51L+RnKGb8L31z61r-8X8LIf you are a regular reader here at Photofocus you know I have switched to micro four thirds as my primary camera format. At the top end of MFT you will find Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 and the Olympus OM-D E-M5.

I bought the OMD-E-M5 merely because it came out first. I bought a bunch of lenses, all Olympus other than one Panasonic (Fisheye) because I thought it just made sense to avoid paying for stabilization in the Panasonic lenses, when the Oly had five-axis-based sensor stabilization.

But it wasn’t until my recent trip to Alaska that I actually had some time with the GH3 and decided to write a short post about the GH3 and how it compares to the OMD.

I should note that I have some familiarity with the Panasonic range of cameras. Way back in September of 2009 (it seems like 100 years ago) I used the Panasonic GH1 to shoot video while teaching at the Maui Photo Festival. I liked the video from that camera very much, but ultimately felt that the GH1 lacked what I needed as a stills camera, so I kept my DSLRs and used the GH1 for video. Fast forward to three and half year’s later and the video from the Panasonic just keeps getting better. So has the stills image quality.

Let’s start with the basic run down on where the cameras differ. There’s no need to make a list of what they do alike. You can find spec lists all over the Internet that offer that comparison. I’d rather concentrate on the differences.

The GH3 is more expensive by 15-30%. It’s also significantly larger and heavier. It has a fully articulating screen that tilts and swivels. The OMD screen only tilts.

The OMD has a faster frame rate – nine frames per second v. six on the GH3.

The EVF is slightly larger in the GH3 than on the OMD.

The GH3 has a built-in flash and WIFI. The OMD does not.

The battery life on the GH3 is roughly 30% better than on the OMD.

The OMD has slightly better autofocus. The OMD has about 30% more autofocus points.

The GH3 offers stabilized lenses with no built-in image stabilization on the sensor. The OMD takes the opposite approach and offers stabilization on the sensor but not the lenses.

Lenses from either camera work on either camera body and otherwise, the cameras are essentially the same when it comes to specs. But in the real world, how do they compare?

I like both cameras. I think they compliment each other. One (the OMD) is for stealth. It is small enough that you can get away with shooting it in places where cameras are often forbidden. It can be confused with compact point and shoots. For photographers who want stealth this is a good thing. The GH3 on the other hand looks like a typical, smallish DSLR. For photographers who worry their clients won’t take them seriously if they have a small camera or who have big hands, the GH3 form factor will be appealing.

The image quality (stills) from the Olympus seems better to me than the GH3. This is purely subjective and would depend on shooting conditions. On the other hand, the GH3 is remarkably better at shooting video. It’s as if Panasonic designed this camera to shoot video. Some well-known filmmakers are incorporating the GH3 into their workflow much as they did the Canon 5D MK III.

Moving to the lenses, both companies offer some great ones. The Panasonic zooms tend to be a tiny bit better in my opinion than the Olympus zooms. Olympus offers some of the sharpest primes for MFT and some of the sharpest primes anywhere. Overall I prefer the Olympus glass.

There is one other big difference. Panasonic has hired a dedicated person to reach out to the pro market. Whether or not he will have the budget and/or the power to make this work is yet to be seen. It would give Panasonic an edge over Olympus with pros.

As a pro, if you rely on your gear day-to-day, you need fast, reliable repair times and/or loaners. Olympus once told me they had a program like this but when I asked for details, and contacted the person in charge of it, I got no response. My own experience getting Olympus cameras repaired proves that you better have lots of patience if you need that service. If Panasonic can make good on a professional services department, they will get a point in this column.

But for now, I’d say it’s close to a tie. I have dedicated video cameras so I don’t need the GH3 and I already have several OMD-EM5s and more than a dozen MFT lenses. The OMD and the GH3 are more similar than not, and you can’t go wrong picking one over the other.

The take away from this should be simple. If you want to save money, like the smaller footprint, and primarily shoot stills, you will most likely gravitate to the Olympus. If you want a larger form factor, stabilization in the lens, shoot lots of video and want pro service, you’ll probably buy the Panasonic.

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Join the conversation! 12 Comments

  1. Scott, Thank you for all of your information on MFT cameras. Just yesterday I was asked about how to get good pictures on an African safari where baggage is severely limited due to the size of the aircraft used in country. With what you have posted, I recommended that she rents a MFT package to take with her on the trip along with her point and shoot If she uses my suggestions, I’ll post her experiences with the gear. Oh yes, I listed the OM-D and one very long lens and one normal to telephoto zoom plus plenty of extra batteries and storage. Close up and wider angle she and her husband can cover just fine with the PS.

    Reply
  2. Scott – What would be your long term durability assessment of these cameras? Olympus a very long time ago used their shutter durability and life as a advertising selling tool. Panasonic is a new kid on the block. I have the little cousin of the GH3 – the G5. It takes fine photos but I sorta question the build manufacture of the lenses. The 14-42 kit zoom is fine optically is less than perfect in its feel when zooming. The beauty is the very light weight. I can carry the camera for a long time without the ‘pain the neck factor’ becoming an issue.

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  3. Have you tested / used the Panasonic Pro service?

    The OIympus MFT was explicitly aimed at compact camera migrators and they explicitly avoided going into the Pro category. They went to the Pro category with the FT range of DSLRs – E-1, E-3, E-5 but they learnt they could not challenge Nikon and Canon at those premium stakes – sales could not achieve volume, thus manufacturing unit cost could not come down, field support costs were prohibitive.

    Reply
    • Actually Ananda Olympus’ pro service in the states is essentially non-existant and Panasonic’s is not up and running yet. Please provide your source for Olympus’s alleged goal of only reaching compact camera users. Because in every discussion I’ve had with Olympus they have indicated otherwise.

      Reply
  4. I sent my OMD off for a warranty repair 4-12-13. It arrived at the NY state address on the warranty book 4-15. When I called on 4-19 to check the status I was informed the address on the book was wrong, they had moved to new facilities in Texas. I was also informed that they were sending repairs from NY to Texas, but that even if it was in NY, their work flow wouldn’t show the location or progress untill someone actually started working on the camera, not when it came into their possession. Currently, I have no idea when the camera will come back, or, where it even is.

    I recently dumped my Canon 5D MKII and all the lenses and bought $3000 worth of Olympus and MFT lenses, thinking I could do without all the weight. I enjoyed the CPS service and had no reason to think Olympus would fail so miserably. I’m rethinking that decision now. For a semi-pro like me, I have to have service available.

    Reply
  5. @Scott,

    I think Amanda is correct ……….. to a degree.

    Initially, Olympus weren’t particularly interested in the pro market; neither were Panny. You can see that from all the publicity materials and interviews of the early days going back to the first mFT (micro Four Thirds) cam, the Panny G1. In fact, Panny are on record as saying how surprised they were by the enthusiastic take up of mFT by advanced photographers; and don’t forget that it was third party companies that started making lens adaptors for mFT cams long before Panny and Oly caught up with the idea.

    And if you recall all the early adverts for mFT system cams, they were squarely aimed at the more inexperienced photographer.

    Panny then started getting a bit more serious about who they aimed their camera at, whilst Olympus didn’t really get in to overdrive on that front until the launch of the OM-D EM-5 (because quite frankly, until that body came along, and with the well documented slow autofocus issues of their PEN cameras, they would have had a mountain to climb to appeal to pros in any big way).

    So yeah, they may well be telling you that they are not solely concerned with compact camera upgraders but this, from all the evidence I have seen over the years, is a recent conversion on their part (in the U.K. for example, they now have a strong ad campaign in the printed media where they are using imagery produced by one of the country’s top photographers using the OM-D EM-5).

    Regards,
    plevyadophy

    Reply
    • Thanks plevydophy I understand that is your opinion and hers and maybe in regards to the UK that is how it is. I disagree insofar as the US is concerned. But if they aren’t interested in the pro market then I can assure them Panasonic will take that and run with it so Olympus makes that decision at its peril. Now that Sony has invested in Olympus maybe they will rethink. I only care from the standpoint that competition is good for everyone.

      And just to be clear we’re not talking about early MFT – we’re talking OMDEM5 and Olympus sure seems to be aiming that product at pros. Maybe it’s just me but I think that was their intent all along.

      Reply
  6. HI Scott,

    I only gave the U.K. experience by way of example; in fact the picture I painted applied to the entire world and was even more so heavily marketed at beginners in Japan (if their adverts were anything to go by).

    And yes, Oly are now pushing things towards the advanced user with the coming to market of their excellent OMD cam just over a year ago now.

    As for Panny, well, I think it’s a given that they are aiming at more pro users, certainly pro video users, with the feature set of the GH3. But like you say, that needs to be accompanied by a pro support network.

    I don’t live in the States, but what I have heard over and over and over again about Panasonic in the United States is that they don’t seem to have much of a high street presence and therefore it’s very hard for potential buyers to see their mFT cams in the flesh (I hear stories of folks having to travel for miles to some distant town or only being able to get the gear online at a select few outlets etc). If that is still the case, then it seems to me that Panny have a MASSIVE job to do in order to get their products some shelf space and then to simultaneously set up the pro support network (but I think it will just have to happen, because they have now made a device, the GH3, that is going to appeal to at least pro video makers in a big way, and those users are gonna demand the kinda support afforded by Canon CPS and Nikon NPS), They certainly don’t wanna continue to have a sloppy consumerist type repair facility like Sony have in the U.K.

    Regards,
    plevyadophy

    Reply
  7. Hi Scott,

    Actually, :-) I think we are in agreement insofar as the OMD and Oly’s recent take on appealing to pro users is concerned. My comments were really just as background to what went before the OMD came along and why the earlier poster (Amanda) might have the view she has, which of course is now outdated.

    Regards,

    Reply
  8. I agree the GH3 have the appeal of being the Serious/Professional camera, ever since I got GH3 to replace the GH2 and E-M5 I had people commenting that is a nice/good camera! Before that people were more skeptical when I turn up with GH2/E-M5..

    Though there are 2 points I disagree with the post
    The battery: GH3 can record nearly 4 hours of footage vs nearly 2hrs for E-M5, that is like 200% more battery life for video recording
    Focus: GH3 focus faster on indoor/low light than E-M5, and so does AF during video, it is not just focus point and more about algorithm/refresh rate

    Reply
    • Nelson I was evaluating the battery in stills not video mode and I cannot duplicate your experience with the auto-focus. Not one single national review of the GH3 agrees with your findings on the autofocus. ALL of them agree with me that the AF is faster on the OMD-EM5. And here’s how you can tell that’s true. Olympus says that they have the fastest AF of any MFT camera. You can bet Panasonic would sue them if that were not true.

      Reply

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About scottbourne

Founder of Photofocus.com. Retired traveling and unhooking from the Internet.

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