A quick day out with the Olympus E-M1 and the SONY a7

Started Jan 27, 2014 | Discussions thread
blue_skies Forum Pro • Posts: 11,473
Re: A quick day out with the Olympus E-M1 and the SONY a7

Daniel Wee wrote:

I had some time today and wanted to see how the E-M1 and the a7 compares in real world usage. As I only have the Carl Zeiss 35mm F2.8 on hand, I decided to use the Olympus 17mm F1.8 as a way to bring the match closer. I am aware that as far as depth of field is concerned, the Olympus translates to F3.6 in 35mm terms. Be that as it may, that was the fastest 17mm lens we can readily get so that's what I tested.

Right off the bat, let me just say that both cameras and lenses are mine so I have no vested interest in promoting one over the other. The a7 setup costs quite a bit more than the E-M1 setup, primarily because of the cost of the Carl Zeiss lens.

In terms of handling - the two feels about the same weight with the a7 possibly a little lighter. The E-M1 felt very solid in my hands and if I had to defend myself, I'd swing the E-M1 at my assailant with confidence of scoring more damage points. This is not to say that the a7 is not well built. It certainly is quite a nice camera in my hands - not uncomfortable. Yet, having both in my hands, I'd say that the E-M1 inspires just a bit more confidence in terms of build quality.

I love the fact that the a7 has the power switch just under the shutter release button. This was how I was used to having things on my Nikon, and basically allowed me to turn the camera on as I raise it up to my eyes. As everyone already knows, this is not the case with the E-M1. I had not noticed it as much but with both cameras hanging off my neck, it became quite apparent that I preferred the a7 layout for the power switch. As for the rest of the buttons and dials, I think they're probably par for the course. Both feel good and easy to switch, although I had to get used to having two dials on my thumb on the a7 (which I have set for aperture and exposure compensation.)

The E-M1 powers up just a bit faster than the a7 but in all honesty, you'd have to be splitting hairs if that little difference would influence your preference one way or another. On the other hand, the a7 wakes up from sleep more quickly. With the E-M1, I found that I had to give the release a half-press and wait a bit before the image comes back into the viewfinder. Speaking of viewfinders, both EVFs look great. I did like SONY's use of more colours and their nice level indicator. The E-M1's EVF display seems less cluttered though, whereas the a7's EVF display is littered with all kinds of indications. On the other hand, I didn't really find that it got in the way of my shooting.

Once you start shooting though, the E-M1 feels so much more responsive than the a7. The camera obeys your presses instantly and without hesitation. The a7, by comparison, takes a more leisurely pace, forcing you to be more deliberate and less instinctive in capturing an image. I found myself taking more opportunistic images with the E-M1 than with the a7. The E-M1 also does it a whole lot more quietly compared to the a7 (which is already quieter than the a7r). Nevertheless, I imagine that I could learn to like the satisfying shutter-noise of the a7. This has the additional effect of announcing to the world that you're taking a photo, causing many subjects to look up to see what was going on. The E-M1 sounded like it's getting on with business, while the a7 seems to be ambling along.

After all that work, the E-M1 battery was in better shape than the a7 battery. This is, of course, non-scientific, but after about 50-60 shots, walking around with the cameras sometimes on, sometimes off, and sometimes in sleep mode, shot mostly through the EVF, the a7 battery showed 2/3rd full, while the E-M1 battery was still full.

Okay, now for some comparison images before I finish this off. Everything was shot in RAW mode and processed in Lightroom 5.3. I did tweak the images to my own liking (high contrast, high saturation) so please forgive me if that was excessive. While I shot at ISO100 (and some ISO125 on the a7) mostly, I found that I had to add some NR to the E-M1 photos since I had it turned OFF in-camera. The a7 didn't need this but I had the NR set to LOW in-camera rather than OFF. I also had to desaturate the red channel on some of the E-M1 photos as I found the reds to be too strong with my current settings.











I have more comparison shots but I think I'll just stop here for now. The colours can always be tweaked to one's own preference. I found the exposure of the E-M1 to be a bit high with center-weighted mode and had to dial in a -0.7EV on most of the shots. It also had a tendency to blow the highlights more (possibly due to it being used with ISO100) while the a7 exhibited much better dynamic range and held the highlights better in high-contrast situations.

Where the lenses are concerned, I must say that the 17mm F1.8 performed admirably. I would be quite happy to go with the DoF offered by it as I would with the Carl Zeiss. Since this was pretty much shot in daylight, I didn't have any problems with AF nor with the lack of IBIS (SONY calls theirs OSS) on the a7.

I was pleasantly surprised at how well the E-M1 held up against the full-frame a7. The a7 does perform very well in its own regard - nice colours, good AWB, EVF, DR, and of course, sharpness. At the same time, I don't feel like I'm suddenly transported into a whole new league with the a7. In many situations, the E-M1 would have been the better camera to use, while for critical image quality, I might resort to the a7.

Of course, one would expect a bit more from the a7 given how much more you pay for the overall setup. the a7r costs even more and has slower max. shutter speed, flash sync, etc. On the other hand, the a7 seems to suffer from some internal sensor reflections. I've not seen this happen and in shots with the sky, the 17mm flared (possibly due to not having any lens hood attached) while the 35mm held steady. I'm looking forward to see what both Olympus and SONY come up with next. Both the E-M1 and a7 are impressive cameras that I don't think anyone would be too disappointed with.

Nice write-up and images, and some insightful comments. I agree with your conclusion.

I would have shot the A7 at f/3.5 to get a closer (equivalence) match between the two cameras. And the setup could be more similar - as a photographer you quickly learn what works best on your particular model - differences get highlighted in comparisons.

At low ISO, and equivalent apertures (f/1.8 on Oly, f/3.5 on Sony), I would expect near identical results. Because the M1 has IBIS and the A7 (with the FE35) does not, you should be able to keep the M1 images sharp at longer exposure and lower noise levels. With the A7, you'll want to use a faster shutter speed, which, imho, makes the cameras more or less equivalent at low ISO.

Of course, as you pointed this out, the A7 images can be down sampled to M1 levels, which is a pro for the A7.

The A7 gives more in terms of resolution, (faster equivalent) aperture, shallow/creative DOF control, and full FOV with a plethora of adapted lenses.

The M1 gives more in terms of ease-of-use (AF, DOF, IS), handling speed, and lens-compactness.

There is a plethora of additional pros and cons.

Generally, I see people being more successful in getting sharp images from M1/m43 than from A7/FF formats. Each shot on FF is work - the casual shots that I have seen (and taken) do not work for me, but a shot taken with care wows.

I moved to the A7 mainly for social shooting - indoors, friends & family. I can get much better shots with the A7, and I can manage the more shallow DOF. Outdoors, I am still on the fence - I find the A7 (and the M1) a rather large camera, and I liked having a tiny compact bag prior - I may keep the Nex (don't have smaller m43 cameras) just for that purpose.

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