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.

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

2 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.

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