Hands on: Olympus OM-D E-M1X review

The most advanced Micro Four Thirds camera yet

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Early Verdict

We’ll have to wait until we can fully test the OM-D E-M1X to see if the compromise in terms of sensor size is worth the sacrifice, but our initial feeling is that while a lot of the tech that’s gone into the OM-D E-M1X is impressive, given its price it faces an uphill task to tempt users across from other systems.

For

  • AI autofocus system
  • Up to 7.5 stop image stabilization
  • Rugged and durable build
  • Live ND looks like a useful feature
  • EVF magnification

Against

  • Constrained by MFT sensor
  • ISO limited to 25,600
  • EVF resolution not as high as rivals

While the buzzword in photography may be full-frame right now, with even Micro Four Thirds stalwart Panasonic launching two professional full-frame mirrorless cameras later this year, Olympus doesn't seem to have got the memo.

The OM-D E-M1X is the company's new professional camera, and, as with all other Olympus cameras, is based around a Micro Four Thirds sensor. 

It replaces the OM-D E-M1 Mark II as the company's flagship model, and Olympus clearly hasn't held back with the specification and features of the OM-D E-M1X. The question is, though, with the new camera pitted against some stiff competition, does it do enough to eclipse its full-frame rivals?

We got our hands on a pre-production model of the OM-D E-M1X at the official launch to find out... 

Olympus OM-D E-M1X: features

  • 20.4MP Micro Four Thirds Live MOS sensor
  • 7-stop in-body image stabilization
  • New Tripod Hi Res Shot mode

In a world of high-resolution full-frame sensors, the 20.4MP Micro Four Thirds Live MOS sensor inside the OM-D E-M1X may seem a bit underwhelming, especially with its ISO ceiling of just 25,600 (while there's an expanded low setting equivalent to ISO64). 

Olympus, though, has tried to compensate for this modest resolution with two additional high-resolution modes. 

The first is Tripod High Res Shot mode, which combines a series of shots to produce a single 80MP image. Not everyone is going to want to be constrained by a tripod, however, so there's also a Handheld High Res Shot mode which, as the name suggests, enables you to capture a high-resolution 50MP file without the need for a tripod. 

This is thanks in part to the presence of two TruPicVIII image processors, but also the OM-D E-M1X's class-leading 7-stop image stabilization system. According to Olympus this has been made possible by its engineers redeveloping the gyro sensor, while users pairing the camera with a M.Zuiko IS PRO lens can expect compensation up to 7.5 stops. Further good news is that both of these modes can output raw files if you wish.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X Specs

Sensor: 20.4MP MFT Live MOS

Lens mount: Micro Four Thirds mount

Screen: 3.0-inch vari-angle touchscreen, 1,037,000 dots

Burst shooting: 15fps (up to 60fps)

Autofocus: 121-point AF

Video: 4K

Connectivity: Bluetooth and Wi-Fi

Battery life:  870 shots

Weight: 997g with battery and memory card

For those who don't want to carry a stack of neutral density filters around with them, the OM-D E-M1X comes with a new Live ND functionality that replicates the effect of using ND filters. It's possible to view the effect in the viewfinder, and adjust it before a shot is captured. Live ND can be set to five levels: ND2 (equivalent to one shutter speed step), ND4 (2 steps), ND8 (3 steps), ND16 (4 steps), and ND32 (5 steps).

The electronic viewfinder (EVF) may not have the highest resolution at 2.36 million dots, but it can boast the highest magnification of any camera with an EVF at 0.83x (35mm equivalent), while there's a 3.0-inch vari-angle touchscreen with a resolution of 1,037K dots.

For those who like to keep tabs on every little detail of their shoots, the OM-D E-M1X contains a built-in GPS sensor, temperature sensor, manometer and compass, which Olympus groups together and calls ‘field sensors’. These enable the camera to not only record longitude and latitude, but also detect and record the temperature, elevation, and direction of the camera, information that you can tag images with if you so wish. 

While Olympus isn't known for the video features on its cameras, the OM-D E-M1X is the company's most advanced model yet when it comes to video capture. The camera is capable of shooting in ultra-high Cinema 4K (4096 x 2160) at up to 24p, while 4K can be shot at up to 30p. 

The OM-D E-M1X uses its 5-axis IS alongside an electronic stabilization system to deliver three selectable levels of movement compensation depending on the photographer’s posture and movement, and the E-M1X supports log shooting (OM-Log400). 

While both Nikon and Panasonic have opted to feature faster XQD card slots on their latest high-end mirrorless cameras, the OM-D E-M1X features dual UHS-II compatible SD card slots. 

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Olympus OM-D E-M1X: build and handling

  • Built-in vertical grip
  • Dust-, splash-, and freeze-proof
  • Shutter tested to 400,000 shots

In a first for a mirrorless camera, the OM-D E-M1X features a built-in vertical grip - something we're used to seeing on professional cameras like the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and Nikon D5

Olympus has been careful to mirror the controls on the vertical and horizontal grip, to make it a seamless transition when you swap between the two.  

This might be a bit of an annoyance for OM-D E-M1 Mark II users coming to the new camera, but Olympus has opted to redesign the layout, shape, and height of all the buttons and levers. There's now a multi-selector joystick for both the horizontal and vertical shooting positions, while as well as a standard lock lever, Olympus has equipped the OM-D E-M1X with a new C-lock lever that locks the controls in the vertical position.

As we've come to expect from a pro-orientated Olympus camera, the level of weather sealing on the OM-D E-M1X is excellent. The camera is dust-, splash-, and freeze-proof, with this protection maintained even when the E-M1X is connected to a remote cable, microphone, or headphones.

To help protect the sensor from the elements when swapping lenses, the OM-D E-M1X's sensor dust reduction system now features an improved Super Sonic Wave Filter (SSWF) with special coating which vibrates 30,000 times per second, while the shutter in the E-M1X has a operational life of an incredible 400,000 shots.

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Olympus OM-D E-M1X: autofocus

  • 121-point phase-detect AF system
  • AF algorithm has been reworked
  • Intelligent subject detection

Olympus has overhauled the 121-point all-cross-type on-chip phase-detect AF sensor that was used in the E-M1 Mark II, with the company stating that it's been completely redeveloped for the OM-D E-M1X. 

This sees the AF algorithm re-worked and, according to Olympus, dramatically improved, with the camera utilizing AF information from recorded images that should enable quick tracking of unpredictable subject movements and changes in subject speed.

Olympus has also added various additional AF settings to the OM-D E-M1X, including different AF target modes (now supporting groups with 25 focus points), and custom AF area position settings when holding the camera vertically or horizontally. 

Perhaps most interesting, though, is the new intelligent subject detection feature. This AI-based deep learning tech is designed to automatically detect three specific subjects - motorsports, aircraft, trains (though others will come with a firmware upgrade) and then focus on and track the optimal area. For example, when shooting motorsports the camera will set pin-point focus, locking onto the driver's helmet automatically and leaving the photographer to concentrate on composition.  

Finally, focusing on the OM-D E-M1X is sensitive down to an impressive -6EV (when using a f/1.2 lens). 

We'll need to do more testing, especially shooting sports, to really see how the focusing performs; our first impressions are very positive, but while focusing is, as you'd expect, swift, we didn't really get the chance to test the array of features on tap at the launch event. 

Olympus OM-D E-M1X: performance

  • It's possible to shoot at up to 60fps
  • 15fps with focus tracking
  • 870-shot battery life

It's possible to shoot at a maximum of 60fps, provided you're happy for exposure and focus to be locked at the first shot. For full AF performance and auto exposure, this drops to a still-impressive 15fps, with a buffer of 103 raw files. Silent shooting can also be used in both these modes if you wish. 

The addition of a vertical grip has allowed Olympus to design a cartridge insert system for the OM-D E-M1X that can accommodate two BLH-1 batteries (also used for the E-M1 Mark II). This delivers a battery life of around 870 shots, which can be extended to an impressive 2,580 images if you enable Quick Sleep mode. The OM-D E-M1X also supports USB-C charging, with two BLH-1 batteries able to be fully charged in the camera body in approximately two hours.

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Taken with a pre-production OM-D E-M1X. Shot handheld at 1.6 sec

Taken with a pre-production OM-D E-M1X. Shot handheld at 1.6 sec

Click here to see the full-size image

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Taken with a pre-production OM-D E-M1X, using the camera's Handheld High Res Shot mode at 50MP

Taken with a pre-production OM-D E-M1X, using the camera's Handheld High Res Shot mode at 50MP

Click here to see the full-size image

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Taken with a pre-production OM-D E-M1X. Shot handheld at 1 sec

Taken with a pre-production OM-D E-M1X. Shot handheld at 1 sec

Click here to see the full-size image

Olympus OM-D E-M1X: early verdict 

Olympus certainly hasn’t held back in designing and building the OM-D E-M1X, and there’s a lot here to appeal to sports and wildlife photographers. It's packed with tech including a phenomenal 7-stop image stabilization system and AI autofocus, and boasts an ultra-rugged build and built-in vertical grip. There are some other nice touches too, like the high-magnification electronic viewfinder, Handheld Hi Res mode and Live ND.

That’s not to mention the overall size and portability advantages that the system brings, with an OM-D E-M1X and 300mm f/4 lens (equivalent to a 600mm f/4) being significantly lighter and smaller than a similar setup from the likes of Canon or Nikon. 

The trade-off, however, is the significantly smaller sensor. This isn’t as much of an issue with more entry-level or mid-priced models, but it becomes one on a camera that costs $2,999.99 / £2,799 / AU$4,499, and which is pitted against some stiff full-frame competition, as well as more affordable APS-C cameras like the Fujifilm X-T3 and Nikon D500. 

We’ll have to wait until we can fully test the OM-D E-M1X to see if the compromise in sensor size is worth it, but our initial feeling is that while a lot of the tech that’s gone into the OM-D E-M1X is impressive, given its price it faces an uphill task to tempt users across from other systems.

What is a hands on review?

Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.