Olympus OM-D E-M1 vs Sony NEX7

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Why?

Why am I, a hobby photographer, writing this post?  I used to use a Sony NEX7 as the camera which was always with me when I travelled or when I planned to take better quality photos than my iPhone allowed.

The biggest advantage of a mirrorless system camera is fairly obvious to anyone who looks at one next to a D-SLR & the NEX7 is a good camera which has served me well since I bought it in 2012. Unfortunately the offering of lenses was never very good if you didn’t want to use the Alpha series lenses with an adapter.  The adapter is fine and adds phase differentiation focus to the contrast detection focusing, but rather defeats the object of a small camera if you have to use full-size lenses and an adapter.  Worse is that Sony now use sensor shift stabilisation on the newer models so there is no development in the lenses with inbuilt stabilisation, the ones I need for my NEX7.

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So it was time to reconsider my camera and buy a new one.  I looked closely at the new Sony Alpha 7 range, but using a 35mm sensor would mean coming back to the large and heavy lenses, again losing one of the important features in my list of needs: size and weight.

What tipped the balance?

Our son Christopher is a professional photographer and Olympus Visionary for Olympus Australia, specialising in surf, travel and landscape photography and has been using an Olympus OM-D E-M1 for quite some time, so I have had the chance to try his on several occasions.

Although the body is slightly heavier and bigger than my NEX7, the equivalent lenses are smaller as the Olympus is a micro four thirds compared to the Sony APS-C of the NEX7. (micro 4/3 means you double the focal length of a lens to give the 35mm equivalent, APS-C is 1.5x the focal length.)

I bought the OM-D E-M1 black body and M. Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm 1:2.8 Pro lens

What I particularly like:

  • Speed and accuracy of the autofocus
  • Weather proof
  • Customisability
  • Lens offering
  • Stabilisation
  • Controls layout

The auto focus is sensational compared to my NEX7 which is also not weatherproof either.  The menu in the NEX7 is unfathomable and the customisation of the functions much more limited.

The E-M1 menu is extensive and I was glad to have Chris here to help me setup the camera, I think I would have spent several hours finding and tuning the settings without him!

The ‘Pro’ range of lenses are awesome, especially the new 300mm f4.0 (read 600mm for a full size sensor!) which is incredibly sharp and, further to the 5-axis sensor stabilisation, has in-lens stabilisation working in harmony with the sensor stabilisation which makes it easy to use hand-held.  It is also not too heavy either, especially when compared to a full-frame equivalent.

The stabilisation is fantastic, allowing handheld shutter speeds using the 12-40mm lens of 1/25th without problems, something I could never do with my NEX7.

The 2 main dials are front and back as opposed to being next to each other on the NEX7.  I often found myself turning both on the Sony.  The resistance on the E-M1 dials is also greater, avoiding changing settings by mistake..

Conclusion:

I could go on for several more pages of comparison, but it seems pointless, there are much higher qualified critics capable of doing a better job of that than I would.  What matters to me is that the E-M1 seems to be a better camera for my needs and I am getting to grips with it quite nicely.  It is also great to have Chris here to give my tips and lend me his lenses from time to time.  I am looking forward to trying some of the time lapse modes soon too.

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