Olympus E-M1X long term review

Followers of this site know that I purchased my own E-M1X as soon as it was released.  I have been using one day in and out along side my E-M1.2 for just about 9 months now.  I have traveled numerous times with it.  I have had it in my hands for long stretches of hours multiple days in a row.  I’ve had to use it in rushed situations, in high pressure situations, and in relaxed situations.  I’ve used it heavily as a run-and-gun camera doing both photo and video back to back of events and documentary capture.  I’ve used it on my commercial shoots.  I’ve used it tethered wired and wireless.  I’ve really gotten to know the camera well.  At least in the work that I do.  The following is my user experience of the camera.  I won’t be examining the sensor or doing battery tests, etc…  This is my direct experience after months living with this camera in use, every single day.

Olympus e-m1x review
High res shot from assignment

 

Autofocus.  I won’t spend too much time on this.  It seems this is the only thing people have focused on with this camera.  The AF is great, solid, reliable, fast, and it just works.  Best Olympus has done yet.  C+AF and AI tracking works very well too.  It actually works!  Good job Olympus. The good majority of my work is single focus or manual focus based. However I have had some photo shoots this spring where I had to do tracking and capture fast motion.  Not being used to shooting like this, I was really relying on the camera to pull me through.  It did so wonderfully.  In focus shots, solid reliability, and it got the job done.  AF performance is not the only reason to buy this camera, so I will move on from this for now and really spend some time on other areas.  Plenty of other photographers out there that can talk for days about AF.

Olympus E-M1X review
Hand-held High res and cropped

 

Handling

The camera feels like someone was steering the ship in the right direction.  I know a lot of people gave flak to this camera for being large. It’s not big. It’s larger than their other cameras, but it is not bigger than it needs to be.  It’s a gripped E-M1mkII in size roughly with better layout and a solid integrated body.  It is incredibly comfortable and laid out in a way that makes sense to the hands and disappears in use.  The button spacing is excellent.  Both handgrips are a joy to use.  If you hold this camera all day long, you will be amazed at how natural it feels.  It is also not really that heavy.  Sure it is heavier…but this has to be taken relatively. The weight does not get “heavy” in a sense.  I’ve actually been very surprised at how comfortable the camera has been to shoot for 8 – 12 hours at a time.  The light weight Olympus lenses help out too.

 

I am still not a fan of gripped cameras or integrated grips for two reasons.

When using an L-Bracket, it kills the benefit of the perfectly sculpted grip.  RRS did a good job in designing a bracket that flowed with the camera design…but it still robs the hand of the natural spacing and comfort Olympus intended.  I love holding this camera without the bracket.

Second, it doesn’t fit nearly as easily into most bags.  I can put the E-M1X into just about any bag easily…as long as no lens is mounted.  If I want to have the E-M1X with a lens mounted, my carrying options become far trickier and more limited.  This makes an annoying scenario.  I want to carry the X with me like an every day camera in small bags with a lens attached so I can use the video, hand held high res, and other features.  It doesn’t fit into the bags I want to use daily with a lens attached. Annoying.  This camera without the added grip would have been one of the finest cameras ever produced and people would not nearly have criticized it as much. Regardless, most of the time I carry my cameras without a lens mounted when I am working so it’s not a major issue. However…if they could make this camera without a vertical grip and retain the rest of the ergonomics…hands down winner.  Just the all day comfort alone is worth it.  It is one thing to hold the camera for a few minutes at an Olympus event or a store…and a completely different experience to hold the camera all day long, literally. That is when you will have the ah-ha moment about this camera.  Especially when you go back and hold any other camera you have.

Olympus E-M1X review
Urchin close up

 

Buttons

-Not sure why white balance and ISO are not in one screen and each assigned to a wheel.  I would think this is the faster operation, and their other cameras have it.  Instead we have a button for ISO and a separate one for WB.  No reason to fix something that wasn’t broken in my opinion. Oh well.  The WB button could have then easily been used for something else.

 

-Card button is useful in certain situations, but overall it goes unused the majority of the time.  Too bad we can’t reassign it.  Some people love this feature.  I just have very little need for it.

 

-C-Lock is interesting. Again, a feature I just haven’t needed to use, and don’t foresee a need for.  If you need it, I bet it’s wonderful at how customizable it is.  Having the option to disable all buttons or any combination of them is interesting.  This might be great for remote cameras.  I still haven’t really come up with any scenarios that benefit this. If you have some, let me know.  I would love to see some creative uses for this that I might be missing out on.

 

-AEL/AF button is much better on this camera in terms of feel and response.  It is also in the perfect spot for the thumb to activate.

 

-Function lever is now on two cameras on the right side and one on the left.  Olympus needs to decide and stick with one.  Going back and fourth between the E-M1.2 and the X creates a muscle memory issue since they are opposite.  I hope the E-M1.3 follows the X layout and styling.

Olympus E-M1X review
Live ND

 

Features

-Wifi connection options are improved.  Shooting wireless via router to a computer is so convenient.  It works perfectly and I haven’t had any disconnects, interruptions, or issues.  It just works.  Unfortunately it is shooting only, and we don’t have live view or settings adjustments and remote shutter when using this mode.  That would have been amazing.  You also need a router setup.  I will be doing some more on tethering where I dive into this.  For now, it works though and it is very convenient in a fixed studio environment.  Far less convenient in the field unless you have a small wireless router and power.

 

-GPS.  I have not dug too deep into the GPS and logging features. I have turned GPS on and tried it out on several shoots and hikes.  This was the first time I’ve used GPS on a camera like and it was rather nifty. Being able to see where I was and have location information logged could come in very handy for a lot of people. It seems rather accurate too.  So far a good experience.  No issues.  Just remember to update it here and there via the app.  And to turn it on.  I usually leave it off to conserve battery.  Especially on indoor shoots where the GPS can’t grab a signal.

 

-Live ND works great and so far, has been a very useful feature.  I have used this a lot on assignments where I needed people motion blur. Depending on the scenario there are definitely differences between this and an actual ND filter.  In most general uses, they are not obvious, and the look is plenty good for use.  The biggest benefit is being at to place your settings where you want them, and then just literally dial in the amount of blur without changing the exposure or risking color casts from filters.

 

-Overall image quality seems pretty much the same as the E-M1.2.  Which is a good thing.  Not much further to report here.  Solid and dependable performance.

-The viewfinder is definitely an improvement over the E-M1.2.  It’s hard to describe…but if you have both, and go back and fourth…the E-M1X screen seems clearer and more “present.”  I haven’t quite found the right words yet.  I prefer it for sure.

Olympus E-M1X review
Product shot from an assignment

 

Photo Conclusion

Overall, as a camera, the E-M1X is a greater whole than just its parts individually.  A lot of people would be served to spend real time with this camera.  I can honestly say I think it is the best 20-24mp range camera available on the market today by a long shot.  At it’s megapixel size with the Olympus lenses it will compete in image quality comfortably with any other camera of similar spec.  However, it’s speed, customization, adjustability to situations, body durability, and extra features like wifi tethering, GPS, etc… make it a robust package that is unmatched.  It is exactly what they made…a solid tool for professionals.  If you rely on a camera as a tool to get your job done, this is a camera you can depend on.  If you use a camera all day long, every single day…this is the camera you want in your hands.  If you want a camera that has flexibility for all forms of scenarios, it can’t be beat.

 

Some people can wax all day about sensor size, but if you know how to shoot, the differences in size will be the smallest deciding factor in most cases and have barely any impact in real life use and printing in most scenarios.    Honestly, this megapixel range is a sweet spot for a lot of work.

 

Even if you aren’t relying on a camera to make a living, this is the finest m43 camera yet.  And all the reliability and benefits are attractive if you are traveling, or just shooting important work just for you personally.  It’s a camera you can trust.

 

If you are looking for a small compact camera to keep with you every day…this might not be it.  With the E-M1.2 getting the focus updates and log mode, maybe that is still the best choice for most people.  You will know if this camera is for you or not.

 

I think this is a good way to state this…

 

The E-M1.2 is like the Porsche 911 S.  Is there a more perfect all-around performance car that you can use and live width daily? Probably not when all is said and done.

 

The E-M1X is the 911 Turbo. It takes everything that is 911 and turns it up to 11.  It’s not for everyone…but for those that can take advantage of it, there is nothing else like it.

 

Along the same analogy… I have a feeling Olympus has their own little Boxster coming soon too…

Olympus E-M1X review
Portrait on assignment

 

Key takeaways-

 

-I wish we could have live view over wireless tethering.

-I wish we could wirelessly tether without needing a router.

-I wish WB could be adjusted from the ISO button as a dual wheel setup as in the past.  This could free the WB button for other tasks.

-I wish we could customize the card button to other tasks.

-The camera is extremely comfortable.  Especially when shooting long sessions.  It disappears in the hand.

-Button spacing and layout is excellent.

Olympus E-M1X review
Portrait on assignment

 

Part 2

Video

-4 custom functions are laid out next to video mode.  Very convenient to customize a main shooting mode and then go back and fourth between C4 and video.  Very fast change over between stills and video for those shooting both back to back.

 

-Video mode and manual mode retain different settings!  This is great.  You can set video centric settings on video mode, and still based settings on your other modes and go back and fourth without changing settings.  Usually in stills if I am at F/2.8 with a shutter speed of 1/500 for example and a higher ISO… I might be at F/2.8, 1/48that a low ISO in video mode.

 

-Image stabilization in video is amazing.  M-IS1 which is IBIS+digital seems to create less jitter artifacts compared to the previous cameras.  Especially with normal to tele focal lengths, you can hold a shot like you are on a tripod. Really wide-angle jitters occasionally…but less so than previous cameras.  If I am moving, I like to set the stabilization to +1 tightness, as this helps reduce up and down motion.  I have found myself shooting video with a small footed monopod with great results when combined with the IS.  It honestly holds the image rock solid.  “Tripod-like” is the only way to describe it.  Even with wind.  This makes on-the-spot interviews so much cleaner for example.  It also allows just general scenes and pans in the field to be done without a tripod.  You can really get away hand held on shots that wouldn’t have come out the same before. Very impressive.  I wouldn’t say it is a replacement for a gimbal…a gimbal allows for much more complicated moves with fluid stability…but you can get shots that are mighty impressive by hand.  This allows for faster production and getting shots in places where using additional equipment would attract too much attention or not be permitted.

-C-AF in video and facial recognition is the next area that is night and day compared to other Olympus cameras.  Not only does it work, it works extremely well.  The sensitivity settings and the speed of focus can be adjusted.  For vlog type stuff, I like to set both the sensitivity and speed up high.  For general film-making shots I prefer the speed set neutral and sensitivity either high or adjusted to my subject conditions.  The focus transitioning is very smooth and accurate.  Most of all, it is usable.  Face tracking works great, but you have to still be relatively large in the frame.  I know people love the flip out screens for vlogging…but that’s too small for me.  I prefer a larger screen on the hotshoe. Regardless, the E-M1X with a 12mm or 17mm F/1.8 prime makes a rather enjoyable vlog setup if you are shooting yourself.  A lot of sites show that the Olympus cameras C4K is good, but not always as excellent as a GH5 or other top video shooters, and anything below C4K is a bit softer. In real world use, I don’t feel it lacks.  I shot with the E-M1X and an A7SII side by side.  Yes, there was a difference…but it was just a difference…not better or worse to be honest.  A little bit of adjustment in post and you can pretty much clean up differences enough. Shooting side by side with the GH5 and an EVA-1…  well the EVA-1 is amazing.  And built in ND filters are great.  Drool. That is a cinema camera though.  And a full log mode rocks when needed.  However…at the end of the day after post production, the E-M1X still held its own just fine.  If I were a dedicated video shooter, I’de still potentially choose a more dedicated video camera.  If you do a good mix of photo and video, the E-M1X won’t disappoint.  It makes an incredible run-and-gun solution.

 

-OM-Log 400 is a great addition.  Flat just wasn’t flat enough.  And Log-400 is better…but I still don’t feel that it is truly flat when you compare it to other cinema cameras.  I haven’t yet shot to an external recorder to get the full 4:2:2, but log mode does make for a much nicer image afterwards.  You can retain more details in the bright and shadow areas.  In fact, it seems very easy to grade and I haven’t dealt with much noise at all.  It seems really clean even at higher ISO.  I’ve been happy with it.  I find I boost my midtones and saturation and pull shadows down a bit as a usual starting point.  I honestly haven’t been happy with Olympus’ provided LUT.  It pushes the image back to what Natural profile looks like.  Nothing wrong with that…but I seem to get more mileage out of adjusting the scene myself.

 

-No zebras or adjustable highlight warning in video makes no sense.  This is one of the biggest flaws of the E-M1X for video.  They made the camera so much more capable but didn’t provide exposure tools to really get the work done right quickly and efficiently. Olympus gives recommended values for exposing when shooting log in order to gain the maximum from it.  However…we don’t have an in camera tool to do so!  This makes no sense at all.  I hope this is a coming addition in firmware.

 

-In camera sound is also much better.  Having the option of higher bit rate sound is great.  I just wish we had 48khz/24bit as that is a very common working setting in audio. The preamps seem improved and not nearly as noisy.  I have been shooting sound right into the camera and using that just fine.  Usually I would record sound in camera and then sync to a master recording done on a zoom H5 for example.  Lately I’ve just been sending sound right into the E-M1X and been just fine with it. (remember to always record backup audio too…)

 

Video Conclusion

Overall the camera is a step in a really good direction.  Many of us shoot both photo and video.  I actually have a lot of clients that request B-Roll footage during shoots.  Or even main footage, interviews, etc… added on to other shoots.  I am not shooting movies or commercials or anything.  Most of this is corporate work.  This camera lets me comfortably do both stills and video in a way that lets me keep moving quickly and get the results I want.  Battery life in video is also amazing.  Hours.  I don’t even have to think about it.  And no over heating.  C4k until my battery runs out and the camera is operating just fine.

 

Key take aways-

-I would love to see 4k/60 added

-I would love zebras, or even highlight warnings of some kind

-I would love log profile to be even flatter.

-I would love the 30 minute recording limit removed.

 

-Battery life is excellent.

-Stabilization is sensational and cleaner than before.

-C-AF is not only usable, but tunable and it actually works very well.

-Audio preamps are cleaner.

-Log profile allows for retaining the shadows and highlights far better than natural profile.

-Video settings are retained separately from photo settings.

 

At the end of the day, Olympus’ E-M1X is worthy as a halo product.  I look forward to seeing this tech filter down into other cameras and continue forward.  What is really exciting is the thought of what could possibly replace this camera?  What would a mk2 look like?  Some companies just iterate and slowly creep along.  Olympus has been adding features that facilitate getting the job done easier, more efficiently, or in new ways completely.  To me, that is worth far more than megapixels.

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September 25, 2019

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