In this corner, Panasonic’s new, compact, fully featured camera weighing in at around a grand, the DMC GX7! And his opponent, the current system champion in this price range, with many of the same features and weighing in at a cool grand as well, the Olympus OM-D E-M5!
I’ve had the GX7 for about a month now and feel that I’ve been able to give it a proper run through in a variety of shooting scenarios and have been comparing it to my OMD EM5 just about every step of the way. I tried originally to compare these two cameras against each other in all ways I find them to differ, but the article has gotten ridiculously long, so we will break this into 3 rounds… So, how do these two, high end pro-sumer micro 4/3 models compare to one another? C’mon in and I’ll give you my opinion on where each of these cameras wins against the other starting with the in body image stabilization, electronic viewfinders and LCD screens. Round 1, FIGHT:
The Olympus OMD-EM5 (We’ll stick with simply the EM5 from here on out) is a feature rich, hi-spec camera. Boasting 9fps, and at it’s announcement, the “fastest” AF on the planet according to Olympus, environmental sealing and an amazing in body image stabilization mechanism, on paper, it is pretty much the quintessential shooter’s tool.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 (or simply the GX7) has brought a bit to the table as well. Boasting a tilting, integrated EVF, in body image stabilization (a Panasonic m4/3 first), Wi-Fi and more streamlined set of external controls, it has certainly begged the question, can Panasonic challenge Olympus for the best body under $1000? Again, on paper, the GX7 seems to tick all the right boxes. It lacks the EM5’s environmental sealing and blistering frame rate, but does it make up for it with other features?
In this first round, I wanted to look at the effectiveness of the IBIS systems and the visual, compositional interaction in the way of the Electronic Viewfinders (EVF’s) and the rear LCD screens. These three elements provide the walls around the foundation which is the sensor (which we’ll get to later). Both cameras utilize the same system, lenses, accessories, etc and provide two differing approaches to capturing images. While some of the features and interface differences may be subtle, they still add up to two different interaction styles. Let round one begin…
IBIS (In Body Image Stabilization) – ***UPDATE – I’ve added two more tests to further clarify the IBIS battle below 🙂
2 axis vs 5 axis. More is better right? There is no denying that the Olympus 5 axis IBIS is amazing for both stills and video, and I love it. Panasonic choosing to not include the IBIS in video mode for the GX7 is just silly, seriously Panasonic, fix this. The argument between IBIS and In Lens Stabilization aside, many of the system lenses do not have OIS, not to mention the multitude of adaptable optics that many use for both stills and video, so Panasonic shouldn’t pansy out on customers when they like to consider themselves the video hybrid go to. One area that I have found the Oly IBIS to be superior to the Panasonic lens based OIS in the past is in the stabilized live view image, especially through the viewfinder. Immediately apparent when using longer focal lengths, the 5 axis IBIS does a better job than the Pana IBIS or OIS at steadying the live view image period. It doesn’t necessarily translate directly to the final image, but if you’re working with a fast enough shutter speed, it doesn’t need to, all while allowing a much steadier live view image which greatly helps in composing, following and tracking a subject through the EVF. On the GX7, if you use a micro 4/3 lens with optical image stabilization, it disables the ability to use the in body image stabilization, so I cannot test out the effectiveness of the new Panasonic IBIS vs their OIS directly on the GX7.
Okay, now here’s the kicker. Contrary to my assumption prior to testing this out, I’ve found the Panasonic IBIS to be BETTER than the Olympus 5 axis IBIS for handheld still shots at very slow shutter speeds, at least in more than one scenario with the EM5 yet to trump the GX7 in the tests I’ve done. Seriously, you didn’t misread that, and not by a small margin. The new Panasonic 2 axis IBIS bested the 5 axis IBIS in a vast majority of my handheld tests. Below are shots, handheld and shot as listed with both cameras set to ISO 200 and adjusted to the same exact aperture and shutter speeds, shot hand held from a fixed distance and framed as closely as possible (they are handheld after all). While this may be refuted and will certainly be challenged, this is merely my finding when testing these two cameras using the same exact lenses, same exact shutter speeds, apertures and ISO settings while utilizing an identical shooting technique (the way I choose to brace my arms against my body, or use my left eye with the EVF, etc). While your milage may vary, and I was personally surprised, this was my experience.
All the following shots were captured as Blog intended them, without any processing other than to convert a RAW file through ACR, then imported into Aperture for filing purposes, then exported to the blog as a JPEG for space sake. On the GX7, I captured RAW+JPEG (because Aperture doesn’t yet support the RAW files, hence ACR) and compared the two after RAW conversion through ACR. No noticeable differences at the pixel level at these settings. On the EM5, I shot only RAW files. The only alteration is the addition of the text to each shot. Settings are labeled on each individual frame, and I shot multiple frames at each setting and chose the absolute sharpest one from each camera at each setting. Click any following image to see a larger version, or feel free to download these and check the EXIF if you don’t believe me 🙂
First, shots using the LCD, both elbows pinned against my body with both hands on the camera to steady as well as I am physically able, with auto focus engaged and AF point placed on the “7” with the cams held in front of me, subject at about 3′ away:
While I’ll no doubt be challenged by those assuming the 5 Axis IBIS to be superior in all ways, (and I totally thought it would be that way also), or by those crying foul somehow trying to paint me as a Panasonic fanboy, when shooting in IS1 mode on the OMD EM5 with the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 lens (150mm e-fov), it struggled to steady the shot with the same effectiveness as the GX7 with the Oly 75mm lens at slow shutter speeds.
Wanting to use the EVF for another point of contact to further stabilize the camera, I shot the following, otherwise captured and processed the exact same way, I shot these from about 8 feet away:
I’m truly amazed.
Just to be sure, I adapted the longest lens I have in my collection to each camera, the FD 400mm f/4.5 SSC super tele which plays up to an 800mm equivalent field of view. I shot it on both cameras set to ISO 200 and 1/125 second, with the lens set to f/11 and what would certainly be considered a very slow shutter speed for an 800mm equivalent, both cameras did a great job at stabilizing the final image. I manually adjusted the focal length in each camera’s IS menu to 400mm. The sign was roughly 50 feet away and the point of focus was the word “HOOD” on said sign. The Oly IBIS provided a smoother live view which was nicer for composition, while the focus peaking in the GX7 made for a better manual focusing experience. I shot 10 shots with the GX7 and 12 with the EM5 at the aforementioned settings to make sure I had a decent sample set to choose from (and shot more on the EM5 because I wanted to make sure I got it as well as I could). The following are the best of the bunch (again, click any to see larger versions).
Alright, I know I’ve stirred the pot a bit on this here, and have spent a good part of the last couple days doing various other tests. Below are two more setups, one with the Lumix 20mm f/1.7 version 2 (shooting the Hasselblad) and then a setup of myself in a mirror to see how I’m bracing myself, using the Pana-Leica 25mm f/1.4.
One thing I want to clarify, as I’ve seen (as I’d assume I would) plenty of trackbacks to forums and the like with comments claiming I don’t know what I’m doing, or there must be something wrong with my EM5, or that I’m intentionally trying to get these results, is that I don’t know what I can say other than you’ll have to trust me. Guys, I have no vested interest in either of these cameras succeeding over the other. I own, enjoy and shoot with both of them. I have a lot of cameras, so I’ve explained to all of them not to take it personally when I’m done with them and the EM5, while not without its quirks, has served me well for the last 18 months or so.
The below commentary may read as defensive, and to a point it is. I find it funny how often I read forum posts from the “CANONFAN2000” or “NIKONBOY69” posters who berate anyone who challenges the equipment they’ve bought. If you want to discredit my findings, by all means, buy both cameras and do an objective test, take a bunch of time and start your own blog. I enjoy doing these tests and have no reason to pump up one brand or the other… Unless Panasonic or Olympus want to sponsor me and send me boatloads of money. If I can retire early and spend the rest of my days with my family while traveling and shooting, I’ll happily become a biased mouthpiece for the highest bidder 😉 I use a lot of different cameras and a lot of different equipment. While I do find certain pieces of said equipment to be better than others, and have no problem saying so, it has nothing to do with the name printed on that equipment, so just know I’m doing these comparisons because I’m honestly interested in seeing how these cameras compete against each other and like sharing this with others that may be on the fence, or interested in the same stuff.
To all others, and the majority of sane people in the photographic world, I apologize for the diatribe and thank you very much for the continued conversation and support. I enjoy doing this, and getting to interact with you guys and gals is a huge part of it, so thank you.
Okay, onto the update. The first setup is handheld, standing up, using the Lumix 20mm f/1.7 II and shooting through the EVF with it pressed firmly against my brow. You’ll see in the final setup how I brace my elbows, support the camera and lens, etc. You’ll have to trust me that I’m not doing this solely for the GX7 shots while swinging the EM5 around by a string and a two second timer. I’m truly interested in getting the absolute best results out of these tests as possible, and for the Oly fans, you’ll be happy to see that I got better overall results with the 20mm on the EM5, so there! The first setup below used the Auto Focus set to the front of the lens barrel. Click any to see a larger version.
At 1/40, I feel the GX7 shot is sharper, at 1/20 the EM5 wins, at 1/10 and 1/5 the EM5 shots look really nice, at 0.4 it gets closer but the EM5 still has the advantage while below that, they both start to deteriorate into unusable shots with the GX7 doing a better job at 0.8 and the EM5 better at 1 second. This is the first of the 10 or so setups where I A) used the Lumix 20mm and B) saw the EM5 best the GX7 anywhere under 1/10 of a second.
This next setup is done with my same still shooting technique which is more physically evident in that I’m shooting into a mirror, Steve Huff style! (I love ya Stevie) For those questioning my zen like ability to stabilize myself, here is my secret for the world to see… Bracing both my elbows firmly to my body, and with my left foot in front of me, in line with my left shoulder, my right leg is behind and to the side, I’d say if my left foot were at noon, my right would be at 4 o’clock or so, with my legs spread decently wide and knees very slightly bent. I press the camera into my brow and even in these cases get my face against the back of the screen too. More contact isn’t bad I’ve found, even if I need to clean the grease off my screen afterward. Exhale, inhale and hold… Depress the shutter and hold through the actuation, viola! Point of focus is the rim of the lens hood, on the right side as you view it. Again, click any to see larger, and as the aperture gets smaller, you can use the wrist strap to see finer detail between the shots for comparison’s sake.
I know that the framing is off. I blame the screen overlay grid on the OMD EM5 as it’s “third” lines are so pinched into the center, when I put that AF point on that intersection, it is far more centered than when on an actual third line. Anyhoo, doesn’t change the nuts and bolts as both cameras were shot from the same distance and focused on the same point, so back to what I’ve seen consistently with these IBIS tests… The EM5 does well and is arguably sharper at 1/50 sec. The GX7 shot is not out of focus though, it just doesn’t have the same sensor characteristics. I’ve spoken at some length in the past about how oversharpened the default file is from these Sony sensors, and while it is nice most of the time, not having to do as much post sharpening, it does introduce other problems in post when working with these files. Anyway, ht EM5 looks great through 1/13 sec to my eye, but the GX7 doesn’t look any worse. Softer perhaps, but still in focus. When the shutter speeds get back down below 1/13, the EM5 files get noticeably blurrier and defocused where the GX7 does an amazing job keeping it in focus all the way through to 0.8 seconds with the PL25.
I’m serious guys, it’s amazing. Even if my EM5 has “something wrong with it” which I absolutely doubt, the fact that I can get a sharp image at 0.8 seconds or 1 full second handheld with ANY camera is amazing to me. The EM5 does great, and the 5 axis IBIS is a wonderful IBIS system. As I’ve already mentioned, and mention again below, I feel it is a better OVERALL IBIS system in that it is more useful for composition as it keeps the live view much more stable, and of course it works in video mode, but I cannot discredit the GX7 for having what I’ve found to be a better end result at these slow shutter speeds and I think it is important to recognize this. Panasonic have done a great job with their first IBIS for the micro 4/3 system and I only hope that it gets better from here.
I’m also curious to see tests that are disproving this as I’ve heard people cite. Even if I’m intentionally submarining the EM5, please explain to me how I’ve gotten an unaltered, sharp exposure with the GX7 at 0.8 seconds where you can see me and my camera in the mirror ;D I’m really amazed at the GX7’s ability, even if it’s situational. I find myself shooting in those situations, so I’m stoked! I’m not saying that people can’t get better or worse results from each of these cameras, but I want to see multiple setups, multiple lenses and multiple shutter speeds as every test I’ve been able to find cites an extremely limited sample size. If I were to take only the very first test I did, I could “definitively” declare the GX7 superior. If I were to take the test using the Lumix 20mm solely, I could declare the EM5 IBIS superior. It’s situational until enough testing has been done to give a clearer picture and while I still think there can be more done, I feel I’ve spent a ton of time trying to get the absolute best results from both of these cameras and I feel very confident stating that my GX7 does better than my EM5. If you guys want me to test other EM5’s feel free to get them to me and I’ll gladly expand the sample size, but like I said before, I really don’t think it’s an issue with my EM5, but rather that Panasonic has done something right with the GX7.
I hope that having done multiple tests with various lenses at various aperture settings and at various ISO settings can help detractors and those refusing to believe that I know what I’m doing, understand that I’m seriously not in this to try and soil Olympus’ name here. If not, please feel free to acquire both cameras and do your own extensive testing. Just do it objectively and I think you’ll find that the GX7 outdoes the EM5 when shooting between about a second (seriously, I got sharp 1 second exposures!) and about 1/25 second. Like I said, I’ve valued both of these cameras enough to spend good money on them and feel both are wonderful tools. Just because I’ve found that the Panasonic can not only hold a flame to, but beat the Oly 5 axis IBIS in almost every one of my objective tests when handholding at slow shutter speeds is not a knock on Olympus, but a testament to Panasonic. They’re both part of the same team, and luckily for me, they both play for the team that I’ve chosen to buy into, so keep it up the both of you. I want to see Oly one up these results with the next iteration… We all win.
***END OF THE UPDATE.. return to your regularly scheduled programing***
I’m as surprised as those who are surprised are…seriously. Kudos Panasonic. Now, I’ve not tried panning or the like, but will try to get some of that in as well and report back in a new post, but damn! Even if my tests are an anomaly (which I don’t see how they could be as I’m using two production cameras with their designated IS settings and exact exposure settings and shooting techniques), that the GX7 has even situationally outdone the EM5 in the IBIS department has contradicted what I thought would be the case. One further potential benefit with the Panasonic GX7 is the ability to shoot with the electronic shutter in silent mode which will further decrease vibrations. Keep in mind that neither IBIS system will do anything for your shots of non static subjects, or at least moving objects in otherwise static scenes. There’s nothing to combat subject movement other than a faster shutter speed to freeze that movement, but for stationary subjects or static landscapes, the Panasonic IBIS has impressed me.
With that said, I do feel that the Olympus IBIS is far superior for composition in that the 5 axis does a noticeably better job at stabilizing the live view image on the LCD or through the EVF compared to the Panasonic IBIS or OIS, and for that I credit Olympus. If you shoot with super teles in good enough light, the Oly 5 axis IBIS will be more handy I think, and rarely do I need the IBIS to account for extremely slow shutter speeds, but I do often benefit from a more stabilized live view. They also have allowed those of us shooting video with these machines the benefit of access to this IBIS for motion images as well. Often we don’t quite need the stabilization effects on the final image when shooting in good light for instance, but at longer focal lengths, having a steadier image through the viewfinder can greatly aid in composition, tracking and fine focusing and for that purpose, the Oly system is better, but as far as the final image, when handholding, it looks like Panasonic has done us a solid and produced a superior still image, in camera stabilization mechanism. Regardless, having any IBIS is better than not having it, so here’s to hoping every camera in the future includes it.
One thing I never ended up using on the EM5 was the auto switch sensor for the EVF. When anything came within a few inches of it, it would shut the LCD off (normally while I was trying to access some menu or another) and I just ended up toggling that feature off and used the button to switch between the EVF and LCD. Not a big deal and it never bothered me. On the GX7, Panasonic has seemed to build upon that feature by allowing you to adjust the sensitivity or proximity to the EVF that the sensor engages the switch. While I’ll still accidentally switch it when shifting to the portrait orientation for instance, by decreasing the sensitivity, it won’t switch until my eye is within about an inch (or less) to the eye piece which is great. If you’re carrying the camera around your neck and get annoyed by it constantly switching, you can simply tilt the EVF upward and not have to worry about it. A nicely implemented feature in my opinion.
Physically, at first glance, the EVF on the GX7 seems to protrude from the body more so than the EVF on the EM5, but this isn’t actually the case. In fact, they measure almost exactly the same distance from the back of the camera, and when taking into consideration the EVF hump on the EM5, I feel the GX7’s EVF, and overall ergonomic design, is far less cumbersome. That’s all fine and dandy, but how about their actual performance and quality?
I have to say, even though the EM5’s 1,440k dot EVF is nearly half the resolution of the GX7’s 2,764k EVF, it handles admirably and very comparably. Both have situations where they best the other as I’ve found the GX7’s EVF over compensates the live view exposure correction when looking directly into a brighter scene when in Manual where the light meter will show you an accurate depiction, but the image in the EVF will adjust to account for the light (getting darker) by default. In lower light the opposite seems to be true where the detail really shines in the GX7’s. When accompanied by the -4EV (exposure value) sensitivity for Auto Focus in the Panasonic, this becomes a very handy tool for the low light shooter.
Physically, the tilting EVF on the GX7 is more low profile and adds the handiness of being able to tilt it. While I feel it is kind of silly to try and use an EVF as a waist level finder, largely because you need to have the EVF pressed directly against your face making it look like you just have an issue with your neck, the ability to just ever so slightly tilt it comes in handy when wanting to keep your face (see: nose grease) off the LCD screen. Because it is more streamlined to the body, it goes into and out of the bag much easier and I don’t have the problem of the eyecup constantly getting snagged and pulled off like I’ve had with the EM5.
The touch interface on the GX7 is as good or better than any camera with a touch screen I’ve used. While the EM5’s screen was a step up from the previous generations, so too is the GX7’s from it’s. With a 1,040K dot LCD, the GX7’s out resolves the EM5’s 610k dot screen. In practice, both are beautiful, but I will say that the newer GX7’s is an incremental upgrade for me, as you would assume a newer, higher resolution screen would be, it also does a better job at color fidelity to my eye.
Both are completely customizable with the ability to add or subtract information on the screen, they include levels, histograms and all the exposure info you’d ever want. One thing that I’ve appreciated about the GX7 is that I can add the histogram as an overlay to my main screen, and move it anywhere by grabbing and dragging it, where on the EM5, I have to toggle through screen’s to gain access to the histogram, which is larger and more accurate truth be told, but comes at the expense of other on screen information and takes up quite a bit more visual real estate. One other very handy ability of these touch capacitive screens is the ability for touch assignable AF points, or even touch AF and shutter firing when AF is achieved. I don’t like the auto firing myself, but the ability to immediately place the AF point anywhere on the screen is wonderful, and honestly, the only benefit to a Contrast Detection Auto Focusing system (vs a Phase Detection) that I can think of. For those who are annoyed by accidentally moving said AF point around by bumping into the screen, both cameras have a quick and easy on/off button accessible directly from the screen itself.
ROUND 1 – Decision:
IBIS – Split
- The Olympus 5 axis IBIS provides a smoother, more stable live view feed but surprisingly, the Panasonic did better for me with the results, handheld at very slow shutter speeds. Let us not forget that IBIS will not work in video mode on the GX7 (yet), but will on the EM5. Situational wins for both here and depending on your style and need, one or the other may be more useful.
EVF – GX7
- I have found the GX7’s EVF to be better at everything with the sole exception of bright, high contrast situations sometimes kicking in an auto correction to adjust so that it isn’t too bright in the finder (although the light meter stays accurate). The EM5 does the same thing, but not quite as egregiously. The ability to tilt plays to the overall functional superiority of the GX7’s EVF and while having it off to the side as opposed to on lens axis takes a little getting used to, I now prefer it personally.
LCD – GX7
- Higher res, truer color and more accurate touch interaction show what a year and a half of development can do.
So, with round 1 finished, I see the GX7 winning this particular portion of the battle. Now, on to Round 2 where we’ll look at build quality and ergonomics…
Read ROUND 2 HERE
The GX7 and the OMD EM5 can be seen and purchased through my B&H Photo affiliate links below, currently with 4% rewards, AND Panasonic finally wised up and is now offering a Black Kit in the US!
Thanks for the read, and stay tuned for rounds 2 and 3, as well as a comparison piece between the two Lumix 20mm pancakes, v.1 vs v.2. If you’d like, you can be alerted via email by entering your email at the top right of the page, or hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.