Olympus E-M1X Field Test


Olympus turns 100 this year and a lot of the hype around the anniversary came to a head when the brand announced the release of the E-M1X. This pro-spec camera saw Olympus move away from their typical market of street and portrait photographers who appreciate a small and lightweight camera. Instead, the E-M1X is an out-and-out action camera built to satisfy sports and wildlife shooters.

The E-M1X features a built-in grip that houses two batteries.

The shape of the E-M1X is all-new for Olympus; the square form factor is more reminiscent of a Canon 1DX than a E-M1 and this is down to an integrated grip that enables the E-1MX to drastically extend it’s battery capacity and also allow photographers to work more easily in portrait format. Built around a 20.4-megapixel Four-Thirds sensor and Micro Four-Thirds lens mount, the sensor system features a 2x crop factor, doubling effective focal lengths of lenses, getting photographers closer to a subject without the risk of spooking it. But how does this camera really do when out in the field? Let’s find out…

Design and handling:

The form factor, for the most part, works extremely well. The integrated grip gives photographers an excellent hold on the camera so even when it’s wet, it shouldn’t slip from your hand. Although this is the biggest camera Olympus have made, it still only weighs 997g (including two batteries). In comparison, the Canon 1DX MkII tips the scales at 1530g, so there is a massive weight-saving to be had, which is only made better by Olympus lenses’ lightweight credentials, too.

The button layout and menu system are all well configured and easy to navigate.

The extra controls on the grip make shooting in portrait format far easier, but the shape isn’t without its drawbacks. Even with a fairly compact and lightweight lens on the front (I used a 12-200mm optic), the camera tends to fall forward and won’t sit ‘up right’. This isn’t a huge problem when you have a soft surface underfoot (grass etc), but when you are walking across something harder or rockier, it will make you think twice about setting the camera down on the ground.

Thanks to pro-spec weather-sealing, we were able to use the E-M1X in heavy rain. Image by Matty Graham.

The E-M1X features a vari-angle 3-inch touch-sensitive LCD and a 2,360,000k-dot resolution Electronic Viewfinder (EVF), which is impressive and doesn’t suffer from any noticeable lag. Given the choice when out in the field, I prefered to use the LCD over the EVF, and the fact that it’s vari-angle makes it super-useful when shooting high and low – plus, when the camera is not in use, you can simply turn the screen over to protect it from any knocks or scrapes.

Featuring two SD card slots is further proof the E-M1X is squarely targeted at professional photographers, who value the ability to make an instant back-up of their images or video and the weather sealing on the camera feels impressive. I used the E-M1X in a very heavy rain shower and had no problems whatsoever.

The Vari-angle touch-sensitive LCD is useful for low/high compositions.

The dual SD cards are very useful because you can take so many pictures so quickly, with the camera boasting a max continuous shooting rate of 60 FPS (AF/AE Sequential Shooting with lock) or 18 FPS AF/AE Sequential Shooting with tracking. Out in the field this is a hugely impressive feature and can easily make the difference between missing a split-second action moment or capturing it. Of course, you don’t have to shoot at 60 FPS and, unless you are carrying a fair amount of SD cards, you may want to be be a little more conservative with your shooting as the cards can fill up fast – the buffer can record up to 287 RAW images in a single burst. However, such an impressive burst rate requires a major hat tip to Olympus.

The 2x crop factor helps get photographers closer to the action. Image by Matty Graham.

This speed is backed up by an impressive AF system, which features 121-AF points, along with Face Detection, too. In the field the autofocus performed well, even when I was shooting in low light conditions and the camera is rated to focus down to -6EV. The continuous autofocus mode picked up subjects well, even small subjects like birds flying through the frame at distance. Checking the images on the screen and being reassured by the AF performance gives you confidence to shoot at speed and include smaller subjects in your imagery.

The autofocus system is fast and accurate, even when tracking small moving subjects.

Image quality:

The 20-megapixel sensor produces a maximum file size of 5184 x 3888 pixels which, while it can’t match the resolution of a full-frame camera like the Nikon D850, still gives you plenty of pixels to play with. In fact, you should have no problem making prints up to A3 in size. Obviously, the smaller size of the sensor will bring limitations in image quality, but the results I got when shooting on location were decent. When it comes to digital noise, the E-M1X offers a native ISO range of 200-25600, although this can be extended down to ISO 64. On the whole, digital noise is well handled, with images perfectly usable up to ISO 12800. Of course, you wouldn’t want to use the higher ISO ceiling of 25600 as by this stage, noise is visible and image quality has been compromised.

A closer look at how the ISO performs within a scene.

Of course, with any system, the camera is only half the story and to get the absolute best out of the E-M1X, you’ll be better off using the brand’s range of Pro lenses.

Photographers should have no problem making big prints from the E-M1X’s files. Image by Matty Graham.

Additional features and verdict:

The E-M1X is absolutely packed with cutting edge feature that make a real difference out in the field. The IBIS (In Body Image Stabilisation) offers up to 7.5-stops of compensation, which is truly incredibly and makes the IBIS a genuine alternative to a tripod when shooting slower shutter shots, although you’ll still need a support if you are shooting a long exposure images.

The grip greatly extends the time you can be out and about with this camera, with 2580 images achievable from a single charge. What’s more, if the power is running out, you can recharge on the move using a powerbank and a USB-C connector. In reality, this allows you to shoot all day on the two batteries, and if you did want to pack extras, they are small and lightweight so won’t take up much room in your bag.

The IBIS is truly outstanding, helping you capture sharp shots. Image by Matty Graham.

The build-quality is superb and genuinely built for the professional market – in fact the shutter is rated for 400,000 actuations and the body has been designed to dissipate heat for better performance. Those who feel the 20-megapixel is on the low side can always take advantage of the High Res mode, which creates combines multiple images to create a single 50-megapixel file and Olympus should also be applauded for the Focus Stacking mode that enables up to 15 images to be taken (all with different focal depths) to produce one single images that is sharp from front to back.

Lightweight and fairly compact, the E-M1X offers an alternative for those who don’t want heavy cameras. Image by Matty Graham.

Many have said the market is too small to accommodate a camera like the E-1MX, but I think it would be a shame to overlook this great camera. Although it’s at the more premium end of what you’d expect to pay for a Micro Four Thirds camera, there’s no mistaking it can perform out in the field.

With a robust body, the E-M1X’s shutter is rated for 400,000 actuations. Image by Matty Graham.

The E-M1X is the most robust camera Olympus has produced, it boasts a high performance autofocus system and a lightning quick burst rate that sports and wildlife photographers crave. Olympus has made sure the E-M1X is still compact and lightweight enough to stay true to the brand’s approach of offering a genuine alternative to heavier DSLRs and with the right lenses, the image quality is decent too. Well played Olympus!