Fujifilm X-T1 vs. Olympus OM-D E-M1 vs. Sony A7

rey spadoni

You’ve decided you want mirrorless.  Sick of lugging the sack-of-potatoes camera and lens kit around, you’ve read (maybe even here at 2 Guys Photo) that despite a few compromises (battery life and focus tracking being chief among them), you really can have your cake and eat it too.  Awesome image quality.  Less visits to the chiropracter.

The mirrorless market has evolved quickly with Canon and Nikon still watching and waiting and a few companies going all in, namely Olympus, Panasonic, Fujifilm and Sony.  Sure, there’s Samsung… but I don’t have any experience with their line-up and market share stats and reviews suggest I ought not worry about it.

A few months ago, I pontificated about the current mirrorless market (see here), announcing that Fujifilm was rocking it, Sony was trying hard and that micro-4/3 was… eh… “good enough“.

Today, there are three beautiful and popular cameras all sitting atop their respective line-ups.  Fujifilm has the X-T1, Olympus the E-M1 and Sony the A7/A7r twins.  You could add Panasonic’s GH3 (and now GH4) into the mix, but my earlier experience with the GH2 (awesome for video, average for stills) has kept me away.  I may revisit with the GH4.  These cameras all shed the rangefinder styling for SLResque dimensions and, importantly, all are weather sealed.  That last piece is super important to me.

This post won’t contain full-on reviews, but rather some high level observations.  I’ll cut to the quick: the alternate title for this could have been “Why do I keep coming back to m4/3?”

First though, the tussle

You want a Sony of course because they managed to fit a full-sized sensor into a camera that’s roughly the same size as smaller sensored mirrorless cams.  When it comes to sensors, bigger is better, right?

Fufjiilm has beautiful lenses, a top notch APS-C magical X-Trans sensor and good old fashioned coolness with dials and rings to make your heart sing.

Olympus, along with partner, Panasonic, have built out the most comprehensive lens line-up for their mount.  And many of these lenses are jewels: sharp, light… beautiful.

But what’s wrong?  Why do you tussle so?

Sony’s FE lens line-up is scant, offering slower zooms and even primes that are pricey.  More are coming, but today there’s just not much there.

Fujiflm gives you a weather-sealed body but no lenses yet.  Two and probably more are coming, but they’re not here now.  The one everybody wants, a fast and wide-ish zoom has a 72mm filter size so expect it to be big and probably heavy.  And that kind of defeats the whole smaller/lighter thing, right?

Olympus offers the smallest sensor of all.  And that has to mean poor higher ISO performance, limited shallow depth of field manipulation ability, and noise at even low ISOs.

What to do?  What to do?

Enter the alt title: Why do I keep coming back to m4/3?

Despite the fact that the Oly does have a smaller sensor, the body is beautiful.  Buttons and dials abound and it’s the only one among these three that places the shutter button far forward of the strap  lug.  That may seem like a minor niggle, but it annoys the everlivingcrap out of me  to have to reach around the strap, with it leaning into the craw of my index finger, to pounce on the shutter release.  What does it have going for it?  The beautiful 12-40/2.8 weather sealed lens, awesome AF, usable tracking AF, real HDR bracketing, and image quality that is good.  OK, maybe it’s good enough.

Most importantly, the smaller sensor allows for smaller lenses.  APS-C and full frame sensors demand APS-C and full frame (or pretty darn close) sized lenses.  If I’m gonna go there, I’ll get a Nikon D610 and call it a day (and save a few bucks while I’m at it too).

[Rant alert — note to Olympus: Please!, Please!, Please! hire somebody new to work on your menus.  They are the worst.]

Yeah, but what about the smaller sensor?  As a photographer, aren’t you really all about getting THE best image quality possible?  Well sure, but first of all, my experience with 4/3 is that the image quality is far from bad.  It’s quite good actually.  And with Olympus’ awesome in-body image stabilization and the mount’s small, super-fast (1.4 and 1.8 aperture) lenses, I can typically get around the increasingly minimal higher ISO constraints.

And speaking of constraints, my learning over the past year has been that pixel level sharpness and absolute noise free images, while nifty for engineer types, does little to make a image interesting or compelling or moving.  Composition, good timing, and the artist’s instinct (which I continue to seek) are what truly count.  I frequently stare at photos from last century, often made with cameras that today’s engineer types would denounce and I think, wowwhy can’t I capture something like that?

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 gets out of my way (exception – see rant above)… it’s fast, it’s sensible, and the smaller lenses means I’m more likely to have it with me when I’m out and about, pursuing that wow.

Sure, Sony and Fujifilm have some real winners on their hands…

… but I do keep coming back to m4/3 again and again.  That’s my tool of choice.  Look for some images on these pages.  Please give me some feedback and let me know how I’m doing.  Thanks!

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36 Responses to Fujifilm X-T1 vs. Olympus OM-D E-M1 vs. Sony A7

  1. Janet says:

    I’m so glad you are still lovin’ your Olympus. I bought the OMD-E5 over a year ago, mostly due to your recommendation, and I can’t tell you how much I love that camera! I rarely use my heavy DSLR now. Since I bought the 45mm 1.8 lens I now have fabulous DOF control which is the only thing I missed with the zoom lenses. I do agree with you about the position of that strap lug – drives me crazy!! I hope they change it before I purchase the EM-1, which will be someday soon, I hope!

    • Rey says:

      Glad to hear your happy with the Olympus. I think you’d be happy with the physical ergonomics of the EM1 as it’s solid and well designed. Thanks, Janet…

      Rey

    • agiyo says:

      I scoffed at M4/3 until a friend handed me his E-M5. Within an hour, I bought one. It feels much better with the accessory battery pack shutter button attached, though I keep spare batteries in my camera bag rather than pack around that silly bulky bottom piece. The E-M1s? I have two. There are some things I like the E-M5 more for, such as a quieter shutter, but my normal photojournalism rig now is the Lumix 7-14 on the E-M5, the 4/3 12-60 Zuiko on one E-M1, and the other with an appropriate tele zoom; either the 50-200 SWD Olympus, 70-300 Zuiko, or a Tamron 200-500 with a Nikon-M4/3 mount. After 54 years of this beginning with 7 years of Speed Graphic 4″x5″ for everything, I have gone to heaven. And the results reflect that.
      Disclaimer: For a recent 8-day trip into Canyonlands Nat’l Park, primitive and in once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, I took the Nikon D600 and D800e. How sweet to have the choice!

      • Rey says:

        So, I was going to say that you’re “all in” on m4/3… but the Nikon big boys in Canyonlands? I’m sure they helped you nab some stunning shots of an extraordinary place (I’ve been)… but why not the EM5/EM1???

        Rey

        • agiyo says:

          It was a difficult decision, as you well know. I’m sure the EMs would have done extremely well, but I have a solo exhibit coming, I figured that some of these images would be once in a lifetime, and I have the insecurity of 53 years with film and big Nikon digital cameras, 1 (glorious, amazing) one with the Olympuses. Also, we would be driving very close to most of the park sites, so the Nikons’ weight and bulk were less of a factor. I almost took both sets, but wanted to leave neither in an unattended vehicle.
          And that is probably the 1% of use the Nikons will get over the next year. I can’t wait to shoot the Waterfront Blues Festival, where I’m the official photog, with the EMs!

          • Rey says:

            Yeah… I guess those once in a lifetime moments scream for the best of the best. Are any of your shots on line? Would love to see them…

            Thanks,

            Rey

        • agiyo says:

          Here are a few images from the Nikons in Canyonlands, with apologies for not having used my truly excellent M43 gear, but down there one never knows when one might need all of a 36MP image.
          https://plus.google.com/photos/110439683452545401176/albums/5999017730013152529

          • Rey says:

            Hi – thank you for sharing these photos. A great record of a truly great location.!

            Rey

      • Janet says:

        Many thanks for suggesting the battery pack to deal with the shutter button problem. I didn’t know that it was an available accessory. It will definitely be my next purchase!

  2. Lou Nachman says:

    Rey,
    I know most of your readers could care less but the ability to nail large print size images and use amazing lenses from the last forty years is why I continue to use a bargain Pentax K-01. $299 for a body and a choice of used lightweight F model lenses are cheap and light. Easy to hike distances with as well.

    • Rey says:

      Lou – I wish the K-01 had been a success. I really like the idea of a mirrorless cam that can natively (non-adapted) take advantage of legacy lenses. Great concept. Slightly weird design, though…

      Rey

  3. Mick Deu says:

    Janet consider the grip. Gets around the lug/release alignment issue – the battery pack comes off if you don’t need it 🙂

    Enjoyed the blog entry too, Ray!

  4. Gonzalo says:

    I haven’t used any of the cameras above, but my main camera is the Lumix GH3, also mentioned, and I completely agree on what you say about the EM-1. Portability is much more important to me, provided that all those cameras are way past the level of image quality that most need.

  5. RakSiam says:

    Thanks for mentioning the shutter release issue. No reviewers seem to even notice this for some reason. I played with an a7 at a Sony store soon after its release and thought the ergonomics were terrible, especially the weird location of the shutter release. I could tell within a couple of minutes that that camera would drive me nuts. As you say, the E-M1 just gets out of your way. I hardly ever use the menus for anything though so they don’t bother me much. The E-M1 lets you use a button and dial to set most things or just use the SuperControl Panel.

    • Rey says:

      Yeah… I’m surprised nobody ever mentions the shutter release location. I am finding that once I set the EM1 up the way I like it, I don’t really have to dig into the menus much. So that’s helping ease the transition in.

      Rey

  6. Jay says:

    I’ve been a Canon shooter with top-tier L lenses for 40 years. I now do 95% with my Em-5 and Em-1. I get many shots that my Canon stuff would have missed because of OLY’S IBIS and tilt screen. Amazing. And the AF is blazing-quick and never misses. I find my images have better WB and colors, And greater dynamic range(than 7D). But most of all….it’s the weight. As a Chiropractor myself, I’ve seen too many pros with destroyed Cervical disks and permanent arm neuralgia….because of lugging those heavy bodies and lenses. YES, I have large Canon lenses myself including the 7 lb 200 f1.8. Best lens ever…but so dang heavy. YES…with m43 you will lose that FF bokeh. Nothing is perfect. Get over it. But some things overall are better. Like the pleasure of using one of the OMD cameras.
    I’m looking forward to OLY’s 40-150 f2.8 with the 1.4X. I’ll then sell my 400 f5.6L and my 135 f2L. My fellow pro buddies shooting FF Canons and Nikons have less noise. But so what…their necks and backs are aching with every shift lugging those 2 and 3 bodies with gnormous weight. Get yourself a Em-5 or Em-1. So lightweight…it’s a pleasure. You’ll never go back to APS nor FF. Except for high-speed sport events. Plus that IBIS will get that difficult shot more often than the Canikons.

    • Rey says:

      Jay –

      … well, a chiropractor would know! Thanks for your expert advice. I’ll probably be quoting you directly from now on…

      Rey

  7. Chris D says:

    Hi: I’m looking at M4/3 to supplement my Leica M; don’t ask why, I have my reasons! Do you have any thoughts/experiences using a Leica M lens with M4/3? Do you know if the EM-1 body IS and focus peaking will work with the M lenses? I know using the manual focus M lenses will slow me down, but for some applications that doesn’t concern me. Thanks for posting your review!

    • Rey says:

      Chris –

      Sorry, not direct experience. Though I’ve played around other mounts on m4/3 and the manual focus aids all worked perfectly, I can’t say specifically on an adapted M.

      Rey

      • agiyo says:

        I bought the OMs with the original intent of using my Leica M optics on them. Worked fine, but I quickly found myself reaching for the 45 1.8 Oly instead of the Summitar or Summilux 50s, the LTM 19mm 3.5 Canon made no sense versus the 20 1.7 Oly, and the 12-60, 50-200 and 70-300 4/3 zooms soon became my standard fare, with the amazing 7/14 Lumix for its niche. Using the OM-Ds does stir memories of the 1960s-’70s, when I first started using 35mm rangefinders, but further expanding from my early replies in this thread, I like these cameras better than any of the probably 200 I have used over the years. The Leica lenses do convey their special image quality, but none of the Olympus/Lumix lenses let me down in any way, and they’ve delivered incredible images, even blown up 16″x20″, in terrible conditions.

  8. tigerclaws says:

    Hello Rey,

    Your observations are spot on… and this is, I believe one of the biggest dilemmas in the mirrorless camera world. However, in my personal opinion, if we break down the “need” or “desire” for such a system, only one logic surfaces and that is : SIZE – without compromising Image Quality.

    With that in mind, I feel that the Oly’s m4/3 sensor doesn’t do justice to one’s usual SLR gear and the lack of lenses as you mentioned for the Fuji, just keeps the frustration level up.

    Now, the Sony A7/A7r twins do the trick, albiet with a short line-up, but then there are more than a few lens adapters and there opens the plethora of lens choice! I would in a heartbeat buy the Contax G lenses and they also worked with the NEX7 (yes with autofocus) and old Minolta lenses.

    The whole point of the story is that the emphasis should be on the sensor than anything else – or so I think!

    • Rey says:

      Historically, I’ve agreed with you. The IQ I got out of the A7 was quite good, but the high number of shots with missed focus was a major frustration. I was out shooting with the EM1 this past weekend and marveled at how it just gets out of your way. Bam… FAST.

      EM1 body with A7 sensor? Now you’re talking…

      Rey

      • tigerclaws says:

        Is it THAT bad dude?? 😦 I was set on getting the A7 (after a whole lot of deliberation).. and now you tell me the focus is bad! 😦

        • Rey says:

          The A7 is a good camera but it is definitely not as quick/nimble as the EM1. Not even close. Your style of shooting will make a huge difference here. If you are primarily a landscape photographer and enjoy a more deliberate shooting style, then the A7 is excellent. I took mine to Disney World and often times was trying to capture interesting scenes as they took shape — the decisive moment type thing — and was disappointed.

          As I noted in the article, the ergonomics are not great either.

          The pure IQ is excellent, however.

          Good luck!

          Rey

          • tigerclaws says:

            Rey,

            Wanted to thank you for pushing me to think more seriously about the m4/3 world… I was sort of hell bent on getting the A7, but I did a lot of thinking and some of the points after which I think I won’t get the A7 and get the Oly are :

            1. SIZE – of camera… and sensor size if you ask honestly, the tech. is so far ahead that they are making posters out of 35mm… m4/3 sensor can def. make a 11×14 print – or so I think?

            2. CARRY-n-GO – yeah, if this is gonna be a street cam, or just “yeah lets take a camera” thing, it better be light and easy to lug… not bury me with size and weight! 😛

            3. PRICE – can’t beat the price with all that connectivity you’re getting!!

            So anyway, I am looking really hard at the E-P5. I know you mention the OM-D E5 but i don’t want that – it’s again has a DSLR look and feel to it. Do you have any personal experience with the E-P5?

            I am using the Ricoh GR and it’s pretty much brand new – bought it in Jan. ’14!! I wish I can sell it to fund the Oly but idk…

          • Rey says:

            Hi – thanks for your comment!

            I do have experience with the EP5. A few thoughts:

            . I much prefer the form factor of the EP5 over any other m4/3 camera. It’s easier to hold and I think the control layout is better. I also like that there is a pop-up flash (as opposed to the clip on variety).

            . Not weather-sealed and that was a factor for me — though if I’m being honest, that has had more theoretical value than practical value so far.

            . Limit of 99 images in the time interval mode vs. much, much higher on the EM1. That’s a a weird firmware thing; I don’t know why Oly doesn’t address that via an update.

            . I’m kind of attracted to the silver finish (and even white) of the EP5. Pretty snappy looking.

            . Image quality virtually indistinguishable from each other.

            Good luck with you decision. Let us know!

            Rey

  9. I am a pro photographer working for one of Scandinavias biggest image agencies. Half a year ago I bought the omd e-m5. Today when I leave my office for a shoot I usually pic up my Olympus kit and my Nikon FF stays in the bag. I think that it is a brilliant kit with really nice lenses and the image quality is good enough for me, and our clients are REALLY picky. One another thing outside this topic I would like to share is that I found film again. MF cameras are so cheap at the moment that I just had to buy me one… and shooting with that has been so much fun. After 5 rolls i am proud to say that every single image has been spot on. Enjoy your system no matter if it is a m 4/3, FF, or film camera, you can make really stunning images with it.

    • Rey says:

      Jan – that’s a pretty good endorsement for m4/3. I myself have been increasingly concluding that the limiting factor in my own photography is NOT my gear.

      Rey

  10. Naeem says:

    OM-D is still the best no other camera has even matched what OM-D has offered few years ago. if I want a camera to take with me that works in every situation OM-D is the one. others fail on many levels like focus, image stabilization, portability, availability of such a clever lens as EZ12-50. and the peace of mind of having solid splash proof body. I love it, once I sold my E-M5 and bought another in the same week. I will never sell it again.

  11. tigerclaws says:

    Hey Rey,

    I felt obligated to come back and update you with what I went ahead with… neither the E-P5, E-M5 nor the A7. I went all in and got myself the OMD E-M1; and boy am I a happy clicker! All thanks to you.

    The beginning was a major frustration though… let me tell you that lol! The controls, menus and just simple things that took hours to figure out.

    But yeah, I’m super happy and I to top it off, I will be doing a road trip from Birmingham, AL to San Jose, CA – a 2,300 mile journey! Definitely planning to put the Oly through it’s paces.

    Got the Nikon to m4/3 adapter and the extra grip (no the vertical) for the “pinky” lol

    Will be posting pics along the way… 😉

  12. Pingback: MY FIRST TAKE WITH THE OMD E-M1 | My PHOTO - RAMBLINGS

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