My take on the new Olympus OM-D E-M1X and new radio WiFi Flash system and the new pro super zoom lens

Written by Gary on January 24th, 2019

Olympus officially announced their new flagship Micro Four Thirds camera today – the Olympus OM-D E-M1X.

It is BIG, HEAVY, very expensive but in many respects, there are no cameras out there that will give you this capability for price and weight if you are a professional sports or wildlife photographer.

I will not go into detail on the specs except to summarise some of the differences compared to the E-M1 II:

  • similar size and weight as the E-M1II with its optional battery grip as this is now included to provide better ergonomics for large lenses and better weathersealing and build quality compared to an add on grip.
  • has two E-M1II’s image processors which endows it with greater capabilities and speed
  • a new EVF with only 5msec lag and the largest viewfinder magnification of its class
  • new dual 8-way AF joystick multi selectors
  • image stabiliser allows twice the shutter speed duration now at 7EV (up from 5.5EV) and an incredible 7.5EV when used in Dual IS mode with lenses such as the Olympus 12-100mm f/4 OIS. This allows 1 sec hand held with a 45mm lens – that is equivalent to a 90mm lens in full frame land – just incredible!
  • radically improved auto focus capabilities including:
    • new Intelligent Subject Detection AF which will traack certain types of subjects such as motor sports, trains and plains (I am suspect more will be added through firmware later) which could be a game changer for those shooting motorsports as the user just needs to use single point focus, commence focus on the desired motorbike and the camera will do the rest even preferentially focusing on the helmet when this can be discriminated!
    • new customisable AF groups and a new preset 25 point group which I have been wanting for a long time! Thank you Olympus!
    • new C-AF Center Start / C-AF Center Priority which tells the camera whether to prioritise the closest subject in the AF group or the centre one – this again will be VERY handy!
    • AF sensitivity is now down to -6EV!
  • better battery duration (850 CIPA) thanks to dual batteries (each same as the E-M1II thankfully), and they can be charged in camera either via the new USB-C port or via the grip’s DC in port
  • both SD card slots are now UHS-II compatible
  • an impressive new HANDHELD Hi Res mode which unlike the tripod mode HiRes (which remains as is for the E-M1II and gets the extra pixel information my moving the sensor over 8 images) takes 16 sequential images with movement due to camera shake to provide a 50mp jpeg or RAW file and attempts to correct for motion that’s occurred between shots – this would be great in many scenarios!
  • a new Live ND mode results in blurred subject movement by compositing exposures to replicate the look of a single image taken at a slower shutter speed. Particularly suitable for photographing moving water, five modes are available — ND2, ND4, ND8, ND16, and ND32 —to vary how movement is portrayed – this seems like it will be a very useful tool!
  • new customizable ‘My Menu’ tab at last, in which you can store the options you regularly need to access.
  • new built-in Field Sensor System sports an integrated GPS module (GLONASS and QZSS) along with an electronic compass, manometer, temperature sensor, and acceleration sensor
  • improved sensor cleaning system – Olympus has had the best as it was the 1st to introduce these ultrasonic systems, and now it has further improved it.
  • Surprisingly, it sees little change to the video mode – one may have hoped for a 4K 60P mode but this has not eventuated for some reason – surely with the dual processors this should be possible!
  • There is also no mention as to whether the EYE AF tracking has been improved – it is excellent for static subjects but the E-M1II does not compete with Sony’s current technology and one hoped this may be addressed with the E-M1X – but no one has mentioned this at this stage.

Why would a pro sports or wildlife photographer buy into this?

Let’s face it, most current Micro Four Thirds users will find this too big, heavy and expensive and Olympus is clearly targeting another audience – the existing Nikon, Canon or Sony sports/wildlife pros who are stuck in no man’s land at present in terms of their current options.

The current Canon or Nikon pro sports cameras are dSLRs with heavy, big, expensive lenses without sensor based IS and with limited potential for the AI and AF smarts now available on mirrorless systems, and now that Canon and Nikon have signaled their intent that mirrorless is the way of the future – these photographers will be looking at their options.

It is unlikely Canon or Nikon will be producing a pro sports system for their mirrorless cameras within the next 2-3 years as these take time to develop.

Sony has the only sports oriented mirrorless camera on the market, their very expensive but superb Sony a9 full frame, but they lack a line up of pro telephoto lenses, and being full frame, these lenses won’t have the same telephoto reach as the Olympus ones of similar size.

These photographers will end up with 3 main choices for their super telephoto sports/wildlife work:

  • a 24mp sports full frame mirrorless camera but needing large, heavy and expensive lenses
  • a 100mp general full frame mirrorless camera which can be used in 24mp cropped mode but then you end up with same sensor image quality as Micro Four Thirds but with the need to use large, heavy, expensive full frame lenses
  • the 20mp Olympus E-M1X with its smaller, lighter, less expensive lenses for the same telephoto reach – sure it will not have as good image quality as the 1st option in low light, but AI algorithms are coming which should address any image noise differences and differences in “shallow DOF” that are currently potentially present in the two systems.

How does it compare to the Sony a9?

It is just over half the price of the Sony a9 but twice the weight and has longer battery duration thanks to the built-in grip.

The image stabilisation is 2EV better but this may be outweighed for moving subjects by the 1-2 stops better high ISO image quality of the Sony a9 which gives the Sony a9 a potential advantage for indoor sports although this depends upon whether more DOF is needed in which case the differences can be substantially reduced as the Sony a9 will need a smaller aperture and higher ISO.

Has better options for sports AF such as in-camera user defined focus limiter to avoid locking on foreground or background, the new intelligent tracking on motorsports, user-customisable AF grouping, etc, however the Sony a9 has their superb Real Time AF and class leading Eye AF Tracking.

Has a much better range of dedicated telephoto lenses and they are much more affordable, smaller and lighter. Sony has a Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS lens at $US2498 and 1.4kg compared to the Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 which gives the same reach at wider aperture when combined with a 1.4x converter at around half the price and just over half the weight. The ONLY other super telephoto FE lens made by Sony is their Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 which is $US12,000 and almost 3kg! The Panasonic 200mm f/2.8 offers the same telephoto reach and is under $US3000 and only 1.2kg. With the Olympus you can also use the Olympus 300mm f/4, Panasonic 50-200mm, or Panasonic 100-400mm, and in 2020, the super pro Olympus which was just announced – the Olympus microZD 150-400mm f/4.5 OIS with built-in 1.25x teleconverter and this can also be matched with the newly announced MC-20 2x teleconverter to get the full frame equivalent reach to 2000mm at f/11.

Has built-in GPS and Field Sensor System which may be important when in comes to automatically documenting the circumstances of your shooting

Has Pro-Capture mode which allows capture of images BEFORE the shutter is released to allow for human lag time, meaning less likely to miss critical shots, especially when this can be used with a user dialed in preset manual focus for when you can’t see a sports person coming over a jump, etc.

Fully articulated rear screen instead of a tilting screen. This means one can better protect the screen by turning it away from the user, and it can be more useful in difficult positions or for selfies.

Sony a9 has a better EVF and the AF system has more points with wider coverage and much better subject tracking, but only one of its SD card slots is UHS-II, there is no 60fps electronic shutter burst mode, and the faster burst mode with flash is only 5fps, half that of the Olympus.

I suspect the Olympus will have much better weather-sealing and be more robust, partly as the grip is built in and not an optional add on.

The Olympus also has a range of other in-camera features such as Live night modes, the new Live ND motion blur mode, automatic focus stacking and the Hi Res 80mp and hand held 50mp modes which are not available on the Sony.

The Olympus gives BETTER IMAGE QUALITY for low light static subjects using handheld HiRes mode than a Sony A7RIII – LESS NOISE and BETTER WB and MORE DETAIL as well as less MOIRE! BUT HiRes modes do NOT work well for portraits and the Sony will do better astroscapes due to its larger sensor and availability of brighter wide angle lenses.

I will update my wiki page with links to reviews of the E-M1X here.

The new Olympus pro zoom lens

The Olympus mZD 150-400mm f/4.5 OIS with built-in 1.25x teleconverter promises to be an amazing lens when it is available in 2020 and likely to be the biggest, heaviest and most expensive lens in the Micro Four Thirds line up, but far less than what would be available in a full frame system for the same telephoto reach of 300-800mm and 380-1000mm f/5.6 with the teleconverter enabled.

This can also be matched with the newly announced MC-20 2x teleconverter to get the full frame equivalent reach to 2000mm at f/11 and this teleconverter, like the MC-14 1.4x teleconverter, can be used with the 40-150mm f/2.8 and the 300mm f/4 lens.

I will update my wiki page of news and reviews of this lens here when they are released.

At last a radio wireless TTL flash system

While I often criticize Canon and Nikon for being lagards in technological innovations – prime examples being sensor based image stabilisation and mirrorless technologies, there has been one glaring area where olymopus has failed to keep up with – radio wireless TTL remote flash.

Olympus have stuck with an optical remote flash system but this had issues as with all optical systems. Canon was the 1st dSLR manufacturer to adopt a radio wireless system in 2012 after PocketWizards had introduced their proprietary add ons for Canon and Nikon dSLRs in 2009.

Fortunately for Olympus users, Cactus and Godox both now produce their own proprietary radio wireless TTL flash systems which work quite well not only with Olympus gear but with other brands which sort of makes the Olympus flash system somewhat redundant.

Well ALMOST redundant!

The new Olympus radio wireless flash system will be compatible with the Olympus tripod HiRes mode as well as focus stacking mode and focus bracketing mode, which gives it some advantage over the Cactus and Godox systems.

The new radio wireless system will have a WR suffix in the model name (note only are they Wireless Remote but they are Weather Resistant too) and includes:

  • Olympus FL-700WR flash with GN 42m at ISO 100 and can shoot at up to 10fps when output is 1/16th or less, and has a short recharge cycle time of 1.5s after a full discharge, radio wireless to 30m
  • Olympus Wireless Commander FC-WR to go on the camera’s hot shoe
  • Olympus Wireless Receiver FR-WR to attach to legacy Olympus flashes or studio flashes (no TTL capability obviously in this case)

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