Olympus OM-D E-M1X Preview

Right it's finally here. I've been kept my mouth shut for a while but happily so and you will find out why later. Just a disclaimer that I am an Olympus professional and this website and our YouTube channel isn't sponsored so everything I said is my own opinion, good or bad.

For those who are photographers, I mean genuinely taking photographs as a serious hobby or money-making professionals, you may find this report rather interesting but for those who are not and more gear-headed, this may not be the right article for you to read as I will be focusing on what this camera does and good at rather than comparing apples and oranges.

A little side note before I dive into my preview, I've been a professional wedding/travel/documentary photographer for the best part of last 15 years. Before I moved to micro four third professionally in 2016, I primarily shot with full-frame Canon DSLRs and Leica M rangefinder cameras. That will help a lot of you in terms of understanding my view and points.

Okay, here it is. When Olympus introduced the E-M1 Mark II back in 2016, I was one of those lucky ones who got invited to Spain to test out the new system before its release. And it was that camera that made me dumped all my, heavily invested, Canon system and re-purchased everything 'equivalent' in Olympus. That being said, there was a bit of adjustment period for me to re-learn my brain having used full-frame cameras, like forever. But as a seasoned professional, I shoot daily and spend a lot of mileage with my tools, so that adjustment time was short. By week two or three, I was fully accustomed to Olympus' menu system and operation, another week or so, I got used to viewing things differently.

When Olympus delivered the EM1X to me, I was expecting to see a slightly beefier version of my workhorse EM1 II, but when I opened the box, I was a little shock. Kind of in a good way. It was big! But that's only because I'd been using the EM1 II, the PEN-F and EM-5 II for other jobs, by comparison, the EM1X is a lot bigger, and heavier. But when I dug up my old professional DSLR and even film SLR bodies, it isn't that much bigger or heavier for that matter. I just forgot how big and heavy they were.

CAF is vastly improved and it tops everything on M43 so far

However, as soon as I picked it up, I was pleasantly surprised with how well it fit my hand. The extra weight, I know I know, actually made it a little more... balanced, especially when I mounted on all those lovely pro lenses I got. Of course, the bigger body will mean using something like 40-150mm f/2.8 Pro or the 300mm f/4 a breeze. I was super excited but I wanted to give it a fair test and rather than letting my adrenaline took over and gave a false impression. I put it down and went to bed.

With improved AF, everything seems a little 'crispier'.

The next few days were more practical. I took the EM1X out to central London for some tests. I was shooting all kinds of stuff but something that got me thinking was how quiet it was. Perhaps it's a new camera thing but it was nice. The shutter felt well dampened and sounded very gentle. I also tried out one of the new features, the handheld hi-res mode. I can tell you that after the first few shots, I got addicted to it and for the rest of the day, I just kept shooting it in that mode. Of course I couldn't judge the images from the back screen so I marched on.

JPG engine has been revamped and producing some pleasing results

I also tested video in UHD and FHD and in its native top frame rate at 30p and 120p respectively. Since the EM1X is also the first camera to have a log format, I chose to film in that exclusively too. In operation, the camera improved IBIS was significant. Despite some online comments about the warps, I didn't experience any, as you can see from test video. I was able do some run-and-gun-style vlogging test with great success. What impressed me the most was actually the Continuous AF with Face Detection on. It was always a struggle with EM1 II and I always had to manually set the focus to avoid AF-drifting while filming. That's all changed on the EM1X. Officially they said they had reworked the AF algorithm and now has a dedicated TruPic VIII processor just to deal with AF! I never understood much of these but it worked on the new camera and it certainly worked on whatever I threw at it, in both stills and movie.

High Res 50MP portrait! This is a first. The results was nothing but amazing, providing the right conditions are met.

As we are entering the age of computational photography that we've been teased at all the latest smartphones, it finally enters the realm of professional equipment. EM1X is the professional camera to enjoy AI AF. More precisely, Olympus names it Intelligent Subject Detection AF. Olympus use over ten thousand mix images per category to train the camera to 'recognise' pre-defined category such as cars/motocyles, trains, and planes. Of course this technology is still in its infancy but it will mature like anything. Olympus has promised to release more 'profiles' to detect more things in the future and I am looking forward to that. During my time with the EM1X, the only thing I tried this AF method was on a plane that flew above me. But it was pretty impressive that the camera remained focus no matter what I do and a white box kept tracking the plane!

EM-1X's bigger body houses more techs than ever before

Ok, for me as a 'people' photographer, I probably won't use any of them just yet but perhaps one day when Olympus release a 'human' profile then it will help me dramatically and will potentially better than anything you've seen with face/eye detection AF that we've seen across the board in the photography industry.

The new Intelligent Subject Detection works magic, seriously, you've got to try it to believe it!

The next day, I arranged a test shoot with Saori, our lovely Japanese model, in Covent Garden. Needless to say that I love the general operation and files (though only Jpeg at the moment because no RAW engines support the new files yet). But I never, ever complaint about EM1 II so I wouldn't think I will complaint about the new camera. But what I always wanted to try was hi-res mode in portrait. The new 7-stop IBIS couple with new processing algorithm and power mean that this is now possible. However, before you jump, I want to let you know that same rules still apply for any hi-res shots that basically combining multiple photos in one - movement. Though the way the hand-held hi-res mode handles the processing is very different to tripod hi-res mode. In order to minimise the effects of movements, whether it's your camera/you or the subject, it now combines 16 photos to produce a 50 MP photo instead of 8 photos for a 80 MP photo in tripod mode. There are a lot more to consider and the computer does need more time to process all the information to give you the best result. I can say that it works for portrait but needs some careful judgement from the photographer's viewpoint and operation. You have to treat it like shooting a handheld long exposure photo, like a sec or so. That means that you need to stand very still and also make sure that your subject doesn't move and not to shoot in any windy weather. Any movement will make the images look blurred (more like motion blurred than horrible ghosting that the original hi-res mode produces). So if you are looking for some kind of movement effects, that's ok but otherwise, keep everything as still as possible. Also, shooting in bright daylight helps too to minimise the shutter speed in between shots too to avoid large movement.

I did this handheld 5 sec and still came out sharp. This shows the effectiveness of the insane 7-stop IBIS! ISO 64 5sec 25mm f/16

If everything is operated well, this is perfectly fine and I had a few successful shots during my testing. For landscape, as your subject is less likely to move, you can almost nail it everytime. Any small movements like water and people will look like long-exposure-motion-blur. The algorithm will continue to improve and I can see that the next generation camera can start to make more and more hand held hi-res shot in more natural environment rather than still objects. Still, this will never replace a hi-res camera for moving subjects, but for stills objects, this can be a much more viable and cheaper option to produce similar if not better results!

The new 'nipple' joystick is very effective, even in video mode while recording

In terms of operation, it's a much better 'experience' too. Everything just feels more fluid and responsive. The camera feels more substantial, not just the size and weight but more to the solidness. It's more balance in the hands too and that extra weight actually helps stabilisation during videoing and using long lenses. On paper, the specs can look very similar but the EVF can now operate at 120 fps not 120 Hz. This is fast! The delay is almost zero and you will have a much more fluid action in tracking your fast moving objects. I don't use that feature but if you do, you will appreciate it. I think one of the reasons that Olympus didn't opt for OLED panel is that they can't refresh that quickly, as proven by Apple's recent decision not to use OLED for their iPad for the same reasons. LCD can use higher refresh rate so you get a more 'slick' experience. I know people also praise the colours on OLED but as a working pros, I want to get the shot, zero delay is good and I will prefer it over slightly better res/colours any day.

0.83x EVF is nice for glass wearer like me. 120fps visually lag-free for those need to capture bullets.

Now buttons, they are all completely redesigned and rearranged. There are some dedicated buttons such as ISO, Card and WB (white balance). The main buttons are mirrored on the vertical grip position so you can shoot comfortably in either orientation. Oh one standout thing is those nipples. The new AF control point joystick that can also be used as navigation. I love them because you can move them in any direction (including diagonally) and during filming! Yes, during filming and it means you can have your eye on the EVF during bright days and still pull focus. Did I say the AF is accurate?

Dual UHS-II SD card slots.

Lastly, the build is just out of this world. I was happy with the EM1 Mark II but seriously this is on a whole new level. I would think it's the G-Shock in the camera world. You can almost swim with it too! That's cool for those who like to clean their cameras the 'man' way.

I don't want to do a deep dive in this camera yet and this isn't a review, more a preview on things that I noticed straight away after being an EM1 Mark II professional photographer for the past two years. It's very interesting to feel different yet so familiar. For Olympus pros, this is a no brainer upgrade if you want much better AF, and if you use Olympus cameras to film this is even better and the best so far. However, if your work is primarily involving discrete shooting and ultra compact for travels, this won't be the camera for you. Hence I also got the PEN-F for that purpose.

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