High End P&S versus Micro Four Thirds

High End P&S versus Micro Four Thirds

Olympus E-PM1 versus Olympus XZ-1

The question often comes up for users as to whether they should buy a good point and shoot camera or a micro four thirds camera.  The threads often say the same information but there's often not examples to back it up.  I own both the Olympus E-PM1 with kit lens and the Olympus XZ-1 so I though I would compare and contrast them with some sample images so people can see for themselves.

Note: this is an informal set of tests so I shot handheld and attempted to get the same shot.  The cameras were allowed to choose the settings they wanted in P mode unless noted.  All are JPEGs straight from the camera unless otherwise noted.

 Usage:

Both cameras are quite easy to use and are similar in operation.  You can use the Super Control Panel (SCP) on either camera (after enabling it in the menus) and get to most of the good settings quickly.  The XZ-1 actually has a mode dial, while the E-PM1 does mode settings from within the menu interface.

The XZ-1 has the control ring around the lens, which is a definite plus and works very well and is intuitive.  It changes ISO in P mode, aperture in A mode and shutter speed in S mode.  The E-PM1 ring on the back of they body can perform similar functions but is much smaller and less precise.  It's easy to jump settings until you get used to it.

 Both can use the VF2 or VF3 viewfinders which can really help when composing in bright sunlight (which I have lots of here in Arizona).  It's also great for the long zooms on the E-PM1!

One thing I really like about the XZ-1 is the fact that the battery charges when it's plugged in to the USB port.   So after downloading all the pictures from the day and processing and sorting them, the battery is charged and ready to go again.  Seems like this would have been easy to do on the m4/3 cameras as well!

Focus Speed:

The E-PM1 is very fast indeed.  It is nearly instant and fairly accurate on what it chooses to focus on.  You can also set your focus box where-ever you like and even change the size of the focus box. (Though figuring out how to do so from the manual will make your brain hurt.  Search the forums instead!)  I personally use the SA-MF setting so that I can also turn the manual focus ring to fine tune the focus if the camera is "getting it wrong" like when shooting through a chain fence at the zoo.


The XZ-1 is no slouch either.  It is definitely the fastest focusing of any P&S I have used.  It has kept up with our very active 5 year old.

Zoom:

Both cameras start at 28mm equivalent (which from now on I will use for easier comparisons).  The E-PM1 tops out at 84mm and the XZ-1 has a bit more reach at 112mm.

E-PM1 fully zoomed out (28mm) XZ-1 fully zoomed out (28mm)
E-PM1 fully zoomed in (84mm) XZ-1 fully zoomed in (114mm)
E-PM1 with Panasonic 100-300 at 300mm (600mm)

General Shooting:

I enjoy using both cameras.  They both generate please images without a lot of effort.

E-PM1 XZ-1
E-PM1 XZ-1
E-PM1 XZ-1

Bokeh:

With the kit lens on the E-PM1, I was a bit surprised to see the XZ-1 with nicer Bokeh!  If you put a nice fast prime on the E-PM1 it is no contest, but as they come out of the box I was happier with the XZ-1's performance!

E-PM1 XZ-1

Low Light:

Here it's fairly close.  The XZ-1 lens is much much faster.  The E-PM1 can push ISO higher safely (1600 vs 400).  The 2 advantages basically cancel each other out.  But if you don't know to bump the ISO on the E-PM1 or if your auto-iso is set too low, then the XZ-1 does a better job "out of the box".

This is a dark corner of the parking garage.  There is no direct lighting here.

E-PM1 at ISO 200. Shutter speed is too low and IBIS was off, so camera shake prevails. XZ-1 at default settings (ISO 200) came out a little dark, but is sharp and clear and was easily lightened in Picasa.
E-PM1 at ISO 1600. Now it's usable. 800 probably would have been fine here as well XZ-1 with about 25% fill light in Picasa
E-PM1 with Panasonic 25mm@1.4 (50mm)

RAW:

Both cameras can shoot in RAW.  I'm not doing a comparison of RAW capabilities here as this article is mainly focused on point and shoot upgraders who probably will not care to do RAW processing.  That said, I personally did shoot RAW in both cameras and you can definitely get more performance out of both cameras.  Even with the XZ-1 in some cases I was able to push the ISO to 1000 and clean it up decently to get a shot I could not have otherwise. 

I've had good results in increasing the dynamic range of my E-PM1 by processing the same picture twice and pushing one up for the shadows and pulling the other down for the highlights, then merging them together afterwards.  It's like a single photo mild HDR effect.

Original picture Used Olympus viewer 2 to push one exposure up for the foreground trees and front of the church and pulled another down and fixed the color for the sky. Then merged with GIMP (a freeware photoshop-like program)

If you do go above ISO 400 with the XZ-1, then you do want to shoot RAW and at least process in Olympus Viewer 2 by changing the noise reduction from standard (which is heavy handed and smears) down to low which comes out quite nice.  It's a shame they don't allow you to chose that as a setting for JPeg only shooters!

XZ-1 iso 1000 shot taken on a rocking boat in a very dark ride!

Macro:

No comparison images here, but the E-PM1 by default doesn't really do macro.  You can get a macro only lens like the Panasonic 45mm or the upcoming 65mm Olympus.  Also the 12-50mm Olympus kit lens has a Macro mode which is decent.

The XZ-1 however has a macro and super macro mode.  You can get really close to what you are trying to take and get quite detailed images with a very short focus distance.  Sometimes in super macro the lens is nearly touching the subject!

XZ-1 in macro mode

Flash:

The XZ-1 flash is built-in, but you have to press a button to pop it up. The E-PM1 flash is a clip on unit, so you have to either leave it on or get it out when you use it.  They are both decent flashes.  Both cameras have a lot of control over the flash and allow for setting reduced flash output down to 1/64.

Also, both cameras can control an FL300R (or similar) flash unit that is off the camera via remote triggering.  This is great for control of the lighting and getting a side flash can really make a flash picture look natural and not harsh.  Even just using the FL300R on camera and bouncing can be a great help.

Video:

The video of the XZ-1 is a sore spot.  It is just barely acceptable.  Because of the fast lens and shallow depth of field the video often hunts for focus which makes the video unusable.  You can do a couple of workarounds to get past this.  You can set the focusing only to the center box and that greatly reduces hunting.  Or you can snap a photo (for initial focus) then switch to manual focus mode, then start videoing. 

The E-PM1 is much better at video, but you want to turn the stabilization off or you get a "jello effect" because of a digital video stabilization routine.  Personally I got the Panasonic 14-45 lens with OIS built into the lens and use that when videoing.  It really works well.  If you wanted stabilized video "out of the box" then a Panasonic camera (with a stabilized 14-42 kit lens) is a better choice.

Conclusion:

I've said it many times and I'll say it again.   If you are not going to change lenses, then you will not see much benefit in a micro four thirds camera versus the high end P&S offerings.  In most cases the XZ-1 is close enough or better than the m4/3 camera. So unless you need the faster focus or the improvement in dynamic range, the XZ-1 will deliver in a smaller package.

But as soon as you put on new lenses, the m4/3 really comes to life.  You can see it a bit in the above images, but at a $1100 increase in system cost for the Panasonic 100-300 and 25mm lenses. 

The Panasonic 100-300 zoom gives you DSLR style reach in still quite a small package.   The Panasonic 25mm or 20mm  or Olympus 12mm excel at low light shots at the wider lengths.   And now the Oly 45mm or Oly 75mm make great portrait lenses.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions held by dpreview.com or any affiliated companies.

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Comments

Total comments: 24
baxters
By baxters (Apr 13, 2013)

Nice report, and I fully agree owing both the XZ1 and EPM1.

My XZ1 can even keep up with my EM5 with the 14-42 II on many static indoor scenes. The F1.8 capability is really nice.

0 upvotes
PC Wheeler
By PC Wheeler (Mar 24, 2013)

I prefer carrying my Canon G15 vs. a small m4/3 (I have a large GH3 and lenses to match).

G15 has a 28-140 f/1.8-2.8 lens and gives very usable results up to ISO 800

0 upvotes
mpgxsvcd
By mpgxsvcd (Jan 3, 2013)

You stated that the XZ-1 has "shallow depth of field the video often hunts for focus which makes the video unusable". However, the XZ-1 has a 35mm equivalent F8.5-F11.8 range.

The micro four thirds cameras with the 14-42mm lens have a slightly shallower depth of field equivalent of F7-F11.2. Neither of those is actually shallow though.

Something like the Canon G1X has an equivalent 35mm Focal ratio of F5.2-F10.7 with respect to depth of field. That is fairly shallow at the wide end in comparison.

2 upvotes
lucavascon
By lucavascon (Dec 8, 2012)

Small, well written article that depicts a very common problem. Well done!
I agree with many that things are moving fast, that given truths about sensors, AF and lenses is more liquid than we are brought to think.
But your article is containing some things that are to be spotted out as always relevant.
The enthusiast compact camera ( a well done and intelligent one, like the XZ-1) really HAS some selling point over any other cmparably priced camera. Size, easiness of handling and closed system, added to entry-level-reflex quite comparable results in "most common situations" gives a reason to own it.
When taking pictures is more than taking memories, when you use the camera to take the picture you do have in mind, you do want a really flexible tool. And in my opinion Micro 4/3 is the best compromise mirrorless avaliable now. And for a slr downgrader it substitutes the hi end PS!
I do own fullframe reflex and EPL1- EPL5, no more PS for me! :-)

0 upvotes
homepics
By homepics (Nov 9, 2012)

The colors in the XZ-1 are more exaggerated than in the PEN. The colors in the PEN seem to look more like what I would expect the colors actually looked like. What color setting was the XZ-1 set to? Thanks

0 upvotes
Ad B
By Ad B (Sep 7, 2012)

Hi,
nice comparison, but...
If you make a comparison in August 2012, please don't use cameras from Januari 2011 and July 2011.
I understand you have those two cams, but you had to do this in 2011.
Now it was better to compare the OM-D with ??.

1 upvote
Kevdog
By Kevdog (Sep 7, 2012)

Very few P&S upgraders will go straight to an OM-D. The DSLR downsizers, yes...

Yes, they are the cams I had and yes I should have done last year, though I only got the E-PM1 a bit earlier this year and only got a kit lens last month. (I use the Pany 14-45 on mine. My wife has the 14-42 kit lens on the one we just bought her).

However, the comparison is still valid today. The XZ-1 is still one of the top P&S cameras and the E-PM1 is a common m4/3 upgrade and very similar to the GF3 (which a friend has).

Comment edited 33 seconds after posting
2 upvotes
Michael_13
By Michael_13 (Feb 24, 2013)

@Ad:
1. This is a review by a forum member, not dpr staff.
2. The results about handling & lens behavior are still valid with current models.
3. Both cameras are still available at VERY attractive price levels.

My conclusion: Great little review for someone who hunts for great pictures and not the latest "gear".

4 upvotes
mofidi
By mofidi (Sep 2, 2012)

appreciat for your great comparison it was a dillema for me to choos xz1 or micro4/3and you help me out im an amature and enjoy pictures with high quality now think that xz1 will satisfy me

0 upvotes
dondon cagayan de oro
By dondon cagayan de oro (Sep 2, 2012)

I appreciate the article. It's nice.

Thanks for posting.

0 upvotes
MrScorpio
By MrScorpio (Aug 25, 2012)

No offense, but what a strange and, in my view, irrelevant article.
The whole point with an interchangeable lens system is just that. The lenses!
This is like comparing a motorbike and a bicycle without considering that one of them has an engine...
Someone who will not change lenses and does not have the ambition to understand even the basics of photography is of course better off with a point and shoot.
To me this article was more or less useless. But again... No offense, I was just very surprised.

0 upvotes
Kevdog
By Kevdog (Aug 26, 2012)

You'd be surprised how often it comes up on the forums if someone should get a m4/3 or a good P&S.

Also, outside of these forums there are lots and lots of people who only have the kit lens and never go any farther. They'll pay $400 or so for a camera, but balk at another $300+ for a better lens.

My wife was even skeptical of the lenses, until she started seeing the limitations of the 45-200. We got the 100-300 for $500 and she now knows it's worth paying for a good lens. She likes the m4/3 so much that we bought her a 2nd E-PM1 and now my XZ-1 is up for sale. But until then the XZ-1 was plenty for her.

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
14 upvotes
cadet stimpy
By cadet stimpy (Sep 6, 2012)

Agreed - many folks will only ever use kit lens - article is relevant.

2 upvotes
Ben O Connor
By Ben O Connor (Aug 21, 2012)

The artical is a good answer to a very common question. There two words i wish to add this:

1- P&S cameras accessories are also more economical than any Mirrorless camera (Straps, grips, underwater housings.. etc)

2- All of the P&S cameras has built in flash. But beginner mirrorless cameras has semi-accessory flash, which you may not be with you always. Adjusting flash power also allowes to have decent shots, without leaving any details.

0 upvotes
logbi77
By logbi77 (Aug 21, 2012)

Low light test:
"Here it's fairly close. The XZ-1 lens is much much faster. The E-PM1 can push ISO higher safely (1600 vs 400). The 2 advantages basically cancel each other out. "

The bike photo of the XZ-1 according to the EXIF data is at ISO 200, which is why I think it is darker than the E-PM1, not the intended ISO 400 that was written in the article.

0 upvotes
Kevdog
By Kevdog (Aug 21, 2012)

The bike photo on the XZ-1 is ISO 100 (I added that annotation to the picture). In the statement above I was stating how much you could safely push the ISO before you have to worry about the picture quality falling apart. Above ISO 400 on the XZ-1 it is hit and miss. You might get lucky or you might have a noisy photo.

0 upvotes
logbi77
By logbi77 (Aug 22, 2012)

Oh, okay then. Understood.

But one more question.

How come when I check the EXIF data with EXIF viewer add-on from firefox, it shows that the XZ-1 photo is taken at ISO 200? Did I miss something?

Anyway, this is a very useful article so props for that.

0 upvotes
Kevdog
By Kevdog (Aug 22, 2012)

Fixed. Looks like I posted the ISO200 shot when I thought I had posted the 100 shot!

And thanks!

0 upvotes
grapher
By grapher (Aug 21, 2012)

One thing about the flash is different:
The XZ-1 cannot control the FL-300R in remote. The flash will fire, but at full power. The XZ-1 can control the FL-36R and the FL-600R in remote. The E-PM1 can control the FL-300R in remote. Heaven knows why Oly choose to disable the remote function in the XZ-1/FL-300R combination, it is such a pity!

0 upvotes
joe6pack
By joe6pack (Aug 21, 2012)

Thanks for the comprehensive review!

One thing about the XZ-1 that really bothers me which you have shown in your bicycle example is that XZ-1 in-door photos are consistently darker. I wasn't at the scene so I don't know which one's metering is more accurate but it appears XZ-1 is "cheating" by using a shorter shutter speed to give an impression that its lens is fast. e.g. instead of 1/20 it should have used, it uses 1/40.

0 upvotes
Kevdog
By Kevdog (Aug 21, 2012)

Ironically the XZ-1 pictures are more true to life. It is really dark in that corner. But you can just bump up the exposure compensation a little to brighten it up a bit.

0 upvotes
grapher
By grapher (Aug 21, 2012)

The metering of the XZ-1 is a little darker and more to my taste. I had the E-PL2 and frequently had blown highlights, which is seldom on the XZ-1.

0 upvotes
joe6pack
By joe6pack (Aug 21, 2012)

It is good to know that XZ-1 is more true to life. But I still think the brighter image on the E-PEN offers more options for post-processing. It also means that you can reduce the EV and use a lower ISO for a cleaner pic.

0 upvotes
BolinCartest
By BolinCartest (Nov 4, 2012)

Hi, i think Olympus updated firmware for XZ 1 so that the metering would be better. Check their site.

0 upvotes
Total comments: 24