Olympus E-M1X Hands-on Part II

Handheld High Res mode, pushing the limits of I.S. and more

by Dave Pardue | Posted: 02/01/2019

Having named the Olympus E-M1 Mark II our Best Overall Camera in 2016, and a very deserved one at that, we were excited to see an even higher-tiered OM-D model come onto the scene here in 2019. In addition, the 300mm f/4 Zuiko Pro has become quite literally one of our favorite lenses of all time (also for good reason), and a camera with such a relatively stout build and a built-in battery grip like the E-M1X fits the bill quite nicely as a natural partner to that 600mm-equivalent powerhouse.

Our Senior Editor William Brawley has already given you one initial look at the camera's image quality and performance from the field with initial beta firmware, and I wanted to add to his report with a Part II with full production-grade firmware in order to start delving into some of the additional features prior to full field testing. These include an initial exploration of the reported (and whopping!) 7.5 stops of Sync I.S., and also a quick look at some of the new modes available exclusively on this new camera such as Live ND and Handheld High Resolution.

So... let's dive in!

1/2500s / f/4 / ISO 200 / 600mm eq. / 300mm f/4 Zuiko Pro lens

(Images have been resized to fit this page, cropped and/or altered in post-production, primarily to balance shadows and highlights as needed. All images for this piece were shot handheld except the "regular" (non-high-res) example in the high-resolution section, and the shots for Live ND. Clicking any image will take you to a carrier page with access to the original, full-resolution image as delivered by the E-M1X. For additional images and EXIF data please see our Olympus E-M1X Gallery page.)

Image Stabilization

I'll kick off this initial report with I.S. because it's one of my favorite topics. Simply put, I like to shoot handheld, even with long lenses, and this is one system that allows me to do that in spades! Having shot extensively with the 300mm f/4 on the E-M1 Mark II, including achieving a workable handheld shot of the moon, I was already thoroughly impressed with the capabilities of this line regarding overall stabilization performance.

But that reported 7.5 stops of I.S.... wow, that is record territory for this shooter with only medium-steady hands, so I thought I'd see if I could push the envelope just a bit. For instance, I've seldom had good luck shooting handheld for a full half-second, as my hands just aren't generally that steady, so that's one example I wanted to try out. The other is shooting the moon repeatedly with the 1.4x teleconverter attached, to see if I could simply do away with the tripod for my future lunar excursions.

.5s / f/5 / ISO 200 / 24mm eq. / 12-100mm f/4 Pro lens
Holding steady: This is a handheld exposure of a full half-second. I'm crouched over holding the camera just off the sand, hoping to exaggerate the natural effect of the moving water, so it's not the easiest holding position for this type shooting. I realize people have experienced success with even longer exposure times, but this is a nice feat for me. I shot many images of this scene using relatively slow shutter speeds and attained a keeper ratio of roughly 80%.


1/400s / f/7.1 / ISO 200 / 600mm eq. / 300mm f/4 Zuiko Pro lens
Capture: Olympus really upped the handheld ante when they unveiled the 300mm f/4 Pro, and now with the E-M1X they've taken it a step further. This shot is using a 1/400s shutter speed to capture a 600mm-eq. scene. That's not what I'd consider a stern test like the previous photo, but still a comforting thing to rely on when shooting telephoto in knowing the I.S. has you covered.


1/800s / f/9 / ISO 200 / 840mm eq. / 300mm f/4 Zuiko Pro lens + 1.4x TC

[1:1 crop]
Tranquil seas: Even though the shutter speed is a relatively fast 1/800s, the equivalent focal length is 840mm, so the I.S. still needed to kick in and do its job on this handheld telephoto image. When you view the moon through the EVF at this long length it tends to jump around quite a bit, and swirl, but as soon as you half-press the shutter and the I.S. kicks in you see the moon lock tightly into place, ready for capture. It's really a lot of fun on a crisp and clear night. (See below for a handheld high-res capture of the moon from the same evening.)

We'll have more controlled I.S. tests forthcoming, and we'll try some longer exposures and see where we end up, but there's a quick look from the field thus far.

Handheld High Resolution Mode

When we post articles with "High-Res" in the titles they virtually always draw readers in, and for good reason. It's beneficial for most of us to have manageable image sizes for day-to-day shooting, but still every now and then we may need super-high resolution for a variety of reasons. Olympus was one of the first to provide this popular mode and has now expanded the use to include shooting handheld! Let's get right to it.

High Resolution mode fires sequential images and then combines them into a larger, higher resolution file. Both the in-camera RAW file and the resulting JPEG are larger and more detailed. Previously this feat was only achievable when shooting on a tripod, but the E-M1X's improved I.S. technology adds a handheld mode to the mix. In this mode you're able to dial in a custom delay after the shutter press, before the camera starts its sequential image fire, so that you can steady yourself after initially depressing the shutter. I tried this with no delay, and with a one-half second delay, and generally found the delay preferable overall.

In my limited shooting time thus far, the mode has performed admirably, and will be of interest to photographers on-the-go needing to capture more detail when a tripod or steady surface is unavailable.

High Resolution Mode (off)

1/30s / f/4 / 50mm eq. / 25mm f/1.2 Pro lens

High Resolution Mode (off)
[1:1 crop of above image]

Handheld High Resolution Mode (on)

1/30s / f/4 / 50mm eq. / 25mm f/1.2 Pro lens / .5s delay

Details: Using a 5-billion dollar note from Zimbabwe, we see plenty of detail available from the E-M1X when paired with the excellent 25mm f/1.2 Zuiko Pro lens. And yet when we turn on Handheld High Res mode, we start to see amazingly small details of the threads within the note itself. Your own mileage may vary, but if your hands are fairly steady you should have no issues when using this mode. (I employed the one-half second post-shutter delay for this image.)

And now for a few outdoor "real world" uses of this mode:

Handheld High Resolution Mode (on)

1/80ss / f/5 / ISO 200 / 150mm eq. / 12-100mm f/4 Pro lens / 0sec delay

Handheld High Resolution Mode (on)
[1:1 crop of above image]

Grains of sand: If you're wondering why parts of the above image appear slightly blurry, especially to the right side of this 1:1 crop, that is simply the shallow depth of field given the fairly close distance for this shot. As opposed to the currency above, which was a reasonably flat target, this image has fairly shallow focus depth at this closeness. I wanted to see how the processors would handle the blur (since they must be doing some aligning to make the mode "handheld") and from what I can tell the image looks fairly natural given the extreme closeness. I mean, these are actual grains of sand you are looking at here!
(To further explore any of these images, simply click on them.)


Handheld High Resolution Mode (on)

1/800s / f/8 / ISO 200 / 840mm eq. / 300mm f/4 Zuiko Pro lens + 1.4x TC

Handheld High Resolution Mode (on)
[1:1 crop of above image]

Approaching terminator: With the moon not quite full we're afforded some shadows near the terminator, which help to showcase relative crispness. I had the camera set to a 0-second delay on this shot to see how it would perform, and it is not quite as crisp as some of the other images from this mode. I tried several shots, and this is as sharp as I could attain. Perhaps using a post-shutter delay, and/or shooting the moon a bit higher in the sky, will help on future attempts.

So there's a brief look at Handheld High Resolution mode. It certainly seems like a rather handy tool in early testing, especially when you employ the half-second delay feature. My mileage varied depending on the subject matter, but the thread patterns in the currency are astounding. We'll bring you more as we try out different subjects in the field.

Pro Capture and initial C-AF performance

Pro Capture was debuted along with the E-M1 Mark II several years ago, and we've found it to be a highly useful tool for capturing fast-moving subjects while simultaneously avoiding having a ton of wasted shots filling your card. This is because with Pro Capture, once you half-press the shutter you are filling the camera's buffer but not actually writing the images to the card. And yet as soon as you see a moment you'd like to capture go by in real time, you simply press "fire" one time and you've just "captured" the entire two second buffer. Awesome!

1/2500s / f/4 / ISO 200 / 600mm eq. / 300mm f/4 Zuiko Pro lens
Skimming: This Black Skimmer, hunting for breakfast one morning, was the fastest creature I've ever attempted to capture. Perhaps it's an illusion given his proximity to the water, but he sure seemed a lot faster to me than other standard birds I've shot through the years. Pro Capture helped with this, as I had to really time my bursts according to his severe darting behavior. (Being in the water also helped, and this is where a weather-sealed body and lens are a must. Not that I'm not careful, since sea water is not the best for a camera, but to know that a splash won't kill the rig allows me to get fairly deep for shots like this. (They should include complimentary waders with this camera!)

This feature isn't just for high-end cameras either, as I found it quite useful with the awesome little TG-5 during a Field Test. Obviously not new to the E-M1X, but since this is being marketed as a professional camera, it seemed only fitting to try Pro Capture and make sure it behaves as advertised. And, for me thus far, it is behaving quite admirably.

1/2500s / f/4 / ISO 200 / 600mm eq. / 300mm f/4 Zuiko Pro lens
Staying low: You're only afforded C-AF while in Pro Capture's low-speed setting, but that can still deliver up to 18fps, and for me that is all the images I ever want.


1/250s / f/2.8 / ISO 200 / 24mm eq. / 40-150mm f/2.8 Pro lens
Just curious: This little guy paused for only a brief second to check me out. When he did, I pressed the shutter and recorded the entire buffer. I had to brighten the edited version a bit, but that's not the camera's fault, as I had it dialed in for a brighter shot when I happened by this cute little guy.


1/800s / f/2.8 / ISO 250 / 300mm eq. / 40-150mm f/2.8 Pro lens
C-AF: I don't believe I had Pro Capture enabled for this shot, but I've included it as an example of the C-AF performance from the E-M1X. We'll take this camera to our new standardized C-AF course soon and pit it against some rival cameras for you, so stay tuned.


Live ND Mode

Let's say you're in bright light near a water feature and you want to capture the surreal effect of a long exposure, but you have yet to acquire or forgot to bring along a heavy-duty ND filter. Depending on your aperture you may be able to get close by stopping all the way down, but Olympus has now developed a tool to help you out even more thanks to a nifty new feature unveiled on the E-M1X called Live ND.

Once engaged, the effect works by subtly blurring the areas of the scene that are already in motion, such as water. The still objects in the scene, or visual "anchors," won't be affected. For this reason it's generally best of course to use a tripod, as you will still be capturing a relatively long exposure. The affect can be set from a 1-5EV threshold, where 5EV yields the most pronounced effect.

Live ND Mode (off)
1/30s shutter speed at f/22

1/30s / f/22 / ISO 200 / 172mm eq. / 12-100mm f/4 Pro lens

Live ND Mode (on)
1/2s shutter speed at f/22 - 5EV

.5s / f/22 / ISO 200 / 172mm eq. / 12-100mm f/4 Pro lens
Flow: With the same aperture in similar lighting conditions, the Live ND Mode is able to render the water to appear to flow with a 1/2 second shutter speed, where a normal exposure required a 1/30s shutter speed.

With only the ability to simulate an ND filter down to -5EV, this of course means that for super long exposure effects in bright conditions you'll still need to tote along your 10-stop ND filter. But at least you know that in partially bright light or for shorter exposure times, you can achieve similar effects now without the need of an ND filter attached. I'll certainly be toting along this rig next time I am heading to a beach with a pier!

Image Quality

While most of the advancements to be found in the E-M1X are processing-related or I.S.-related, anyone new to the OM-D line will still be curious as to the overall image quality available. We've not yet had the chance to delve deeply into higher ISOs for real world shooting, but you now have ample access to the entire ISO spectrum on our E-M1X Samples tab, and also for comparing with other cameras in our handy Comparometer.

For IQ with real world images at or near base ISO, I have a start for you here using production-grade firmware. The sensor housed in the E-M1X is only about 1/4th the size of a Full Frame sensor, and so as ISO rises your image quality will not compare to those bodies. And yet at and near base ISO the quality is quite good, and certainly far superior to anything you can achieve from 1-inch-sensored cameras or smartphones. That certainly goes for shallow depth of field potential as well.

1/2000s / f/3.5 / ISO 200 / 300mm eq. / 40-150mm f/2.8 Pro lens


1/640s / f/3.2 / ISO 200 / 260mm eq. / 40-150mm f/2.8 Pro lens


1/400ss / f/5.6 / ISO 200 / 24mm eq. / 12-100mm f/4 Pro lens

1/2500s / f/4 / ISO 200 / 600mm eq. / 300mm f/4 Zuiko Pro lens
Fishing: This juvenile Tri-Colored Heron (or Louisiana Heron) allowed me to get close enough for just one shot. As I'd never before captured one (or even seen one) I am glad the AF got it right the first time.


1/1000s / f/10 / ISO 200 / 840mm eq. / 300mm f/4 Zuiko Pro lens + 1.4x TC
Illusion: I love the "moon illusion" effect, and rarely get the chance to try it. The long focal length afforded by the 300mm f/4 with 1.4x TC allowed for a reasonable showing of the illusion here.


1/1250s / f/4 / ISO 200 / 600mm eq. / 300mm f/4 Zuiko Pro lens


1/5000s / f/4 / ISO 200 / 600mm eq. / 300mm f/4 Zuiko Pro lens
Never smile: I had to submerge my feet in a lagoon to get this shot. The whole time I'm wondering where his brother or sister might be lurking. I didn't stay long.


1/800s / f/4 / ISO 200 / 600mm eq. / 300mm f/4 Zuiko Pro lens
Sunbathing: This Anhinga was kind enough to pose for me here while he dried his wings.


1/400s / f/4 / ISO 640 / 108mm eq. / 12-100mm f/4 Pro lens


1/200s / f/4 / ISO 200 / 200mm eq. / 12-100mm f/4 Pro lens


So there's a brief additional look at some of the the capabilities of the intriguing new Olympus E-M1X. We'll be bringing you much more from this flagship camera in the weeks and months ahead, so check back in with us often!

1/250s / f/4 / ISO 640 / 184mm eq. / 12-100mm f/4 Pro lens

Olympus E-M1X Sample Gallery


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