Shootout Sony A9 (FF) vs Olympus EM1 Mark III (M43) - Wildlife Photography shootout

mrjoemorgan

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I started a thread recently asking for people's experience of FF (Sony) v m43 (Olympus) when it comes to wildlife photography. My experience with Olympus has been hit and miss so wanted to see if it's worth making the switch.

Following some smart advice and help from lensesforhire.co.uk, I got hold of a Sony A9 and 200-600 to see how it compares.

This isn’t the most scientific test at all. I went to a couple of local safari parks to try the systems side by side and check out a few things that matter most. Sometimes the animal moved or the light changed slightly, so please take these with a pinch of salt.

This isn’t meant to argue which system is better than the other, as they meet different needs but thought I would share some results in case people are interested in seeing them.

For this, I used the Sony A9 and 200-600 along with the Olympus EM1 Mark III and 300 PRO

Overall findings:

AF
= Sony Auto Focus is superb. It is quicker, more accurate, and easier to use than Olympus. I do wonder if the better sharpness and IQ I am seeing in the Sony images is thanks to the AF? I also wonder if its down to the tech, the firmware, or that more light is available when focusing?

Sharpness = Even using a telephoto lens that isn’t in their “PRO” / GM collection, the Sony shows much better sharpness in 50% of the photos. The other 50% its on par with each other. Again, could be AF related? Or thanks to FF?

IQ = I found the IQ on the Sony to be superior, but that is to be expected with the FF sensor, but I was happy with the Olympus when the images were sharp/focused.

Size/Weight = m43 will always win here and the Sony 200-600 does make you stick out like a sore thumb! But it’s not THAT bad. It depends on what lenses you have.

Ergonomics = I thought I would hate the Sony, it looks plasticity and “alien” but I actually enjoyed some elements of the body. It’s all personal preference really. I would choose bits of both to make the “perfect” body - but I am no wizard.

Image Examples / Tests

Here is a dropbox link to see full-res images as the below will be compressed for the forum: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/k9d1hjc16mxv1ba/AADvEuGmJ6ienSjnkZ6YDlrMa?dl=0

With all of these, Oly first, Sony second.

Test 1 + 2
Not much difference in these two sets of images. Depth of Field is the only obvious difference but I was matching exposure settings, so if I put the Olympus at f4 then it wouldn’t be AS different.
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Test 3+4+5
This is where Sony shows its superiority.
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Test 6
Outdoors, static subject, high ISO. I did the Olympus at same aperture as the Sony (6.3) and then wide open at (4) to compare
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Test 7
Outdoors, static subject, high ISO. Sony shows its low light capabilities here.
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It would be interesting, and perhaps a bit more fair to the Olympus, to do the test where the Sony was shot at f6.3, and/or f8, and the Olympus at f4. You'd get to see the Olympus at a more optimal f-stop and lower iso to boot. I doubt anyone who buys that lens would use it at f6.3 in low light. This test tilts the playing field in favor of the Sony.
 

WT21

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It would be interesting, and perhaps a bit more fair to the Olympus, to do the test where the Sony was shot at f6.3, and/or f8, and the Olympus at f4. You'd get to see the Olympus at a more optimal f-stop and lower iso to boot. I doubt anyone who buys that lens would use it at f6.3 in low light. This test tilts the playing field in favor of the Sony.
On re-reading it, I'd have to agree. The analysis misses the exact, entire point. The Oly 300 is a big lens because it is faster. If it was built at f/5.6, it would be lighter and cheaper. Set it to maximize it's utility, and you could shoot the Oly at lower ISOs, and maybe even have more AF keepers just from more light (though as I understand it, the A9's AF is pretty darn solid -- if not the best going)
 

Phocal

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It would be interesting, and perhaps a bit more fair to the Olympus, to do the test where the Sony was shot at f6.3, and/or f8, and the Olympus at f4. You'd get to see the Olympus at a more optimal f-stop and lower iso to boot. I doubt anyone who buys that lens would use it at f6.3 in low light. This test tilts the playing field in favor of the Sony.
On re-reading it, I'd have to agree. The analysis misses the exact, entire point. The Oly 300 is a big lens because it is faster. If it was built at f/5.6, it would be lighter and cheaper. Set it to maximize it's utility, and you could shoot the Oly at lower ISOs, and maybe even have more AF keepers just from more light (though as I understand it, the A9's AF is pretty darn solid -- if not the best going)
I have to agree with both of you. I do a lot of in the field lens comparisons and I always get people (like in my 300mm vs 75-300) asking me to shoot the 300/4 at the same aperture as the 75-300 and my reply is I shoot the lenses as I would use them in the field and I would never stop my 300/4 down to f6.7 (always shoot it wide-open).

@mrjoemorgan this test would hold a lot more meaning and be a better comparison if you had used both lenses as you would in the field. I highly doubt you would stop your 300/4 down to f6.3 when shooting those subjects. Doing that greatly effected the IQ of the photos by causing even more DoF (for worse bokeh) as well as a higher ISO (increasing noise and removing detail).

my two copper pieces,

Phocal
 

SpecFoto

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Agree with the above, the comparison is flawed for this reason. And why not shoot the EM1.3 against a similar priced camera like the Sony A73 I own, and not one that is the top of the line and 2-1/2 times more expensive. Of course the Sony A9 has better AF, it has better AF than ANY FF, APS-C or M4/3 camera!
 

Phocal

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Agree with the above, the comparison is flawed for this reason. And why not shoot the EM1.3 against a similar priced camera like the Sony A73 I own, and not one that is the top of the line and 2-1/2 times more expensive. Of course the Sony A9 has better AF, it has better AF than ANY FF, APS-C or M4/3 camera!
Actually the A9 is more similar to the EM1 than the A7 when it comes to camera ability, the A7 is more comparable to the EM5mk3. By more similar I am talking about things like FPS and buffer size. The A7 isn't close to the FPS ability of the EM1mk3 or in buffer size.
 
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Olympus, unable to design or, license superior AF capabilities, perhaps went all-in on super high-FPS is a “spray and pray” approach.

The comparisons herein may reflect that in part, though I suspect the higher resolution and superior glass is what you are seeing at 100% crop com ones with the ISO, which is problematic on the m43.
 

SpecFoto

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I said a "similar priced" camera and the EM1-X is more similar to the A9 in this regard and others. The EM1-X is Olympus top on the line camera, and that is what should have been compared. The A9 is $4,000 and the EM1.3 should not be compared against it. FPS and buffer size were not part of this test. And btw, at 10FPS my A73 is no slouch at this, the buffer can shoot for more than 6 seconds before slowing down, more than I will ever need.
Actually the A9 is more similar to the EM1 than the A7 when it comes to camera ability, the A7 is more comparable to the EM5mk3. By more similar I am talking about things like FPS and buffer size. The A7 isn't close to the FPS ability of the EM1mk3 or in buffer size.
 
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pake

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Agree with the above, the comparison is flawed for this reason. And why not shoot the EM1.3 against a similar priced camera like the Sony A73 I own, and not one that is the top of the line and 2-1/2 times more expensive. Of course the Sony A9 has better AF, it has better AF than ANY FF, APS-C or M4/3 camera!
I think there's nothing wrong with the camera selection here. The OP was interested in those two bodies so why noyt compare them against each other then? It's not about fairness or "like to like" - it's all about finding the best option for the OP.

What is interesting though is that at a quick peek there is not that much difference in the photos (excl. the last pair). I wouldn't pay the $$$s or tolerate the size difference to get there. But hey, YMMV. :)

EDIT: Obviously there more to it than the IQ and size. AF is one thing and people have different expectations. I've had my E-M5III for ~6 months now and I honestly couldn't be happier with its AF-C. But then again... I shot with the original E-M5 for 7-8 years, so maybe I'm not the best to comment.
 

mrjoemorgan

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Thank you everyone for your thoughts and observations. I appreciate you might find my test flawed, but I got out of it what I wanted but apologies its not much use to anyone else.

@Mike Peters @Phocal @WT21 - so whilst I agree it's not an apple for apple comparison (it never can be) this is my thought process.

Test 6+7 are the only tests in "low light" - where I have shot the Olympus at F4 and 6.3 (a few more in dropbox I did the same) - to see how much noise shows with higher ISOs and how the two systems compare with IQ. I wanted to do more in low light, but it rained every evening annoyingly. I'll share two more images at the bottom where I shot wide open with both systems in low light. Again not a great test as I tried to push the Sony limits, whilst I was shooting the Olympus "as I would in the field"

Test 1-5 - I am not looking to test or compare at low light. More looking at AF/IQ/Sharpness. All shot below ISO 640. In hindsight, I probably should have shot at f4 as well. Anyways, I actually think the test does Olympus a favor as I'm not shooting wide open at f4 and in theory the images should be sharper - no? (AF might suffer though)

@SpecFoto - I was initially wanting to test the A73 but as I got the Sony gear for free, I had to choose what was available to me. Not ideal, as the A73 is what I would purchase if I moved to Sony

@pake - I felt the same, I don't think the Sony warrants the extra $$, size and weight based on the images I got. One thing I didnt mention in my thoughts above is the keeper rate (based on sharpness and IQ rather than "composition") was considerably higher with the Sony - but I think this is down to AF again.

T8 - Oly.jpg
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RS86

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Thank you everyone for your thoughts and observations. I appreciate you might find my test flawed, but I got out of it what I wanted but apologies its not much use to anyone else.

@Mike Peters @Phocal @WT21 - so whilst I agree it's not an apple for apple comparison (it never can be) this is my thought process.

Test 6+7 are the only tests in "low light" - where I have shot the Olympus at F4 and 6.3 (a few more in dropbox I did the same) - to see how much noise shows with higher ISOs and how the two systems compare with IQ. I wanted to do more in low light, but it rained every evening annoyingly. I'll share two more images at the bottom where I shot wide open with both systems in low light. Again not a great test as I tried to push the Sony limits, whilst I was shooting the Olympus "as I would in the field"

Test 1-5 - I am not looking to test or compare at low light. More looking at AF/IQ/Sharpness. All shot below ISO 640. In hindsight, I probably should have shot at f4 as well. Anyways, I actually think the test does Olympus a favor as I'm not shooting wide open at f4 and in theory the images should be sharper - no? (AF might suffer though)

@SpecFoto - I was initially wanting to test the A73 but as I got the Sony gear for free, I had to choose what was available to me. Not ideal, as the A73 is what I would purchase if I moved to Sony

@pake - I felt the same, I don't think the Sony warrants the extra $$, size and weight based on the images I got. One thing I didnt mention in my thoughts about is the keeper rate (based on sharpness and IQ rather than "composition") was considerably higher with the Sony - but I think this is down to AF again.

View attachment 834661View attachment 834662
It looks like 300mm Pro is sharpest at f/5.6. f/6.3 might be a little bit higher than f/4.0, maybe even with f/4.5. Not very big differences, seems very sharp wide open like M43 lenses mostly. Anyway, thanks for the updates.

https://www.lenstip.com/478.4-Lens_..._300_mm_f_4.0_ED_IS_PRO_Image_resolution.html
 

Ed Diaz

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Thanks for comparing and posting. It's always interesting to see these comparisons. The A9 seems to be the benchmark when it comes to mirrorless AF, so no surprise that it would best Olympus. However, it is interesting that 50% of the shots were sharper with Sony, especially since most of the subjects were relatively static.

As far as trying to match exposure settings, I agree with others. I would be more interested in seeing the best (optimized) result from each system. For Oly, that might be f4 and the lowest combination of SS/ISO that dual-IBIS would allow for sharp, hand-held photos. For IQ, aside from lens quality, leveraging the compact size and stabilization of the Oly gear is the only way to level the playing field against the larger sensor.
 
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Any camera except A9 II will have a daunting task at hand going against A9. I'm on mobile device and to me images from both look identical. Medium size will matter too in this comparison.
While A7 III is no slouch either, I think keeper rate would be close to EM1.3 in that case. Also most of the subjects here were almost static. If you were to do intense AF-C or tracking action like BIF, the gap would widen and easily tilt in Sonys favor, me thinks. It's a very specific use case though and if BIF or fast action isn't most of the photography then it doesn't warrant system change in my opinion.
Having said all that, it doesn't hurt to have best AF tech in your bag, just in case or as a bragging right on forums and photo walks especially if you get A9/II ;)
 
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macro

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For BIF's from an expert on BIF's

https://mirrorlesscomparison.com/best/mirrorless-cameras-for-birds-in-flight

Results ......

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If BIF's was all I was taking and if I wanted AF, I would get an A9 with the 200-600 with internal zoom.

Danny.
 
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That list has surprised me on multiple counts : A7 iii ranked below EOS R and Fuji X-t3 above EM1.2. And A7R III and IV ranking way below in the list. I wasn't aware they were behind universal punch bags Nikon Z6 and 7.

Also a major takeaway, if you could stand aging body and below par ergonomics A6400 is basically mini A9 at much lower price point plus having the advantage of 1.5x crop useful for BIF, wildlife.
 

Lcrunyon

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I’m curious how the E-M1X will do after the bird AI tracking is added. I consider its AF already good enough that I don’t worry about it much. Improved tracking might be all it needs for that slight tweak to get those 91% slightly soft shots tack sharp. I also don’t think it needs to have the best AF to be competitive.

I‘m also curious how the EOS R5 will do in real life tests.
 

macro

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That list has surprised me on multiple counts : A7 iii ranked below EOS R and Fuji X-t3 above EM1.2. And A7R III and IV ranking way below in the list. I wasn't aware they were behind universal punch bags Nikon Z6 and 7.

Also a major takeaway, if you could stand aging body and below par ergonomics A6400 is basically mini A9 at much lower price point plus having the advantage of 1.5x crop useful for BIF, wildlife.
I would consider a Sony A6600 with the Sony 200-600. Ergonomics with a camera body has never really worried me, I hold everything by the lens and the right hand just cradles the body and uses the shutter button. Others really worry over ergonomics I know ;) That's fair enough.
 

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