Is the Panasonic GM1 a 'better' camera than the Sony A7r??

All above - Sony A7r and 16-50mm APS-C zoom lens


All below - Panasonic GM1 and 12-32mm zoom lens

This post started off with me having a look at the Sony 16-50mm kit lens for the a6000, moved on to a comparison with the Panasonic 12-32mm and ended up as yet another frustrating experience with Sony cameras.

I thought to get an idea of just how good the 16-50mm is I would try it on my A7r in APS-C crop mode. This gives round about the same size file as the a6000 (slightly smaller) and the lack of an AA filter would give some indication as to how sharp it is. Well it's OK. There's a somewhat 'plastic' look to the files. And after using my Zeiss 35mm and 55mm lenses on the a6000 yesterday it was somewhat of a disappointment. Which is, I suppose, how it should be considering the price difference. There are some 100% crops above so you can see what it's like. 

I then thought, OK not great for stills, but how about for video? I can put the A7r in APS-C crop mode and use it to shoot some footage. And here's the first frustration. For whatever reason Sony have decided to make their highest quality video options AVCHD. Now this is for viewing video footage on TV's. There is no MP4 option except for the 'stretched' 1440 x 1080. WHY? Panasonic used to have this AVCHD option only, but they've changed that now. Is this to sell Sony TV's? Who knows but it's very irritating. Now you may have noticed that there are four YouTube clips for the Sony and that's because I can't edit the 50p 28 Mbit/s in iMovie because it won't read them. So in order to show the quality of the footage I had to upload each clip separately to YouTube.

Knowing this is what I what I was going to have to do I had to lock the tripod down firmly and gently press the record button so as not to vibrate the camera to record a smooth clip. Now I would have liked to use my iPad to remote control the camera, but of course I can't because the mickey-mouse Smart (Smart!!!!) Remote control app doesn't let me shoot video. In actual fact it doesn't let me do much at all and is pretty much a waste of time as far as I'm concerned.

Now I've tried really hard to like my Sony cameras, I really have, but I can't. While I appreciate the quality of the sensors and the still image files that are generated, I'm pretty much unimpressed by everything else. The half-hearted attempt at a lens range, the distinctly mediocre quality of many of those lenses, the fact that they put consumer type features in cameras that should be aimed at professionals and enthusiasts and the fact that the whole implementation of the e-series both NEX/Alpha and FE seems half-hearted, rushed out when not properly developed and seems to satisfy neither beginners or those of us who want to use those great sensors to do some serious work. 

There's an interview with Brian Smith, heavy-duty celeb photographer who uses the Sony A7/A7r, on MirrorLessons. In it he writes this - 'It took me two months how to figure out how to set the Control wheel to adjust flexible focus point.' And to me that's typical of Sony. They seem to make things hard that should be easy and I always get the impression that their cameras aren't designed by photographers. I've always though of Sony as a company who listen to what people want and try to provide it. A mirrorless, small 35mm / 'Full-Frame' camera being an obvious example. But then they always seem to go and spoil it by making these cameras frustrating to use. 

Another typical Sony move is the A7s. It shoots 4K video. Well actually it does and it doesn't. Because you have to buy a seriously expensive recording device to capture it. Sony's reason for this? Recording to an internal card makes the camera overheat. So why not wait until they solve that? No, this is Sony. Get it in the shops as quickly as possible. Panasonic seem to be able to record 4K video onto an SD card without the camera catching fire, so why can't Sony?

Speaking of Panasonic it's time to move on to my attention grabbing headline. Is the Panasonic GM1 a 'better' camera than the Sony A7r?? Well in terms of video yes it is. Just look at this.

The quality of the footage this tiny camera produces is spectacular. It's ridiculously sharp and I've done nothing to increase that. It just looks so much better than anything I've been able to get from my A7 or A7r no matter what lenses or codec I use. It also produces MP4 files I can edit with and I can remote control it for stills and video with my iPad. Plus it's obvious to me that the cheap and cheerful 12-32mm lens is sharper than the cheap and cheerful 16-50mm Sony lens. Plus of course I have a pretty good range of m4/3 lenses to choose from. Then there are the 'extras'. Pin point auto-focus and the EX. TELE CONV option which lets me pick out a 1920 X 1080 frame for video which turns my 12-32mm into a telephoto zoom. And of course for stills, there is the electronic shutter. 

So OK, you might agree that the Panasonic has it nailed for video, but surely the Sony is better for stills? Well yes and no. The A7r sensor is amazing. 36MP of resolution and with the right lens in front of it, simply the best I've ever used. But I've still never sold a picture that's used all those 36MP's, so just exactly how useful are they for me? And to be honest I still prefer the look of my m4/3 files to those that come out of my Sony's. And yes I know I can edit them, but that all takes time and shooting the amount of pictures that I do, the time taken per image is important to me. I do have to say however that the A7r jpgs. are superb, but then the time I save using them is somewhat eroded by the fact that since it's a 35mm sized sensor it's much more prone to dust spots and I've already got some I have to clone out. Plus there are worrying reports that some places won't clean the A7 and A7r sensors because they are somewhat fragile and prone to scratching. Someone on Google+ recently told a horrific tale about that. In any case I can get files from my GM1 that will easily print up to A3 and even beyond.

So what about noise you might ask? Well neither the A7 or A7r are particularly great at that anyway. Plus in a previous post - - I found that for the rare occasions I need to work in low light I can now get some pretty decent results from my m4/3 Panasonics.

Now for the most part all of this is about the A7r (and A7) I haven't had the a6000 long enough to make any real judgements as yet. The video implementation is still the same however, but there is that amazing AF, which I'll certainly be able to put to good use. But going back to the Sony FE's there are three reasons I keep them around and I have to concede, use them a lot and that is resolution, resolution and resolution. It's those MP's on those big sensors that keep me using the A7 and A7r. And I'm sure will mean I use them in the future. But am I alone in thinking that they should and could be so much better in operational terms? 

Snapshooters and facebookaholics don't want or need 36MP. The A7r is a camera for people who are VERY serious about the quality of their images and there is no denying that it delivers on that score. At least if you keep the ISO settings within limits it does. And whether or not the size of the images I create with it help me sell pictures or not, it is undeniably a pleasure to view the files. But I can't shake the feeling that when I'm out with the A7r (and the A7) it's harder work than it needs be and I certainly enjoy myself less than when I'm out shooting with my m4/3 or Fuji X cameras. The A7r for all it's resolution virtues isn't a camera that puts a smile on my face and I'm more liable to be cursing it when I'm using it than thinking how great it is. 

The GM1 on the other hand has been one of the great surprises of my camera buying addiction. I always assumed that I would have sold it by now (I only bought it so as to get the 12-32mm lens cheaper) but it's still here and I still enjoy using it. It's actually my number one camera for video as I think the footage looks marginally sharper than my GX7. In any case it's a lot better for video than I can get from my Sony's and easier to work with. 

Now this is obviously all personal taste and personal requirements. I can appreciate and understand that are probably those for whom the A7r is the perfect camera, or close to it. I can imagine those who shoot tripod mounted landscape photographs in wilderness areas really appreciate the incredible quality in such a small light package. But I shoot in a variety of situations and I often find the layout and menus of the A7r a handicap rather than a help and if I want to work unobtrusively and quietly then the GM1 is worth it's weight in gold in those situations.

So is the Is the Panasonic GM1 a 'better' camera than the Sony A7r?? Well for me in terms of video the answer is a resounding yes. For stills? Well no, but in many situations I find myself in, it's more useful and in all situations it's a lot easier and more enjoyable to work with.

N.B. to see more on the cameras and lenses featured in this post click on the relevant labels (tags and keywords) at the bottom of this post.

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