If 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.