Andy Westlake investigates Olympus’s innovative new flagship camera: a pro-focused, rapid-shooting Micro Four Thirds powerhouse
Olympus OM-D E-M1X: Performance
Put the E-M1X to work shooting fast-moving subjects, and you’ll quickly find that it’s an extremely accomplished camera that’s capable of turning out great-looking images shot after shot. Like most mirrorless models it takes a second or so to start up, but from then on it’s as fast and responsive as you could hope for. It’s just worth bearing in mind how easy it is to eat up the buffer and card space when shooting at high frame rates, especially when recording raw files.
Typically for Olympus, though, JPEG files are superb, with excellent colour and well-judged exposure. Indeed there are few cameras with which I’d be more confident turning off raw recording. The only real caveat is over-aggressive noise reduction smearing away fine detail, and there’s a strong case for setting the Noise Filter to Low if you want to make large prints. It’s also crucial to shoot at larger apertures than you’d use with larger formats, to avoid diffraction blurring. In my experience, this isn’t remotely a problem with Olympus’s high-end PRO lenses, which deliver great results at all apertures and focus distances.
One area where the E-M1X does indisputably lag behind its larger-sensored peers is dynamic range. It’s simply not possible to pull as much detail out of shadow regions of the frame when processing raw, before seeing noise rear its ugly head. But this has to be kept in context – there’s still decent leeway for manipulating an image. In the example below I pulled a couple of stops extra detail up from the shadows, and while noise is becoming quite visible in the darkest tones, it’s certainly not spoiling the image.
Battery life is exceptional, especially in burst mode. For example, shooting motorsports at 10fps with the mechanical shutter, I managed over 3400 frames without even touching the second battery; using the electronic shutter I managed well over 5000. You’d need a serious day’s shooting to get through both batteries.
Olympus OM-D E-M1X: In-body stabilisation
As we’ve come to expect from Olympus, the E-M1X’s in-body stabilisation is truly phenomenal. It’s possible to routinely shoot hand-held exposures way longer than you’d believe possible, even into multiple seconds. This works with any lens you can fit onto the camera, but you’ll get the very best results with Olympus’s optically-stabilised lenses, the M.Zuiko 12-100mm F4 IS Pro and the M.Zuiko 300mm F4 IS Pro.
It’s easy to think that image stabilisation is just to avoid camera shake, but it can be used much more creatively than that. In the example above, I specifically used it to obtain a relatively long shutter speed to blur the moving water. In this case, 1/13sec at 132mm equivalent counts as approximately four stops stabilisation.
Of course you can use the IBIS to shoot long exposures. This shot of the Painted Hall at Greenwich is 1.6 seconds, hand-held: there are very few other cameras where you’d get away with that. However I also noticed such long exposures can give very odd artefacts towards the edge of the frame with wideangle lenses such as the M.Zuiko 7-14mm F2.8 Pro.
Olympus OM-D E-M1X: Live ND
New to the E-M1X is a Live ND function that can be used for shooting long exposures equivalent to using neutral-density filters from 1 to 5 stops, with the effect previewed in the viewfinder. It’s only available in manual-exposure mode, and while it’s probably best used with the camera on a tripod, this isn’t always essential. It works by shooting a series of short exposures, then aligning them and averaging anything that’s moved.
Live ND works well, and means you no longer have to stop down to resolution-sapping small apertures to shoot long exposures. In the sample above I used it blur the waterfall, while combining it with the high-contrast black & white Dramatic Tone II Art Filter to liven up a dull grey day. However with a maximum of 5 stops effect, it’s not yet a substitute for the really deep ND filters that are fashionable among landscape shooters.
Olympus OM-D E-M1X: Hand-held multi-shot
Olympus was one of the first to introduce a high-resolution multi-shot mode, exploiting the in-body stabilisation unit to deliver full-colour sampling at each pixel location. Until now it’s been strictly a tripod-based mode, but on the E-M1X Olympus has added a version for hand-held shooting, which outputs 40MP JPEGs.
Hand-held mode actually works on a completely different principle, taking 16 frames in rapid succession which are processed using conventional Bayer interpolation. It then uses the tiny sub-pixel differences between them to produce a higher-resolution image. Its main practical drawback is that the processing time is painfully long, with the camera locking up completely for 13 seconds.
It certainly works, though; 40MP JPEG files look very soft at the pixel level, but if you down-sample them to 20MP and compare to conventional single-shot images, they show visibly more fine detail. Unsurprisingly though, the mode still has problems dealing with subjects that move while it’s recording the exposures.
You can clearly see the difference in the comparison above. Detail is much better defined in the multi-shot version of this pair of images, taken just seconds apart. But you can also see ghosting from a man walking through the frame in the multi-shot version. Even so, it’s easily the most practical implementation of this feature to date, and clearly works better than the version found on the Pentax K-1 Mark II.