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Olympus OM-D E-M1X goes gonzo on image stabilization

With up to seven stops of compensation, Olympus hopes to entice pro action and wildlife photographers who'd like to shed the burden of a tripod or monopod.

Lori Grunin/CNET

Olympus' Micro Four Thirds OM-D E-M1X is the first pro camera i've picked up without bemoaning my lack of upper body strength.  A sibling to the great E-M1 Mark II, it's designed to attract professional action and wildlife photographers looking for a light(er)-weight alternative to an SLR or even an APS-C mirrorless. While it's not that light at more than 2 pounds (just under a kilogram), it's still relatively compact for what it is -- and more importantly, the lenses are much lighter and smaller than the APS-C or full-frame equivalents.

Olympus plans to ship the E-M1X by the end of February. It's priced at $3,000 or AU$4,500 for the body, which converts to roughly £2,295.   

The OM-D E-M1X is essentially the E-M1 Mark II on steroids; physically bulked up with an integrated vertical grip that holds two batteries, two TruePic VIII image processors and a beefier gyro sensor that helps increase the stabilization for up to seven stops of compensation (7.5 with an OIS lens that supports Olympus' Sync IS hybrid stabilization). 

Seven stops of stabilization is pretty impressive given that the best we've seen thus far is about 5.5. Depending upon what you shoot, that could mean the difference between having to tote a tripod or being able to leave it behind, or being able to shoot at a lower ISO than you'd otherwise have to.

I'm a big fan of Olympus' stabilization performance in general, but in the little time I had to try out the E-M1X I didn't have much luck with it -- the best I could do was handheld at 0.1 sec. (with the 12-100mm f4 lens), which is the best tend to get consistently with almost any system.

Shot in Handheld High Res Shot mode (1/80 sec., f4, ISO 320). Not much of a photo, but you can see the tiny distorted buildings in the raindrops. (It's easier to see if you view the full-res photo.) Normally that's not a big deal, but the sensors used in Micro Four Thirds cameras tend to be relatively low resolution.

Lori Grunin/CNET

The improved stabilization plus the dual processors facilitate a handheld High Res Shot mode in addition to the existing tripod-requiring mode; handheld combines 16 shots to produce a 50-megapixel image. While there doesn't seem to be an impractical lower bound on the length of the exposure, since the camera uses the sensor shift mechanism to produce the image, the in-body stabilization isn't effective here.

Like most computational multishot features, the high-res mode takes a bit of time to process after the shot, despite the extra horsepower. Olympus added another multishot mode, Live ND Filter, which combines photos to simulate the effect of up to five stops of neutral-density light reduction, with the ability to preview the result. 

A more conventional shot in Handheld Hi Res Shot mode (1/80 sec., f4.5, ISO 1000). Download the full-resolution image.

Lori Grunin/CNET

The increase in processing power also enables the new, AI-driven Intelligent Subject Detection, which can recognize and track cars, motorcycles, planes and trains. You select which subject you're shooting, and the AF locks on to a specific aspect -- for instance, the helmet of the motorcyclist -- for tracking. 

It selects and tracks it automatically in this mode, so you don't have to initiate the object selection or tracking as you normally would. Combined with the Pro Capture mode, which buffers images before you press the shutter so you don't miss a shot if your reaction time's a little off, it can really come in handy.

While the detection magic initially only works for those limited shooting situations, additional tracking modes can be added via firmware upgrades. Olympus plans to release regular feature updates via firmware for the camera, as it does for some of its other higher-end models.

Physically fit

Of course, the control layout's been adapted to the bigger body along with the needs of pros. For instance, the drive modes are now more easily accessible on the left shoulder, there are joysticks for manipulating focus areas (plus more AF-area configuration options), and it now has a control-lock switch setting for which you can selectively choose what to lock (before it was all or nothing). On board, it's got a GPS, barometer, compass and more.

The smaller body feels quite comfortable to hold and is likely less fatiguing over the course of a day, and most of the controls are easily reachable. I'm not fond of the location of the metering, AF and drive modes -- they're kind of awkward to reach on the left shoulder and all the buttons feel similar -- but I always hated the convention of that location for the mode controls in cameras like the Nikon D5. Clearly a personal preference issue. Most of the other buttons have unique-feeling surfaces so that it's easy to distinguish among them without looking.


The tray holds two batteries.

Lori Grunin/CNET

The dual SD card slots are now both UHS-II rather than just one of them, Wi-Fi's been upped to 802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5) and the viewfinder offers a bit higher magnification, thanks to an additional lens optic in it. Plus, Olympus says the dust removal is 10 percent more efficient than previously, and the subject detection has also been improved. 

The bigger body means that Olympus can just toss in a second battery to solve the big problem plaguing mirrorless cameras -- awful battery life caused by power-draining viewfinders and sensor-shift stabilization mechanisms -- while still using the same battery as the E-M1 II's. Olympus will include two in the box, along with two chargers, which is nice. The camera also jumps on the USB-C charging bandwagon, and the company claims it can charge both batteries in two hours.

Otherwise, the M1X has most of the same components and specificatons as the M1 II; most notably, the same 20-megapixel sensor and on-chip autofocus system, metering system, continuous-shooting rates and viewfinder.

Really, the only thing that gives me pause is the price. Paying so much for the small Four Thirds-size sensor incites a knee-jerk response when an APS-C Fujifilm X-T3 or M43 Panasonic Lumix G9 equipped with a vertical grip is about two-thirds the cost. 

The integrated grip does improve the weather resistance -- the camera's rated to IPX 1 even when you're plugged into the ports, though Olympus claims the sealing goes way beyond that basic claim -- and the M1X is faster, but it's the nuances of speed and stabilization performance that will probably determine whether it's worth the money for your particular needs.


A mockup of the upcoming 150-400mm lens.


Along with the camera, Olympus made a development announcement for a new 150-400mm f/4.5 TC1.25x IS Pro lens. It's got a built-in teleconverter to stretch that out to 300-1,000mm, and with the upcoming MC-20 converter (expected this summer), that will jump to 600-2,000mm. Olympus didn't provide any pricing or availability for either.

Comparative specifications

Fujifilm X-T3 Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Olympus OM-D E-M1X Panasonic Lumix G9
Sensor effective resolution 26MP X-Trans BSI CMOS 4 14-bit 20.4MP Live MOS 12-bit 20.4MP Live MOS 12-bit 20.3MP Live MOS 12-bit
Sensor size 23.5 x 15.6mm 17.3 x 13mm 17.4 x 13mm 17.3 x 13mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.5x 2.0x 2.0x 2.0x
OLPF No No No No
Sensitivity range ISO 80 (exp)/ISO 160 (exp)/200 - ISO 12800/51200 (exp) ISO 64 (exp)/200 - ISO 25600 ISO 64 (exp)/200 - ISO 25600 ISO 100 (exp)/ISO 200 - ISO 25600
Burst shooting 11fps 145 JPEG/42 raw (20fps with e-shutter) 18fps (electronic shutter) 10fps (mechanical shutter) (60fps with fixed AE/AF and electronic shutter) 18fps (electronic shutter)
10fps (mechanical shutter)
(60fps with fixed AE/AF and electronic shutter)
49 raw/49 JPEG  
20fps (with e-shutter); 9fps (with mechanical shutter) 600 JPEG/60 raw (With fixed focus and exposure, 60fps with e-shutter and 12fps with mechanical shutter)
Viewfinder (mag/ effective mag) OLED EVF 3.7m million dots 100% coverage 1.1x/0.75x EVF 2.36 million dots 100% coverage 1.3x - 1.48x/ 0.65x- 0.74x EVF 2.4 million dots 100% coverage 1.48x - 1.65x/ 0.74x- 0.83x OLED EVF 3.7 million dots 100% coverage 1.66x/0.83x
Hot shoe Yes Yes Yes Yes
Autofocus 2.2-million-point phase-detection AF, 91-area contrast AF 121-point cross-type phase detection AF, 121-point contrast AF 121-point all cross-type phase detection AF, 121-point contrast AF 225-area DFD Contrast AF
AF sensitivity -3 to n/a EV n/a -6 - 20 EV -4 - 18 EV
Shutter speed 1/8,000 to 30 sec. (1/32,000 sec. with electronic shutter); bulb to 60 min; 1/250 sec. x-sync 60 - 1/8000 sec. (1/32,000 with electronic shutter); bulb to 30 minutes; 1/250 sec. x-sync (Super FP to 1/8,000) 60 - 1/8,000 sec. (1/32,000 with electronic shutter); bulb to 30 minutes; 1/250 sec. x-sync (Super FP to 1/8,000) 1/8,000 to 60 sec. (1/32,000 electronic); bulb to 60 minutes; 1/250 sec. x-sync
Shutter durability (actuations) n/a 200,000 400,000 200,000
Metering 256 zones 324 area 324 area 1,728 zone
Metering sensitivity n/a -2 - 20 EV -2 - 20 EV 0 - 18 EV
Best video H.265 QuickTime MOV C4K/60p @400Mbps; H.264 QuickTime MOV UHD/30p, 25p, 24p at 400Mbps H.264 QuickTime MOV C4K/24p @ 237Mbps; UHD/30p, 25p, 24p @ 102Mbps; 1080/60p, 50p, 25p, 24p @ 202Mbps H.264 QuickTime MOV C4K/24p @ 237Mbps; UHD/30p, 25p, 24p @ 102Mbps; 1080/120p H.264 MP4 UHD/60p @ 150Mbps ; 1080/60p, 50p, 25p, 24p; 1080/180fps
Audio Stereo; mic input, headphone jack Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input, headphone jack Stereo, mic input, headphones
Manual aperture and shutter in video Yes Yes Yes Yes
Maximum best-quality recording time per clip 20 min. 29 min. 29 min. 10 min.
Clean HDMI out Yes Yes Yes Yes
IS Optical Sensor shift 5 axis, IS Sync Sensor shift 5 axis, IS Sync Dual IS 2 (5 axis)
Display 3 in./.7.5cm Multiangle tilting touch 1.04 million dots 3 in./7.5cm Articulated touchscreen 1.04m dots 3 in./7.5cm Articulated touchscreen 1.04m dots 3 in./7.5cm Articulated touchscreen 1.04m dots
Memory slots 2 x SDXC UHS-III, V90 2 x SDXC (1 x UHS-II) 2 x SDXC (1 x UHS-II) 2 x SDXC UHS-II U3
Wireless connection Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n), Bluetooth Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n) Wi-Fi (802.11ac) Wi-Fi (802.11ac), Bluetooth 4.2
Flash Yes Included add-on No No
Wireless flash Yes Yes Yes Yes
Battery life (CIPA rating) 390 shots (1,260mAh) 440 shots (1,720mAh) 870 shots (2 x 1,720mAh batteries) 380 shots (1,860mAh)
Size (WHD) 5.2 x 3.7 x 2.3 in.; 133 × 93 × 59mm 5.3 x 3.6 x 2.7 in.; 134 x 91 x 69mm 5.7 x 5.8 x 3.0 in.; 144 x 147 x 75mm 5.4 x 3.8 x 3.6 in.; 137 x 97 x 92mm
Body operating weight 19 oz. (est.), 539g (est.) 20.2 oz., 574g 35.2 oz. (est.), 997g (est) 23.2 oz. (est.), 658g (est.)
Mfr. price (body only) $1,400; £1,350; AU$2,200 (est.) $1,700; £1,500; AU$2,800 $3,000 $1,300; £1,500; AU$2,500
Release date Sept. 2018 Dec. 2016 Feb. 2019 Jan. 2018

Update Jan. 24, 4 p.m. PT:  Added corrections and hands-on comments, embedded gallery.

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