Olympus OM-D vs Sony NEX-7

Olympus OM-D E-M5 vs Sony NEX-7

With the introduction of the Olympus OM-D the natural question is how does it compare with the competition. From the pricing of the cameras and positioning in the market the Sony NEX-7 comes to mind as a logical point of comparison. Also, while the Sony was introduced several months ago, due to the terrible floods in Thailand, the actual high volume availability of the Sony will only be a month or so before the Olympus. There are surprising similarities and some big differences. I decided to write this blog post to help sort out the two systems for myself. Of course, Fujifilm also just introduced their high-end mirror-less interchangeable lens camera, the X-Pro1. However, from a pricing standpoint, this system is clearly for a different demographic. So how does the Olympus OM-D E-M5 compare with the Sony NEX-7? Let the comparison begin.

When I started looking at the feature set, it seemed clear to me that Olympus went down the Sony checklist to try to match or beat its features. Both camera companies are clearly going after the premium EVIL (electronic viewfinder, Interchangeable lens) market. When you look at the standard kit lens pricing, the two cameras are only $50 apart. The Olympus comes with a 12mm – 50mm lens for $1299. The Sony and the 18mm – 55mm lens sells for $1349. When you compare the focus length in 35mm equivalents the Olympus has a longer 24mm to 100mm range while the Sony has a 27mm to 83mm range. The Olympus also sells a less expensive kit with a very similar range as the Sony for $1099. Both cameras feature a premium build using magnesium alloy. The Olympus ups the game by adding weather sealing to the body and to the 12-50mm lens. The NEX-7 follows the previous NEX aesthetic which is a throughly modern design without any cues from the past. The Olympus plays the nostalgia card by taking styling elements from is old film based OM SLR line. Both feature tilt-able OLED displays and the Olympus adds a touch screen feature. Both have high-resolution electronic view finders. The Olympus and Sony both take HD video and feature fast focusing systems. So with all the similarities, what sets these guys apart? You can go down the feature list and you may prefer an implementation of one vendor over another but it comes down to a few key differences.

For me there are two important considerations in a camera. The first is, of course, image quality. And sure, the user interface counts for a lot and the camera needs to feel good in hand. Both cameras have loads of user configurable buttons and dials. Which you like better will depend on your individual taste. You will have to play with both and decide for yourself which feels better. The second consideration is if the camera’s design point matches your style of photography. This needs a bit of explaining. The Fujifilm X100 is a fantastic camera. It is great for street photography, casual shooting and even environmental portraits. However, it does not work at all as an action and sport camera. You have a fixed focal length lens (at 35mm) and it’s just not fast enough for most sports. If You are a sports photographer, the Fujifilm X100 would make a lousy choice even though it is a very good camera, make sense? Likewise, if you had a top of the line Canon 1DM4 or Nikon D4 which excel at sports, they probably won’t be your first choice for street photography. There are different kinds of photography and you have to keep in mind what kind of photography a particular camera is designed for.

So lets start with image quality. Image quality is determined by many factors. It is not simply just the sensor. The image processing engine, the available lenses and image stabilization all factor into the equation. And before getting into the image quality discussion, I have to say the technical image quality has very little to do with how good a photograph is. This is a point for a different blog post however, I just wanted to mention this because, I know very well that image quality is not the most important measure of a photograph. So with that out-of-the-way, here are the important differences that may set the image quality apart.

The Sony NEX-7 has a APS-C size sensor at 24MP. It is a larger sensor at a higher resolution than the Olympus micro 4/3 sensor at 16MP. Generally, larger sensors have a better image quality with lower noise at higher ISOs. While we still do not know how good the Olympus’ sensor is, the high ISO noise characteristic may not be too different. Yes, the Sony has as larger sensor but it also stuffs more pixels into their sensor. A high-resolution sensor should have a definite advantage resolving detail especially if the camera can be set at low ISOs. So for portraits, product photography and landscapes, the Sony may be a better choice.

One of the major strengths of the Olympus and a weakness for the Sony is the selection of lenses. The micro 4/3 format has been out longer and with both Panasonic and Olympus making lenses, there is a very healthy selection of good quality lenses. While some other manufactures are on board to make NEX compatible lenses, Sony is currently the only supplier. There are only a handful of lenses and many of them are not of stellar quality. Sony did release the Zeiss 24mm f1.8 which should be a great lens but with a premium price of $1000. On the Olympus side, there is a slew of high quality prime lenses such as the 12mm f2, 20mm f1.7, 25mm f1.4 and 45mm f1.8. There are super wide-angle zooms like the 7-14mm from Panasonic and the 9-18mm from Olympus and both companies have a large choice of telephoto zooms. It will take Sony a long time to catch up, if ever, with the lens selection available for the micro 4/3 platform. Note: When comparing these focal lengths to the 35mm equivalent, multiply the size by 1.5 for the Sony and by 2x on micro 4/3 lenses.

Another very large advantage for the Olympus is the in-body image stabilization (IS). All of the Olympus micro 4/3 cameras have IS but the new E-M5 improves this significantly with a 5 axis stabilization. The Sony has IS built into the lens but not every lens has IS. With the Olympus, every single lens has IS, even 30 year old manual focus lenses. Now, if you primarily shoot your camera on tripod or in good light, IS is not as much of a factor. However, if you are into street photography especially in less that ideal light, IS is a godsend. Want to shoot indoors without a flash, it maybe possible with IS and a large aperture lens. In darker conditions that expensive Zeiss lens is not going to help as much even with a f1.8 aperture. You will have to crank up the ISO to compensate. With the Olympus, I can use the 20mm Panasonic lens at f1.7, keep the ISO lower and still get the shot by relying on image stabilization. However, here is were the subject and the type of photography is a factor. If you are shooting action, image stabilization is not going to help you. IS is for slow or non-moving objects. IS will not magically stop action. So depending on what you shoot, IS can be crucial or just a nice to have option.

Finally there are purely personal factors in image processing which may sway you to one camera of the other. I have come to realize that I like the Olympus color and exposure more than the Sony color and exposure (I also own a Sony NEX-5). This, of course, is my personal taste. You may like the Sony’s image rendering better. So I can not claim an advantage for either camera in this area. This will be your personal taste.

I wrote in a blog post called Why I’m not buying the Sony NEX-7 – Revisited a couple of months ago where I talk about the factors that make me less interested in a Sony NEX-7. Don’t get me wrong, the NEX-7 appears to be a fantastic camera, especially if it fits your requirements. Getting back to what I said in the beginning, you really need to look at the camera fitting the type of photography you do. With the high-resolution sensor, the Sony NEX-7 will be a very nice camera, especially if you can shoot it at lower ISOs. The 24MP should give you fantastic resolution. Keep in mind though, that the Sony system does not have many lenses that can take advantage of this great sensor. A high-resolution sensor is no good without sharp, high quality glass. But for people who have, say a Leica lens, you can use an adapter to attach it to a NEX-7. You can get an extremely high quality camera that works with high quality Leica glass. The Sony also has a wonderful manual focusing aid called focus peaking. This allows manual lenses to be quickly and accurately focused by looking at the highlighted areas on the viewfinder. Some people claim they like to focus via focus peaking even more than the range finder focusing used on the Leicas. Michael Reichmann loves his Sony NEX-7 and compares it with a Leica M9. So there certainly people who have high praise for the Sony. However, for me, I like to shoot in lower light conditions. Having image stabilization and a selection of high quality primes is important. I don’t have a Leica lens to use and I don’t have much interest in manual focusing lenses. I’m also frugal and I didn’t think the Sony NEX-7 had the price performance that matches my Olympus setup. But how about the Olympus OM-D E-M5 (I still think this is a silly name, let call it a OM-D5 for short), it is basically the same price as the premium Sony?

For me the OM-D5 is certainly enticing but I’m unsure if I’m going to get it. I will have to see how much better the sensor is. The expensive features such as the electronic view finder and the magnesium alloy body with weather seals are features that I can live without. I’m secretly hoping that the next Olympus Pen (E-P4?) will have the same sensor but at a much lower price. I’ll keep an open mind and see how the OM-D5 stacks up when the results come in. The good news is that we have a choice. The mirror-less EVIL market is very competitive and new products are battling it out for our money. I hope I gave you a fairly unbiased view of how these two cameras stack up. And while it’s true that I’m not interested in the NEX-7, I’m not necessarily a fan of all things Olympus. Yes, I like the lower cost of the Olympus Pens for their price performance, especially the E-PL1 which I use as a basis for my two camera setup. While I’m satisfied with my cameras right now, it is always fun to think about what’s new. I will continue to see what Sony, Olympus and Panasonic comes out with next. I’m certainly eyeing the new high quality Fujifilm cameras. I’m holding out hope that Nikon will come out with large aperture primes for their V1 and J1. Heck, I still have some hope that even Canon will come out with their EVIL offering, though their Powershot G1X seems interesting. But ultimately, all this dreaming and thinking of equipment is not going to make me a better photographer so I will need to get out there and keep shooting. See you out there on a photowalk.

Here are the links to the two cameras that I talked about in this post, the Olympus OM-D and Sony NEX-7. Thinking of getting either one of these cameras? Please click on these links. You will get the same low Amazon price and I’ll get a small commission, which helps support this site.

18 thoughts on “Olympus OM-D vs Sony NEX-7

  1. We seem to be on the same page. The new Oly sounds really cool and probably is great, but I don’t see that it will give me anything I don’t already have. More pixels, but I like the way the pictures come out as it is right now.. I love the color rendition on the Olympus PENs … both the PL1 and P3. I already shelled out for the viewfinder, so that’s become a non-issue. If I want the new 12-50 lens, I can buy it without the camera and I doubt I’m going to buy it because it’s not much different than what I have. For that kind of money, there are a few other things that seem more urgent. But if I win the lottery, the new Oly would definitely be on my list of new toys I would like to have along with a Chromebook and a few other cool gadgets. Meanwhile, I think I’m good to go. If this had come out before I bought the P3, maybe I’d have had to stop and ponder, but it didn’t and I bought the P3 and I like itt, so … Next time I’m rich …

    Thanks for the comparison. I don’t like Sony colors, or Panasonic colors either. I’ll just hang with what I’ve got!

  2. Some good points. The major for me is that the optics for Sony are limited. And I’m not particularly fond of the design. I much prefer a shutter button that is “on top” because after years of film that’s where my finger goes. I had sort of discounted the new Oly offering at the beginning but now it has me thinking.

    And you are absolutely right about points on the Fuji X100. I know of one guy with too much money who knew nothing and went out and bought the Fuji, and now he’s PO’d because he can’t successfully chase his kids around at the basketball game. He thought – expensive camera, it does everything. It’s too bad, a brilliant camera in the wrong hands. And yes it’s hard to explain things to people like this. Now I’m getting badgered by him for suggestions for “the ultimate camera” and there is none.

  3. Thanks again for your work and write up in this area. My APS-C based Nikon system is now for sale. It’s too big to carry with me on my trips and often weighs too much on long hikes. It’s true about the “camera you have with you..”. My two images with most revenue associated with them were from the camera I had with me at the time. One of was from a Canon G2 and the other from a S90. So, I will be both upgrading and downgrading. Upgrading from carrying a full time with me PnS and “downgrading” from a Nikon D90 kit. The OM-D with a few primes seems like exactly what I wanted in a m4/3’s kit. Will be watching for more info and reviews…

    1. And I forgot to mention; I am testing a Nikon 1 V1 right now. But I have a feeling it will be gong back within it’s 30 day return policy window based on what I am seeing from the specs of the new Oly.

      1. The V1 is an interesting camera and it does have its place and possesses some unique abilities. For the type of shooting I do, I want more fast primes but I will keep an open mind on the Nikon 1 series.

    2. Don, thanks for stopping by. Yes, I find it increasingly tiresome to carry my Canon 7D, and I don’t go hiking like you. The Olympus has a really nice selection of lenses so you may notice that it may not be a downgrade from your Nikon. Especially for the landscapes that you like taking.

      Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

  4. I’m glad you mentioned the Nikon 1 V1 and J1 – when I looked at those cameras at Precision Camera I was very impressed. I lot of people brush them aside because of their small sensors but they are super impressing performers. (did you happen to see the prints made from the V1 at Precision? Amazing)

  5. As for the new Oly, all the initial JPEGs and “RAW” files that have popped up, I will take those with a grain of salt. I’ll believe Olympus when I see results from everyday photographers, in very difficult light, with their own cameras. So far it looks good… but as the old Zen master said… “we’ll see.”

    1. Absolutely. We will see. The noise characteristic seems to change quite a bit depending on exposure for many of the cameras I use, not just Olympus so, seeing a bunch of images in different circumstances will be telling.

    1. christine.durst, thanks for stopping by. Well it depends how low light it is and what you are shooting. For fairly stationary subjects the Olympus Pen line has worked for me because of 2 reasons, the nice prime lens selection and the built-in image stabilization. In some ways I’ve gotten better results from the EPL-1 than my Canon 7D. The Sony NEX-5 doesn’t have the selection of prime lens and image stabilization but I can push the sensor to higher ISOs. I would say the low light image quality of the NEX-5 was close the Canon 7D but not quite. The NEX-5n improves this so it might be better than the 7D. I would encourage you to read the various blog posts I’ve done on the EPL-1 and Sony on this site. Here is a link to the site index so you can easily find the blog posts.

  6. Just one comment – in the second paragraph you mention both cameras have touch sensitive OLEDS’s; however, the NEX-7 doesn’t. I got one two days ago, so know for sure. The NEX-5 has a touch sensitive screen.

    As for my experience with the NEX-7, without going into details, I’m considering returning it, and here’s why:
    -lack of available lenses
    -delay in focusing on what I want due to lack of touch screen
    -feel more comfortable holding and using my PEN E-P3 (not Sony’s fault)
    -I actually miss the filters available on the Olympus

    It’s a hard decision since I’m really liking the quality and details in the pictures, and I also feel colors look more natural on the NEX-7 vs my PEN.

    I’ll take the camera out for another test today, and will decide on keeping it, or waiting for the OM-D.

    1. Carlos, thank you for the comments and thank you for letting me know about the lack of a touch screen. I must have confused it with the 5n. A bit surprising that their flagship model does not have this feature. I will change this in my post.

      Please let me know if you decide to keep the camera, or not.

      1. I decided to return the NEX-7 yesterday. I really am amazed by the image quality and the sharpness in colors of the NEX-7, and I also learned to love the try-control buttons; the three main buttons for manual photography are actually in perfect places, and easy to reach and use. The only button that’s really out of place is the video/record button – it is super easy to click, one doesn’t even need to apply much pressure. I pressed it 2-3 times per day in the few days I had the camera.

        The Sony menu isn’t all that bad, just different, and it’s nice that most things display a detailed description when hovered over.

        I was finally able to find the art filters; however, the reason why they weren’t readily available was because I was shooting RAW. Unlike Olympus, the art filters only work in JPG format. I don’t use the art filters all that often, but there are times when I really want to use them, and switching the Sony from RAW to JPG wouldn’t be much fun and might result in loosing a shot.

        No matter how much I tried justifying switching from m-4/3 to E-mount, I just couldn’t live with the lack of lenses available from Sony and Tamron; where with m-4/3 I have many options from Olympus, Panasonic, Lensbaby, and other smaller companies. Sure, this might change in the long term, and maybe I’ll regret my choice.

        What really made me return the camera was the lack of touchscreen. I know this isn’t really important to many, but I use the touchscreen often when taking pictures in busy areas and want to focus on something specific – I just click on it and the PEN snaps the image, and the OM-D seems like it’ll bring this to the next level by having the fastest auto focus in its class as well as the 5-axis (in camera) image stabilization. Again, this could make a difference when it comes to potentially missing the perfect shot.

        I suppose the easy solution would be to just get the do it all Sony A77 or Canon 5D m-III (the newest, coolest dSLRs); however, I decided about 2 years ago that carrying dSLR’s on hiking trips just isn’t the best choice for me, and the cost of the Canon with L-lenses is just a bit much for a hobbyist 🙂
        …so since Sony and Olympus will probably never merge, I just had to compare the pro’s and con’s of the OM-D and NEX-7 and decide which worked best for me. After using the NEX-7, and judging the OM-D based on theoretical specs and my use of a E-P3, I chose to wait for the OM-D.

        Sony really did an amazing job with the NEX-7, and one can tell they really gathered feedback from pro photographers; however, in the end one can tell that their main audiences are still gadget enthusiasts and advanced point and shooters, and that’s perhaps why they don’t see the need for having more lenses or accessories, or even disabling some in-camera capabilities when shooting in RAW.

        Anyways, sorry for the rant, and this is just my personal experience as someone who tried and likes the NEX-7, likes the OM-D specs on paper, and finds it hard deciding between the two.

      2. Carlos, thank you for the long post, not a rant at all. It’s nice to get some real world opinions from others. It is too bad the NEX-7 didn’t work out for you but there is always time. You can try the OM-D and see how you like it. The big DSLRs are certainly nice to use in certain cases but my day to day camera is my Olympus and at times my NEX-5 so I know what you mean.

  7. I presently own a Pentax DSLR and my catalogue of Pentax and Tamron lenses going back to the 70s, which due to brilliant Pentax design, mostly work perfectly.
    I am presently considering either an OM-D or an NEX 7 or 5n with the EVF.
    The one drawback of the current Pentax (including the largely ruled-out K-01) is that non-electronic K-mount lenses don’t work in stop-down mode. A major advantage of the NEX cameras is that they do, with a simple machined $30 adapter for just about any mechanical legacy lens; Pentax, Nikon, Canon, Minolta, Olympus – whatever. The EVF and focus peaking mean it’s just like using them on the original camera!
    Olympus hasn’t perfected that and the literature even warns “Accurate metering not possible”. This is a big deal for anyone who already owns a camera with lenses.
    The other issue that most appear to have glossed over is the build quality of M43 lenses. There are some great primes for both systems, but most of the telephoto zooms for M43 are rubbish with wobbly barrels and plastic mounts. A decent (equivalent) 70-210 zoom is a stock lens, but I’m still waiting for an M43 candidate. I have faith that the OM-D will inspire a whole new breed of mini DSLRs from all the majors and that maybe even Canon will join the fold. Wouldn’t it be nice if they decided to join the M43 fraternity rather than add yet another unnecessary mount.

    1. ChrisJowett, thank you for visiting giving your valuable feedback on the Pentax lenses. Focus peaking is on the Sony’s are indeed very nice and does help, particularly with the older manual focus lenses. Panasonic seems to be filling out the long zoom space better than Olympus but yes you are correct, the M4/3 does seem to concentrate more on the shorter focal lengths right now.

      As for Canon, it would be fantastic if they join m4/3, but I sincerely doubt they would. They are one the big guys and I’m sure they will come up with their own mount.

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