OLYMPUS E-PL5 or SONY NEX-6?



Someone described these cameras as the second rank cameras of each system, and since the OM-D and NEX-7 can be regarded as the flagship cameras for Olympus m4/3 and Sony NEX, then these cameras are currently the "next best" if you like. They are of course differentiated by the fact that the Olympus apparently has the same sensor as the OM-D whereas the Sony has a different one, smaller in terms of pixel count than the NEX-7.

I have and use both, but not everyone has the luxury of being able to run more than one system. If you are locked in to a system already, with a substantial lens investment then that is the way you will probably go, since I don't believe either camera is going to make people change from what they are currently using. However if you are considering a CSC / Mirrorless / E.V.I.L option and this is your price point, which one is best for you? As is usual I will attempt to provide my thoughts on each camera, and leave it up to you to see if you find those useful.

To see what I've written about each, here are my posts for each camera.

For Olympus E-PL5 - CLICK HERE
For Sony NEX-6 - CLICK HERE

I will begin by stating that I don't think that there is a huge difference in terms of image quality or the ability to handle noise at high ISO's. DxO think there is, but I just can't see much difference between the files from each camera. The E-PL5 may be slightly sharper and noisier because of a weaker AA filter, which means that the NEX-6 files look slightly cleaner and smoother, but there really isn't a lot in it. There are plenty of sites with examples to check this out, I think the best is the Imaging Resource Comparometer.

There are however quite a few other differences between the two, and I'll run through those that are the most important for me.

LENS RANGE.

If you are looking for the camera with the best options in terms of lens choice, then the Olympus E-PL5 wins hands down. Panasonic, Olympus, and Sigma all make AF lenses for the m4/3 system and there is now a seriously good range available for those cameras. Fast primes, wide-angles, a large selection of zooms including two f/2.8 constant aperture "pro-spec" models, macro lenses, plus two extraordinary super fast manual focus lenses from Voigtlander. The range for Sony NEX is seriously limited by comparison. Limited in terms of range and also somewhat limited in terms of quality and ambition. There is just one lens that is marketed as a high-quality prime, the Zeiss branded 24mm f/1.8. While the Sony NEX e-mount lens range is undoubtedly beautifully made it is without doubt the systems great weakness and includes lenses like the recently introduced 16-50mm zoom, which is the worst lens I've ever used for distortion and vignetting at its wide end. The Sony NEX lenses are also somewhat bigger than their m4/3 counterparts and many of them create a cumbersome ill-balanced feel when mounted on the NEX bodies. Fortunately the NEX-6 is not as small as most, but its still somewhat undersized for some of its lenses.

HANDLING

I have to say that while I love the look of the E-PL5, I much prefer the NEX-6 for handling and use. Its got a decent built in grip and of course has the great advantage of having its EVF integrated into the body. While its true that the Olympus add-on VF-2 is of great quality (Leica are using a re-badged version for the M camera) it is stuck on to the top of the camera via the hot-shoe / accessory port and as such is liable to movement. I guess somebody thought it was a good idea to have it flip up so you can look down through it, but I never have as its liable to move when you least want it to. I usually have a rubber band round mine to stop it moving. It also of course is an extra you have to pay for, so if you are considering an E-PL5 and want a viewfinder you have to factor in the cost of that.

I also struggle with some of the E-PL5 controls, particularly in cold weather. Many are very small and fiddly to use. Since I have quite small hands I dread to think what those with larger digits make of it. I do actually prefer the layout of the Olympus menus, but even though the way Sony structure theirs can be somewhat frustrating, I do find it easier to change settings when I'm out shooting. 

I also prefer the Sony shutter action. Olympus have this m4/3 open > close > open again (or whatever it is) action which always gives this slight delay in the shutter firing. Its got better since the early cameras, but its still there. It does somewhat cancel out the fact that the E-PL5 has faster AF and I find it takes about the same time on each camera to actually get the shot recorded onto the card.

LOOKS

I have no objectivity whatsoever when it comes to Olympus digital Pens. For me the E-PL5 is drop dead gorgeous whereas the NEX-6 isn't.

NICE FEATURES

For me the NEX-6 has something important that the E-PL5 doesn't. Focus peaking is the best method I've used for manually focusing lenses. Its superb and enables fast and precise focusing of lenses, either contemporary or legacy. Both cameras are capable of using thousands of lenses via adapters, but since most of them have to focused manually, the NEX-6 is much for useful for this because of the peaking. Just to say if you don't know what focus peaking is here's a video that shows how it works.

I realise that this isn't important for many people, but it is for me both for stills and video. I believe that this feature means that NEX bodies are the best if you want to use various Leica, Zeiss, Voigtlander, Nikon, Canon, Pentax and other alternative or legacy lenses. 

Though I haven't yet used the NEX-6 for video, its going to have to be special to improve on the E-PL5. I think its a superb little video camera, with the ability to be used with full manual control. No great choice in terms of formats, but the quality of the footage is special. See this post for my experiences with that. You can also use an external microphone with the E-PL5, though you have to buy the SEMA-1 adapter.

Now I have a real complaint about the NEX-6. FINALLY Sony got round to putting a conventional hotshoe onto the camera, instead of their useless propriety one. However they then spoilt this by not including the external microphone socket that the NEX-7 has. D'OH! I've had to buy an adapter for my NEX-7 which allows me to mount an external microphone on that cameras hot shoe. However the NEX-6 doesn't let me do that. A seriously mean omission.

CONCLUSION

Though I love the look of the E-PL5 and it does take better looking pictures for my purposes, I have to say that in terms of use when I'm out shooting, I do prefer the NEX-6. It just works better for me. Recently there have been several days of bright sunshine, but very cold temperatures and the NEX-6 has proved much more comfortable to use. The Pen range as a whole is a stylish retro recreation that looks good and takes great pictures, with a superb lens range to go with it. But the NEX-6 seems to me to be much more about what photographers find useful and comfortable (Well this photographer anyway). So Style Icon v Functional Plain Jane (Jim) ??? Well maybe. I am, lets remember, VERY picky and there is no denying that the E-PL5 is an excellent upgrade to the PEN range. But I just think it could be better. Olympus could come up with a better grip, built-in EVF and focus peaking, which would, for me, make a better camera but they probably won't and anyway there is the OM-D, which only needs focus peaking to turn it into a pretty remarkable picture making device. (Firmware update ASAP please Olympus!!) UPDATE - see following post for a version of focus peaking that does work on the OM-D.

Of course if you shoot with the screen and a kit zoom, then most of this will be meaningless. However I think that for me, the NEX-6 is the camera I would choose if I could have only one. However, I own both, and I can't deny that the E-PL5's good looks will continue to seduce me. Shallow I know, but then functionality isn't everything (to a fashion victim!) I'm sure that all have something we own that we bought just because it looks good. I must make it clear however that I think the E-PL5 is a lot more than just a pretty camera, its an impressive performer for its primary objective, taking pictures, and should be thought of as such. But I do often wonder how much I'm influenced by the look of a camera rather than how it performs. More than I should be, I suspect.




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