Tired of lugging a huge DSLR and massive glass around stadiums, arenas, racetracks, and remote locations? Wish you could ditch the monopod and shoot handheld all day? Hate having to decide whether or not to grab your camera's bulky rain gear?
Come meet the Olympus OM-D E-M1X.
(NOTE: product shots were ALSO captured using an E-M1X)
Olympus' answer to the flagship Canon 1DX Mark II, Nikon D5 and, in some ways, the Sony A9, is a souped-up E-M1 Mark II
with dual image processors, extra cooling, and an integrated vertical grip. It will MSRP for a penny under $3000 when it launches in late February (2019), making it $2500 less than the Canon, $3500 less than the Nikon, and $1500 less than the Sony. Cross shopping 600mm-equivalent lenses, and Olympus offers a 300mm F4 PRO for $10,000 less than the competing Canon and Nikon lenses.
The E-M1X is also a mirrorless system, which comes with benefits like wider and taller autofocus coverage, in-viewfinder exposure representation, silent burst shooting, and 5-axis in-body image stabilization. And when other systems need rain hoods for their bodies and lenses, you can literally shoot with the E-M1X and M.Zuiko PRO lenses in the pouring rain.
So it's smaller, lighter, tougher, and cheaper than its pro competition. But are the images as good? Can a Micro FourThirds sensor compete with full-frame? Is the autofocus as fast and as accurate as the flagship systems from Canon, Nikon, and Sony? And is the E-M1X worth the extra $1,300 over the E-M1 Mark II, which remains Olympus' co-flagship camera?
Let's find out together.
LENSES & GEAR USED
We tested our loaner E-M1X with a variety of Olympus M.Zuiko PRO lenses, including the --
- 12-100mm F4 PRO
- 12-40mm F2.8 PRO
- 7-14mm F2.8 PRO
- 50-150mm F2.8 PRO
- 300mm F4 PRO
- 1.4x Teleconverter MC-14
Olympus M.Zuiko PRO lenses are sharp, fast to focus, rugged as hell, and have great ergonomics (the manual clutch is a personal favorite). But, it's important to remember, for anyone who isn't familiar, that M4/3 camera systems have a 2x crop factor compared to 35mm full-frame systems. As such, a 12-100mm F4 Olympus lens produces a similar field-of-view and depth-of-field as a 24-200mm F8 full-frame lens.
(Dual UHS-II SD Card Slots)
- Freezeproof (14°F / -10°C)
- 20.4 MP Live MOS image sensor
- Super Sonic Wave Filter dust & dirt sensor removal
- Shutter life tested to 400,000 actuations (aka clicks)
- Built-in Grip with vertically oriented dials & buttons
- Dual TruePic VIII Image Processors
- 0.83x 120p EVF with 0.005 second latency
- 3.0" Vari-Angle Touchscreen
- 5-Axis Image Stabilization
- Up to 7.5 stops of compensation (7.0 EV, body alone)
- Native ISO 200 - 6400
- Handheld High-Res Shot
- Live ND
- Art Filters
- 4K & HD Video Recording
- DCI 4K (237Mbps): 24p
- 4K Ultra HD (102Mbps): 24p, 25p, 30p
- Full 1080p HD All-Intra (202Mbps): 24p, 25p, 30p
- Full 1080pHD Superfine (52Mbps): 24p, 25p, 30p, 60p
- High-Speed Movie Mode at 120 fps (baked-in slow-mo)
- 4:2:2 OM-Log400 Recording (via HDMI output)
- 121-Point All-Cross-Type On-Chip Phase Detection AF
- Focuses in up to -6 EV with F1.2 lenses
- Intelligent Subject Detection (trains, cars, plans)
- AF Area Multi Selector
- Vertical & Horizontal AF position memory
- Dual UHS-II SD Card Slots
- Dual BLH-1 Batteries
- USB-C charging
- Built-in Field Sensors (GPS, temperature, manometer, & compass)
- Anti-Flicker Shooting & Flicker Scan
- Bluetooth & Wi-Fi
- Olympus Capture
- Olympus Viewer 3
WHAT'S IN THE BOX
- 1 OM-D E-M1X body & body cap
- 1 shoulder strap
- 2 BLH-1 Lithium-ion Batteries (same as the E-M1 Mark II)
- 2 Battery Chargers
- 1 USB-A to USB-C cable for data transfer & internal battery charging
- 1 cable protector & cable clip
- Manual & Warranty Card
E-M1X VS E-M1 MARK II
The Olympus E-M1 Mark II costs about $1,300 less than the E-M1X and features the same image sensor, AF system, durability, displays, and menus. So what does the E-M1X give you that you don't get with the Mark II?
- An integrated vertical grip
- Dual TruePic VII image processors
- Dual UHS-II SD card slots
- Improved weather sealing around the SD card slot door
- A heat pipe for improved cooling
- A multi selector (aka joystick)
- Customizable C-LOCK to lock various controls as needed
- Handheld High-Res Shot
- Live ND mode
- New 9 and 25-point AF groups
- Custom AF target mode
- Individual vertical and horizontal AF target & AF area
- Intelligent Subject Detection with AI Deep Learning (planes, trains, and automobiles)
- Up to 7.5 EV 5-axis image stabilization (up 2 EV from the Mark II)
- Field sensors
- USB-C charging
- Bluetooth & Wi-Fi (Wi-Fi only on the Mark II)
- 4:2:2 OM-Log400 HDR video recording
- 120fps High-Speed Movie (1920 x 1080)
- 3 levels of image stabilization for different types of handheld video
- Compatible with high-res recording with an external mic (less white noise than before)
- Anti-Flicker Shooting and Flicker Scan
- Improved Super Sonic Wave Filter Dust Reduction
- Mode Dial "B" for Live Composite, Live Bulb, & Live Time
- Included cable protector
- Dustproof, splashproof, and freezeproof even with cables attached
Not every photographer will need or want all of these new features, but it's important to know the E-M1X isn't just a Mark II with a built-in battery grip. Also worth noting? If you outfit the Mark II with a vertical grip, second battery, and second charger, the price gap closes to about $940.
(Behold... the Phoblographer's thumb!)
WHAT WE LOVE
When analyzing our time with the Olympus OM-D E-M1X, it's safe to say this is the best Olympus camera ever made as well as the company's best hybrid camera. Here are our favorite features.
Badass Build Quality. My current benchmarks for build quality are the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, Nikon D5, D850, and Z7/Z6, and the Canon 1DX Mark II. They're all rugged cameras that have been tough-tested for mud, rain, and cold. But with the Canon and Nikon systems, you'll see their owners reaching for rain gear anytime there's more than a drizzle. You've probably seen these setups while watching pro and college sports. They're bulky, take up room, and are a pain to put on and pull off. By comparison, the OM-D E-M1 Mark II and Olympus PRO lenses don't need rain gear. Wind and snow and hail? No problem. The Gods unleashing cascading torrents of rain? Easy. Letting a faucet run directly on to the camera? It'll survive that too. And the E-M1X is even BETTER SEALED than the Mark II.
(NOTE: never do these things with current gen Sony cameras; they're not very weather resistant.)
We personally tested the E-M1X in the rain, watched one get hosed off after falling in the mud, let an overflowing rain gutter pour over another, and witnessed an Olympus employee dunk a review unit in a hot tub. We also got a sneak peek of an internal Olympus video test where they doused the E-M1X with a custom shower contraption that looked like an inverted lawn sprinkler. Oh, and the shutter's been tested to 400,000 actuations which, I believe, is double what Nikon just did for the sturdy Z series bodies.
In other words, the E-M1X is the toughest, most rugged camera ever made by the company who make the toughest most rugged cameras.
Elegant Ergonomics. The Olympus OM-D E-M1X is a joy to use for extended periods of time. It fits hands perfectly in horizontal or vertical orientations, making you want to skip the camera strap because it *feels* impossible to drop. The dials, knobs, joystick, and buttons are tactile, responsive, and well spaced. The thumb-rest is natural and grippy. The C-Lock feature prevents you from accidentally changing settings, while the "Bulb" position on the mode dial helps you find previously buried modes, respectively. This is a camera built for pros, beefy and balanced, but not bulky, heavy, or imposing. If the whole point of going to a smaller system is to handhold... you won't want to put the E-M1X down.
(70mm, F4, 1/3200, ISO 3200)
Elite AutoFocus (AF). The Olympus OM-D E-M1X boasts the same 121-point all-cross-type on-chip Phase Detection AF sensor as the OM-D E-M1 Mark II, but those dual processors have helped bring forth new capabilities and features. In low-light, the E-M1X can focus at -6 EV with the M.Zuiko F1.2 PRO primes, face and eye-AF tracking are upgraded, and you can now customize your AF areas in the main menu from single points to skinny rectangles to all 121 points. There are also three specific AI-infused detection modes that look for trains, planes, and automobiles to help you lock focus on high-speed machines. In our experience, I was able to shoot Motocross-style dirt bikes flying through the air, race cars circling Daytona, surfers walking on water, and my toddler running around Disneyland. I'd say this is a peppy and capable AF system overall -- I've seen the results created by Olympus' pro wildlife and sports photographers -- but it wasn't perfect all the time and falls short of Sony's flagship. (More on this in the next section.)
5-Axis Image Stabilization. Olympus has the best in-body image stabilization in photography. Hands down. Panasonic is a close second, and I think Nikon did a pretty good job with the Z series, but wow, Olympus IBIS makes you feel almost like your camera is on a gimbal or stabilizer. With up to 7.5 stops of exposure compensation when paired with the 12-100mm F4 IS PRO lens, or 7.0 stops with the IBIS alone, this gives users the ability to handhold for unusually long times and/or lower your ISO to keep unwanted noise at bay. In video, the E-M1X offers three different IBIS settings for different types of movement. If you've never tried Olympus IBIS, you're in for a treat; the best just got better.
(High-Res Mud Shot, 135mm, F2.8, 1/60, ISO 200)
Image Quality & High-Res Shot Mode. The Olympus OM-D E-M1X shoots RAW images in two resolutions (plus a few extra, smaller JPEG sizes). In single shot and burst shooting, the native resolution is 20.4 megapixels, which isn't too far off from cameras like the Sony A7 III or Nikon Z6. In High-Res Shot Mode, the E-M1X combines multiple images to create a 50MP still photo. This tech isn't new; Olympus has been implementing since the E-M5 Mark II, and Sony offers a version in the A7R III. What IS new, however, is that you can now handhold High-Res Shots where other iterations require a tripod. In specific scenarios, it's like flipping a switch and turning a Sony A7 III into a Sony A7R III...
But there's a catch.
High-Res Shot doesn't work with moving subjects, so it's limited to controlled situations like product photography. Still, in good-to-great lighting, the E-M1X performs as well as larger-sensor cameras. Using both High-Res Shot Mode and at its native resolution, we compared E-M1X sample images with similar frames captured on the Nikon Z7 and Nikon Z6. Outside depth-of-field and some white balance variances, the E-M1X natively produces images in league with the Z6, and the E-M1X High-Res Shot mode can capture images as detailed as the Z7. In truth, many folks wonder if APS-C, full-frame, or medium format sensors are necessary for pros, but after years of seeing what Olympus Visionaries do with these Micro FourThirds sensors, from web usage to large prints to billboards, you really can do it all. ...Well, almost. The RAW files are less flexible, which might be a deal-killer for some. (We'll dive into this below.)
Improved Video Capabilities & Video AF. In addition to the Cinema 4K recording capabilities introduced on the E-M1 Mark II, the E-M1X adds OM-Log400 HDR video recording in 4:2:2 chroma when using an external recorder, giving filmmakers more grading flexibility in high contrast situations. The E-M1X also offers 120fps High-Speed Movie (1920 x 1080) mode, although it's not as high quality as the other HD frame rates. Lastly, we noticed improved face detection and subject tracking versus the Mark II. There are cheaper vlogging rigs out there, but this completes the hybrid package; I hope these upgraded algorithms trickle down to other Olympus cameras.
(Dramatic Tone I, 86mm, F4, 1/3200, ISO 800)
All The Tech Toys. Olympus cameras are always loaded with helpful features and shooting modes. Their extensive Art Filters offer an instant dash of creativity (#DramaticToneForLife), although I wish they had included more of the film simulations from the PEN-F. If you're into astrophotography, shooting cityscapes, or any type of long exposure photography, you have to try Live Composite, Live Time, and Live Bulb -- they help you build gorgeous images in-camera and in real time. And, there's a new Live ND mode that, similar to the way High-Res Shot Mode combines multiple images, helps you capture handheld in-camera shots as if you'd used an ND2 to ND32 filter on your lens. If you love your cameras loaded with tech and gizmos and interesting features, Olympus does it as well or better than everyone else.
Battery Life... For Several Lives. Olympus claims its dual BLH-1 battery system is capable of shooting 870 shots, but we were able to shoot all day -- both stills and 4K video -- and fill up a 32GB memory card without killing both batteries. Did we get all 870 or more? I don't know, but the battery life feels DSLR-good despite being a mirrorless camera. The E-M1X also supports USB-C in-camera charging, which will get your camera back up to full in about two hours. This works so well I didn't even bother borrowing the battery chargers for our review unit; I just plugged the camera in after one long day or after several short days.
WHAT WE'D CHANGE
While our time with the Olympus OM-D E-M1X was net-positive, there are a few features we'd revise via firmware, if possible, or in future camera generations.
Is It Time for a New Image Sensor? We're phrasing this as a question because, while there's nothing technically wrong with this sensor, we don't love it in the same way we do with other sensors. Yes, High-Res Shot mode can match the Z7 or A7R III in the studio, but even the subtlest movement -- a flower moving in a slight breeze, for example -- makes the mode unusable.
In other words, outside of product photography, the E-M1X is much more akin to a Sony A7 III or Nikon Z6, both of which are more affordable. Further, if you shoot at ISO 6400 or above, images become noisy and devoid of fine details, and colors lose their punch. Even worse, push an E-M1X's RAW file more than two exposure stops and you can recover some of the lost details but almost none of the color. In other words, the E-M1X lacks the dynamic range and the noise control of Nikon, Canon, and Sony's best sensors.
In short, you can take amazing beautiful, high-resolution images with the Olympus OM-D E-M1X, but you have to be careful of your lighting conditions in ways you don't need with larger-sensor systems.
(By ISO 10,000, noise is attacking the background & fine details, and color quality is dropping)
Include AE/AF in Sequential High Shooting. When Olympus says the E-M1X can shoot up to 15fps with its mechanical shutter and up to 60fps with the e-shutter or in Pro Capture Mode, those are some incredible specs. But there's a catch. Like the E-M1 Mark II, those Sequential High modes lock autofocus and auto exposure the instant you press and hold the shutter button. With AF/AE active, in Sequential Low, you're reduced to 10fps with the mechanical shutter and 18fps with the silent e-shutter. More than enough to capture fast action, to be sure, but we'd love to see AF/AE capabilities come to Sequential High.
Add More Video Frame Rates. While the E-M1X is clearly Olympus' best video camera, Micro FourThirds rival, Panasonic, offers 4K/60p and Full HD 1080p video recording at up to 180 fps, which give video creators more flexibility when they're shooting. Panasonic cameras tend to be a little more video-first in their design, where Olympus is photography-first, but we'd love to see Olympus push this powerful little camera a little more on the video side.
(There are details in them thar shadows... but no color.)
Upgrade the EVF & Rear Screens. While we applaud the E-M1X's Vari-Angle display (see, Nikon & Sony?) and the full-frame view of the EVF, both screens seem dated in an era where Nikon and Canon mirrorless systems include OLED EVFs and larger, clearer, rear displays. By comparison, the E-M1X's displays seem flatter and less clear. We'd also like to see touchscreen-navigation added to the Menu.
Add Dual Battery Charge Status. There's a moment each time the E-M1X is about to jump between Battery 1 and Battery 2 where an orange warning flashes about Battery 1's impending demise... even though you've still got one full battery waiting in the wings. It's a bit like driving a car with an inaccurate gas gauge; it's telling you to pull over, but you're pretty sure you've still got half a tank. But it's easy to second guess yourself if you're coming from a single-battery system. We'd love to see dual battery charge levels on the displays.
Not Sure if Sensor Dust Reduction Has Improved. Thanks to a new coating on the image sensor's Super Sonic Wave Filter, Olympus claims the E-M1X's chances of getting dust on the sensor are about 1/10th as likely as previous models. We, of course, managed to get dust on our loaner sensor on the very first day after swapping a lens on a generally rainy (ie, less dusty) day. In short, I'm not convinced this new system is better than before, and I wish more companies would follow Canon's lead of closing the mechanical shutter when the camera is powered down.
(Lost accurate White Balance and AF during this sequence. We can only fix the color temp.)
White Balance Was Tricky at Times. Pros know to set their white balance for each shoot, but sometimes you face varying conditions in one location. Looking one way, you're shooting into warm sunlight; looking the other, you're looking into cool shadows. In these situations, you have two choices; custom presets or auto white balance. With the E-M1X, I experienced a few auto white balance bugs where the landscape -- in this case, muddy red clay -- dramatically affected white balance, and where the camera's "Keep Warm Color" setting -- set to ON out of the box -- pushed things into the yellow. I also didn't love the camera's settings for incandescent and fluorescent. In short, I'm not sure if it was just new-camera-learning-curve bugs or if the white balance system itself was buggy, but dialing in a specific color temp or doing a custom white balance helps a lot with this camera.
The Autofocus Was Great... Unless It Wasn't. We shot a lot of fast-moving subjects with the E-M1X and despite being the fastest, most accurate Olympus AF system to date, our experience was a bit hit or miss at times. Again, some of this is likely due to errors on our part, but I was surprised when the E-M1X couldn't keep up with a toddler running straight at the lens, or when face/eye detection failed to engage. In that regard, with more than a few misses under my belt, I'd be hard pressed to say that the E-M1X AF is as good as Sony's best (especially when the A9 firmware update becomes public) or Nikon's D5 and D850 AF systems. Still, it is quite good and, in the hands of more experienced sports photographers than myself, should produce pleasing, tack-sharp photographs
PROS & CONS
- Class-leading image stabilization
- Toughest pro camera on the market today
- Fast AF
- Hand-held High Res Shot & Live ND work great
- Strong image quality in good/great lighting
- Excellent battery life and fast in-camera charging
- Wonderful ergonomics
- No fatigue after long shoots
- Best Olympus video camera to date (with improved AF tracking)
- Image sensor not great with recovering shadows or higher ISOs
- We'd like to see Olympus upgrade their displays
- Its fastest burst shooting modes don't include full-time AF
- Experienced a few AF bugs
- Sensor dust was an issue despite the Super Sonic Wave Filter
- Missing touch-and-drag AF when using the EVF
- Olympus Viewer Software remains slow and buggy for RAW editing
Is the OM-D E-M1X the best Olympus camera ever made? Without a doubt.
Is the OM-D E-M1X worth the premium price over the E-M1 Mark II? Depends on your needs. For pros who shoot long days in adverse conditions, the extra features, battery life, and performance make the X a worthy upgrade. Especially if you own two or more bodies, one X and one Mark II would make a great team.
Does the OM-D E-M1X stand tall next to the Canon, Nikon, and Sony flagship system cameras? This is a harder question to answer, to be honest. Yes and no. If you need a rugged camera and want to save space and weight when you're working long days, go find yourself an Olympus dealer and rent this system for a weekend and decide for yourself. The E-M1X is the toughest pro camera on the market, and it has wonderful ergonomics. The image stabilization and lenses are also crazy-good, and I always love using Olympus' filters and processor-enhanced features. And, in the best conditions, the E-M1X can keep up with APS-C and full-frame camera systems. You can produce wonderful imagery.
Yet, I'd be lying if I said I loved the E-M1X's sensor as much as the newer Nikon, Sony, Canon, or Fujifilm offerings. The dynamic range and flexibility that comes with a D850, D500, A7R III, A9, A7 III, or X-H1 just isn't here yet. High ISO performance is also a problem (6400 is already pushing things, even though the noise reduction processing is pretty good). I also experienced a few bugs with the AF and White Balance systems. And, if you're a video-first shooter, Panasonic still has an edge.
Pick Up the Olympus OM-D E-M1X If... You're a professional action, sports, or wildlife photographer who wants a lighter kit that excels in harsh environments but doesn't need an ultra-dynamic image sensor that excels at higher ISOs.