A week of birding with the E-M1X

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sebastopolgoose Regular Member • Posts: 408
A week of birding with the E-M1X
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(NOTE: Many pictures follow so those who don't want to read my blather can scroll down)

For the last couple years I've been a very happy user of the E-M1ii and 300/4, but I recently decided to upgrade to an E-M1X. This was for a few reasons. First and most importantly, my E-M1ii was nearing 150,000 actuations and with repairs apparently taking forever and a move out of the US it seemed like the ideal time to upgrade. Second, with the recent discount it was barely more than an E-M1iii and had some extra features such as bird detection AF that I wanted to try out. And third, that new 150-400 lens is calling my name, and it seems that an E-M1X is a better fit for it.

I've been using the lens for just about a week now, and my first impression is that I like it quite a bit more than I thought it would! I don't want to call this a review, as I'm not interested in looking at 100% crops under a microscope or doing side-by-side tests or whatever. I'm very resolutely a birder who happens to carry around a camera rather than a bird photographer, so I figured I'd post some thoughts for others in similar set-ups considering a switch.

Image Quality: I knew coming in that this has the same sensor as my old E-M1ii, so I came in expecting pictures to come out fairly similar. Overall the two do indeed have broadly similar IQ, and honestly I'd say that for many birders wanting a high-quality, compact system it may not be worth the extra $1,000 premium for an E-M1x over a brand new E-M1ii. That said, subjectively I do see a small improvement in high-ISO performance with the E-M1x that's much appreciated given how often I shoot in low-light environments. I also notice that the E-M1x is better at prioritizing a high shutter speed in P mode, which is useful for photographing birds and other subjects that move around a lot. Overall there seems to be a slight but noticeable improvement in the general clarity and sharpness of my pictures- although perhaps that's simply an artifact of a new sensor without the wear and tear and weathering of the old one.

One minor IQ quibble is that my (brand new!) camera apparently came with its very own factory defect: a small white line appears at the bottom corner of about half the images, and has stayed there regardless of the memory card, and even after pixel mapping.

Autofocus: Again, I knew coming in that the basic AF system wasn't much changed from the E-M1ii and they are indeed somewhat similar. That said, I do notice a marked improvement in AF speed and accuracy; I find myself deleting fewer pictures due to slightly inaccurate focus than I did with my E-M1ii.

As many others have noted, the much-hyped bird detection AF is a nice little feature but not exactly revolutionary; it's much worse than normal C-AF when photographing birds flying in front of busy backgrounds or even water, and when photographing small birds hopping between branches I'm better off using S-AF with center-point priority and MF adjust than the bird detection. That said, there are situations when it's useful as well. It seems to have the edge over C-AF when tracking birds in front of a clear background, as it detects them even when they're not near the center of the frame (for instance, the Rock Pigeon picture here). It also came in handy when shooting the Sanderlings moving towards me along a beach, which would have been difficult for S-AF or normal C-AF considering how often they move around. Assigning it to the Fn lever has definitely been a good strategy, as it allows me to switch quickly into bird detection mode when the situation is appropriate. All the BIFs in this post were taken with bird detection, and I like to think that at least some of them would have been more difficult without it.

Handling: My biggest worry with the camera was the size difference over the E-M1ii, and it certainly is bigger. That said, it's still compact enough to carry around in my small over-the-shoulder camera bag, and I genuinely do not notice the weight difference; I'm comfortable handholding it for hours and it balances quite well with the 300/4. I expect the size and shape will be even more useful if I do indeed manage to get my hands on a 150-400... Overall, and once again I say this as a birder who happens to have a camera rather than a bird photographer, it's a set-up that allows me to get the shot I want most of the time with a minimum of fuss, and that's very high praise. It seems like at least half of the serious birders and bird guides I know have switched to the E-M1ii and 300/4 combo, and I can see them upgrading to the E-M1x or perhaps its successor with a new sensor.

A note about lenses: I started out using the E-M1x with my 300/4 and the 1.4x teleconverter, and while it does indeed "fit" that combo overall in terms of shape and weight, the improved IQ on the new camera really drove home how much the teleconverter worsens my overall experience with the lens. The extra reach is (usually) nice and I don't notice any decrease in AF capabilities, but the dropoff in sharpness and light is very noticeable. Perhaps I just got a slightly "off" unit (and there's likely some glass wear given that Olympus hasn't bothered to give us an easily-portable case or cap for the teleconverter), but honestly taking off the teleconverter and trying it on a brand-new sensor reminded me that the 300/4 is just a very, very good lens, even now after it's likely taken something like 300,000 pictures across three different cameras. I'll likely still upgrade to the 150-400 for the sake of the zoom and extra reach, but I can't say enough good things about the prime.

Black-capped Chickadee

Cape May Warbler

Merlin

Great Blue Heron

Northern Porcupine

Canada Goose

Rock Pigeon

Belted Kingfisher

Merlin

Sanderling

Red-breasted Nuthatch

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The man who created the hokey pokey died peacefully in his sleep at age 90. The hardest part for his family was putting him into the coffin. They put his left leg in. That was when the trouble started.

 sebastopolgoose's gear list:sebastopolgoose's gear list
Olympus E-M1 II Olympus OM-D E-M1X Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 9-18mm F4.0-5.6 Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 60mm F2.8 Macro Olympus M.Zuiko 300mm F4 IS Pro
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