Both cameras have many of the same features and specs:
- 20.4 megapixel sensor
- 7.0Ev of compensation with 5-axis stabilization, 7.5Ev with Sync IS on certain lenses
- 10 frames / second mechanical shutter with focus in between shots (Continuous Low Mode)
- Joystick for moving the autofocus point. E-M1X has 2 joysticks (1 landscape and 1 portrait)
- 4 Custom Mode Dial Settings. Check out my blog on Using the Custom Mode Dial for bird photography
But which one is better for bird photography? Below I compare the Olympus OM-D E-M1X and E-M1 Mark III in 7 different categories.
The comments and advantages below are based on my experiences in the field photographing birds using both cameras. I purchased both cameras, they were not supplied by Olympus for this test.
Size / Weight
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III has most of the features of the E-M1X in a much smaller and lighter body (see the table below). I see this as a big advantage for photographers going on long bird photography hikes.
I also see this as a benefit for traveling bird photographers where the OM-D E-M1 Mark III and 300mm f/4 could fit in a smaller bag. This is especially beneficial when traveling in small planes or in foreign countries with carry on weight restrictions.
|OM-D E-M1X||144 x 147 x 75mm / 5.67 x 5.79 x 2.95 in||35.17 oz / 997 g|
|OM-D E-M1 III||134 x 91 x 69mm / 5.28 x 3.58 x 2.72 in.||20.46 oz / 580 g|
|OM-D E-M1 III with HLD-9 Battery Grip||134 x 140 x 69mm / 5.28 x 5.51 x 27.2 in.||28.4 oz / 805 g|
*The HLD-9 battery grip can be added to the E-M1 Mark III but doesn’t have the additional joystick.
Advantage: E-M1 Mark III
I’ve tested the OM-D E-M1X and E-M1 Mark III for most of the summer and looking back through my photos the keeper rate is about the same between the 2 cameras. This holds true for both still bird photographs and birds in flight.
What’s interesting is that I recently retested my Canon 5D Mark III, 100-400 f/4.5 – 5.6, and 1.4 extender in the same location and lighting conditions that I tested the OM-Ds for bird photography and the keeper rate was very close to the OM-Ds. The one difference was that the full frame Canon did better in the low light conditions around sunrise.
Intelligent Subject Detection AF in the E-M1X is not helpful for bird photography at this time. The current subjects available are: motor vehicles, airplanes, and trains. Olympus is developing bird detection for the Intelligent Subject Detection AF that will be coming in a firmware update for the E-M1X only. The firmware update is scheduled to be released in the winter 2020/2021.
Slight Advantage: E-M1X due to the upcoming bird detection addition to Intelligent Subject detection.
Both the Olympus OM-D E-M1X and E-M1 Mark III use the Olympus BLH-1 Battery. However, the E-M1X holds 2 BLH-1 batteries in the built-in battery grip. The E-M1 Mark III is estimated to give around 420 shots per charge while the E-M1X is estimated to give 870 shots with the dual BLH-1 batteries.
You can also add the HLD-9 grip to the E-M1 Mark III to be able to use 2 batteries. However, this will increase the size and weight of the camera.
Both the E-M1X and E-M1 Mark III use the same 20.4 megapixel sensor. I’ve read some reports that indicate the image quality is a little better in the OM-D E-M Mark III is a little better than the E-M1X due to the new processor.
In my tests for bird photography, I have not been able to notice a difference.
I thought I was getting better buffer performance in the field with the E-M1X than with the E-M1 Mark III. This would make sense due to the dual processors. I decided to do a test with how many shots I could take in Continuous Low Mode (10 fps) before the buffer filled up. The results were surprising.
With the E-M1 Mark III, I was able to shoot 63 RAW frames before the buffer filled and with the E-M1X I was able to shoot 64 RAW frames. Both cameras were shot using Continuous Low Mode using a SanDisk Extreme PRO 32 GB SD card with UHS Speed Class = 3.
The Olympus E-M1X feels better in my hands especially when paired with the Olympus 300mm f/4 Pro lens and 1.4x teleconverter. With the bigger lens, the E-M1X feels more evenly balanced than the E-M1 Mark III. The weight is balanced more toward the front with 300mm lens when using it with the E-M1 Mark III.
The E-M1X also has a deeper grip which gives a firmer hold when using large lenses. Another small advantage is that the E-M1X has a second joystick to move the focus point when holding the camera in portrait mode. The HLD-9 Battery Grip can be added to the E-M1 Mark III but it doesn’t have an additional joystick built in.
The retail price of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III is $1,699.99 (USD) while the price of the E-M1X is $2,999.00 (USD). That’s not even close – a $1,300 difference. The E-M1X paired with the 300mm f/4 Pro lens and 1.4x Teleconverter costs over $6,000.
Advantage: E-M1 Mark III
Adding up my scoring in the above 7 categories you’ll get:
- E-M1X: 3 wins
- E-M1 III: 2 wins
- Tie: 2
So it looks like the E-M1X gets the win, right? Well no. The 2 categories where the E-M1 Mark III won (Size / Weight and Price), are huge advantages for me. With the size and weight of the E-M1 Mark III, I can hike and travel a lot easier. As for price, $1,300 can buy a really nice M.ZUIKO lens or pay for almost half of the 300mm f/4 pro lens.
Although both the Olympus OM-D E-M1X and E-M1 Mark III are more than capable bird photography cameras, my choice has to go to the E-M1 Mark III. The E-M1 Mark III has most of the features of the E-M1X in a smaller/lighter package for a considerably lower price tag.
January 2021 Update
I’ve recently finished Testing the Bird Detection AF firmware update in the E-M1X. While it’s not perfect, it is a really nice feature for bird photographers. I’ve gotten quite a few nice Birds in Flight photographs with Bird Detection AF and it also works well with Pro Capture Mode.
This makes it a more difficult decision between the E-M1 Mark III and E-M1X for Bird Photography.
- If size and weight are key for you, I’d say the E-M1 Mark III is quite a capable bird photography camera.
- If not, you may want to consider the E-M1X for the Bird Detection AF and built in Dual Batteries. Olympus (OM-D Digital Solutions) has also been selling the E-M1X at a reduced price of $1,999 USD.
Written by Martin Belan
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