Which mirrorless in 2015 – Sony full frame or Olympus OM-D?

Written by Gary on June 8th, 2015

Mirrorless cameras are fast becoming THE camera type of the future thanks to the removal of the mirror which is holding back dSLR cameras from the many benefits of the new EVF world – in particular, the every increasing technological changes which in nearly all aspects have addressed the benefits of an optical viewfinder while adding in so many other benefits.

But which mirrorless camera system to buy?

I am going to discount the Nikon 1 system as the sensor is really too small for enthusiasts wanting a good compromise in size vs image quality vs shallow DOF.

For simplicity, I am also going to discount the APS-C cropped sensor systems (eg. Sony NEX, Fuji, Samsung) as they generally have larger lenses and very few are well designed for the cropped sensor cameras, and really, if you are going to have the larger lenses, you may as well go the whole hog and get a full frame camera. That said, many may find these cameras give them the compromise they need, particularly, the Fuji X system with their very nice lenses such as their 56mm f/1.2 portrait lens.

That leaves us with compact, light, less expensive, Micro Four Thirds 2x crop sensor cameras (Panasonic, Olympus, Kodak and Black Magic cameras) vs the relatively new Sony NEX FX cameras.

Micro Four Thirds vs Sony FX mirrorless:

The main reasons to consider paying all that extra money and carrying heavier, larger cameras and lenses for a full frame system include:

  • more capabilities of achieving even shallower depth of field – perhaps 1-2 stops more shallow
  • ability to use full frame lenses at their native field of view
  • some niche $2000-$3000 lens options only available in full frame as yet, such as 17mm tilt-shift, 14mm f/2.8 ultra-wide capable of taking filters, 24mm f/1.4, 35mm f/1.4, 50mm f/1.2, 85mm f/1.2
  • access to higher resolution sensors to allow even larger prints
  • access to sensors with even better high ISO performance

But these Sony full frame cameras come at a cost:

  • larger and heavier kits
  • more expensive cameras and lenses
  • images are generally less sharp away from the centre
  • very small range of dedicated AF lenses
  • current lenses generally have poor close focus limits and smaller apertures compared to Olympus options
  • shallow depth of field is often your enemy
  • high resolution images will generally require use of a tripod
  • high resolution sensor cameras create much larger RAW file sizes and use up more space on memory cards and your hard drives
  • range of camera options is much narrower
  • less hand holdable telephoto reach
  • equivalent telephoto reach lenses are MUCH bigger, heavier, more expensive and require tripods
  • only one Sony camera has 5 axis in-body image stabilisation and it is not as effective as the Olympus OM-D/PEN implementation
  • none of them can compete with the video image stabilisation of the Olympus OM-D E-M5 II
  • none of them will allow 1/3rd sec sharp hand held wide angle shots such as the Olympus cameras – eg. night time or when using ND400 10x filters in bright sun for blurred water effects
  • none will allow hand held night urban shots with adequate depth of field (compared to the Olympus OM-D’s and lenses such as 12mm f/2.0)
  • none of them have the handy functions of the Olympus cameras such as 60sec timed exposures, Live TIME, Live Composite exposures
  • each of the 3 current Sony FX cameras have gotchas which may prevent one from achieving what is hoped for:
    • ergonomics are not quite there
    • shutters are very noisy
    • the LCD screens are not touch sensitive
    • no timelapse recording
    • the Sony a7R 36mp camera has poor image quality at certain shutter speeds as one cannot use an electronic 1st shutter and thus is subject to shutter shake, no in-body IS, and only has 25 CDAF points and no PDAF, while flash sync is a miserable 1/160th sec while burst rate is a slow 4fps but would make a great landscape camera
    • the Sony a7S 12mp “low light”/”video” camera has RAW compression artefact issues, poor dynamic range, low resolution, no in-body IS, and only has 25 CDAF points and no PDAF, while burst rate is only 5fps but does make a great low light video camera
    • the Sony a7II 24mp camera finally has in-body IS, and PDAF with good dynamic range, but noise at high ISO, and only 5fps but does provide a way of image stabilising those Canon and Nikon prime lenses whilst retaining full frame characteristics although you do lose fast AF.

Let’s compare the Olympus OM-D E-M5 II vs Sony a7II:

These are relatively close in functionality, both offering IBIS, WiFi, weathersealing and similar resolution.

Olympus OM-D E-M5II Sony a7II
Price at Amazon.com $US999 $US1698
Weight 417g 600g
Size 124mm x 85mm x 44.5mm 127 x 96 x 60 mm
EVF eye sensor auto switching issues with eye sensor auto switching
LCD screen articulating touch screen not touch sensitive
HD video awesome image stabilisation 50Mbps 1080 50/60p better video quality but IS not as good
Burst rate 11fps 5fps
Top panel dual dial + 2×2 system Yes No
AF fast 81pt CDAF (need E-M1 for PDAF) 25pt CDAF, 117pt PDAF
Hi-Res mode Yes, 40mp No
Live BULB, Live TIME, Live Composite, 60sec timed, Live Boost EVF Yes No
Sweep panorama Individual shots stitched Yes
Auto hand held HDR Yes No
“14-28mm” pro lens 7-14mm (14-28mm) f/2.8, 534g, 106mm long, 0.2m close focus, no filter, MF clutch, $US1299 16-35mm f/4, 518g, 99mm long, 0.28m close focus, 72mm filter, OSS, no MF clutch, less sharp, distortion and CA worse, $US1348
“24-70mm” pro lens 12-40mm (24-80mm) f/2.8, 382g, 84mm long, 0.2m close focus, 62mm filter, MF clutch, $US740 24-70mm f/4, 426g, 95mm long, 0.4m close focus, 67mm filter, OSS, no MF clutch, very soft away from centre, complex distortion, $US925
“70-200mm” pro lens 40-150mm (80-200mm) f/2.8, 760g, 160mm long, 0.7m close focus, 72mm filter, MF clutch, $US1399, opt. 1.4x converter 70-200mm f/4, 840g, 175mm long, 1-1.5m close focus, 72mm filter, OSS, no MF clutch, no teleconverter, soft corners even stopped down, $US1498
“50mm” standard prime lens 25mm (50mm) f/1.8, 136g, 41mm long, 0.24m close focus, 46mm filter, $US349 (also other options such as Leica-D 25mm f/1.4) 55mm f/1.8, 281g, 64mm long, 0.5m close focus, 49mm filter, excellent optics, shallower DOF, but poor close focus and expensive $US998

Just look at those 3 main zoom lenses, the Olympus zooms offer better edge-to-edge sharpness, less distortions, substantially better close focus, and extra stop of light which partly addresses the shallow DOF and high ISO capabilities of the Sony full frame sensor, whilst being less expensive and offering the lovely manual focus clutch, and for the telephoto, the option of a 1.4x teleconverter.

The Sony zoom lenses being f/4 to allow a more compact, lighter and affordfable solution than the usual f/2.8 full frame lenses does not get you into the comfort zone shallow depth of field full frame f/2.8 zoom lenses and thus would miss the mark for portrait, fashion and wedding photographers who really do need the f/2.8 aperture.

Not only that, but Micro Four Thirds offer over 40 dedicated AF lenses in their system, while Sony only have 6 to date, and none of these are fisheye (let alone f/1.8 fisheye as with the Olympus), only 2 primes, and no macro lens. Micro Four Thirds has some lovely, compact lenses optimised for fast CDAF such as:

  • 8mm f/1.8 fisheye
  • 12mm f/2.0
  • 17mm f/1.8
  • 20mm f/1.7 pancake
  • 25mm f/1.4 or f/1.8
  • 42.5mm f/1.2
  • 45mm f/1.8
  • 60mm f/2.8 1:1 macro
  • 75mm f/1.8 (my favorite)

Olympus will also be bringing out their much anticipated 300mm f/4 super telephoto which will give hand holdable 600/840mm telephoto reach impossible to obtain on the Sony system as it would require a 600mm lens and they are big, heavy and expensive, and NONE are optimised for CDAF and face detection AF as the Olympus will be.

In addition, a 0.72x focal reducer on an Olympus OM-D combined with a Canon EF 135mm f/2.0L lens effectively gives you an image stabilised 200mm f/2.8 lens in full frame field of view and depth  of field characteristics, and it should not be too long before we see these with faster AF.

If you don’t like the video quality of the Olympus cameras, there are always the Panasonic GH-4 4K camera and Black Magic video cameras.

Furthermore, you can carry the Olympus E-M5 camera and a few prime lenses in your jacket pockets!

I think I have just convinced myself not to head down the Sony route even though there is the tantalising prospect of the very shallow depth of field options – I think I can manage this aspect with focal reducer adapters!

HOWEVER, the 36mp Sony a7R may be worth it for landscape photographers wanting to make larger prints and who are willing to carry a tripod for every shot, and avoid those shutter speeds where shutter shake is problematic – so it would be great for waterfalls, blurred water seascapes, etc and much more affordable than a Nikon D810 dSLR or Canon 5DS dSLR.

 

 

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