If the Olympus OM-D E-M1 and Panasonic GH4 are each company's top of the range 'flagship' cameras, then one step down are the Olympus OM-D E-M5 II and Panasonic G7. Though each can be seen as having advantages over their more expensive predecessors. I have both and thought it would be a good opportunity to see how I rate each in terms of how I work. It will be different for all of us of course, but I'll try and outline what each camera offers over the other and what advantages each brings to the market place. So let's have a look at some of the differences (and similarities.)
- 4K and 4K Photo options
- Individual Lens Stabilisation only
- Standard m4/3 16MP files
- No additional grip (I 'made' mine)
- SD Card and Battery in same compartment
- Fully articulated Live View screen
- OLED EVF
- Electronic shutter option
- Built in flash
- HD Video options only
- IBIS stabilisation
- High-Res Files (40MP jpg. and 64MP Raw)
- Separate Hand and Battery Grips
- SD Card compartment separate from battery
- Fully articulated Live View screen
- LCD EVF
- Electronic and anti-shock shutter options
- Add-on flashgun
Now I'm not going to get into burst rate, AF speed, how many dots the viewfinder has etc. because the differences are marginal and for me insignificant or unmeasurable. Both cameras focus very fast indeed, both have excellent EVF's and live view screens, though the Panasonic is OLED, which makes it Polarised sunglasses friendly. Both cameras have the same Panasonic sensor apparently, so the Image Quality and ISO performance is also very similar.
IMAGE QUALITY AND ISO PERFORMANCE
Both Cameras - 75mm f/1.8 m.Zuiko lens - f/4 - AWB - Natural - Tripod mounted - IS OFF.
As you can see very similar. There's a slightly different colour balance and if you're being picky, the G7 results are slightly sharper and also slightly darker, but for me all of those are 'fixable' in post-production. I have to say however that I like the G7 jpgs. better. They are slightly sharper and very usable when I'm pushed for time.
So is there a good reason to prefer one over the other? Well, lets get the aesthetics out of the way first. The OM-D E-M5 is a beautiful camera, the G7 is......... 'functional.' The bolt-on grips make the Olympus a great camera for handling. While the G7 has a better grip than many Panasonic cameras, I still felt the need to butcher a third-party Sony A7 II grip and attach that to give me the handling I want. The Olympus also gives extra battery power which is important and the G7 would benefit for some extra battery life, particularly when shooting 4K video.
If you want to shoot serious video (including 4K) then the G7 wins hands down. The OM-D E-M5 is better than previous Olympus cameras for video footage, but it still lags behind virtually all of Panasonic's current offerings. A shame since the 5-axis IBIS would be so useful in shooting hand-held 4K video. Though I have to say that is no better than using one of Panasonic's OIS enabled zooms. Video is something Olympus need to address ASAP and hopefully the E-M2 (Or whatever it's going to be called) will do just that.
If you shoot still life, then the Olympus and it's amazing sensor shifting high-res mode is just fantastic. In fact it beats anything else this side of medium-format. I've tried it outdoors however and it's not very useful, since any slight movement in the frame adds some unpleasant and difficult to remove artefacts. However, if Olympus get this faster and therefore hand-holdable, everybody else had better watch out.
For me there is however one thing that stands out that really differentiates the two cameras. Olympus have the most complicated, illogical and unpredictable menu and button layout I've ever used. The way they structure the numerous options they offer is a design disaster and for the life of me I have no idea why they do things the way they do. I can navigate around every other camera system I've ever used after a few minutes familiarisation. But I still have no idea why Olympus cameras get into the state they do. I've had functions disappear and the whole setup change during having the camera turned off overnight. And I have no idea what I've done (or haven't done) to create the problem.
Olympus cameras are it seems to me, for manual nerds, those odd people who actually enjoy reading those dispiriting publications. I really have neither the time nor the inclination to go through the thing. I know what I want and on every other single camera I've ever used I can do that very quickly and more important repeatedly. Except with Olympus. I actually hate Olympus menus and would like to do something very unpleasant to whoever came up with this over-complicated and ill-thought out nonsense. For me it actually spoils the camera and because of the problems with this crazy approach, I only use the camera when I have the time to sort it out. I went away on a trip a few weeks ago and took every camera I own except for the Olympus and this was the reason why. I've actually reset the thing twice using the 'secret' combination, because that's actually quicker and easier than trying to work out what I've done. I also never use the camera for manual focusing my Nikon lenses, because that is a pain as well. Whereas the Panasonic is a joy to use with them.
So, it really is a case of 'Yer pays yer money..... etc.' Both cameras have unique and useful features that offer something special. Which is the reason I still own both. And in the case of the Olympus I use it despite it's awful menu / function layout. Because when it's behaving itself it's a great camera to take pictures with and if I'm honest I actually prefer using it to the Panasonic. But there is no doubt that the G7 offers me more of what I want, particularly the 4K options and the opportunity to use my top class Nikon lenses easily and productively.
Finally away from a confrontational agenda, I have to say that both cameras show just how far m4/3 has come and the genuinely exciting possibilities for the future. Panasonic with their video advances and Olympus with the very interesting sensor shift technology they have come up with are showing many of their competitors the way forward. I'm much more interested in what these companies are coming up with than Sony, Fuji or Samsung. Sony's scattergun approach produces some great sensor performance, but the FE series are actually rather nasty cheap looking little cameras in my opinion with a poor and ill-thought out lens range. Fuji need to set aside their retro sensibilities and actually think about providing a sensor that gives decent video and still options for their gorgeous lenses to take advantage of. And Samsung with the NX1 have produced a bloated monster with ridiculously heavy lenses (though they are high quality it has to be said) and from what I've seen the most overrated image quality in the history of internet hyberbole. Plus of course, it's a Samsung. And while they are very good at smartphones, I've yet to see any evidence that they can make a really special stand-alone camera.
But m4/3 has been innovating for years now and show no signs of letting up. Panasonic have produced what seems to be a 'wonder camera' with the GX8, though it's going to be interesting to see just how that 20MP sensor performs. And then of course there is the amazing m4/3 lens range. Comprehensive and full of quality and yet still small and light. My next article is on the 100-300mm Panasonic zoom, which is pretty big for a m4/3 lens, but when you consider what a 'Full-Frame' or APS-C option would look (and feel) like, really quite amazingly small and light. m4/3 is still my favourite mirrorless / CSC / E/V.I.L system and despite the odd (though usually short-lived) estrangement I have had a m4/3 of one sort or another on my shelf for many years now. And the reason for that is the quality / size / weight / functionality equation has been tackled successfully by both Olympus and Panasonic and with a high regard for what serious photographers find useful. (Though Olympus really need to address that menu issue)
Would I recommend one of these cameras over the other? Well I very rarely recommend anything and I have no intention of breaking with that protocol here. All I would say is if you can't decide which one to choose, buy both. I did and am able to enjoy using both. After all, it's only money.