Olympus OM-D E-M1X review

The pro-grade DSLR killer?

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Olympus OM-D E-M1X: performance

  • Great response all round
  • EVF is good, but bettered elsewhere
  • Very quiet mechanical shutter

Given how action photographers will be drawn to the frame rates stretching from 15fps right up to 60fps at full resolution and the deep-learning-powered focusing technology, it's pleasing to find that the Olympus OM-D E-M1X has an overall responsiveness to match these features. There's only the very briefest of delays once you power the camera up before the viewfinder or LCD springs to life, and once it does, all information is present and the focusing system is ready for action.

Olympus cameras have always been somewhat hampered by slightly awkward menu systems, the order of options and use of icons in which is less than ideal. That continues to be the case here, although you can press 'Info' when you need something explained, and there's an awful lot available in the Super Control Panel that can be changed without much hassle. The fact that you can navigate this with the D-pad, Multi Function control, rear command dial or the touchscreen means you can quickly jump to wherever you need to be, however you want to work – and the camera responds instantly, regardless of which control you're using.

One common issue on cameras designed with vari-angle LCD screens is that it can be a little fiddly to pull the screen out at speed, typically because there's only so much space for the user to get their finger gripped onto the side of the display. Olympus has, however, wisely designed a generously sized groove into the side of the OM-D E-M1X's display, which lets you get your thumb in without bother. The LCD pulls away easily but stays in position well, and feels solidly mounted to the camera. 

A 3-inch LCD with 1.04 million dots is pretty much the minimum we expect on such a camera, with some rivals offering bigger panels and higher resolutions. That said, the E-M1X's screen still presents the scene with very good clarity. If you're capturing images at the native 4:3 aspect ratio you'll see a small border on either side of the image, although this fills out once you switch to 3:2.

The LCD pulls away easily but stays in position well, and feels solidly mounted to the camera.

The electronic viewfinder's maximum magnification of 0.83x (in 35mm terms) gives you a nice big view of the scene to work with, and in good light it does well to present the scene in a lifelike way. As with most electronic viewfinders, high-contrast conditions can tax it a little, and leave either dense shadows or blown highlights, and it can become a little muddy in darker conditions. The standard of electronic viewfinders has ramped up in recent years, and the one here is not quite the best example of its kind; that said, this is a camera designed to be used outdoors where there will often be plenty of natural light, and in most situations it will probably present you with the clarity you need. 

Something that's very welcome to discover is just how quiet the mechanical shutter is. It's considerably softer than those on some other cameras, to the point where it can successfully be used in situations where you need to be discreet. You can, of course, use the silent (i.e. electronic) shutter if you need to be really silent, although this isn't ideal under artificial light due to the banding effect that can easily affect images, nor is it suitable when there's subject movement. The silent shutter itself isn't quite silent, but it's very, very quiet.   

Olympus OM-D E-M1X: image quality

  • Excellent detail with good glass
  • Great 4K video with low rolling shutter
  • Very effective image stabilisation

We were lucky enough to partner the OM-D E-M1X with some of Olympus's PRO lenses, such as the M.ZUIKO Digital ED 7-14mm 1:2.8 PRO and M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm 1:4.0 IS PRO, for this review, and if you're fortunate enough to have lenses of similar quality you'll likely be very pleased with the results you can get. Certainly, at the base ISO200 it's possible to get images that pack in plenty of fine detail, with good but natural sharpness. 

Colors in JPEGs captured on the default Natural setting have a pleasing vibrancy to them over corresponding raw files, particularly in red hues, although they're still relatively true to life. If you want to use your images immediately and want a little more pep, you may prefer to quickly boost saturation or contrast in-camera, or switch to the Vivid option. The camera also offers Muted, Portrait and Monochrome options, in addition to a Custom setting and an exhaustive range of ART filters, all meaning that you can get a wide range of looks without needing to use software.

The camera's noise-reduction system can be a little aggressive when examining JPEGs captured on standard settings in comparison with raw files, even in images captured within the three-figure ISO setting range. This can make a good difference to low-frequency areas that would otherwise show texture, but it can also affect more detailed parts of the image with better illumination that don't show as much obvious noise to begin with. 

As ever, it's better to take things into your own hands for more critical work and gently process noise yourself; slight patterning from noise is visible in images captured on all settings, but the worst of this can be removed without too much degradation. Images captured at up to ISO3200 in trickier conditions retain bite and can be processed successfully, but after that point it becomes harder to remove enough noise without also losing detail.

Video can be captured in both 4K DCI and 4K UHD resolutions, as well as Full HD. While the camera lacks a 4K 60p capture option, and DCI 4K is capped at 24p, the quality of 4K footage is excellent. Details are nice and natural, and the sensor-based image stabilization system does a great job of keeping things stable. Audio quality is also perfectly decent, even if the camera is a little prone to picking up wind noise outdoors. Rolling shutter is also very well suppressed when you're moving around.

You can use the touchscreen to pull focus between different elements in the scene you're recording, and this generally works well, moving discreetly but swiftly from one subject to another; the only times the system seems to come unstuck is with some low-contrast subjects.   

You can, of course, also use the image stabilization system for stills, and its effects are very clear in the viewfinder or on the LCD screen as you shoot. We didn't have access to the lenses that would provide the highest degree of correction, but we did see a gain of around five stops on average when using other lenses, which is competitive.

The High Res Shot mode works well, whether you're using a tripod or shooting handheld. Examining raw files shows them to be a little soft in comparison to the JPEGs output by the camera, so they need more of a sharpen than usual. The JPEGs output by this process have noticeably more detail than the default 20.4MP files, although you may find slightly better results processing these raw files yourself.