A Day With The Olympus OM-D E-M1X Mirrorless Camera

This blog is really a tale of two stories. One involving a day spent using the latest Olympus OM-D E-M1X mirrorless camera and the other a day spent as a guest of Olympus in conjunction with the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) Power Maxed Racing (PMR) team on qualifying day at Oulton Park 29th June 2019.

So the basis of this blog is to talk you through my experience in using the latest Olympus OM-D E-M1X camera, showcase some of the images taken with the camera and to give you an insider’s view of life within a top BTCC team on qualifying day. Now this will not be an in-depth review of the Olympus as I only spent a few hours with it and there will be numerous other far more detailed reviews out there online. This is just a brief overview of my experience in using the camera.

I would like to start this blog by thanking three fine folk, notably Mark Thackara (Olympus UK Brand Manager) for hosting such a great day, Mike Inkley (Olympus UK Ambassador) for assisting me in getting up to speed with the camera and Andy King (Commercial Director of Power Maxed Racing) for his support and professionalism while I was in the PMR garage. Also to the rest of the crew for their assistance in hosting the day and ensuring that I was very well taken care of with the right equipment, knowledge and information not to mention food and drink in the PMR hospitality tent.

My brief thoughts on the Olympus OM-D E-M1X

Plus:
Feels great in the hand and nicely balanced
Autofocus system is simply incredible
Image stabilisation system is stunning
Image quality is far higher than I imagined
40-150mm is the sharpest lens I have ever used
Superb build quality
The 3″ LCD screen is fully articulate
A 1/3 lighter than its competitors (under 1kg including battery & cards)

Minus:
EVF a little disappointing. Only LED and 2.36 million dots
Average resolution on the 3″ LCD screen
Price (£2,800)

FULL BLOG BELOW

Apart from landscape photography, I have another passion in life and that is four wheeled motorsport. I have been following F1 since the late 80’s and the BTCC since around 1994 after I visited a race weekend at Donington Park. So it is fair to say that I was delighted to have been given an opportunity by Olympus to attend qualifying day at Oulton Park as a guest of the Power Maxed Racing team of which Olympus is a team sponsor.

I excitedly arrived at 8.30am and was met by a member of the PMR team. I was shown to their hospitality tent where the Olympus team were ready and waiting for me and thirteen other keen photographers, as was breakfast thankfully. A little time later we were spilt into three groups and I had the privilege to spend the first hour or so with Mike Inkley, an Olympus UK Ambassador. His skill set lies in photographing the BTCC series as well as rugby and the somewhat more leisurely sport of cricket.

Mike has been with Olympus for a number of years now and his in-depth knowledge on the 20.4mp OM-D E-M1X is considerable and this showed during a question and answer session from me regarding the camera’s features. Despite not being familiar with the camera’s menu and ergonomics, everything fell to hand quickly and easily. The camera has a built in battery grip and this initially seemed at odds with the ethos of mirrorless cameras where the general idea is to produce a camera small enough to carry around comfortably but then again, as the morning wore on, I quickly understood that this was no ordinary mirrorless camera.

As Mike said quite succinctly, the OM-D E-M1X was a smaller, lighter alternative to the Canon 1DXMK2 and the Nikon D5 as the smaller sensor allows for the focal length of lenses to double. I saw several 1DX MK2’s and D5’s complete with monster lenses on them around the circuit and I could see the point in opting for the OM-D E-M1X as you have the opportunity to use quality lenses that were much smaller and lighter and yet have them reach further. So a 40-150mm becomes an 80-300mm lens yet costs less than the competitors. My question at the start of the day was, will the camera and lens combo perform to a high enough standard, after all, the OM-D E-M1X costs nearly £3,000 which by all accounts is not cheap.

THE FIRST SHOOTING SESSION OF THREE

The day was to be spilt into three shooting sessions, the first two covering the practice sessions and the third qualifying (BTCC cars). Our first stop was to the outside of Lodge Corner, the final corner on the circuit. The cars arrive at the corner at great speed having travelled down a long straight and the cars change of direction was going to really test the autofocus ability of the camera. Fortunately Mike selected the ‘motorsport’ mode which had the camera track the car from one side of the frame to the other using a rectangle focus box. It was impressively accurate and easy. and this was proved by the high ratio of images that I was capturing in focus. Here are a few images to prove and bear in mind I only had the camera in hand for less than fifteen minutes at this point.

Jason Plato 11 Power Maxed Racing – Olympus OM-D E-M1X & 40-150mm f2.8 PRO M.ZUIKO – 150mm, 1/1250th, f2.8, ISO125
Jason Plato PMR - Olympus OM-D M1X & 40-150mm f2.8 PRO @ 150mm M.ZUIKO
Rob Collard 9 Power Maxed Racing – Olympus OM-D E-M1X & 40-150mm f2.8 PRO M.ZUIKO – 150mm, 1/1250th, f2.8, ISO100
Ollie Jackson 48 Motorbase Shredded Wheat Racing with Gallagher – Olympus OM-D E-M1X & 40-150mm f2.8 PRO M.ZUIKO – 150mm, 1/1600th, f2.8, ISO125
Matt Simpson 303 Simpson Racing – Olympus OM-D E-M1X & 40-150mm f2.8 PRO M.ZUIKO – 150mm, 1/1600th, f2.8, ISO160
Michael Crees 777 Team Hard Racing & Rory Butcher 6 AmDTuning – Olympus OM-D E-M1X & 40-150mm f2.8 PRO M.ZUIKO – 150mm, 1/1600th, f2.8, ISO160
Bobby Thompson 19 Team Hard Racing – Olympus OM-D E-M1X & 40-150mm f2.8 PRO M.ZUIKO – 150mm, 1/1600th, f2.8, ISO160
Mark Blundell 8 Trade Price Cars – Olympus OM-D E-M1X & 40-150mm f2.8 PRO M.ZUIKO – 150mm, 1/1600th, f2.8, ISO100

After half an hour’s use with the OM-D E-M1X, I was consistently capturing images that were in focus. It was almost too easy. The camera felt good in the hand too, nicely balanced with the 40-150mm f2.8 PRO lens and I was amazed at the sharpness and clarity of the lens, even more so when I was able to see the images on the big monitor at home. If I can levy a little criticism at the Olympus it that the quality of both the EVF and LCD screen is a little under par, certainly against what I am use to using in the Canon EOS R mirrorless. For a camera that is going to be primarily used for sports and wildlife photography, the likelihood is that the photographer is going to use the EVF.

The Olympus has a 2.36 million dot LED EVF which is a little disappointing as the competitors have higher resolution OLED viewfinders although it does have 100% coverage and it does allow for all the usual relevant information to be displayed within it. The 3″ LCD screen’s resolution however is relatively average with only 1,037,000 dots although it is a fully articulated touchscreen. Personally I am use to more than twice the resolution on the Canon EOS R and there is a reasonable difference in quality between the two.

THE SECOND SHOOTING SESSION OF THREE

I decided for the second shooting session to venture to Druids Corner alone for some sideways panning shots. These are notoriously difficult to get right and require a lot of practising. I set the shutter speed to between 1/160 and 1/250 and the ISO at 64, ensuring that the noise levels would be low. Most of the shots were coming in around f8/f9 but because the background was blurred, the depth of field was not a concern. Within five minutes I was panning like a pro motorsport shooter and there is no doubt that the ultra quick autofocusing system helped enormously as did the fantastic image stabilisation system. Considering that the cars were coming through Druids at roughly 100mph, you can appreciate just how difficult it is to photograph them nice and sharp while wanting movement in the wheels, hence the 1/160-1/250th shutter speed.

The Olympus worked an absolute treat. Well, you can see for yourself below.

Jason Plato 11 Power Maxed Racing – Olympus OM-D E-M1X & 40-150mm f2.8 PRO M.ZUIKO – 60mm, 1/250th, f8, ISO64
Tom Chilton 3 Motorbase Shredded Wheat Racing with Gallagher – Olympus OM-D E-M1X & 40-150mm f2.8 PRO M.ZUIKO – 50mm, 1/250th, f5, ISO64
Jake Hill 24 Trade Price Cars – Olympus OM-D E-M1X & 40-150mm f2.8 PRO M.ZUIKO – 152mm, /160th, f9, ISO64

After lunch it was time for our third shooting session of the day and a handful of the photographers ventured inside the PMR garage an hour before qualifying. I decided to pop into the garage, capture some images with the 12-40mm f2.8 PRO M.ZUIKO before returning to the hospitality tent to consider which lens I was going to use next. On arriving I saw Mr and Mrs Plato (Jason Plato’s parents) sat outside in the shade (it was a very, very hot day). They were alone so I passed comment that it felt strange seeing them in person having seen watched on the TV for many, many years often witnessing Mrs Plato biting her nails at the end of the season whenever her son was in contention for the championship. They obliged me with a few minutes of their time and we chatted about a whole range of subjects including Jason (who happens to be my favourite driver within the BTCC and has been for as long as I can remember). It was a real pleasure just sitting and chatting with them and they were positively lovely. That really made my day I can tell you.

THE THIRD SHOOTING SESSION – QUALIFYING FROM THE PMR GARAGE

So a quick trip inside the hospitality tent and a brief chat to Mark (Thackara) had me decide to leave the 40-150mm on the camera although I did hunt down a 300mm but I could not find a spare one and in the end, leaving the 40-150mm on the camera was an inspired choice as minutes later, with qualifying about to start, I along with one other photographer decided to chance our arm and nip into the garage to watch qualifying. The team were very obliging and I have to say that for the next hour or so, I was like a child on Christmas morning.

Here I was stood in the garage watching Jason Plato suiting up and chatting to his parents and his engineer before heading out to pilot his works backed Vauxhall Astra around Oulton Park at breakneck speed. To be able to see how both Jason Plato and Rob Collard prepare for the most frantic part of the weekend was an absolute joy. This was worth the visit all on it’s own.

The shooting conditions from inside the garage were difficult. I was constantly moving around mechanics and team personal, lots of equipment to watch out for, extremely harsh light in the sky outside and darker conditions inside the garage and a whole host of other challenges to contend with too. I had the 40-150mm lens on and so my shortest focal length I had to play with was 40mm (equivalent 80mm) but this turned out to be perfect for the wider shots and the 150mm (equivalent to 300mm) ideal for the longer shots of the mechanics faces.

The Olympus OM-D E-M1X never missed a beat. It fired off shot after shot with incredible precision and the autofocus picked up on the subject faster than I could press the shutter button. In truth I ended up capturing many more ‘keepers’ than I thought I would hence why this blog is a little photo heavy. In the first two shooting sessions by the track side, I shot JPEG only but understanding the demands of the light from inside the garage, I switched to RAW as well. This proved to be a very good decision indeed. One of the elements that I like to look out for when shooting in these kind of situations is a something I call ‘the human touch’. A brief passing moment that captures a human element in an otherwise formatted and structured environment. I found this in the form of Mrs Plato (Jason’s mum) standing at the rear of his race car and placing her hands on his printed name at the bottom of the rear window.

I asked her what the significance of that was and she replied that she did it at every race as it was her way of trying to protect him. I found that an incredibly powerful moment because when all said and done, here is a mother standing there looking on at her son and hoping that he returns safely. I found that very touching indeed. I asked if I could photograph her and thankfully she agreed. I had the ED 12–40mm F2.8 PRO lens on which allowed me to capture her hands from such close distance. This happens to be one of my favourite images of the day.

A touching moment. Mrs Plato wishing her son (Jason Plato) returns back to the garage safely – Olympus OM-D E-M1X & 12-40mm f2.8 PRO M.ZUIKO – 19mm, 1/60th, f2.8, ISO1000

During the forty-five minute qualifying session, team personal stood and looked up at the timing screens willing their ‘boys’ on. The cars returned to the garage a couple of times each for new tyres and the mechanics were working quickly to turn them both around in record time. The look of tiredness was all too evident to see and the OM-D E-M1X handled their facial reactions brilliantly. I felt confident of nailing any shot I wanted. In the end, Jason ended up placing 8th while Rob qualified 18th. The look of disappointment on both their faces once they had removed their helmets was more than palpable, especially for Rob. This was not the time for me to ask for a ‘selfie’ with them and I let the moment slide by. It was the right decision I felt.

Back to the PMR hospitality tent to wrap up a great day’s photography. As mentioned at the start of the blog, many thanks to Mark, Mike, Andy and everyone who made the day extra special. As a lifelong BTCC fan, it was a fantastic experience.

MY FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE OLYMPUS OM-D E-M1X

If truth be told, I was not expecting much from this camera. When I first hard that it had been launched, I immediately thought that it was too large (for a mirrorless camera) and far too expensive. I have been a dedicated and committed Canon user since 2008 and shall remain so however having spent a day with the OM-D E-M1X, I have to say that is a very fine camera indeed.

Sure, I had my concerns regarding the smaller sensor but having seen the quality of the images captured, I need not have been. If you are wanting a smaller, lighter alternative to the Canon 1DX MK2 or the Nikon D5, where smaller, lighter lenses achieve the same reach of the larger full frame lenses, the OM-D E-M1X could be the camera for you. All told though, the M1X performed brilliantly with super lightning focusing speeds, a fantastic motorsport focus mode, super sharp, quality lenses, a menu system that is pretty intuitive along with great build quality, you will not go far wrong with the Olympus OM-D E-M1X.

Below is a selection of images captured during my time in the garage.

Jason Plato 11 Power Maxed Racing – Olympus OM-D E-M1X & 40-150mm f2.8 PRO M.ZUIKO – 48mm, 1/80th, f8, ISO250
Rob Collard 9 Power Maxed Racing – Olympus OM-D E-M1X & 40-150mm f2.8 PRO M.ZUIKO – 40mm, 1/1600th, f2.8, ISO200
Shaun is hands on with Jason Plato’s car – Olympus OM-D E-M1X & 40-150mm f2.8 PRO M.ZUIKO – 150mm, 1/1000th, f2.8, ISO200
Paul Ellis (L) Jason Plato’s Number 1 Mechanic & Colin Martin (R) Motorsport Technician and Fabricator – Olympus OM-D E-M1X & 40-150mm f2.8 PRO M.ZUIKO – 150mm, 1/320th, f8, ISO500
Power Maxed Racing team watching their driver Jason Plato qualifying 8th – Olympus OM-D E-M1X & 40-150mm f2.8 PRO M.ZUIKO – 40mm, 1/80th, f8, ISO1000
Drivers Jason Plato (L), Rob Collard (M) & Team Manager & Technical Director Martin Broadhurst – Olympus OM-D E-M1X & 40-150mm f2.8 PRO M.ZUIKO – 43mm, 1/160th, f2.8, ISO320
Jason Plato after qualifying on a very hot day – Olympus OM-D E-M1X & 40-150mm f2.8 PRO M.ZUIKO – 110mm, 1/160th, f5.6, ISO200
ITV Sport’s Louise Goodman interviews Jason Plato after qualifying – Olympus OM-D E-M1X & 40-150mm f2.8 PRO M.ZUIKO – 82mm, 1/160th, f5, ISO200
Jason Plato talking to his parents after qualifying – Olympus OM-D E-M1X & 40-150mm f2.8 PRO M.ZUIKO – 40mm, 1/160th, f4, ISO200
PMR Rob Collard post qualifying conversation – Olympus OM-D E-M1X & 40-150mm f2.8 PRO M.ZUIKO – 90mm, 1/400th, f5, ISO200
PMR Rob Collard post qualifying conversation – Olympus OM-D E-M1X & 40-150mm f2.8 PRO M.ZUIKO – 73mm, 1/160th, f6.3, ISO200
Pole position sitter WSR BMW Colin Turkington gets wheeled back to his garage post qualifying – Olympus OM-D E-M1X & 40-150mm f2.8 PRO M.ZUIKO – 40mm, 1/160th, f18, ISO200

14 thoughts on “A Day With The Olympus OM-D E-M1X Mirrorless Camera”

  1. Superb blog Melvin, and really pleased to hear you had such a good day. Thought you might like the 40-150mm Pro if you got a chance to use it!

    Cheers,

    Simon.

    • Hey Simon. Oh I loved the Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 PRO. What a seriously impressive piece of kit it is. I loved using it. Hopefully I’ll get another chance to do so at some point.

      Best wishes Melvin

  2. Hello Melvin. Great blog post. When I heard that you were going to have a go with the Olympus system I was genuinely interested in your views. I concur that the 40-150mm PRO lens is a great piece of kit. I use mine in the landscape mainly for subjects like bluebells and poppies where the f/2.8 aperture comes in very handy at singling out interesting flowers. What was an eye opener in your views (no pun intended) was the performance of the EVF, especially in comparison to the Canon EOS R. I have to admit that I’ve just gotten used to the EVF now but I was not aware that there was such a quality difference. How did you find the dynamic range of the sensor? Did you get situations where you were fighting shadows and highlights in one frame? I sometimes feel that the Olympus sensor on my E-M1ii could do with a bit more, and this would be my main reason for swapping to a full frame system. That said, I processed an image taken inside Cathedral Cavern in May and was really surprised how much detail I could pull out of the shadows having exposed the scene for the highlights. I think for now, I’ll keep saving and take a much closer look at the Photography Show next year and make the decision then.

    • Hi Huw

      Yes the EVF could have been better but I may be led to believe that the resolution has been kept low in order to aid screen refresh rates but as a landscaper, I guess this is a little wasted on me. The f2.8 of the 40-150mm of course doubles to f5.6 which for me perhaps is not shallow enough to isolate the cars from the background (unless you’re panning then the background will be blurred for obvious reasons). As for dynamic range and shooting in difficult light, this would be the one area that I think would limit me a little although I wouldn’t mind trying an E-M1 MKII for a while to properly assess its capabilities. I guess there’s always a trade off with every camera system, I guess the secret is matching the best camera to your chosen genre. Fancy emailing me the raw file of Cathedral Cavern Huw? I’ll be interested to see it for myself.

      Best wishes Melvin

  3. Cracking blog post and very well written and honest.
    It was a pleasure to meet you on this day and now wished I had stuck with you for qualifying !
    Hope to catch up again soon in the future.

    • Hi Andy

      Many thanks for leaving a comment. I really, really enjoyed the day and as a long term follower of the BTCC series, to be able to spend the day photographing the Power Maxed Racing team from their garage was a real treat. I’m pleased too that you enjoyed the blog. The Olympus OM-D E-M1X sure did a fine job. Hope to see you again sometime Andy. Continued happy shooting.

      Best wishes Melvin

  4. Another fantastic read as always. Full of information, wit and fab photos what more can the reader ask for. I was really looking forward to this blog as I use the OMD EM1 Mark2 and struggle with fast moving stuff. I see you say this new one has a motorsport focus mode. I wonder whether anything like that will become available when they do upgrades on the Mark2 or whether the set up can be replicated using one of the custom menus. I guess time will tell. Otherwise I need to find somebody to spend some time with that can guide me about how to get the best out of the camera in those situations. Like Huw I have no problems when it comes to landscape. Carry on the good work.

    • Aww thanks Sue. Interesting to hear that you use the EM1 MK2. I hear the MK3 is about to be launched (August 10th I believe). I guess some of the features on the M1X will not filter down to the EM1 MK3 as it is Olympus’s flagship camera but it will be interesting to hear what spec it will feature. I’m keen to get my hands on an Olympus if only to learn more about them so that I can assist Olympus owners better when they attend my workshops although I am curious as to how capable they really are in the landscape department.

      Continued happy shooting Sue.

      Best wishes Melvin

  5. That’s a really lovely blog piece, makes me appreciate how lucky I am to be with the team at every meeting. I always spend qualifying around the garage if possible as it offers the team at their most dynamic so I agree you made a great choice there ☺️

    I’m curious if you set the evf to “fast” refresh? I’ve found it makes a world of difference to double the refresh rate for panning and following cars coming towards you. I’d agree it is somewhat dull compared to oled on a Sony I’ve tried but it’s more realistic and doesn’t induce 3d effects that don’t appear in the actual shot so as with most things there’s good and bad.

    As a new Olympus shooter this year I’m in love with the 40-150. It reminds me of my old Pentax 60-250 except with af motor that works! With internal zoom in confident enough in the weatherproofing to rinse it under a tap after being sprayed with cheap champagne!

    • Hi Pete

      Thank you very much indeed Pete. That’s very kind of you to say. I’m so pleased that you enjoyed reading it. I am envious that you’re with Power Maxed Racing team this year documenting their efforts during the 2019 season. What a gig eh? I have just followed you on FB and liked your BTCC Photography page too.

      As for the Olympus, I have no idea regarding the set up of the EVF as I only had it for a short time but Olympus have just confirmed that they’re happy to loan me a E-M1 mk2 for a while so I will become a lot more familiar with it/them in time. I am looking forward to challenging the camera in the difficult summer light. I hope our paths cross again soon Pete. Have a great day and thanks for making contact.

      Best wishes Melvin

  6. Very interesting read and excellent photos.

    Since I converted to digital SLR’s back in 2002 I have always used Canon and my last bodies where 5D3, 5D4 and a 7D2 and copious lenses. At the beginning of this year I saw the reviews and launch information on the E-M1X, its action based specification interested me. I was the able to have a one to one with and Olympus rep trying out the camera in store (LCE Chichester). He was aware I was into motorsport photography and he managed to get me on day Olympus where having at the Media Day for the BTCC at Brands Hatch. There were lots bodies and lenses to try. I mainly used the 40-150 and the 300. Knowing Brands well I was able to try out the camera at my favourite locations. In camera the results look good taking the card home and viewing the on my monitor I was well pleased the sharpness and detail. The number of keepers in a burst was much higher than with my usual equipment. I also found I was much more mobile.

    It took me a while to go through the options on changing. Then mid way through May I took the the plunge and part ex’d all my Canon equipment bar one body and lens. So I ended up with an E-M1X and 7-14, 12-40, 40-150(+1.4) and 300. My first use at a meeting was a little fraught, I thought I had got the various settings right. I knew it was going to be learning curve! I think I have cracked now but I do need to explore more of the menu settings.

    Last week I just traded in my final Canon body as I had touched it since I brought the Olympus equipment. Brought a E-M1 Mark 2 with a 12-100 lens and battery pack.

    I have lots of comments about how sharp the images are. I note your comment about the EVF and agree it could be better having said that I haven’t found it gives me any issues.

    • Hi Robert and many thanks for such an interesting reply to my blog. As much as I loved using the E-M1X, for me as a landscaper, it is not the right camera but Olympus are graciously loaning me an E-M1 MK2 and a trio of lens for a short time. I shall have plenty of time to put them through their paces and to see how it compares to my Canon EOS R. Best of luck in your continued discovery of your latest E-M1X. If you shoot landscapes, feel free to join my Facebook group and post your work with us. I’d love to see them. http://www.facebook.com/groups/LandscapeLocations

      Best wishes Melvin

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