Olympus teased us all with its new year release of an 18-second video that hinted at the unusual design of its new camera, but offered no firm facts. The rumour mill went into meltdown but we don’t have to speculate any more. The Olympus OM-D E-M1X is here.

At heart, this is a 20.4Mp mirrorless camera with a Micro Four Thirds sensor, but what really makes this camera stand out from the crowd isn’t so much the tech specs as the design. Conceived with a vertical grip built into its casing, it means you can seamlessly switch from landscape to portrait mode with little change to how the camera handles.

Attention to detail

While most camera manufacturers are busy shrinking their designs, it may seem an odd decision for Olympus to make its own larger, but there’s a reason for this. Sometimes, the best camera for the job isn’t the one with the biggest sensor or the smallest physical size. Olympus is banking on the fact that sometimes it’s the speed and handling that matters most. And on the issue of handling, the Olympus OM-D E-M1X is a winner precisely because of its plus size. As well as making it easy to switch between portrait and landscape modes, the larger size also means the camera is better balanced with the Olympus Pro Series lenses. And it doesn’t stop there – thanks to a raised button design on the back, the physical buttons even work well when you’re wearing gloves. Yes, Olympus has thought of everything.

Aimed squarely at sports and wildlife photographers, where the ability to switch quickly between portrait and landscape is a definite bonus, the E-M1X has another trick up its sleeve: speed. The camera can shoot at 18fps while tracking, then hold the images in its buffer before writing to one (or both) of its two SD card slots when you release your finger. Lock down the auto-focus and you’re able to shoot continuously at 60fps.

Its two new TruePic VIII processors can take much of the credit for these improvements. They come in handy in other ways too, speeding up the start-up time and other functions. It’s also thanks to this nifty pair that Olympus has been able to redesign the AF system so it now includes new focus modes and intelligent subject tracking. The subject-tracking is of particular interest because it means the E-M1X is able to distinguish cars, motorcycles, aircraft, helicopters and even steam locomotives. There will even be Eye Detect AF available via an extension.

The big outdoors

Weather-proofing, a big issue for anyone shooting outside in poor conditions, has seen a big improvement here. Its magnesium alloy body is dustproof, splash-proof and freeze-proof (down to -10°C). It’s even weather-proof with the microphone and earphones attached. And just to stress its design credentials further, the shutter mechanism is good for a very impressive 400K actuations.

Power-users

While the sensor is a respectable 20.4Mp, if that’s not enough there are two compilation modes enabling you to shoot 50Mp and 80Mp images. This is achieved by fractionally moving the sensor through multiple shots and then merging them all together. In the past, this feature required you to use a tripod, but you can now shoot 50Mp photos handheld at 1/60s.

Well-aware of the fact that the Achilles’ heel of mirrorless cameras is battery life (it can take a lot of power to keep the electronic viewfinder or backscreen going while you compose your shot), Olympus have made sure power won't be a problem here. Its vertical grip houses two batteries, which can be individually charged at the same time. On top of this, the camera offers USB charging capabilities, meaning you can easily recharge on the move using a separate USB battery pack.

Another feature you might appreciate is Live ND, which simulates the effect of adding an ND filter for long exposure shots. You can simulate all the main ND filters from ND1 (1 stop) to ND32 (5 stops), and review the effect before clicking the shutter. Another handy feature is the ability to effectively shoot tethered shots over WiFi, then import them into your computer using the Olympus Capture camera utility.

Image stabilisation is becoming increasingly important, with manufacturers eager to outdo each other. In combination with a M.Zuiko IS PRO lens, the camera enables 5-axis IS to compensate for approximately 7.5 shutter speed stops, so you can shoot more slowly without risk of blur.

Much of this is down to a redeveloped gyro sensor, but this isn’t the only sensor on board. The OM-D E-M1X also records GPS, barometer and temperature data, with the information added to the metadata for every photo you shoot. 

 

Video credentials

Image stabilisation is arguably even more important when shooting video. With the E-M1X there are three levels of movement compensation available for handheld recording, depending on how much you’re moving around and your posture.

With the ultra-high Cinema 4K (C4K, 4096 x 2160) movie format, you not only have the highest recording resolution to date, but also more flexibility when it comes to post production. And if it’s slow-motion you’re after, then you’ll be pleased to hear that 120fps high-speed movies are supported in full HD.

As well as Olympus’ 100th anniversary, this is also the 10th birthday of the company’s first digital camera using a Micro Four Thirds sensor. Olympus has spent the last decade slowly perfecting cameras based on this sensor size, and there’s a good reason for that: it offers a fast, lightweight system with the kind of image quality that satisfies pros. With the OM-D E-M1X, Olympus has been able to move its line-up to the next level while offering a unique proposition with its dual-format design. And thanks to extras like Live ND, you can save money on filters, too. What's not to like?

Take a look for yourself

We’ve put the camera through its paces in Scotland. Get an early look at its unusual design and see how it performs in our YouTube video.

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