Olympus OM-D E-M1X Review
Performance - How well does it take pictures?
Performance starts with image quality, which is the criteria used as the foundation of our digital camera ratings. Ergonomic issues may get in the way, but in the end, image quality counts the most. For an ILC, image quality greatly depends on the lens used. While color, noise, exposure and dynamic-range are properties of a camera, distortion, vignetting and chromatic aberrations are properties of the lens. Sharpness and contrast depend on the weakest link. That is, a camera cannot capture more details than a lens lets through. Conversely, it is quite possible for a lens to transmit more details than a sensor can capture.
Image Noise & Details
The Olympus OM-D E-M1X delivers excellent image-quality for a Micro Four-Thirds camera, further improving upon the E-M1 Mark II, which shares the same sensor, due to its more powerful dual processors. While it cannot compete with high-end APS-C digital cameras in low-light, the difference is slight in good light.
Image noise is extremely low until ISO 800 and barely there at 1600 where it remains usable for relatively large print sizes. Even ISO 3200 shows minimal noise, making an additional stop available for large prints compared to the E-M1 Mark II. A fine pattern of noise appears at ISO 6400. The finest details get a tad soft yet this sensitivity remains quite usable for medium-sized prints.
Noise increases noticeably at ISO 12800, althought it is still mostly luminance noise. Fine details get smudged due to noise-reduction which limits prints to more typical sizes. There is another leap in noise at ISO 25600 with even more aggressive noise-reduction wiping out details. Small prints are possible at this highest sensitivity of the E-M1X.
There are four levels of Noise-Reduction, the lowest is labelled Off yet still applies a fair amount at ISO 12800 and 25600. Any higher level smears details which reduces potentional print sizes. The default sharpness is plenty sharp and shows very mild over-sharpening artifacts. One level higher produces halos around edges and one below makes things slightly soft since Shaprness steps are rather coarse.
Color & White Balance
Color accuracy of the OM-D E-M1X is slightly improved compared to the E-M1 Mark II. Natural style delivers reasonable colors yet not entirely accurate ones. The red channel remains a tad too strong and dialing down Saturation to -1 helps while making remaining colors somewhat dull. For the image gallery in this review, default Natural parameters were kept. Similarly, contrast is steep by default. This produces deep images at the expense of shadow detail. Luckily, all OM-D cameras offer fine control over the tone-curve, independently for shadows, midtones and highlights.
Automatic While-Balance is finally quite reasonable. The new processors in this mirrorless handle a variety of natural and artificial lighting down to moderate light levels. In low-light, a moderate yellow cast still occurs but much less often than previous generations. Preset WB can help and Custom WB is spot on. This takes a little more work yet makes it possible to capture neutral colors under most lighting conditions.
This digital camera has a reasonable multi-segment metering system. Scenes which fall within its dynamic-range are exposed towards the mid-tone which makes them look natural. High contrast-scenes are rendered brightly which causes more highlight clipping than usual. Most scenes get properly exposed though unless backlit. One can fine-tune exposure and gradation to improve results as needed, although it has to be redone frequently since it really depends on the scene.
The Olympus OM-D E-M1X shows one of the best dynamic-range from a Micro Four-Thirds sensor, only arriving second place by a fraction of a stop. Compared to modern APS-C cameras, the gap is relatively significant with those capable of handling over 1½ stops more dynamic-range. This is a considerable disadvantage for landscape photography where directly illuminated areas and shadows frequently share the scene.
The Olympus E-M1X features the hybrid autofocus system introduced by the E-M1 Mark II. It combines Phase-Detect and Contrast-Detect AF to focus quickly with any native or adapted autofocus lens, not just adapted Four-Thirds mount ones. Autofocus is performed using a feedback loop that gathers contrast and phase data at 121 points right on the sensor. Contrast-Detection can determine critical focus while Phase-Detection can measure the out-of-focus distance and direction.
The autofocus performance of this Micro Four-Thirds mirrorless is impressive. The camera focuses incredibly quickly and remains very sensitive to light. As with any on-sensor autofocus system, this one cannot suffer from any front or back focusing issue. Still, Olympus includes AF Fine-Tuning in case there is an issue with some lenses. While the hybrid AF system is very accurate, it exhibits the same problem spotted while reviewing the E-M1 Mark II which is that small light sources often cause the camera to completely miss focus. Luckily, the EVF is extremely sharp and focus errors are immediately apparent.
Introduced on the E-M1 Mark II, the Pre MF mode joins AF-S, AF-C, DMF and Tracking AF. This mode is designed to set focus to a chosen distance which overcomes the issue with lenses that reset their focus-distance when switching between AF and MF modes. The preset distance can either be dialed-in or set using the AF system by pressing Info and then the shutter-release halfway.
With the majority of Micro Four-Thirds lenses, MF is performed via a fly-by-wire ring around the lens-barrel. The E-M1X keeps up with no perceptible lag while focusing manually. In DMF mode, a slight turn of the focus-ring immediately shifts into manual focus. Because the ring is fly-by-wire, the E-M1X can reverse the direction for focusing except for those few lenses with a mechanical focus-ring.
The E-M1X takes the incredible speed of its predecessor and makes it last much longer. This remains the fastest digital camera on the market with a substantial lead over the competition. It is an extremely responsive digital camera. Every dial and almost every button press gets an immediate response. The only difficult ones to activate are those on the left shoulder, particularly the Bracketing button. The Eye-Start Sensor instantly toggles the EVF which keeps up with action incredibly well.
Continuous drive speed is best-in-class, reaching 60 FPS at full-resolution when using the electronic-shutter or 15 FPS when using the mechanical-shutter. Full continuous autofocus is possible at 18 FPS, completely siliently and without lag or blackout. This makes it really efficient to follow fast action and catch it at its peak. There is pre-buffering mode which can cache 35 frames capture action without waiting for the photographer to fully press the shutter.
Where the Olympus E-M1X improves the most is in terms of buffering capabilities. It can record 49 JPEG images or RAW files in a single 60 FPS burst. At 18 FPS, this extends to 89 JPEGs or 74 RAWs. Switching to 15 FPS mechanical speed, the buffer manages 132 JPEG images or 103 RAW files, which is simply outstanding. Equally impressive is the 10 FPS drive mode which captures an unlimited number of JPEGS or 287 RAW files, assuming a UHS-II card is inserted. Both SDXC memory-card slots are UHS-II capable this time which allows the buffer to clear very quickly.
In use, the Olympus OM-D E-M1X rarely holds back the photographer. The main exception is High Res capture mode where a single press of the shutter-release produces a single image from 8 or 16 individual exposures and blends them together. The display freezes at the beginning of the process and shows a progress bar over a black screen while the result is being assembled.
The following measurements characterize the performance of the OM-D E-M1X:
- Power-On: ¾ second. Very good.
- Power-On to First-Shot: 1 second. Superb.
- Autofocus: Faster than ¼s even in dim light, slightly more in very low-light. Class-leading!
- Shutter-lag: Instant.Blackout free shooting. Virtually none in Single-Shot mode.
- Shot-to-shot: Under 1/3s. Fantastic.
- Playback: ¼s to enter, instant to exit. Excellent.
- Power-Off: ½ second. Very good.
- Video: Instant to start and stop. Perfect.
The Olympus OM-D E-M1X delivers a superb performance on all fronts. Every aspect of its speed is best-in-class or very close. This camera particularly delivers on its promise of speed with its combination of instant shutter-lag, blackout-free shooting and ultra-fast autofocus system.
The 60 FPS continuous drive with focus locked on the first frame works incredibly well. The Olympus OM-D E-M1X keeps shooting at a consistent pace and manages to keep the view of the EVF or LCD close to the action. This makes the Olympus OM-D E-M1X suitable for action photography, which only a handfull of mirrorless cameras can claim. Slower drive modes perform impecably too, only with a very short blackout when the mechanical shutter is involved at 15 FPS and slower.
The Olympus OM-D E-M1X is powered by a pair proprietary Lithium-Ion battery which provide 870-shots per charge as they are used serially, although only one is actually required. This pushes it to have the longest battery life of all current mirorless digital cameras.
Performance - How well does it shoot video?
Olympus significantly improved the performance and breadth of video features with the E-M1X. This Micro Four-Thirds digital camera is one of a handful that can record Cinema 4K video has an extra-wide 17:9 aspect-ratio with the same pixel height as Ultra HD which is simply known as 4K. At 4096x2160, this mirrorless films at 24 FPS, while at 3840x2160 it can also do 30 FPS. Going down to Full HD, it is possible to capture 1920x1080 @ 120 FPS and play it back between 24 and 60 FPS, resulting in a 0.2-0.5X slow-motion video.
There are many recording options that support bit-rates up to 237 Mbps. Resulting video can be marked with for playback at a different speed than the recording speed. This unique feature depends on the selected resolution and frame-rate but allows up to 10X speed-up. Regardless of the chosen video specification, videos are always saved as Quicktime files with H.264 codec. Resolutions of 1080p and 720p allow All-Intra recording which creates huge files that are easier to edit because each frame is encoded separately.
The class-leading 5-axis sensor-shift stabilization system of the E-M1X is fully functional during video capture. Necessarily though, the shutter-speed cannot get slower than the inverse of the frame-rate, so this is mostly of use when using telephoto lenses. There is even an adjustment to dampen stabilization so that its effect does not appear jarring on video. Plenty of audio options are available too. The audio track can be recorded at 96kHz (24-bits) or 48kHz (16-bits). There are 3 strengths of optional Wind Noise Filter.
Output quality is very high. The full sensor-width is read and down scaled which minimizes moire artifacts. When using a high-bit rate, frames look very good and keep plenty of fine details. Motion is rendered smoothly and noise-reduction keeps noise well under control as ISO sensitivity is increased. By default, this digital camera will vary the ISO between 200 and 6400 but this range can be reduced, if needed. Limiting it to a maximum of ISO 3200 makes recordings look very smooth since noise becomes invisible when scaled down to video resolution.
Six autofocus modes are available for video capture: Single-Shot, Continuous, MF, DMF, Continuous DMF and Preset Focus. Professional videos are always filmed using MF by there is no harm in using Single-AF + MF which allows the user to perform AF before video recording starts and leaves the camera in MF mode afterwards. Note that autofocus must be performed via a custom button and does not occur on the shutter-release half-press as it does for stills.
While the Olympus E-M1X allows AF to be performed anytime during video capture using an assigned function button, it is not recommended to do so since the camera decides whether to use Contrast-Detect or Phase-Detect AF. When it elects Contrast-Detect AF, focus will move past the focal-plane and back which will be seen in the video recording.
Even though video can be recorded in any mode, a dedicated Video mode prepares the E-M1X to record instantly and allows it to preview framing correctly. It starts recording without lag as soon as the shutter-release is fully pressed. This impeccable performance makes it one of the best digital cameras for videography.
The 20 megapixels Four-Thirds CMOS sensor in the Olympus OM-D E-M1X is designed for action photography and even allows capabilities beyond what DSLRs are capable of. The second time using this sensor, Olympus built a mirrorless digital camera to maximize its potential by giving it a pair of very powerful processors and a large amount of memory. Keeping the top 60 FPS continuous drive and 15 FPS maximum mechanical shutter drive of the E-M1 Mark II, the new E-M1X allows for much longer bursts and faster clearing times thanks to dual SDXC UHS-II memory-card slots.
Image quality of the Olympus E-M1X is the best yet from a Four-Thirds sensor. It manages to render images with very little noise until ISO 3200 while retaining plenty of fine details. The new processors have improved rendering with better sharpness and more gradual increase in image-noise at high ISO. Colors are reasonably good and the new Auto WB system much more reliable than before. Although standard image parameters are rather coarse, three independent tone curves allow much flexibility when it comes to tonality.
The weak point of Four-Thirds sensors compared to larger ones used on most mirrorless cameras is that their dynamic-range is just not as wide. This makes it more crucial to nail exposure and, luckily, the E-M1X is very good at it. The multi-segment metering system produces well-balanced exposures with minimal clipping for scenes which are not backlit. For those situations, the numerous HDR modes on this camera are quite effective. Since the sensor readout is so fast, this is captured in an instant which minimizes the potential for movement to occur between frames.
Although people were naturally surprised at the announcement of such a huge camera built around the smallest mirrorless sensor currently in use, the Olympus E-M1X has a best-in-class image-stabilization system that levels things when high shutter-speeds are not critical. Its 5-axis image-stabilization system can compensate for up to 7 stops over hand holding. In practice, it delivers around 5-stops which is better than any other camera and lens combination can reliably perform.
The hybrid 121-point autofocus system delivers a superb performance by combining on-sensor Phase-Detection and Contrast-Detection as one of the fastest autofocus systems on the market. Tracking speed and hit-rate is excellent with only some focus-misses in scenes where small light sources are present. One can efficiently move the focus-point away from such an offending light to get the E-M1X to lock focus.
This mirrorless camera offers an outstanding feature-set with everything needed by professional photographers plus much more, including an Interval Timer with Time-lapse Video feature, Focus Bracketing with Focus Stacking, Cinema 4K and Ultra-HD 4K video modes. Its new very large dual-grip body offers a huge number of controls which are highly customizable. Overall, ergonomics of the E-M1X are very good except for the substantial weight of this camera. Keep in mind though, that the 2X Focal-Length Multiplier means that much smaller lenses are needed compared to a DSLR.
Certainly, the Olympus OM-D E-M1X is a unique and highly specialized camera. Although it is a Micro Four-Thirds mirrorless, this one is neither light nor compact. The action photography features truly deliver though and so this is a camera to seriously consider for fast moving subjects in good to moderate light. For sporting events which are nearly always well-illuminated, this is an incredible camera to use. Its ultra-fast burst speed with deep buffer and blackout free shooting makes it easier than ever to capture action at its peak.
Olympus E-M1X Highlights
Sensor-Size: 17 x 13mm
Actual size when viewed at 100 DPI
|20 Megapixels Mirrorless||ISO 64-25600|
|Micro Four-Thirds Mount|
|5-Axis Built-in Stabilization, 7-Stop Improvement||Full manual controls, including Manual Focus|
|0.50" Built-in EVF 2.4 Megapixels (0.83X)||Custom white-balance with 2 axis fine-tuning|
|Automatic Eye-Start sensor||Spot-Metering|
|2 Axis Digital Level||Hot-Shoe & Sync-Port|
|Weatherproof down to -10C||Stereo audio input|
|Built-in Dust Reduction||Lithium-Ion Battery|
|60 FPS Drive, 49 Images||Secure Digital Extended Capacity x 2|
|4096x2160 @ 24 FPS Video Recording|
|3" LCD 1 Megapixels|
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