Is the Olympus OM-D E-M1X Doomed to Fail or Crazy Enough to Work?

The Olympus OM-D E-M1X is a relatively large flagship camera retailing for just under $3,000. Most flagship cameras tend to be priced at around this mark, however this is rather unusual for a Micro Four Thirds camera. Using the same sensor as the previous model, surely this must be a laughable attempt from Olympus, or is it?

With companies like Panasonic charging into the realms of full frame it would seem a little odd for Olympus to develop a camera like the E-M1X. Micro Four Thirds cameras tend not to be looked at as high-end flagship cameras due to the smaller sensor size. I too remain skeptical about how well this camera will perform in the market especially due to its higher price point. Even still, a recent video from Tony Northrup demonstrates how the E-M1X might just have a few tricks up its sleeves to combat full-frame cameras like the Sony a7R III. I must say that I am impressed with some of the features like the high-resolution mode and the ability to shoot with really low shutter speeds. The 7.5 stops of in-built stabilization is quite a beneficial feature to have. Also, the autofocus seems to be on par if not better than the Sony in certain scenarios. Personally, I believe if you couple this camera with a high-quality, fast aperture lens, the trade-offs aren't significant. The smaller sensor can also be especially valuable for shooting styles that benefit from needing extra reach when it comes to the focal length. Also, similar to how smartphones have been incorporating computational photography features, Olympus seems to be taking full advantage of this in order to overcome some issues relating to having a smaller sensor. 

Check out the full video to see how the Olympus performs, it may surprise you.

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Rob Davis's picture

There is so much room for conventional camera makers to build-in smarter software. Not sure why they drag their feet so much on that. I think Olympus is on to something there. Hope it serves some people well.

Bryce Milton's picture

Multiple processors, multiple SD cards of varying spec, massive and ever-growing data throughput with an ever-multiplying number of data streams to endlessly and flawlessly measure\evaluate\process\repeat... Highly reliable, highly efficient, and feature rich firmware ain't as easy as one might hope.

JetCity Ninja's picture

when a company like apple or google can release hardware and software ANNUALLY that integrates computational imaging features and improve upon them each year a major new hardware refresh is released, the general photographic public obviously begins to question, and rightfully so.

no, firmware isn't easy, but if you hire a team of people whose expertise is in that field, it's substantially easier than expecting the average photographer to do it. it's not impossible, nor is it really that difficult for a programmer specialized in the field, especially now they'd just be following a previously trodden path. it just takes the will and funds to actually do it.

Canon is just notoriously averse to change while Nikon is notoriously low on funds. Sony is doing it, but it has some things neither has: they arent averse to risk seeing as how they have less to lose in the camera world while they're not low on funds. they also have far more resources in-house to put towards computational photography from their computing divisions.

I have 0 programming knowledge but looking at what the fellows at Magic Lantern were able to pull off with no assistance from the manufacturers it at least appears that most digital cameras are not used to their full potential, this may partially be due to intentional krippeling to protect higher or future product lines, but also because the market is a spec race and products are rushed to the market to stay ahead of the competition with little R&D on the actual user experience when it comes to menues, etc... too often the consumer becomes the beta tester and they’ll rely on firmware updates to finalize the products instead of innovating, this also applies to most of the bundled software

Hard to tell although I know at least one flip-out fanboi who probably preordered 17.

Usman Dawood's picture

Do you actually do any work?

???. I wasn't talking about you specifically. If I did I would mention your name. Please back off, sir. Thanks.

Bryce Milton's picture

Innovative camera with several cool new features (tripod mode, shutter speed preview, etc) that will soon make it into other cameras that some significant number of people might actually buy.

Spy Black's picture

There's going to be a very limited market for this camera. I do hope that whatever new tech there is can be spilled over to more practical models like the E-M5 and E-M10 series.

The biggest problem I see in M4/3 right now is that there's been no evolution in sensor design for WAY too long now. I know Sony rules the roost, and apparently they're not putting any effort into M4/3, but there are alternative fab sources to design and build modern sensors. They need to do SOMETHING significant on that front.

Also, and especially since there has been no sensor advancement, I think they should borrow from cellphone image processing and start using AI to improve IQ like it's done on phones, only now you have more data to work with.

JetCity Ninja's picture

well, nothing has really been a paradigm shift in imaging sensors since backside illumination. sony's chip stacking could qualify, as seen in the a9, but i doubt they'll let that tech go for free. until the next big thing, m4/3 seems to be hung up on resolution versus high ISO performance.

as for AI to help with image quality to benefit especially smaller sensors, i agree, however the issue is with sensor readout speeds. one of the factors that makes computational imaging work is the small sensor and their fast readout speeds. this allows for multiple images to be taken nearly instantaneously so there's something to compute. a single image doesnt work due to a lack of comparative images. expecting a shooter to hold their camera for a half second, or longer, even with excellent stabilization as Olympus is known for, in good light, just wont work for most users. it's why pixelshift imaging is an option and not utilized for all shots. faster readout will make the biggest issue, subject movement, less of an issue, as it has done in smartphone cameras. remember when HDR first came out in the iPhone 4S and the weird glitches people would get with moving subjects? there was even a huge social media following of people showing off their weirdest looking glitches. that issue has only now been resolved, mostly, by faster sensor readout speeds.

John Skinner's picture

This makers relevancy stopped after the OM-1 OM-2 film units were produced.

They were the smallest hard weather gear made. Their optics were darn good for the time, and they took a pretty good beating. But nothing since the addition of digital. And now this -- a micro4 nearing 3K?

Maybe I'm missing the bigger picture here..

Dana Goldstein's picture

My father shot commercially with an OM2 for about twenty years, and I have it today. Fantastic camera.

It's quite niche, I don't think that I would be buying it, I think that it might be disappointing. I think they should stop setting high expectations with customers, for example one of the main selling points was the sensor quality - and now a few years later they are not really keeping up by the looks of it.

So there is a niche for Olympus M4/3 but they should stop trying to compete with bigger and more mature cameras from Canon and Nikon for example, because customers will have high expectations, coming from such systems, and they would be disappointed. They should concentrate on doing their own thing, instead.

Josh Leavitt's picture

As Tony said in the video, it's a very niche camera. I don't see sports/action photographers being attracted to the E-M1X. The main reason being low-light performance. If you're a sports/action photographer, then you're almost certainly shooting with a long telephoto (limited max aperture f/4-f/5.6) in hopes of freezing action (limited min shutter speed of 1/1000), which of course only leaves ISO as your primary adjustable exposure parameter. The A9, D5, and 1D X II can all easily go up to ISO 25,600 or 32,000 before showing the signs of noise that the E-M1X starts demonstrating at ISO 5,000. And while the weight savings of conventional lenses is significant for m4/3 over full-frame, new full-frame optical formulas for telephoto lenses like Canon's DO glass have shrunk the mass and volume to be on par with the m4/3 equivalents. So I just don't see any market for the E-M1X with sports/action photographers.

But I could see a market for professional landscape/nature photographers. The high res shot mode, both handheld and tripod-mounted, are an excellent addition for m4/3 cameras when photographing stills. And the electronic ND filter is going to be exceptionally useful for long exposure compositions. The AF system will be very effective for birds in flight, or other fast moving wildlife. And top all of that off with a camera body that appears to be built to withstand a nuclear blast; yeah, I can see this camera appealing to landscape/nature photographers who spend a long time outdoors.

I just hope that Oly takes pieces of the E-M1X and incorporates them into the design of the E-M5 III and PEN-F II. Those cameras could really benefit with the 7.5 EV hybrid IS, high-res shot modes, electronic ND filters, and the computational photography. And most of all, those cameras will sell in much greater volumes than the E-M1X, giving Oly a chance to recuperate its R&D investment.

Spy Black's picture

"But I could see a market for professional landscape/nature photographers."

That's quite a limited working range for a $3000 camera. Birds in good lighting only, but I believe for landscape the added bulk works against hiking deep off the grid. A standard E-M1 Mk II works better in that respect.

I think this will only appeal to a small handful of diehard Olympus fanatics, and possibly a few curious stragglers. That's about the extent of sales they'll ever make on this camera. This will be the Nikon Df of Olympus.

What is the definition of success, or rather whose? Yours or Olympus'? Top end cameras will not sell like the entry level cameras and Oly knows that. All the naysayers of the Z7/Z6 and the EOS R were proven wrong shortly after these cameras were released. It just goes to show how the self annointed pundits are blatently ignorant of market conditions. They assume that something they won't buy translates to no one will buy. In fact, there's a significant market segment who want the latest and greatest. Also, like Nikon has often done throughout its history, Olympus is probably putting the EM1x out there partly to build brand equity.

These controversial questions are clickbait.

Usman has stolen from the fox playbook.


Fox has figured out that by simply putting a question mark at the end of something, you can say f**king anything."

How does this discussion even come up. Essentially, the question is: can one dare to set up a MFT system as a high end camera equally priced as FF? 3000 is much but for a high end professional camera it is appropriate. All over the impression is left that sensor size is the new definition for professionalism....

The Canon and Nikon flagship models run around $6500 in this category. You could buy medium format for that, eh! The less rugged Sony A9 is $4500. The sensor size doesn't matter if the camera stops working.

That's the target for this model, it is inherently a niche. And most other companies have followed Olympus' innovations in IBIS, high resolution shots, and some other in-camera computational photography... I'm sure they'll add some AI modes in a few years. I shoot m43, this is not my camera, but it will have more appeal than internet spec-based pundits might inagine. And given the previous record m43 price, for the Panasonic GH5s -- another niche camera -- was $2500, this is not that big a stretch.

Regarding the firmware, keep in mind that firmware is different from software development, in the sense where firmware works much closer to the hardware (kind of like assembly programming) with much lower tolerances. As such, firmware development is much more tedious than "regular" software programming.

However that is not an excuse! Yes there is definitely much room for improvement. In my Olympus camera, for example, some items are just very badly worded. I did not find any typo mistakes but I mean come on, this is gross!

Regarding the M4/3 vs 35mm debate, I think that M4/3 is really nice but they should stop comparing themselves to 35mm sensors. They should know their customers and cater to their customers, I think they have carved a bit of a niche, but they will keep disappointing people and wasting money if they keep trying to nibble at the main DSLR market.

They should specialize. M4/3 is really nice.

However people don't care about sensor size. They care about (among other things): weight/size and bokeh/look.

You can't have 35mm bokeh/look with an M4/3 and you can't have M4/3 weight/size with a 35mm sensor.

So people should just pick what they want.

If Olympus and Panasonic don't keep their photo cameras competitive, then Sony and Fuji APS-C cameras will eat their lunch, and M4/3 will become a purely video format (Blackmagic, etc.)