OM-D E-M1X vs OM-D E-M1 III for Bird Photography
Bird Photography,  Photo Gear

Comparing the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III and E-M1X for Bird Photography

With the OM-D E-M1X and E-M1 Mark III, Olympus has introduced two cameras that when paired with Olympus 300mm f/4 Pro lens are quite capable for bird photography. 

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

Topaz Labs

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.

CameraSizeWeight
OM-D E-M1X144 x 147 x 75mm / 5.67 x 5.79 x 2.95 in35.17 oz / 997 g
OM-D E-M1 III134 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 Grip134 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

House Finch In Flight
E-M1X, 300mm f/4, 1.4x TC, ProCapture Low, ISO 500, 1/2000 Sec, f/5.6

Autofocus

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.

Perched Eastern Kingbird
E-M1 Mark III, 300mm f/4 Pro, 1.4X TC, ISO 500, f/5.6, 1/1600 sec

Battery Life

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.

Advantage: E-M1X

Image Quality

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.

Advantage: Tie

Buffer Speed

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.

Advantage: Tie

Ergonomics

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.

Advantage: E-M1X

Price

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

Bluejay
E-M1 Mark III, 300mm f/4, 1.4x TC, ISO 500, f/5.6, 1/640 Sec

Conclusion

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

Related Blog Posts
Should you Switch to the Olympus OM-D and 300mm f/4 lens for Bird and Wildlife Photography?
How to Use Custom Mode Settings on your Olympus OM-D Camera for Bird Photography
Using Topaz DeNoise AI for Editing your Bird Photographs

5 Comments

  • Keith

    Nice work on the article, Martin.

    I notice, however, that just days after publishing this, Olympus dropped the price to “just” $1999 US. Does the new price alter your comparison any? I admit that it is still too much for me to justify. The Mark III, however, is closer to being justifiable.

  • Martin Belan

    Keith,

    Thanks for visiting the blog! I saw those price drops, pretty significant. My choice would have to stay with the E-M1 Mark III. The size and weight differences are important for travel and going on bird photography hikes. I am interested in how well the upcoming bird detection works for tracking in the E-M1X.

    Thanks for commenting.

  • Anek

    Greetings, Martin! Great blog and this is a very helpful post!
    If someone already has a 5D mark 4, with the 100-400 IS2 and the 1.4 TC3 would you advise switching to the M1X or M1 Mk 3 with the 300 f4 for birds in flight? I was able to test the Oly gear for just a day with the 300 f4 and the Auto focus was hit or miss with some front / back focusing, as compared to the Canon kit.

    • Martin Belan

      Hi Anek,

      It’s difficult to make the selection for you. Weighting the criteria in the blog based on what is most important for you should help with the selection.

  • Robert M

    I’m going with Oly because I am 58 and carrying 11.2 lbs of Sony gear on a 14 hour field shoot is getting tiresome. I have seen what I can save in lens weight, that cuts down to half (5.4 lbs). Since I’d get the grip and extra batteries anyway, I doubt the weight of the III vs X is significant any longer. It’s down to functions I suppose.

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