What's new and how it compares

The sensor in the E-M1X is fast which, along with a lot of processing power, underpins a great deal of what the camera can do.

It means the camera can offer one of the fastest electronic shutters we've encountered and can shoot video with very well-controlled rolling shutter. But Olympus has clearly given a lot of thought to how else it can provide a real-world advantage from this fast readout.

Key takeaways:

  • Dual TruePic VIII processors underpin E-M1X's speed and many of its functions
  • Subject Tracking modes based on machine-learned allow it to recognize trains, aircraft or motor racing vehicles
  • Multi-shot modes allow high resolution and 'Live ND' long exposure simulation
  • Wider selection of AF Area modes and options to tune their behavior

Revised autofocus

The sensor's fast readout not only means the E-M1X can shoot fast (up to 18 fps with autofocus, 60 fps without) but also that it can provide plenty of information for AF processing while doing so. Olympus says it's taking focus readings both from the images the camera has just taken and from the live view updates between them.

Other changes to the AF system include the ability to define different AF Area modes and different AF areas, depending on the camera orientation.

The E-M1X also gains the ability to define custom-shaped groups of autofocus points, if there's a particular region of the image you expect your subject to appear in.

C-AF Center Start / C-AF Center Priority

In addition there are options, per AF Area mode, on whether the camera should initially focus on the center-most (rather than nearest) subject in the AF area and whether it should then prioritize the subject at the center of each AF Area type. These are particularly valuable in situations where you're trying to keep your AF point over your subject as it moves but need to know exactly what the camera will prioritize within that region.

Machine-learning-based autofocus

Perhaps the most recognizably new capability of the E-M1X is autofocus that has been trained by machine learning to recognize and focus on specific types of subjects. This is one of the first times a manufacturer has made clear it's done this (though Sony has acknowledged taking a similar approach, since Olympus disclosed this).

Currently the camera includes three subject types that the camera has been trained to understand: Motorsports, trains and planes. You need to tell the camera (via the menu) which type of subject to look for, and this decision overrides the chosen AF area and tells the camera to seek out the subject type you've chosen. If there are multiple subjects in a scene, you can select between them by placing an AF area over the subject of your choice and then initiating autofocus.

Not only has the camera been given an understanding of what race cars and motorbikes look like, it's also been programmed to recognize specific elements of those subjects, so that, for instance, it knows to focus on a motorcyclist's helmet, when it gets close enough that it's reasonable to make that distinction.

To be clear, though, the camera itself isn't 'learning' as it's being used: the algorithm that knows the patterns to look for has been established and loaded on the camera before it ships.

The subject-based tracking is part of the camera's C-AF+TR tracking system, so if you've selected a subject type in the menu and then switch in and out of C-AF+TR mode, you can enable/disable subject tracking without entering the menu. However, you have to go into the menu to switch between generic and specific (train, plane or automobile) subject tracking.

Hand-held high-res shot mode

Hand-held high-res shot mode, based on a combination of 16 shots. Out of camera JPEG.
Olympus 40-150mm F2.8 @ 45mm | 1/1600th | F2.8 | ISO 200
Photo by Carey Rose

Olympus was the first brand to offer a multi-shot high resolution mode in its camera. This uses eight exposures: four making single-pixel shifts to cancel-out the Bayer pattern of the sensor, followed by a half-pixel horizontal and vertical shift and finally a second series of Bayer-cancelling shots.

The implementation in the E-M1X follows Ricoh's lead by allowing the mode to be used hand-held, rather than just on a tripod. Like similar implementations, it doesn't actively move its sensor, instead measuring how much the camera is moved by hand shake (stabilization is still active). The hand-held mode uses 16 images to create the final image.

The hand-held modes attempt to correct for motion that's occurred between shots (using the information from a single shot in the areas of movement), but we've still seen odd artifacts in the shots we've taken. The hand-held mode creates 50MP Raw files with this motion correction already written-in, whereas the tripod mode creates 80MP files, seemingly without correction.

Live ND mode

Another feature offered by the E-M1X is a Live ND mode that simulates the effect of the long exposures you'd get by using neutral density filters. It does so by shooting a series of images with short exposures and then combining them. By averaging (rather than simply adding) the results, the camera can give the effect of a long exposure without the highlight clipping that would otherwise occur.

Image shot with Live ND mode
Olympus 12-100mm F4 PRO IS @ 29mm | 0.7 sec | F7.1 | ISO 200
Photo by Chris Niccolls

The Live ND implementation shows the exposure build up during the total exposure and also lets you configure the mode in terms of ND amount, giving up to a 5EV ND effect, in whole-stop increments.

'Improved' in-body image stabilization

Olympus has been on the forefront of what's possible with in-body stabilization for some time. And with the E-M1X, the brand claims improved IS, up to 7EV of stabilization using its sensor-shift mode, and 7.5EV when combined with the Olympus M.Zuiko 12-100mm F4 Pro (CIPA rating). Our image stabilization test, which tends to offer more realistic results than CIPA, puts that number closer to 5 stops with the the Olympus M.Zuiko 12-100mm F4 Pro attached (at 100mm), on par with the E-M1 II and slightly behind the Panasonic G9.

Features carried-over from the E-M1 Mark II

One of the camera's key features that's not new but worth discussing is the Pro Capture mode. This continuously shoots, records and deletes images, but then retains the ones captured immediately before you press the shutter button.

You can adjust how many shots the camera captures, both before and after the shutter button is pressed, to ensure that you capture 'the moment,' even if your own response time meant that it happened just before you hit the shutter.

Compared to its peers

The larger body of the E-M1X means the controls are less cluttered than on the E-M1 Mark II (right)

Olympus makes clear that, even more than its existing E-M1 II model, the E-M1X is intended to be an out-and-out sports camera for professional photographers. As such, that puts it in the company of the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, the Nikon D5 and Sony's a9.

However, its price and sensor size mean it makes sense to also see where it sits relative to Panasonic's G9 (its fast, photo-focused model) and Nikon's APS-C sports model, the D500. Space constraints mean we've had to omit the D5 from this table.

Olympus
OM-D E-M1X

Sony
a9
Nikon
D500
Canon
EOS-1D X II
Panasonic
DC-G9
MSRP (US) $2999 $4499 $1999 $5999 $1699
Sensor size Four Thirds
(225mm2)
Full Frame
(864mm2)
APS-C
(369mm2)
Full Frame
(864mm2)
Four Thirds
(225mm2)
Resolution 20MP 24MP 21MP 20MP 20MP
Max shooting rate w/AF 18 fps e-shut
10 fps mech
(60 w/out AF)
20 fps
(12-bit, e-shutter)
10 fps 14 fps 20 fps
(e-shutter)
E-Shutter rate (approx) 1/60 sec 1/160 sec - - 1/50 sec

Image Stabilization
(CIPA)

7.0EV (7.5 with IS lens) 5.0EV Lens only Lens only 6.5EV with IS lens
Viewfinder res/rate 2.36M- dot LCD / 120hz 3.68M-dot OLED / 120hz Optical Optical 3.68M-dot OLED / 120hz
Viewfinder mag Up to 0.83x* 0.78x 0.67x 0.76x 0.83x
LCD 1.04M-dot fully articulated 1.44M-dot
tilting
2.36M-dot tilting 1.62M-dot fixed 1.04M-dot
fully articulated
Touchscreen? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Video 4K/30p 4K/30p 4K/30
(1.5x crop)
DCI 4K/60p
(1.34x crop / MJPEG)
4K/60p
GPS Yes No No No No
Environmental sensors Yes No No No No
Ethernet No Yes No Yes No
Battery life (CIPA) 870 650 / 480 1240 1120 400 / 380
Weight 997g 673g 860g 1530g 658g
Dimensions 144 x 147 x 75mm 127 x 96 x 63mm 147 x 115 x 81mm 158 x 168 x 83mm 137 x 97 x 92mm

*Varies based on display layout