E-M1 vs. A7 usage update

Started Feb 11, 2014 | Discussions thread
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Daniel Wee
Daniel Wee Contributing Member • Posts: 537
E-M1 vs. A7 usage update

Recently, I posted some comparisons between my Olympus E-M1 and the newly acquired SONY A7. There, both cameras held up in IQ with the edge going slightly to the A7, while the E-M1 shone in terms of usability. It wasn't meant to be a scientific comparison but the sort of user experience report that some of us here might like. I realized that many, like myself, are attracted to the SONY A7 and wonder what the differences would be like, hence those posts.

I have been shooting with both cameras extensively over the last several weeks and would like to present a bit of update to my user experience. Going around with both cameras and their respective lenses in my bag had been a real hassle but I could not make up my mind as to which camera to leave behind. First off, the two cameras are very different in use. The E-M1 is fast, reliable, responsive, and will get you the shot. In a pinch, if I was shooting anything that involved some action or vigorous movement - the E-M1 would be the camera of choice. This is further bolstered by the wide selection of lenses available to the m4/3 system. I have my Olympus 75mm f/1.8 which produces beautiful photos and gives me good reach. I also have the immesely versatile (if a little heavy) Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8. In a pinch, you just can't beat this zoom - sharp at 12mm and really convenient at 40mm. AF was spot-on, every time. The camera just doesn't hesitate or hunt, it just fires away. Up to ISO1600, which is the normal limit for my shooting, it just isn't too much behind the A7. The IBIS is an added bonus that one tends to forget when shooting, a sign of how good it is - it just works.

Umbrellas, Olympus 75mm

The A7, on the other hand, has great dynamic range. For some reason, I find a lot more latitude with the ARW raws than with the ORF raws. Now, this could be due to my work flow and technique, but for my normal use - it would appear that the A7 output is a bit easier to work with. The colours are really beautiful too, and in particular - the reds are not too strong like they are with the E-M1 (when used with LR5.3). It shoots down to ISO50 and you can get very clean photos if you need a tripod. The AF is nowhere near the level of the E-M1, both in speed and accuracy. It works, but tends to hunt under certain conditions, and isn't as fast. Ergonomically it isn't too bad either, and after a while, even the shutter sound doesn't seem as loud. I suspect it sounded most jarring when I first heard it after being so used to the very quiet shutter on the E-M1. The A7 is very light, and the combination with the FE35 feels lighter than the E-M1 with the Olympus 17mm f/1.8.


The SONY A7 has some downsides going for it at the moment. The lack of fast AF, native FE lenses, for example. The FE55 and FE35 are fantastic lenses, to be honest. They're super sharp, contrasty, and produce nice colours. Unfortunately, right now, that's pretty much all you have by way of native FE primes that auto-focuses. This is compounded by the fact that these lenses are really expensive, easily twice what you might pay for an similar m4/3 lens. Fortunately, it lends itself wonderfully to MF legacy lenses. There, with a suitable adapter, you have a huge range of lenses. It has also been plagued by sensor reflections, softness in the ultra-wide angle photos, relatively short battery life (just bring more with you), and lately - light leaks from the mount, to mention a few of the issues.

To be fair, no camera is perfect and neither is the E-M1. The problems with long-exposure noise, erratic dial response, tendency to expose on the bright side (some may actually prefer this, especially the ETTR group), laggy displays, poor peaking function implementation (laggy), the strong reds, to mention a few. Nevertheless, the E-M1 inspires a lot of confidence in your hands. It is my "go to" camera for most purposes. The A7, in contrast, is a more arty type of camera. It encourages me to use MF, take time to compose a shot, think more about how the depth-of-field would look like, etc. Exposures are usually spot-on. It's the camera that I reach for on a lazy day or for taking stills and slow moving objects. It's the art camera, if you like, for more controlled shooting conditions. The E-M1 is no slouch either - it can produce really arty shots as well. It's super-responsiveness, though, tends to encourage me to shoot before I have considered the image as much.

So, here I am, left with the dilemma of which camera to leave behind when I go shooting. The E-M1 is probably a better choice, simply because of the range it offers, from close focus to tele, you've got it all in a nice, responsive, and great looking (I like it anyway) camera that fits into my hands. I know that with the E-M1, I will not miss my shots. On the other hand, there is a certain something about using the SONY A7 that keeps me shooting with it, even with all the shortcomings that have been mentioned. Frankly, I can't wait to see what the A8 or A9 will be like when they put in (hopefully) a better AF system (since SONY obviously knows how to make a good one, such as on the NEX-7), fix some of the design flaws (sensor reflection, light leaks, etc.), maybe roll in a decent time-lapse function, an even more ergonomic body, and an expanded family of lenses. Such a camera will surely be a winner in my book.

For the moment, the SONY A7 seems more like a luxury - a really nice one - but a luxury nonetheless. The Olympus E-M1 has a really compelling set of features, and instills confidence in your hands. If you have money burning a hole in your pocket, the A7, in addition to the E-M1, could be a fun addition. I would be hard-pressed to use it as my only camera for my style of shooting. Olympus got so many things right with the E-M1 that it's hard to imagine how they're going to top it in the successor. (Probably more reliable dials, even nicer EVF, better sensor - lower noise, more DR, even better IBIS, fix the (alleged) SS issue, etc.) With a bit of tweaking, you should have no problems getting the same subtleties (or close) with the E-M1 as with the A7.

Olympus 75mm

Voigtlander 28mm f/2 on SONY A7

 Daniel Wee's gear list:Daniel Wee's gear list
Olympus C-2000 Zoom Nikon D70 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 Sony Alpha a7S Sony Alpha a7 II +13 more
Olympus E-M1 Sony Alpha a7 Sony Alpha NEX-7
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