A giant body is not what we expect from a Micro Four Thirds camera, but the E-M1X has plenty of benefits for action shooters
- Great battery life
- Excellent for wildlife/action
- Built-in portrait grip
- 60fps raw shooting
- Small sensor
- Limited pro lens range
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the camera market was only really concerned with full-framers at the moment – just look at the Nikon Z6 or the Canon EOS R. But Olympus, for now at least, is sticking with the Micro Four Thirds format that has served it well for the past decade.
Building on the success of its previous high-end models, such as the OM-D E-M1 Mark II and the E-M10 Mark III (snappily named these cameras ain’t), the E-M1X aims to go further, capturing – in theory – the attention of pros looking for a high-performance wildlife and action camera.
Olympus OM-D E-M1X review: What you need to know
2019 is Olympus’ 100th birthday, but while a big anniversary launch isn’t a surprise, the E-M1X is still well and truly out there. It’s big, bold, expensive and aimed squarely at a sector of the market that hasn’t historically concerned itself with Micro Four Thirds – professionals and high-end amateurs.
So that sensor then – it’s a 20.4 megapixel Four Thirds sensor, housed in a very big body, albeit one that incorporates a portrait-format grip. At 147mm tall it’s only about 20mm shorter than Canon’s top-end EOS 1D X Mark II, so while it’s small (ish) for a gripped professional body, the traditional size benefit of Micro Four Thirds cameras is gone. On the flip side, the magnification factor of the sensor – multiplying the focal length of every lens you attach by two – means getting impressive focal lengths doesn’t require the huge telephoto lenses of 35mm cameras.
Olympus OM-D E-M1X review: Price and competition
If you’re in the market for a bargain, look away now, because the E-M1X retails at £2,799 body only. Lenses for the Micro Four Thirds system are pretty numerous – but you’ll probably want to pair the E-M1X with those with the “Pro” marker – such as the 12-100mm f/4 (£1,199), or the 40-150mm f/2.8 (£1,249) – so be prepared to add another couple of grand for glass.
In terms of competition, there’s actually not a whole lot that directly competes with the E-M1X. There’s the Panasonic G9, which is also a Micro Four Thirds camera and offers some rival specifications in areas such as fast frame rates, and is much more affordable at £1,149. Otherwise, at this price and size, you’re looking at cameras such as the full-frame Sony A9.
Olympus OM-D E-M1X review: Design and key features
This is not a camera designed for discretion. Incorporating a portrait-format grip leaves you with a squared off body that pros will enjoy for its extra flexibility. The grip offers a mirrored set of controls which are useful when shooting in portrait orientation, as well as housing an additional battery (included) for extended shooting – in fact, the official rating is up to a whopping 2,580 shots – not something you see very often with mirrorless.
Opting for a small sensor at this size and price might seem strange, but there are some benefits. There’s the crop factor to consider – getting you closer to your subjects without having to shell out for super expensive, super bulky optics. Any focal length that is printed on a lens is doubled on a Four Thirds sensor – a 300mm lens becomes 600mm and so on. Compare and contrast – Olympus’ 300mm f/4 lens has an effective focal length of 600mm, yet weighs just over 1kg and costs £2,299. If you want that focal length and aperture combo on a 35mm sensor you’ll need to brace both your bank account and spine.
Not being super high in the resolution stakes also facilitates a fast frame rate. “Fast” might not even be the right word, because if you fix focus in the first frame the E-M1X can shoot 60fps at full resolution in raw format. If you need continuous focus, the framerate drops to a still-impressive 18fps.
When it comes to controls, there are plenty spread across the E-M1X’s body. There’s an exposure mode dial, of course, but also direct access buttons to functions such as AF mode, drive mode, ISO, exposure compensation and so on. You can also customise what many of these buttons do to suit your workflow.
The E-M1X packs dual memory-card slots, which both accept super-fast UHS-II SD cards – handy for all that action photography you’ll presumably be shooting. There’s a joystick on the back which is great for choosing an AF point if you don’t want to use the touchscreen, and proved very easy to find when shooting through the viewfinder.
Speaking of the screen, it’s a fully-articulating, 3in touchscreen, which can be folded inwards for protection. The electronic viewfinder is very good, if not quite up to the absolutely superb efforts of other high-end mirrorless cameras. It offers 2.36m pixels, which is a touch mediocre by today’s standards, but is bright and big enough to give a clear view.
Olympus OM-D E-M1X review: Image and video quality
Some may write the E-M1X off out of hand thanks to its small sensor, but there’s plenty to like about the camera’s images. Overall, fine detail is very good – who says you need 40+ megapixel sensors, anyway? If you examine shots at 100%, you’re bound to see that it isn’t quite as capable of producing super-minute detail as some other cameras on the market, but for printing and sharing at most normal sizes, it’s more than enough.
Colours are nice and vibrant without being too in-your-face, and dynamic range is good on the whole. Automatic white balance coped well with a mix of different lighting situations, including artificial light and overcast skies. Noise is well controlled at the lower end of the ISO range – having up to seven stops of in-body image stabilisation is a big help in keeping ISO down in limited light. Thanks to the small sensor this isn’t a camera which excels in very low light conditions – something to think about if that describes much of your photography.
But if image quality isn’t revolutionary, the E-M1X has a few stand-out features elsewhere that make it worthy of consideration. One of these is High Resolution mode, which can be used either handheld or when the camera is on a tripod. It merges together a series of images for increased detail – you’ll get 80 megapixel files with the tripod option, which can be very useful for subjects such as still life or macro. The handheld option also worked surprisingly well, especially when shooting landscapes.
The Live ND feature is another interesting one. With this, you get the look of a long exposure without the faff of physical ND filters. This is another merging function, blending short exposures together to create an effect, such as silky water. It doesn’t work in super bright conditions, but can produce very good images when the light is a little more subdued.
This is a camera particularly suited to fast subjects, and autofocus has been appropriately tooled up. The E-M1X does a good job of keeping up with swift subjects, particularly ones moving reasonably predictably. An interesting option is the ability to set the camera to detect specific subjects when using continuous autofocus – for now that’s limited to trains (good news for ferroequinologists with three grand burning a hole in their anorak), aeroplanes and motorsport vehicles – but there’s a possibility that other types of subjects, such as animals, could be added in the future.
For videographers, there’s Cinema 4K available at 24fps as well as standard 4K at frame rates up to 30fps. If you’re willing to drop the camera’s resolution to Full HD you can shoot at industry-standard framerates as well as a high-speed 120fps, and in-camera timelapse recording is also available, again in 4K. Image stabilisation does a decent job of keeping things steady, and while this camera might not be the absolute top choice for videographers, it’s perfectly capable for those who like to mix stills and movies.
Olympus OM-D E-M1X review: Verdict
When the E-M1X is playing to its strengths, it’s a top piece of kit, but overall the best way to describe it would be niche. If you’re somebody who almost exclusively shoots action, and can live with such a small sensor, with the various advantages and drawbacks that come with it, the E-M1X is worth checking out.
If you decide to take a closer look, it’s worth bearing in mind the relative paucity of the Micro Four Thirds lens options – Olympus’ Pro M.Zuiko lenses cover a reasonably wide range of apertures and focal lengths, but there’s no denying that other lens mounts have a greater range of options. Perhaps if the E-M1X proves popular, more will be forthcoming.
It’s also not cheap – you’ll have to really love the idea of the E-M1X, and the things it does well, to be willing to part with the best part of three grand to own it. There are some really interesting technologies, here, though – hopefully some of them (such as Live ND for example) will make their way onto cameras lower down the Olympus range and put them within reach of more consumers.