Preliminary GX7 vs EM1 comparison

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jalywol
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Preliminary GX7 vs EM1 comparison
4 months ago

My GX7 arrived today, so I eagerly unboxed it and looked it over. It's a good size, and it handles well, but my sample had a (very) crooked EVF! The actual external EVF mechanism sits on the camera just fine, but when you look into the viewfinder, the entire interior is at an angle, with the left side higher than the right by several degrees. So, whether I decide to keep the camera or not, this particular GX7 is going back as defective.

Now, that being said, I did set it up and gave it a brief trial run. Early impressions are as follows:

Externally, the camera sits in hand well. I could see the right strap holder becoming a bit annoying, so I would probably remove the triangular part and just use the camera lug for my wrist strap. Whether or not anyone else finds this an issue, of course, will vary depending on how big their hands are and how they hold the grip.

The buttons have a nice clicky feedback feel to them. I prefer Panasonic ergonomics to Oly, so I felt at home with the camera controls almost immediately, and found them very easy to adjust to. I may also be the only person on the planet who prefers to use the click rear wheel for aperture AND exposure compensation, rather than front and rear wheels, so it was nice to have that option on this camera. (I was well trained in that by the GH2 and still really like it set up that way).

I do prefer the Panasonic LCD to the one on the Oly. They are both quite good, but subjectively, I found the Panasonic just a little nicer looking in use. On the other hand, the EVF on the EM1 flat out blows the EVF on the GX7 totally out of the water. The GX7 EVF colors are not accurate, and, due to the 16 x 9 aspect ratio, it appears to have a much smaller field of view than the EM1 one. For the first few minutes, the rainbow effect really bothered me, but then either my brain adjusted to it or it warmed up and improved, so either way, I did not find that to be a problem after using it for a while. However, with the GX7, I would expect to be using the LCD much more than the EVF vs the other way around on the EM1. Oh, and one other small complaint...the way the eyecup is designed, my eyelashes hit the edge of the eyecup and the glass of the viewfinder. I would imagine the optional larger eyecup would take care of that, so if I end up keeping the GX7, I will definitely order one of those.

As a left-eye viewer, the EVF was fine where it was, and it sticks out from the body enough to keep face oil off the LCD. The tip of my nose might have contacted the LCD, however, I will have to check that again. Either way, not a big issue for me.

Overall, I found it handled all my lenses well, and is enough lighter in hand than the EM1 that it is just under my own "clunky" weight threshold for feeling that the camera is too hefty. In other words, I preferred the GX7 weight to that of the EM1, and I like how the base of the camera sits against my palm better than how the EM1 sits in the same spot (I think the Panasonic has more rounded lower edges...if you have bigger hands than mine, I doubt whether you would even notice this).

In terms of performance:

In normal daylight indoor shooting (ISO 400, shutter speed around 100, average), I found that the two cameras seemed to be comparable in terms of time to focus acquisition. The only advantage I noticed was that the Oly locked focus sooner and better with the PL 45mm macro lens...it definitely had less hunting on the EM1 before it locked. I have not done a low light focusing comparison yet (on other lenses), although if history is any predictor, it would not surprise me if the GX7 did better there (but that is total conjecture, and I might be wrong).

As to the GX7 IBIS...it is not really even close to the IBIS on the EM1. Of course, Oly's 5 axis IBIS is sort of a miracle worker at ultra slow shutter speeds, so that's not a total surprise. I would have to give the comparison a more rigorous test to see the actual degrees of difference across the shutter speed range, and I have not done that, so take my personal experience here as just an anecdotal opinion after a brief trial with the camera.

Shutter sound on the GX7 is louder than the EM1, and has a bit of a "snickity" sound to it. It's not offensive, just a bit more pronounced, and I sort of liked it. Of course, the GX7 does have the electronic shutter, which appears to work very well (for static subjects, of course), and I could see using it rather a lot when taking slower speed photos of landscape and flowers with the macro and the 100-300mm in particular.

In terms of IQ:

Very simply: If you use RAW, even though the images may have different color/contrast/brightness OOC, a few small tweaks can make them look just about identical.

Olympus has, overall, a punchier look out of camera, with darker blacks and overall higher contrast. The Panasonic does not generate that kind of punch out of the box, so if you want it, you have to tweak it in in PP. However, once you do, it is just about impossible to tell the output of one from the other. The thought has crossed my mind that these two sensors may actually be more than a little bit related....I have no proof of that, of course, but it would not surprise me if the technology behind the GX7 sensor is what is being used as the template for the EM1 sensor....

I do think, the way that Panasonic has their output set up, that it may be a bit easier to blow highlights on the GX7 than the EM1, especially in JPG (of course).

As you go up in ISO, the Panasonic tends to have a little bit more chroma noise (not much, what there is is not pronounced and is easily removed if you find it necessary). However, I think the higher ISO detail is better in the Panasonic. (Remember, we are talking about subtle differences here, not big ones). I also find the grain pattern on the Panasonic to be more pleasing to me than that on the EM1.

In terms of color rendition:

I find the blue/green color rendering of the Panasonic to be a bit more true than that of the Olympus. This is pretty typical for Panasonic output, and it is consistent with their tradition. The reds are very good, but I think the Panasonic tends a little more to the magenta and the Oly a little more to the orange. This is JPG, of course, and once you move into RAW, what differences there are are actually very easily adjusted. As I said, you can get the files from both of these cameras to look just about identical with minor RAW tweaking.... I can't tell you, though, how the Panasonic does on skin tones, but I would suspect that the Oly does better with them, since that is one of their absolute strengths. (I have not taken any people shots with the Panasonic yet, unfortunately).

Fine detail is equivalent. Oly handles some of its fine detail processing differently than Panasonic, and you can see that if you look at blindingly large pixel peep size images, but the kind of differences we are talking about here are just miniscule.

So...moral of the story? Both are really good cameras. I am going to exchange this GX7 for a non-defective one and do some more testing before I decide.... I find the GX7 a little more user friendly in terms of its interface, so if, on further work with it, I find it will give me equivalent results to the EM1, and if I can get used to the less wonderful EVF, I may end up with it as my primary camera. Jury is definitely still out, though, as they are really remarkably close in performance and I need to try them in more demanding situations before I can make a final decision.

-J

Two shots taken a few minutes apart, both with the 100-300mm lens, and both given just enough PP to get the colors and contrast equivalent. (The angle of the sunlight was just a touch different on her face/ear between the two shots). No extra sharpening or NR was applied to either, just brightness/contrast and color balance were adjusted (I think these were JPGs, NR at lowest level in camera for both and the rest of the settings at zero in camera).

Olympus E-M1 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7
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