Early this morning, Olympus revealed its new flagship camera — the OM-D E-M1X. There’s quite a bit of hype over what this camera can do, and I was lucky enough to have a pre-release copy that I used for about five weeks.

Being that several camera manufacturers introduced mirrorless cameras last year, many expected Olympus to embrace the full-frame mirrorless market. But as I discussed with them at the PhotoPlus Expo back in October, Olympus is 100% committed to the micro four-thirds mirrorless realm. The E-M1X shows how Olympus has invested its time, preparing the company for the future and bringing photographers features that have never been seen before.

What is the E-M1X?

If you haven’t read my announcement story from earlier today, check out what the E-M1X is all about. It has a similar body style to the E-M1 Mark II, but has a built-in vertical battery grip and some pretty cool features like Handheld High Res Shot and Live ND modes. It’s also geared to sports and wildlife shooters, with Intelligent Subject Detection Autofocus and improved continuous autofocus tracking capabilities.

With the improvements and new features in the camera, it’s clear that the E-M1X is geared toward the working professional.

“Since the E-M1 Mark II launched, we received lots of feedback from the market,” said Katsuhisha Kawaguchi, a Deputy General Manager on Olympus’ Imaging System Development team. “We answered most of the requests from the professional with this camera.”

“Our goal is to provide ultimate reliability with this camera to the professional photographer. Thanks to the double engine we could develop the various functions and enhance the speed and autofocus features,” said Eiji Shirota, General Manager of Olympus’ Imaging Product Planning Department.

The E-M1X retails for $2999.99 (U.S.) and $3399.99 (CAD), and will begin shipping in late February. Get your pre-order in today!

First take

When I first pick up this camera, it immediately reminds me of my E-M1 Mark II with a battery grip on it. The ergonomics are some of the best I’ve had in a camera. Compared to the E-M1 Mark II, though, the vertical grip is more natural, and much more comfortable.

Little things like adding a multi-selector to the vertical grip portion and having a dedicated ISO button will please professionals. There are also four custom function buttons on the front, instead of two from the E-M1 Mark II, allowing for better customizability.

While this camera is certainly larger than the E-M1 Mark II due to the built-in vertical grip, it still is comfortable and not overly heavy.

In terms of other enhancements, the custom menu area in the software’s menu system is a huge deal. Olympus’ menu system can be somewhat cumbersome because of all the options, so having the ability to add custom menu items will definitely speed up workflows.

New features

Handheld High Res Shot

One of the most anticipated features of the E-M1X is Handheld High Res Shot. This takes the Handheld High Res Shot for tripods, which is on the E-M1 Mark II, and makes it easy to create a similar result while shooting handheld.

Handheld High Res Shot takes 16 frames and then combines it into a single 50MP image, and is available in both RAW and JPEG formats. The aperture can be set to a maximum of f/8 and up to ISO 6400.

Working in this mode was very easy. You frame your shot like anything else and then click. It takes about a second for it to work, and then another few seconds to process the photo. The quality is super sharp, and absolutely stunning. I can definitely see portrait photographers loving this capability.

Live ND

I tried Live ND mode when I was up at my parent’s over Christmas, and I must say this is the feature I’m personally most excited about. While you won’t be able to completely put away your Neutral Density filters in storage, I found that Live ND mode worked really well for some of the shorter long exposures I like to do during the day. If you travel often, having Live ND mode really is a perfect solution.

Live ND mode offers up to a five-stop ND “filter” (ND 32). The really cool part? You can see the effect right through the viewfinder or back screen, so you know exactly what you’re getting.

I tried Live ND mode at a beach in Traverse City, MI, capturing some branches that were covered in ice. I was able to freeze the water just like I would had I used my ND filters, with the ND 32 setting. The wind created some movement in the trees. Had I wanted a sharper image, I would’ve easily been able to just boost up the shutter speed.

Speaking of shutter speed, depending on the “filter” you use, you can shoot up to 1/30s (with ND 2). You can also go up to ISO 800. The darker the “filter” you go with, the slower your shutter speed is forced to be. I didn’t find this to be a problem at all though.

Grand Haven, MI

Now if only Olympus could combine Live ND mode with High Res Shot …

Intelligent Subject Detection Autofocus

Sports and action shooters are going to love this feature. While the E-M1X has some impressive technology when it comes to C-AF Tracking mode, Olympus has upped the ante by creating Intelligent Subject Detection Autofocus.

This mode allows you to tell the camera what type of subject you’re photographing, and it’ll use AI technology to keep the tracking even more accurate. I tried this out at the Daytona Raceway down in Florida, and was amazed at the sharpness I got when panning the cars on the track. Especially because, as the background changes are other objects were brought into the scene, it never jumped focus points.

For now, there are only three subjects as a part of this — motor sports, trains and aircrafts — but Olympus engineers confirmed they are working on more options.

It’s clear that AI will play a big role in not only the E-M1X, but also future cameras.

“AI is a big trend not only in the camera market, but also other markets,” said Shirota. “We’ve tried to think what the best solution is for this technology. The double engine [for subject detection] can detect the subject real-time; it could not have been realized without the two engines.”

Improved Continuous Autofocus with Tracking

In addition to the Intelligent Subject Detection Autofocus, general C-AF Tracking mode has been improved. I tested this out a ton, with everything from motocross to the University of Florida Gators football practice.

Increased ISO performance

As an event photographer, this will definitely come in handy. While I typically didn’t go above ISO 3200 with my E-M1 Mark II, the E-M1X will allow me to achieve acceptable results up to ISO 6400.

Back at home, I tested this with a broomball game for the Grand Rapids Sport & Social Club, going up to ISO 6400. In the below photos, no noise reduction was added in post-processing.

Anti-Flicker shooting

Also new to the E-M1X is Anti-Flicker shooting, where the camera detects the frequency of artificial lighting and activates the shutter at its peak brightness. This will eliminate problems where lights show and don’t show in grouped photographs — particularly useful when shooting indoors.

Up to 7.5 stops of stabilization

Building on the 6.5 stops of stabilization in the E-M1 Mark II (with Sync IS), the E-M1X has up to 7.5 stops of stabilization while shooting with the 12-100mm f/4 lens. I tested this and found that I was able to, in the wind, shoot up to 10 seconds and achieve sharp results while shooting handheld.

Video improvements

Due to the improvements with image stabilization, Handheld 4K/C4K shooting is now available. Videographers are able to choose the best of three levels of image stabilization, according to position and movement.

Also new is OM-Log, allowing for shooting of video without loss of details in shadows or highlight blowouts.

Finally, High-speed Movie is also available, enabling shooting in full HD at 120fps.

Other notes

In addition to the highlights above, here are some additional points of interest:

  • New Group-25 point autofocus target mode
  • 121-point all-cross-type on-chip Phase Detection AF sensor
  • Custom autofocus target modes
  • 1PX1 guaranteed, weatherproof operating environment
  • Dual TrucPic VIII processors, providing high-speed responsiveness
  • Zero-lag Pro Capture Mode
  • 60fps high-speed continuous shooting
  • Uses same battery as E-M1 Mark II
  • New “B” (Bulb) mode dial for Live Composite, Live Bulb and Live Time
  • New C4 mode dial for additional custom settings
  • C-AF+MF mode, allowing ability to quickly switch to manual focus with the lens focus ring
  • Dual UHS-II SD card slots
  • Charging via USB
  • Built-in GPS, temperature sensor, manometer and compass (field sensors)

Update: Electronic viewfinder, Jan. 24, 2:45 p.m.

After seeing a lot of feedback about the lack of an OLED electronic viewfinder (EVF) in the camera, I wanted to reach out to Olympus to see why they stuck with an LCD viewfinder. According to Eric Gensel, Associate Manager Technical, Public Relations for Olympus, “[Research and development] went with this EVF so they could accomplish a 120fps progressive scan. Moving over to an OLED, which might offer a higher resolution and better contrast, would negatively impact the refresh rate, which is important for sports and action shooters.”

Final thoughts

In my short time using the E-M1X, I’ve been very impressed. It’s clearly a camera for the professional. I spoke with Olympus Visionary Joe Edelman, who had this to say:

“Across my 40 years plus as a photographer, I have worked with many different types of cameras and camera systems. I sincerely feel that the E-M1X will have huge implications for the future of photography. This camera has been designed with a tremendous amount of input from professional photographers around the world — I know because I was one of them. I believe that the cutting-edge technology that is being released with the E-M1X will eventually find its way into smaller and lighter cameras and allow all photographers to continue to create in ways that we haven’t previously imagined.”

With the E-M1X bringing groundbreaking technologies to the camera scene, it will be interesting to see how other cameras develop. Things like Live ND and Handheld High Res Shot modes have never been seen in a camera before. While full-frame shooters might boast about their high megapixel counts, I’m happy to see Olympus investing where it counts — in features and software, rather than pixels.