Olympus is sticking with the Micro Four Thirds (MFT) sensor for its mirrorless cameras, despite seeing rivals move to larger full-frame sensors. This means its new flagship, the OM-D E-M1X, has a sensor that is around half the size of the full-frame ones in the latest mirrorless cameras of Panasonic and Sigma.
Not that Olympus is worried about playing second fiddle to them - the company has said it believes in the MFT format's potential and that most users do not need full-frame sensors.
According to Olympus, the E-M1X is not the replacement for the E-M1 Mark II, which was launched in Dec 2016, but instead sits alongside the latter to cater to a different target audience - sports and action photographers.
To that end, Olympus has thrown in two TruePic VIII image processors for faster image processing, a whopping 60 frames per second (fps) shooting speed with locked autofocusing (AF) and an 18fps shooting speed with AF tracking. It also comes with a 121-point cross-type on-chip phase detection AF sensor for more accurate AF.
In addition, the E-M1X features the world's highest image stabilisation performance of 7.5 shutter speed steps, according to its maker.
Other notable features include a 50-megapixel handheld high-resolution mode, two memory card slots that support high-speed UHS-II SD cards, a 270-degree rotatable display for selfie stills or videos, and support for 4K video recording.
I used the E-M1X with the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-100mm f/4.0 IS PRO lens in this review.
One of the benefits of using the MFT image sensor is that it allows the camera body to be more compact and lightweight. But the E-M1X is anything but compact and lightweight.
This is due to the integrated vertical grip design of the E-M1X. For sports photographers, a vertical grip is essential as it allows them to quickly switch from landscape orientation to portrait orientation, and vice versa.
Plus, the integrated vertical grip allows the E-M1X to be equipped with a cartridge battery insertion system with two batteries for longer battery life.
The build and handling of the camera is excellent. In fact, it is one of the best cameras in this regard that I have used. The weather-sealed magnesium alloy body gives plenty of confidence. It endured the cold and rain of Yokohama, where I was attending the annual camera show CP+, without issues.
The ample grip and contoured thumb rest gives me a really good grip of the camera.
PRICE: $4,448 (body only)
IMAGE SENSOR: 20.4-megapixel Four Thirds
DISPLAY: 3-inch tiltable touchscreen LCD with 1,037,000 dots
SENSITIVITY: ISO 64 to 25,600
SHOOTING SPEED: Up to 60 frames per second
CONNECTIVITY: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi
WEIGHT: 997g (body with battery and memory card)
BATTERY LIFE: 5/5
VALUE FOR MONEY: 2/5
OVERALL: 4/5 [ST Tech Editor's Choice]
All the buttons, dials and controls are intelligently placed. The location of the two control dials - one below the shutter release and the other at the rear right of the camera - lets users adjust settings easily with their index finger and thumb.
On the top right are a Mode dial, a dedicated video recording button, an exposure compensation button and an ISO button.
My favourite new feature is the addition of two mini-joysticks for use in either the portrait or landscape orientation. These joysticks allow you to quickly move the AF point, which is critical when composing photos.
Perhaps, the only slight downer is the lack of a small status display on top of the camera.
Operation is swift. Powering up takes around 0.5sec, while shutdown takes just over 1sec. Shutter lag is negligible.
The E-M1X is an absolute monster when it comes to shooting speed and AF performance. It was a cinch photographing fidgety toddlers outdoors or a skateboarder in mid-air under dim indoor lighting conditions.
Using an SD card with a writing speed rated at 90MB per second, the E-M1X was able to shoot 53 RAW images in 3.6 seconds, a performance that puts most DSLR cameras to shame.
Its 50-megapixel handheld high-resolution mode is fantastic, with image quality comparable to that of a full-frame camera. It usually takes around 8 to 10 seconds for it to capture a 50-megapixel still. And there is essentially no camera shake in all the photos I have taken in this mode.
The normal still image quality is also superb. Colour reproduction is spot-on with sharp and crisp details, whether it is the normal or high-resolution mode.
I can hardly find any noise artefacts until ISO 1,600. At IS0 3,200, image noise is more evident. At ISO 6,400, images are still acceptable. But anything above ISO 6,400 is not recommended, as there is clear detail loss.
Video quality is stellar with hardly any jerks when I was walking while capturing footages.
Battery life is rated at 870 still frames on a full charge. In my tests, the battery level dropped to 50 per cent after I shot around 690 still frames and 15 minutes of video footage. Excellent.
The only issue about the E-M1X is its steep price ($4,448 for the body). With that amount of money, you can buy a mid-range full-frame DSLR camera with a decent fast lens. I think this might be hard for some consumers to stomach, despite the E-M1X's excellent performance.
Verdict: The Olympus OM-D E-M1X is an all-round excellent mirrorless camera, undone only by its hefty price tag.