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My hands-on ownership thoughts about the E-M1 vs. the GH4 (lengthy post)

Discussion in 'This or That? (MFT only)' started by JYPfoto, Apr 27, 2014.

  1. JYPfoto

    JYPfoto Mu-43 Veteran

    Aug 27, 2013
    My thoughts on the Olympus E-M1 vs. the Panasonic GH4


    I love buying/trying cameras more than shooting it seems these days. I’ve gone through countless systems in search of the perfect camera/system and as we all know, there is none. At this point it's more about what limitations you can tolerate. It’s about the same as trying to find the perfect camera bag. Out of all the systems I’ve tried (m4/3, APS-C, and FF) I tend to like the micro 4/3 system the most, since it offers the best mix between size, weight, and offers a ton of glass options. That’s not to say that the other systems aren’t good, but there’s always a compromise (Sony APS-C and FF has limited native AF options, Fuji is still working on getting their AF systems up to speed, etc). I shot with the E-P5/E-M5 for about 3 months prior to seeing and pre-ordering the E-M1 after seeing the infamous leak back in August. I received my order from Olympus in late September, then the 12-40 in October. Throughout my shooting the E-M1 I used a combination of the 12-40, 25 f/1.4, and the 45 f/2.8 macro. I bought/sold the 45 f/1.8, and rented the 12-35 f/2.8, the 35-100 f/2.8, and the 7-14 f/4 for a 2 week trip in Asia before the 12-40 was released. I subsequently sold the E-M1 in February as I was tantalized by the X-T1, and as they say the grass isn’t always greener on the other side and seeing that my main needs weren't being met, so I’m returning with the GH4, having had it about 4 days now. Right now I only have the 25 f/1.4 on the Panasonic since I sold all the lenses, but I have a 14-140 f/3.5-5.6 coming in this week, and have a pre-order for the 15 f/1.7 and going to be picking up the Nocticron when it’s on sale (missed the white box specials a few weeks ago). I don’t have the E-M1 anymore, so I can’t do direct comparisons and I’m going off of what I remember from the E-M1 after owning it for 5 months and having another go with a friend’s one a week and a half ago.

    Image Quality

    I haven’t had a chance to process any RAWs from the GH4 since I don’t think there’s a converter yet, but based on just initial JPEGs, it’s true, they’re very close to each other. It appears that m4/3 may have hit a limit of sorts, at least at the moment, where IQ seems to have topped out. If tests show that either camera has an advantage over the other, I sure can't see it.

    Which one I prefer: Tie

    Build Quality/Weather Sealing

    Both seem very well built, but if I had to give build quality to one, it would probably be the E-M1. Although there are a lot of reports of dials falling off and malfunctioning, it’s still too early in the GH4’s product cycle to see if it too has build issues. But if I had to trust one of the system’s weather sealing, it would be the E-M1. I took it out when I was shooting in Boston in the winter and it had no issues despite being hammered by snow (with the sealed 12-40).

    Which one I prefer: E-M1


    This is a hard one to pick. They both have pretty sizeable grips, more comfortable to hold that other smaller cameras. The E-M1 is a little shorter, so for me at least adding the RRS L-Plate was beneficial because I liked to use my tripod but having that extra 1/8” had room for my pinky. The GH4 grip height is perfect. The GH4 has a slightly beefier grip, so it’s comfortable and I would say if you have large hands you might prefer it, but I have small-medium hands so it’s a good fit, but a little too deep for me. I felt the E-M1 I could carry around without any strap, just holding by the grip. With the GH4 I made sure that I wrapped the neck strap around my wrist today in 2 hours at the NY Auto Show. The E-M1’s grip depth was just right.

    Which one I prefer: E-M1

    Button Layout/Feel

    Both have great button layouts. The E-M1 especially is much improved over the E-M5. Both are highly customizable and I love that both have the lockable mode dial. I do really like the GH4’s WB/ISO/Exposure comp buttons at the top. Using that was much quicker for me at least that the E-M1’s 2x2 system. Also have a drive dial on the left side for single, continuous, self-timer, and time lapse is MUCH easier for me than having a HDR/Drive button on the left side of the E-M1. I do like that the touch screen on the GH4 is fully usable, even for menu selection, which the E-M1 you cannot use. Also having the on/off switch in a more natural position on the right makes for easy one handed use, having the on/off on the left on the E-M1 is not a huge problem for me as some people say, but it’s not optimal.

    Which one I prefer: GH4

    Menus/Focus Peaking

    Some people hate the Olympus menus. I don't mind it so much, sure it's very deep and overwhelming at first. But it's not that old Sony NEX menu, that's for sure. And once you finally get everything customized to your needs, you rarely have to go back into them. But I prefer the GH4's. It's simple, laid out well, and best of all you can use the touch screen to navigate through them.

    Edit: Wanted to add my thoughts on focus peaking. Focus peaking is much better on the GH4, if only for the simple fact that activating peaking gets you the magnified view as well as having no slow down. I didn't like that using peaking on the E-M1 would bring the FPS down on the camera and slows it down.

    Which one I prefer: GH4

    Viewfinder/LCD Screen

    The E-M1 has the better EVF, hands down. The GH4 isn’t the worst I’ve used, I would rank it 3 out of the EVF’s that I used (X-T1, E-M1, GH4). Much better than the GX7’s. Both are much improved in low light, lag it noticeable, but with each generation it seems to get better. I do like the fully articulated screen on the GH4, I wish more cameras had it. It’s odd though, there are times when I wish the screen would simply tilt when I was shooting at the NY Auto show today, and I kept on forgetting that I had to flip the screen out first. Shooting out in daylight, flipping the screen out made for harsh viewing, so in bright day light, I think I would’ve preferred a tilt screen.

    Which one I prefer: E-M1 (viewfinder), GH4 (screen)

    Auto focus

    Both are super fast, let’s get that out of the way. I don’t do a ton of high FPS continuous shooting yet, so I can’t really comment on that. I won’t say much about tracking either and I won’t pretend to. I don’t shoot BIF, so if you’re looking for advice on a birding camera, I’m sure that someone else will chime in. I’ve only used one lens that’s the same on both cameras, and the 25 f/1.4 is slightly faster on the GH4, but that’s to be expected due to the DFD. I would imagine that native Panasonic lenses would be better on the GH4. I’ll say this though, I didn’t have a problem with the speed of the E-M1, but I prefer the AF accuracy of the GH4. Whether or not you can attribute this to the DFD, I’m not sure. The E-M1 is super fast but I did have a higher share of misfocused shots with the E-M1, so much so that I preferred to use center AF, and recompose my shots. With the GH4, I use multi zone focus. My missed focus rate is much lower on the GH4.

    Which one I prefer: GH4 for accuracy.

    White Balance

    I tend to be a AWB kind of guy and fix issues in post if needed and the GH4 had some misses in this regard. I would say that shooting in the Javits Center under artificial lighting probably had something to do with it, but I had numerous shots in succession where one image would be very incorrectly metered. But again, that might be attributed to user error. I don’t recall such blatant misses with the E-M1.

    Which one I prefer: E-M1


    It depends on what you’re looking for in terms of video. I’ll be forward and I prefer the GH4’s video. The ability to shoot in 4k is huge, but even in 1080, having full control over the shooting is great, and being able to shoot in various codecs and bit rates is fantastic as well. I do miss having IBIS and I’ll admit that shooting with the non-stabilized 25 f/1.4 did result in slightly shakier than wanted video, which I’m sure the 5-axis would’ve helped. The E-M1 has above average video, it’s just that GH4 has great video. The E-M1 has about a 7/10 in terms of video on my scale and trust me I’ve used some cameras where you can see that video is an afterthought (Ricoh GR, Fuji cameras)

    Which one I prefer: GH4

    Why I choose the GH4 over the E-M1

    So why did I choose the GH4 over the E-M1? First, I’ll admit I have GAS and want to try the greatest and latest things. I know and loved the E-M1. It gave me great images, I loved the way it felt in my hand, and some of the quirks stopped bothering me after a while. I could’ve easily went back to the E-M1 and had no issues. But when I read about the GH4 I was intrigued. When I saw that it was less than the $2,000 price point which I was expecting, I was intrigued even more. After seeing the Camera Store’s video and seeing how fast the AF appeared, I was sold. Right now in my photographic life the two priorities that I have are quick, accurate AF and great video ability. Both cameras have that. But I dealt with missed focus issues on the E-M1 and really liked the video but I felt that GH4 could improve on that with the DFD and the improved video and so far, so good.

    Both cameras are fantastic, whichever one you buy you'll have a more than capable camera for 99.9% of photographers. I have nothing bad to say about either, but I'm sure that some who use the E-M1 will tell me that I was doing something wrong, which I don't doubt that I probably was. Best thing to do is you're undecided to find somewhere to give them both a whirl.

    Last thoughts vs. the X-T1

    Really quickly some thoughts about the Fuji X-T1 which is the camera that I sold to come back to the GH4 in comparison to both of these cameras. The X-T1 is a great piece of camera equipment. I see the reason why so many professionals use it, why there are so many more countless blogs and resources about it. The images that it spits out if fantastic. I have to force myself not to look at tomen.de and read all the blog articles about it because it makes me want to give the X system another go. But it’s not the right fit for me. First physics tells us that larger sensor will lead to larger glass. The 18-55 kit lens that I shot with is amazing first and foremost. The 35 f/1.4 which spent the most of the time on my camera is superb as well, but slower to focus. The 14 f/2.8 is by far the best UWA glass I’ve ever used. But even though the AF is much improved over the X-E1, it’s still too slow for MY needs. I could see if my main subjects were static subject such as landscape, architecture, or even the posing portrait, but for me it wasn’t up to speed (pun intended). The buttons were mushy, the video record button was in such an odd place (which after seeing the video that came out of it, I think I know the reason why it was placed in that place). And finally seeing early mockups of the fast glass that’s coming (16-55 f/2.8) for example, they look massive, and they should, they need to fill the same imaging circle as the large Nikon 17-55 f/2.8 and Canon 17-55 f/2.8 which balance nicely on a large DSLR body, but not so much on the smaller mirrorless bodies. Fuji is a great company that really listens to user feedback and it produces some of the best images that I've ever seen (though I'm sure the photographer had a little something to do with it).
    • Like Like x 12
  2. T N Args

    T N Args Agent Photocateur

    Dec 3, 2013
    Adelaide, Australia
    call me Arg
    The GH4 introductory RRP is within $100 of the E-M1 introductory RRP. That's impressive value IMHO.
  3. T N Args

    T N Args Agent Photocateur

    Dec 3, 2013
    Adelaide, Australia
    call me Arg
    re: image quality progress, it's unrealistic to expect anything between 2 cameras released 5 months apart. Sensor tech timelines are more like 4 to 5 years to see anything worth upgrading just for the sensor (for general use without pixel peeping).
  4. nagual

    nagual Mu-43 Regular

    Aug 25, 2012
    Thank you JYPfoto for the nice comparison

    Current holder of E-M1, very tempted by video on GH4.
  5. OzRay

    OzRay Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 29, 2010
    South Gippsland, Australia
    Ray, not Oz
    Never mind, the next best camera is probably no more than six months away. ;) 

    I'm still holding off buying a new computer until a better one comes out than what's available now. :) 
  6. Linh

    Linh Mu-43 All-Pro Subscribing Member

    Apr 14, 2009
    Maryland, US
    Interesting that you had trouble with the non center focus points in the E-M1. I thought it didn't matter with CDAF?

    Sent from my Nexus 4 using Mu-43 mobile app
  7. Jay86

    Jay86 Mu-43 Veteran

    Dec 26, 2012
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. A lot of information/comparison's on the actual functional and usability part of the camera's which is the most important these days as all camera's technically are fantastic. Very useful and interesting read for me anyway. :2thumbs:
  8. tomO2013

    tomO2013 Mu-43 Top Veteran Subscribing Member

    Oct 28, 2013
    I had a play of the GH4 at a show yesterday. It's a phenomenal camera. Happy shooting!

    The GH4 really impressed me with its AF speed, AWB, OOC jpeg. I can see the tear for people between the GH4 and the EM1. IMHO they are the two best cameras , period, available to buy right now for somebody who wants a jack of all trades and almost a master of every one.

    I'm surprised to hear about your experience with the EM1 missing focus - this something that I have never experienced with the EM1. I tend to use a single green box and move that around over the target before focus, or shoot manual focus. The EM1 combined with eye detect is tack sharp. Perhaps something wrong with the model that you had ?

    Likewise I was really impressed to see the GH4 track eyes across the frame. Panasonic and Olympus have this feature nailed down nicely. I really feel that they should be making a bigger deal of this than they do.

    I think from here on out we are at the laws of diminishing returns - for IQ improvements. Comparing the EM1 and GH4 yesterday at the show I couldn't really tell any significant discernible difference. Supposedly for larger prints you might see a slight difference in sharpness as the EM1 doesn't have an AA filter and the GH4 does have one. Other than that , both cameras at ISO 200 - 400 have just over 13 stops of dynamic range.
    This isn't scientific but both look to put out beautiful images - I do prefer the Olympus color signature, but that's part of the reason that I shoot Olympus.
  9. pdk42

    pdk42 One of the "Eh?" team Subscribing Member

    Jan 11, 2013
    Leamington Spa, UK
    A really nice post - thanks. I thought I was bad at going through gear, but your trajectory makes me feel a lot better :wink:

    Regarding evolution of current u43 sensors, I personally am fairly happy with the current 16mp sensors, but It would be nice to improve on the noise profile at ISO 1600 and higher (and noise at base ISO too for that matter). I'd also like to see the introduction of fully electronic shutters at slow to medium shutter speeds on all u43 cameras (in fact, this is another advantage of Panasonic bodies right now).
  10. darrellc

    darrellc Mu-43 Regular

    Aug 21, 2012
    I have both the GH4 and EM-1 (and GH3 I plan to sell). I preferred the EM-1 to the GH3 for stills, but surprisingly, expect I'll prefer the GH4 to the EM-1. It is very quick and responsive. EVF is vastly improved over the horrible GH3 EVF. Focus peaking and other manual focus features look like they'll work really well with adapted and native MF lenses. AF appears to be awesome and based on first impressions across a small number of shots, it seems more accurate than the EM1. 4K video looks amazing downscaled to 1080p. If only it had that amazing 5-axis IBIS...
  11. JYPfoto

    JYPfoto Mu-43 Veteran

    Aug 27, 2013
    If I told you the full extent of my gear choices, it would trouble you. The only system that I never tried was the Sony a7 series it seems.
  12. JYPfoto

    JYPfoto Mu-43 Veteran

    Aug 27, 2013
    It could be an issue with the model I had, it could also be that I used a medium sized AF box and didn't really use the touch focus. But so far with the Pany I have no regrets.
    • Like Like x 1
  13. cmpatti

    cmpatti Mu-43 Veteran

    May 8, 2011
    Berkeley, CA
    Interesting comparison. Please check back in three months and let us know what you're shooting with then!
  14. JYPfoto

    JYPfoto Mu-43 Veteran

    Aug 27, 2013
    I will definately do that, I can't wait to try out the Nocticron on this bad boy. Plus my 14-140 is coming today.
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