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Panasonic GX-7 vs. Olympus EP-5: Perspective of an EP-5 owner

Discussion in 'This or That? (MFT only)' started by MarkRyan, Jan 12, 2014.

  1. MarkRyan

    MarkRyan Instagram: @MRSallee

    772
    May 3, 2013
    California
    I bought an EP-5 in July, as soon as I was able to track one down in a local-ish camera shop. In December, my buddy was shopping for a camera and I recommended a handful of M43 bodies, including the EP-5, GM1, and the GX-7. Ultimately, I sold him on the GX-7 as the best current value and today I got to play with his new camera.

    Disclaimer: This comparison is not inspecting image quality, or even much real-world use. Just initial impressions I got while toying with the camera in his living room, and snapping photos of his awesome dog.

    Build quality

    My initial impression on picking up the GX-7: It's so light! I also own a GF-3 and knew the EP-5 felt pretty hefty in comparison, but I expected the GX-7 to be close to the Olympus considering similar size and build material (less plastic). Surprisingly, the GX-7 is actually a bit bigger physically but still substantially lighter.

    I suspect the GX-7 is made of more plastic, or if the shell is all metal (like the EP-5) then it's thinner. It's fairly superficial, but the weight of the EP-5 does give the impression of a higher-quality electronic. That impression of quality initially carried to the dials -- as I twiddled the dials and buttons, I thought it doesn't feel as quality as the Olympus, but when I pulled out my camera and compared the dials more directly the difference shrunk. Only the plastic thumb wheel feels cheaper on the GX-7, and it's mostly the weight of the two cameras that makes the biggest impression.

    Lighter is objectively better, and the GX-7's weight likely has advantages in real-world use, but in the hand the EP-5 definitely feels the more expensive camera.

    However, I am confident the back screen on the Olympus is noticeably better than the Panasonic's screen. There is nothing wrong with the screen on the GX-7, but the EP-5's screen is pretty fantastic, on par with the nicer mobile phone screens out there.

    Also, a quick note that the frame rate on Panasonic's screen drops considerably in low light. My guess is that some light boosting is activating and slowing it down, and it's possible that it can be disabled in the settings (I didn't dig, not my camera). If that is the case, I would disable the light boosting anyway. It's an option on my EP-5 and I don't want it, preferring instead an accurate view of the shot I'll get.

    Features

    The obvious big selling point of the GX-7 is the EVF. I don't have experience with EVFs, I don't have one for my EP-5, and my last camera was a DSLR with an optical finder. I've considered buying the VF-4 for my camera, but haven't found a great reason for it. In my experience, the back screen is entirely sufficient. Only rarely is glare an issue, and never does it stop me from framing a shot the way I want.

    The EVF in the GX-7 is nice, but the screen quality is noticeably less than the back screen (and as I already mentioned, the GX-7's back screen is already not quite as nice as the EP-5's). In my opinion, the EVF would be a nice feature to have in the event the rear screen is hard to see, but it would not replace the rear screen. I would opt for the better quality view over the EVF (never mind that I also prefer shooting from the screen -- as an often-helmeted motorcyclist, I don't miss the OVF of my old DSLR).

    That is not a popular opinion, I'm sure. For me, an EVF that doesn't look as good as the back screen wouldn't be my go-to screen for shooting. (I've never used a VF-4 and don't know whether I would or would not prefer it to the screen on my EP-5. My guess is no.)

    This might seem silly to some shooters used to an editing workflow that involves a computer, but another feature of the GX-7 that appeals to me is the built-in panorama stitching. I didn't get to use it much, but did find the option with the mode dial set to SCN. The panorama mode functions similar to the iPhone's panorama mode, showing a horizontal bar that guides the panorama. I don't know why, but I was surprised to hear the shutter firing off rapidly as I panned the camera to fill the horizontal bar. (It's pretty noisy, in my opinion the EP-5 shutter sound is much more pleasing, for whatever that counts.)

    The stitching was pretty decent, but not perfect. Then again, I only gave it one try, and wasn't super careful about it. The GX-7's pano software is definitely not as sophisticated as an iPhone's, but it beats the pants off the non-existent panorama stitching of my EP-5.

    In-body stabilization is another good comparison between the cameras, the GX-7 being Panasonic's first implementation of IBIS.

    What I can definitively say is that Olympus's IBIS is way better than Panasonic's. It's not really close. Olympus's IBIS is always surprising to me, and really does make possible shots that wouldn't be possible without a tripod. Panasonic's IBIS seems solid enough, but it's not in the same league. That said, most of my shooting is outdoors and in daytime, where IBIS is less of an issue. Mostly it helps me take bracketed shots for HDR and steady my un-stabilized 40-150mm Olympus zoom.

    Ergonomics

    Take this impression with a grain of salt, knowing that I've grown quite comfortable shooting my EP-5 over the past six months. The camera has a very small grip, but for me it's not really an issue. The way I'm used to holding the camera -- thumb on rear nub/grip, index finger hovering over the shutter, middle finger wrapped around the modest front grip -- the Olympus is comfortable and stable.

    I knew the grip on the GX-7 is more substantial but was still surprised at how much thicker it makes the right side of the camera compared to my EP-5. More surprising, I don't think the thicker grip improves ergonomics. Using the same hand position I described above, the more substantial front grip doesn't do much to help. Worse, the GX-7 doesn't have a rear grip nub, just a patch of grippy rubber. The lack of a rear nub means my hand position doesn't feel totally secure with the Panasonic.

    The large front grip of the GX-7 seems made for a more full-hand grip. Instead of just using my middle finger, I could use my middle, ring, and pinky fingers to curl around the front grip for a DSLR-like hold. On the EP-5, this sort of grip does not work at all. On the GX-7, it works, but the shutter butter and dials are not in a good position for my index finger if my hand is in this position. If I owned the GX-7, I would probably stick to my middle finger grip instead of this DSLR grip, sacrificing security for access to controls.

    Manual focus

    Both cameras have focus peaking, but Panasonic definitely does it better. I didn't even mess with the settings from factory, not sure what other options the GX-7 offers, but out of the box it is better than the EP-5. For these two reasons:

    (1) The GX-7's peaking highlight is a turquoise blue, while the EP-5 offers options only for white or black. The blue stands out much better against typical shooting subjects than either color Olympus offers.

    (2) Focus peaking doesn't appear to affect the frame rate of the GX-7, while on the EP-5 there is a noticeable hit to the frame rate of the screen.

    One advantage I'll give to the EP-5 is that its peaking is more useful in low light. In low light, the GX-7 doesn't seem to find contrast enough to display the blue highlights, whereas the EP-5 focus peaking is still useful in low light.

    Back to the Panasonic, it has a switch dedicated to toggling between automatic and manual focus modes. The Olympus doesn't. Except it kind of does. The EP-5 has a customizable switch that I'd previously customized to perform the same function, so in practice this advantage of the GX-7 is easy to make up. (That said, using the custom switch for focus toggle on the EP-5 does take from the number of customizable buttons. The GX-7 has three Fn. buttons against the EP-5's one, but Olympus allows customization of other buttons. All told, I can't say which camera has the advantage here.)

    Wi-Fi functionality

    Wi-Fi is a big reason I got the EP-5 over the EM-5. I do 99% of my photo editing on my phone (see my Instagram page for my most frequent use case for the camera).

    That said, the EP-5 lets down in this area, on two crucial points: (1) remote shooting with a mobile phone works only in iAuto mode, and (2) image transfers aren't very fast. The Eye-Fi card in my GF-3 sends images more quickly.

    I suspected the Wi-Fi in the GX-7 would be better, and in addition to the lower cost of the GX-7 this is most significant reason I recommended the Panasonic to my friend.

    In practice, the GX-7's Wi-Fi features are indeed much better than the EP-5's, though it's worth pointing out that Panasonic's iPhone app is pretty bad. Meanwhile, Olympus's app -- missing features, yes -- is a very solid app, runs well on my iPhone 5 and the UI is simple and intuitive. The Panasonic app is clunky, UI is funky, and things just run slowly. It felt ready to crash any second, though it never did.

    Though I can't say the same for the image transfers. The GX-7 wirelessly transfers images roughly 3-4x faster than my Olympus. I am not exaggerating, and note that 3-4x speed is a significant difference. (To be fair, I didn't actually time anything.) If I need to transfer a dozen images in my EP-5, I'll set both the camera and phone down and come back a few minutes later. On the GX-7, the images transferred lightning quick, not worth getting up to make coffee.

    Another nice advantage of the GX-7's Wi-Fi: The camera appears fully operational via the camera controls even when connected wirelessly to my phone. The EP-5, in wireless mode, is stuck to a screen with no functionality and doing anything with the camera's controls interrupts Wi-Fi. There's some chunkiness to the way the GX-7 does it (using camera controls temporarily interrupts the phone controls) but it is decidedly improved over my EP-5.

    Conclusion

    I expected to walk away from my buddy's camera jealous. On paper, the GX-7 is the better camera in a handful of ways, even if the EVF isn't a big selling point for me.

    And keep in mind that this conclusion doesn't involve any real-world shooting, no pixel peeping, no serious look at image quality.

    I walked away feeling very happy with my EP-5. Both cameras are fantastic, and each has advantages over the other. Build quality and screen quality I give to Olympus, as well as IBIS. Wi-Fi and features I give to Panasonic, including the EVF which is probably more important to some of you than it is to me.

    If tomorrow someone stole my EP-5 and I had to buy a new camera, and assuming both of these cameras were available at the same price, I'd get another EP-5. But it'd be close -- the speed of Wi-Fi image transfers is the biggest advantage of the GX-7 for my uses. At current prices, however, I still think the GX-7 is the better buy. The GX-7 is easy to find at $800 or less, while I've only rarely seen the EP-5 discounted below it's $1,000 price.
     
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  2. Ulfric M Douglas

    Ulfric M Douglas Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Mar 6, 2010
    Northumberland
    Very good, I really enjoyed it, sensible stuff and a couple of nuggets of good information.

    Having said that, these bits ;
    I can see that our eyes are vastly different.
    I wouldn't dream of doing any editing on a phone, even an i-pad is too small for me after a few minutes,
    and I only enjoy photography whan using an OVF or EVF, so the LCD screens are mostly irrelevant to me.
    But ... this just makes the e-P5 even more of a winner because it'll have a VF-2 or VF-4 ontop and the WIFI won't ever get used.

    Good review, thanks again.
     
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  3. daum

    daum Mu-43 Veteran

    340
    Aug 26, 2011
    I totally agree 100000%.
    I use the LCD as it is more convenient. You can't tap to focus and snap with the EVF, I don't like the camera glued to my face as it draws more attention. So i really don't see what all the hoopla of an integrated EVF. The other problem is it adds mass because it protrudes out and may get caught or bumped around so it's more prone to breaking.

    Also the 5-axis is another big reason why i went with the E-P5. It's the perfect camera for me. Small size with manual controls. Only wish wifi mode was available in manual instead of iAuto. Hope they release an update for that soon.

    The EVF combined with the larger grip. makes it bigger. Here is a quick comparison i did.
    AbQQ4C2.
     
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  4. MarkRyan

    MarkRyan Instagram: @MRSallee

    772
    May 3, 2013
    California
    I also just prefer shooting from the hip, dropping the camera low or hanging it over a ledge to get the angle I'm going for.

    I wouldn't bet on it. Olympus hasn't issued any significant firmware updates for the EP-5 in the last six months. I've emailed them twice inquiring about potential for manual wireless shooting, and both times got an answer like this (this one is from last week):

    "No, unfortunately, we do not have any information regarding future firmware upgrades that will include this functionality. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. This information is accurate at this time, but this may change in the future."
     
  5. mattia

    mattia Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 3, 2012
    The Netherlands
    Much as I love tap to shoot and tap to focus, I still default to shooting with eye to the viewfinder in most situations. Tilt screens are great for shots from the hip or getting odd angles, but where stability is crucial, having your head as an extra stable point really helps to maximize keeper rate in lower light. Even with IBIS in play.
     
  6. spatulaboy

    spatulaboy I'm not really here

    Jul 13, 2011
    North Carolina
    Vin
    Thanks for the impressions, cameras and how we handle them can be so personal and different. And I think that's a strength of Micro Four Thirds, there are so many options available, you are bound to find something that clicks with you.

    I handled a friend's GX7, it's not bad and quite cool looking, but I just don't like using these 'rangefinder' style cams. I really prefer the DSLR style cameras, they just feel better for me. Not as sexy but when I hold one in my hand everything just falls into place.
     
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  7. RevBob

    RevBob Super Moderator

    Jun 4, 2011
    NorthWestern PA
    Bob
    I grew up with SLRs and, thus, with viewfinders. When I switched from my Canon 40D to :43: I began shooting with the LCD. I have not missed having a viewfinder at all. Given a choice I would rather have the E-P5 than the EM-5 or the GX7.
     
  8. daum

    daum Mu-43 Veteran

    340
    Aug 26, 2011
    I've got the E-P5 kit and never use the VF-4. I once forced myself to use it for a day but it felt more like a handicap as i can't tap to snap whenever i chose. I'm using fast lens so focus and then composing is too slow for moving subjects. I'm no considering selling the VF-4 as i never use it.
     
  9. RT_Panther

    RT_Panther Mu-43 Legend

    May 4, 2011
    Texas
    You've pretty much summed it up.
    We're all different and our choices are based upon what works best for us - not the other shooter. :smile:
     
  10. Jonathan F/2

    Jonathan F/2 Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 10, 2011
    Los Angeles, CA
    Do all Panasonics do this? This really bugs me when it comes to shooting Pany bodies in low light. In fact this would be reason enough for me to get an Olympus body just for low light conditions.
     
  11. spatulaboy

    spatulaboy I'm not really here

    Jul 13, 2011
    North Carolina
    Vin
    What I do like about Panasonic cameras is that even when looking through the EVF, the touch screen remains active. I can move my thumb over and reposition the focal point without taking my eyes off the viewfinder. This is EXTREMELY useful for me since I use the EVF often.
     
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  12. Dramaturg

    Dramaturg Mu-43 Top Veteran

    614
    Jun 7, 2013
    Ukraine
    Yevgen
    EP-5 is selling now for $799. Plus you get $200 discount on Oly lenses.
     
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  13. MarkRyan

    MarkRyan Instagram: @MRSallee

    772
    May 3, 2013
    California
    Yep, just as I write this, Olympus drops the price.

    I think there's still an argument for the GX-7, especially if you value the viewfinder, but I think an EP-5 ($799) plus a VF4 ($99) will probably be more satisfying than a GX-7 ($749).
     
  14. Ulfric M Douglas

    Ulfric M Douglas Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Mar 6, 2010
    Northumberland
    If the best viewfinder ever made for consumer digital cameras costs $99 ... BUY it NOW!
    You can buy a camera to go with it later.
    No, really.
     
  15. spacedogg79

    spacedogg79 Mu-43 Rookie

    21
    Nov 9, 2013
    Vancouver, Canada
    Unfortunately I believe the deal is you have to buy the camera body (EP-5) before they will give you discounted price for VF4.