Andy Westlake investigates Olympus’s innovative new flagship camera: a pro-focused, rapid-shooting Micro Four Thirds powerhouse
Olympus OM-D E-M1X: Autofocus
Perhaps the camera’s most interesting feature is its Intelligent Subject Detection autofocus, which allows it to recognise and track specific kinds of subjects. This works in the C-AF + TR focus mode, and can be configured for trains, planes, or motorsports. The camera will then outline any object of the correct type in the viewfinder, and in principle ignore everything else.
Olympus says that the detection algorithm has been trained using a ‘deep learning’ approach, which means that the camera could in principle be updated to detect other subject types in future, such as birds or animals. Indeed, Olympus says it’s hoping to add modes for such subjects via future firmware updates. If it can’t find any object of the specified type, the AF falls back to its conventional subject-tracking mode.
Subject detection works really well, and did a brilliant job of when I tested it at a couple of motor sports events. It’s able to pick up cars wherever they enter the frame, rapidly acquire focus, and then follow them and track focus no matter how they move. One clear real-world benefit is that it’s rarely confused by any extraneous objects that temporarily obstruct your view. This ability to understand and track the desired subject is nothing short of revolutionary, making it so straightforward to get good results that it feels like cheating.
However while the E-M1X performs superbly with relatively large, well-defined subjects, I don’t think it’s quite on the same level as the class-leading Sony Alpha 9 in its ability to lock onto small, distant ones. Nor is it as capable of keeping track of randomly moving objects such as birds when it’s working purely by pattern and colour. It’s still no slouch, but with wildlife you’ll often be better off using groups of focus points rather than AF tracking, and the hit-rate probably won’t be as high.
With static subjects the AF likewise works extremely well, being practically silent, accurate and almost instantaneous. It also continues to work in remarkably low light. I was particularly impressed to find it could focus on the edge of the eclipsed moon using a 300mm f/5.6 telezoom.