit the full resolution image.

As you can see, the Low Key setting applies Gradation for making subjects darker, while the High Key setting does the opposite for brighter images. The Auto setting did a good job here, boosting shadows and midtones without blowing additional highlights, for a much better overall exposure than the Normal setting.


Highlight/Shadow Control Comparison
Highlight:
-7
-4
-2
0
+2
+4
+7
Shadow:
-7
-4
-2
0
+2
+4
+7

Highlight/Shadow Control. Above, we can see the E-M1X's Highlight and Shadow Control options at work on our "Sunlit" Portrait test shots. This feature lets you adjust both ends of the tone curve independently in 15 steps from -7 to 7, giving you more control of highlights versus shadows than the regular contrast adjustment; a very nice feature. Mouse over the links to load the associated thumbnail, and click on the links to visit the full resolution image.



High Dynamic Range Comparison
HDR Setting:
Off

High Dynamic Range. The E-M1X's in-camera HDR feature works by combining four shots at different exposures. Two strength settings are available: HDR1 and HDR2, with the later providing a more extreme or painterly result. ISO is fixed to 200.

Above, you can see the E-M1X's in-camera HDR mode at work with our "Sunlit" Portrait shots with no exposure compensation. HDR1 did a decent job brightening shadows and toning down highlights, though the resulting image was still too dim and some colors look off. You can definitely do better by using bracketing mode and combining the images yourself in software. HDR2 mode looks overprocessed and too flat for this subject, with soft details.

Notice that the HDR images are not cropped compared to the non-HDR image, which can imply the camera does not microalign the source images, or at least can't compensate for much camera motion. This is pretty much confirmed by the user manual which says to use a tripod for HDR shots, potentially making this mode less useful than those offered by some other manufacturers.

Dynamic Range Analysis (RAW mode)
A key parameter in a digital camera is its Dynamic Range, the range of brightness that can be faithfully recorded. At the upper end of the tonal scale, dynamic range is dictated by the point at which the RGB data "saturates" at values of 255, 255, 255. At the lower end of the tonal scale, dynamic range is determined by the point at which there ceases to be any useful difference between adjacent tonal steps. Note the use of the qualifier "useful" in there: While it's tempting to evaluate dynamic range as the maximum number of tonal steps that can be discerned at all, that measure of dynamic range has very little relevance to real-world photography. What we care about as photographers is how much detail we can pull out of the shadows before image noise becomes too objectionable. This, of course, is a very subjective matter, and will vary with the application and even the subject matter in question. (Noise will be much more visible in subjects with large areas of flat tints and subtle shading than it would in subjects with strong, highly contrasting surface texture.)

While we once performed our own dynamic range measurements based on in-camera JPEGs as well as converted RAW images (when the camera was supported by Adobe Camera Raw), we've switched to using DxO Labs' results from their DxOMark website. As technology advanced, the dynamic range of modern high-end cameras in some cases exceeded the range of the Stouffer T4110 density scale that we used for our own measurements. DxO's approach based on RAW data before demosaicing is also more revealing, because it measures the fundamental dynamic range of the sensor, irrespective of whatever processing is applied to JPEGs, or to RAW data by off-the-shelf conversion software.

In the following, we use DxO's "Print" dynamic range results, which are scaled based on camera resolution. As the name suggests, this scaling corresponds to the situation in which you print at a given size, regardless of how many megapixels the camera might have. (In other words, if you've decided to make a 13x19 inch print, that's the size you're printing, whether the camera's resolution is 16 or 300 megapixels.) Also note that DxO Labs uses a signal-to-noise (SNR) threshold of 1 when defining the lower boundary of acceptable luminance noise in their dynamic range measurements, which corresponds to the "Low Quality" threshold of the Imatest software we used to use for this measurement.

Unfortunately, DxOMark has not yet tested the E-M1X as of this writing, but we'll come back and update this section if and when they do. However, the site Photons to Photos has tested it, and interestingly, they found the E-M1X produced somewhat lower dynamic range at the same ISO settings than the E-M1 II, although peak dynamic range is practically the same at base ISO. Click here to compare their results.

LL AF: The Olympus E-M1X's autofocus system was able to focus on our legacy low-contrast AF target down to -4.3 EV unassisted with an f/2.8 lens, which is quite good. And with our new high-contrast AF target, it could focus down to -6.0 EV which is excellent. The E-M1X is also equipped with a built-in focus-assist lamp which lets it focus in total darkness, as long as the target is in range and has sufficient contrast.

NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) Thanks to their larger pixels and in the case of the E-M1X, its Hybrid AF system, compact system cameras like the Olympus E-M1X tend to do much better than point & shoots in dim light, but you still shouldn't expect a quick autofocus lock with moving subjects.

Output Quality

Print Quality
An excellent 30 x 40 inch print at ISO 64/100/200, a good 16 x 20 inch print at ISO 1600, and a nice 5 x 7 at ISO 12,800.

ISO 64/100/200 yield superb images at 30 x 40 inches, and even a bit larger depending on your intended viewing distance where resolution is concerned. The images have a wonderful three-dimensional pop, realistic colors and presence, as well as very nice fine detail. Wonderful printed images all around!

ISO 400 prints are quite good at 24 x 36 inches, with nice colors and fine detail. There's virtually no sign at this size that the ISO sensitivity has risen, and you can also certainly use the 30 x 40 inch prints here for wall display purposes.

ISO 800 produces quite a nice print at 16 x 20 inches, with only a trace of noise present in flatter areas of our test target. There is of course a noticeable lessening of contrast detail in our tricky red-leaf fabric swatch, which is typical for most enthusiast cameras by this gain setting, though certainly not all. You can push the size to 20 x 30 inches here for less critical applications and wall display purposes as well, but for important prints remaining at 16 x 20 inches and below is recommended.

ISO 1600 delivers a 16 x 20 inch print that somewhat surprisingly passes our good seal. We say surprising because this is quite a large print at ISO 1600 for a Four Thirds sensor to achieve. There is certainly a bit more noise present in some flatter areas of our test target upon close inspection, but not quite as much as we saw with the E-M1 Mark II (with v1.0 firmware). This is a worthwhile achievement indeed.

ISO 3200 is generally the gain setting where most Four Thirds sensors begin to show their limits, and while the E-M1X is nearly as good as any in its class, it is still no exception. We can wholeheartedly recommend 11 x 14 inch prints here, and it most assuredly merits our "good" seal, but anything higher is not recommended save for less critical printing applications.

ISO 6400 prints also continue to show the strain of ISO gain, and are best restricted to 8 x 10 inches in size. There is nearly full color representation and fairly good fine detail for this ISO at that size, although all contrast detail is now lost in our tricky target red-leaf swatch. There is only minimal noise apparent in a few flatter areas, so not a bad print overall for this much gain increase.

ISO 12,800 yields a nice 5 x 7 inch print considering the lofty gain setting. We've pretty much now moved out of "professional grade" printing territory since you can no longer achieve a quality 8 x 10, but it's still nice to see that you can achieve a worthwhile print for general and family-type purposes.

ISO 25,600 prints are not awful at 4 x 6 inches, and will likely work for less critical applications, but for anything of a serious nature there's simply too much noise apparent to make the grade. We therefore recommend avoiding this gain setting for most all printing purposes.

The Olympus E-M1X delivers one of the best performances in the Print Quality department that we've yet seen from a Four Thirds sensor. Base ISO and extended low settings yield superb 30 x 40 inch prints, while even ISO 1600 can deliver a quality 16 x 20 inch print. After that and in somewhat typical fashion the quality level and usability for printing purposes does fade rather quickly, but you'll be in good hands at ISO 1600 and below, and can even get by at ISO 3200 if you're not printing super-large. A fine job once again from Olympus in providing superior quality for enthusiasts and professionals from a relatively small sensor.

 

The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Olympus OM-D E-M1X Photo Gallery .

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Olympus OM-D E-M1X with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!