Monday, March 31, 2014

Comments and Comparisons About the Olympus E-M1 in Comparison to the FujiFilm X-T1

Humboldt State Park, CA; Olympus E-M5, Panasonic 7-14 mm f/4 lens @ 7 mm; 1/10th sec. @ f/5.6; ISO 800
Until you have been in the middle of one of the big redwood forests, you don't realize how dark it is in there!
Several weeks ago, I ventured out of "M4/3 land" to buy a Fujifilm X-T1 and four lenses.  I was really intrigued by this new Fujifilm camera system and wanted to try it for myself.  After testing and using the X-T1 for a while, I ended up sending it back, mainly due to not being able to sufficiently convert the raw files in a manner that was satisfactory to me.  Yes, there are raw converters out there better than ACR and Lightroom for these particular files, but I'm one of those individuals who think things should work as designed and shouldn't have to hunt to find software that works as it should. One shouldn't have to change one's entire workflow to accommodate inefficiency by manufacturers.  I would bet I will jump back in when Adobe solves its converter problems and I can edit these files with my established cataloging structure and workflow.  In Fujifilm's defense, there was nothing wrong with the camera and lenses as far as I know.  In fact, they were terrific.

Conversely, I have used an Olympus E-M5 and now, E-M1, for about 2 years.  I have written in the past that I think the E-M1 is the camera I wish all my previous cameras would have been.  It is that good.  After writing that, in my opinion, the X-T1 is right up there with the E-M1.  Read on.

(NOTE: There is a firmware update out this morning for the E-M1.  One of the features it adds is an electronic first curtain shutter.  The camera just keeps getting better and better.)

Now that I have owned and used the X-T1, that is marketed to the same "space" as the Olympus and Panasonic M4/3 cameras, I have some thoughts about the similarities and differences between the two systems.  You can easily pull up any number of sites on the Internet to compare statistics and specifications, if that is what you want to know.  I just want to highlight some of the obvious differences that I find important to my photography.

Image Quality:  Tie

First, after looking at images from both cameras, I don't think there is a practical difference in image quality. I don't believe sensor size is as much of an issue as it was several years ago.  The manufacturers' processing algorithms are so good, that much of the sensor size difference has been negated.

One could probably find some minute differences in the images from either camera, but overall, both cameras produce outstanding image quality. Since, in my previous tests, I didn't see a "real world" difference in professionally made 20" X 24" enlargements between the Nikon D800E and the Olympus E-M1, I think I'm safe in saying that there would also not be a practical difference between the E-M1 and the X-T1, which is much less of a jump in sensor size. (A lot of what you read about differences in image quality between cameras and even formats is so minute and only seen upon extreme magnification on a computer monitor that I disregard most of those types of comments.  Those supposed differences really aren't in practical terms.  If we lived in a theoretical photographic world, I would take the comments more seriously.)

Lenses: Tie

Both camera systems have terrific lenses available.  M4/3 has about 40 lenses available and Fujifilm about eight.  You would think that M4/3 is the winner here.  But, I see it a bit differently.  M4/3 has many more lenses, but many of those lenses are kit lenses and geared toward less expensive market.  They are okay, but not outstanding.  Many of them I wouldn't buy for my purposes.  However, there are many outstanding lenses in the M4/3 world, zooms as well as primes, such as the Panasonic 12-35 f/2.8, Panasonic 35-100 f/2.8, Panasonic 7-14 f/4, Olympus 12-40 f/2.8 and all of the Olympus primes as well as the Panasonic/ Leica primes.  They are all wonderful lenses.  For about any type of photography, you can find a high quality lens to fit your needs.

Fujifilm has far fewer lenses, but almost all of them are outstanding.  The 14 f/2.8, 18-55, 55-200, 23 f/1.4, 35 f/1.4, 56 f/1.2, etc.  Fewer lenses but a higher percentage with higher quality versus more lenses with a higher percentage of lesser quality.  Again, you can find a very high quality lens for about any photographic application you may have.

I'll call it a tie since both system have primes as well as zooms that meet professional quality and professional needs.  In other words, no matter which camera you use, you are in very good shape with lenses.

One other aspect is the M4/3 lenses, for the most part, are smaller and lighter than the APS-C lenses.  Size has to do with the speed of the lens and the image circle it has to cover.  By definition, M4/3 lenses can be smaller since the image circle is smaller.  Smaller lenses can be a bonus if you are going with smaller/lighter/less expensive.

Camera Handling/Size/Weight/Price/Weather Sealing: Tie

Both of these cameras are almost identical in size and weight.  Both are quality instruments.  Both feel really good in my hands.  They just feel good to hold.  I admire the designers of both cameras.  The X-T1 is a better looking camera, in my opinion, since the E-M1 has that overly large hand grip.  That being said, the E-M1 hand grip is definitely a plus.  It fits my hand perfectly.  I often carry it with just a wrist strap and hold it by the grip.  I never worry about it slipping out of my hand.  I don't need to buy any type of auxiliary grip to have the camera fit securely and comfortably in my hand.

As for price here in the U.S., the X-T1 body can be purchased for $1300 while most of the time, the E-M1 body is $1400.  But you can often find the E-M1 on sale for $1300. (As I write this at Adorama)  Both cameras are weather sealed.  Olympus currently has a weather-sealed lens (12-40 f/2.8) on the market with several others in development, while Fujifilm has a couple now on the drawing board, but not yet released.  All in all, both cameras are very well designed.

EVF/LCD: Tie

Fujifilm's X-T1's EVF is every so slightly larger in magnification.  I don't think it is any brighter or really any faster in "noticeable" refresh rate.  Both cameras provide the option of having a lot, if not too much, information overlaid in the EVF or LCD.  But, everyone is different and everyone wants something different in their EVF.  With these cameras, you can put about anything you could ask for in the EVF while viewing and composing your image.  Personally, I like the histogram in the EVF as I use that as my lightmeter.  The E-M1's rendering of the histogram in the viewfinder is much better than the X-T1's.  The X-T1's histogram is too small and harder to see clearly.  On the other hand, when you rotate the X-T1 to a vertical position, the information also rotates so it looks normal and not on the sides.  That is a nice feature.  I'm surprised no one had built that into their EVFs before.

Bottom line, both have terrific EVFs and allow you to put as much or as little information in those EVFs to suit your personal needs.  Both are easy to use.

The Olympus LCD has a higher resolution, but one really can't see the difference.  Olympus' LCD is touchscreen, which can be a plus, if you use touchscreen.  Some people do and some don't.  I use it on occasion to touch a point for exact focus. The camera immediately focuses on that point and the shutter is fired.  I do like that.   I don't use the touch screen much for changing settings.  I like the font in the X-T1 better than the one Olympus chose.

We could niggle on minor differences on all these things, but I think it all weighs out about equally.

Focusing: Tie

The Olympus, in my subjective judgment, focuses faster in the "S" mode.  Also, in my judgment, the X-T1 focuses better in the "Tracking" mode.  I don't photograph running kids, sports, car races or other fast moving objects so my assessment is not the best.  I do photograph fast moving trains on occasion.  Both cameras track the trains, oncoming at 79 mph, just fine.  The X-T1, by nature of its larger sensor, has the potential for a shallower depth of field but the camera does just fine.  It is hard to tell if the E-M1 is dead on as it has more depth of field and that "could" cover any minor focusing errors.  I don't think it does, but I can't absolutely prove it.

The E-M1 hits the focus (in "S" mode) accurately every single time.  The X-T1 sometimes doesn't hit accurate focus every time (in "S" mode).  Sometimes, it is just a bit off.  That happened to me several times.  In tracking mode, the X-T1 seems as though it never really decides where focus is, but looking at the images, it is pretty accurate.  It is just a bit disconcerting to hear it still hunting as you push the shutter button. The E-M1, in tracking mode, seems more sure of itself, but is no more accurate than the X-T1. Just looks, sounds and feels differently.

The upshot is both do well in stationary focus as well as tracking trains coming at me at a very fast rate.  Both are extremely fast.  Both have several focusing options, such as face recognition and I really can't find fault with either.  Both are fast enough for 95% of the photographers out there.

Controls: Tie

The aperture rings on the lenses, the shutter speed control, the ISO control, the metering pattern control and the advance control all are to my liking on the X-T1.  I like rotating dials over menu options.  I like changing apertures with my left hand.  I did that for over 30 years.  One niggle.  The X-T1's exposure compensation rotating dial is too stiff.  I couldn't easily move it with just my thumb.  That made me move my index finger over to assist and that also made me, for the most part, take my eye from its normal position at the viewfinder.  Fujifilm needs to loosen that up just a little bit so it can be moved with thumb only.

On the Olympus, the exposure compensation control (easily changed with one finger), the programmable lever on the back to change functions, the bracketing controls, etc. are to my liking.  The buttons are better in positive feel on the Olympus, in my opinion, but the top mounted dials are better on the X-T1.  The four-way controller is better on the E-M1 (I have read a lot about the 4-way controller on the X-T1 and understand Fujifilm made it that way to keep from accidentally hitting one of the buttons with the pad under the thumb as the camera is gripped.  It needs to be better as it is too hard to hit the buttons easily), but the Q-menu is better on the X-T1.  As much as I like the shutter speed and ISO dials on the X-T1, I don't like having to try to hold the lock button down to change ISO or to leave "A" on the shutter speed dial.  On the Olympus, it locks or unlocks.  You can choose.  I leave them unlocked and I have not had a problem with any inadvertent changes.

I could go on and on.  Overall, because of the dials I first mentioned, I think the X-T1 is a bit better as a "photographer's" camera than the E-M1 but I think the E-M1 is more capable.  Tie, in my book.

Menus: Advantage X-T1

The menus on the X-T1 are straightforward and much easier to find things than on the E-M1.  Also, I like the font and colors of the font.  Easy to see and read.  The E-M1/E-M5's menu is very detailed and complicated to quickly find what you want to find.  Too complicated. It took me about 6 months to figure out and remember where everything is on the E-M5.  Thank goodness the E-M1 is basically the same.  Once I learned them, they are terrific.  It is just the learning curve.  The X-T1 is easier, but it also has fewer menu items.  One thing for Olympus, however, is that the LCD can be configured to have a number of commonly accessed items visible at all times.  It is similar to Fujifilm's Q-menu.  That works pretty well.

High ISO Imaging: Advantage X-T1

From what I have read, the X-T1 probably has a one stop advantage in digital noise over the E-M1.  The X-T1 has an APS-C sized sensor and the E-M1 has a M4/3 sized sensor.  Physics dictates light absorption and noise.  I think the difference in sensor size, as stated above, has largely been minimized.  But I will give the X-T1 the advantage here.

However, how often do you shoot at ISO 6400 or above?  Almost never, for most of us, so it may be a moot point.  Less than 3% of my images are made over ISO 1600, so it doesn't mean as much to me as it may to you.  High ISO photography may be more important to you than it is to me, so this is something that you may put a lot of weight on when deciding whether or not to buy this camera or another.

Shutter Speeds/Flash Sync/ISO: Tie

The E-M1 has a top shutter speed of 1/8000th second, which can be important to daylight shooters who want to shoot fast lenses wide open. The X-T1 has a top shutter speed of 1/4000th second.  That is a slight advantage.  The E-M1 has a top flash sync speed of 1/320th second while the X-T1 has a top flash sync speed of 1/180th second.  That can make a difference in daylight fill flash.  The ISO range for the X-T1 is normally 200-6400 with it going as high as 51,200 or as low as 100.  The same for the E-M1 is 200-25,600 with it being able to go "low" to 100.  The E-M1 will shoot raw at all ISOs but the X-T1 will not shoot raw above ISO 3200.  The E-M1's longest shutter speed is 60 seconds while the X-T1's is 30 seconds.  Most of this is academic.  You just need to choose what set of specs is most important to your way of image making.

Image Stabilization: Advantage E-M1

There is no question that the E-M1 and E-M5 have the finest image stabilization of any camera on the market, unless you can find some million dollar secret military camera somewhere.  It is incredible.  In my tests, the E-M1's 5-axis image stabilization is far better in using slow shutter speeds than the X-T1.  Again, in my tests, about 2 stops better.  Plus, with M4/3, you have a choice of in-body or in-lens IS when choosing a camera and lens system (Olympus and Panasonic cameras and lenses).  In the X-T1, IS is lens based and only available in their zoom lenses.  Not available in primes.

Available Features: Advantage E-M1

The Olympus has many more features and is much more customizable than the X-T1.  Whether it be through the menu or the camera controls (such as the lever button), the top mounted left side buttons or the two rotating controls on the right top of the camera body, I can make that camera do anything I want in any way I want.  It may be too configurable!  Additionally, some of the features are deeper and better on the E-M1.  One I will mention is the ability to bracket exposures.  The X-T1 limits me to three.  Three isn't enough for professional work.  There are many others I could mention of both sides, but I think the E-M1 has more depth than the X-T1 in this area.  I don't use the special "art" filters or "film" filters in either camera, so I won't pass judgment on those.

Raw Processing: Advantage E-M1

The E-M1 converts beautifully in ACR, Lightroom and every other raw converter, as far as I can determine.  The X-T1 converts, it seems with compromises such as high digital noise, in several converters, but doesn't do well in the two most used converters–ACR and Lightoom!  I suspect Adobe will eventually solve their conversion issues, but for now, the E-M1 is more universally adaptable to more raw converters.

The reason, I suspect, for this issue is the X-Trans sensor, which is a CMOS sensor, but does not have a Bayer array.  However, this sensor has been on the market for a couple of years now and all software companies making raw converters should have the conversion process perfected by now.  No excuses, in my book.

Speed: Tie

The E-M1 can shoot up to 10 fps but can only track focus up to 6.5 fps.  The X-T1 can track focus up to 8 fps, which is also the fastest continuous shooting rate.  This is splitting hairs, in my opinion.  Also, both cameras clear the buffer extremely fast and I have not been slowed by having to wait for either.

Conclusion:  A Draw!

I could go on and on in writing about these two great cameras.  Overall, these two cameras are pretty equal in most respects.  Both of these cameras are so good, we should be thankful that we have the ability to choose between them.

I think a choice between the two has to come down to what is important to you and how the controls are menus are set up.  Other than that, both are capable of producing excellent images and you would be happy with either camera.  Both Olympus and Fujifilm are to be congratulated for designing and manufacturing cameras that are extraordinary.  For my money, I believe they are the two best cameras on the market today.

Lastly, I expect many of you will disagree with my opinions.  That is okay.  Opinions are neither right nor wrong, they are merely opinions.  I call it the way I see it and don't slant for or against any company or anyone.  I'm totally neutral.  As I have said in the past, I have used almost every brand and format camera made over the past 44 years.  They all served my needs well at the time.  If you differ, please leave a comment so your fellow readers can read your opinion and agree or disagree with you, but don't look for an argument or defense from me.  One nice thing in this world is that everyone can validly disagree!

Thanks for looking. Enjoy!

Dennis Mook

Many of my images can be found at www.dennismook.com.  Please pay it a visit.  I add new images regularly.  Thank you.


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11 comments:

Peter F. said...

Nicely done!

Anonymous said...

Excellent comparison! Any thoughts on using them for manual focus / adapted lenses? (Such as how well the various focusing aides work, any limitations with auto ISO, etc). I have more than a few Nikon AI/AIS lenses that I'd be interested in using in addition to native mount lenses.

Dennis Mook said...

I found the X-T1 easier to manually focus than the E-M1, I think, due to less inherent depth of field. When focusing the E-M1 with focus peaking, a lot of the field is in focus and it is difficult for me to distinguish when my main point of focus in the sharpest. With the X-T1, and less depth of field, it is a bit easier to tell when your main subject is in the sharpest point of focus. Make sense?

In both cameras the focusing aids work really well. I like how the E-M1 can be set for S-AF-M and C-AF-M, which means it focuses automatically until you touch the focus ring, then reverts to manual focus and at the same time the image magnifies greatly so you can really get exact focus on your subject.

Anonymous said...

Wow, very good comparison! I agree with almost all your points exactly! I have tried both cameras for a few days each through camera rental and am deciding in favor of Olympus, but I agree that both cameras are excellent and very close. Its just that the Olympus (or m 4/3 in general) do focus significantly quicker in S-AF and that is now my priority having a young kid who moves quite a bit.

I also think that most people still obsess about image quality, when the actual difference is only visible at 100% magnification and then only marginally. Yes, the Fuji sensor is a little bit better than the Olympus m4/3, but the difference really is smaller than I had expected!

Anonymous said...

Staggering that people believe the quarter sized sensor can produce equal images. Maybe equally acceptable for certain use cases, but not outrightly equal in colour depth and sharpness.

Dennis Mook said...

You make an interesting assertion. Unfortunately, it is very general and non-specific. Equal to what, for example? Can you elucidate on your comment by providing additional information on any direct testing and observations you have made. That would benefit all of us and allow us to have more and better information for future purchases. Thank you for your comment.

Anonymous said...

Add video as a category.

Wing Yip said...

Dennis,

I enjoyed your personal review and opinions about both cameras, the X-T1 & E-M1. I have the E-M1 and have been debating whether it would be worth changing over to the X-T1 for a long time (as I'm sure a lot of people interested in both camera systems have been trying to figure out which to go with if they had to choose just 1 camera & system of the two).

I agree with most everything you compared except "Shutter Speeds/Flash Sync/ISO: Tie". I think the E-M1 has clear and better advantage here. Higher shutter speeds as well as longer exposure time while the E-M1 does not have a limit to producing RAW files, either.

I would add to this Shutter Speeds/Flash Sync/ISO category by saying the E-M1 also has advantage here because it has the capability of high speed shutter sync with flash which I believe the X-T1 is incapable of. I understand that a lot of cameras don't go much higher than 1/250 in flash sync speed, but at least a good number also have the ability to exceed this limit by using HSS or Fast FP sync so you can go in the 1/1000's and higher. I'm surprised so little people have knowledge about this or utilize this feature. Personally speaking, I find it extremely useful to have HSS for the outdoor portrait work I do in bright sunlight. To balance exposures between bright background and a subject that will often be darker, you really must have a very high shutter speed and utilize HSS so the image will not be overexposed. I'm talking effect bare essentials photography where you have a capable camera and a flash and that's it... no assistant(s) or time or place to setup and need to quickly adapt to the harsh sunlit environment.

With the exception of the Fuji X100/X100S which has a shutter leaf system, unless i'm missing something, it's sad Fuji has not bothered to not only improve their shutter performance since X camera day 1.. for their high(set) end cameras, they don't even have HSS capability is very strange and almost inexcusable. At best I'm hoping to experiment with a strong high quality variable ND filter to see if I can tone down the scene enough so that the low 1/180 flash sync speed can be used in the manner in which I would need to use it.

Yes, the 3 frames bracketing mode is pretty lame on the X-T1, and even more disappointing (or more pointless) is it is only limited to +or-1EV only?!.

And though I don't use Advanced Filters (or Art Filters in Oly terms) that much, they can be fun to use, but unfortunately the X-T1 is also incapable of simultaneously producing both a jpeg AND RAW at the same time when using the Advance Filter.. so, you're basically stuck with the jpeg with advance filter applied and no good original unaltered RAW file to work from if you wanted to redo the exact same image in another method that might be better than what the X-T1's advance filter can produce.

Granted, the Olympus's menu system can seem a bit daunting and confusing until you've taken the time to familiarize with them better, isn't that the same with almost all new or different camera systems?.. but, nearly all commonly used (and uncommonly used) settings and controls are quickly accessible through the outside.. either by a quick dial turn or just a step away by a button press, switch or touch screen selection.

Anyways, great review and I appreciate your POV's on both cameras.. I agree that both are essentially equal and it comes down to personal needs and likes that make one camera better suited for one person or another.

Dennis Mook said...

You make several valid points, a couple of which I had forgotten. Thank you for commenting. As much as I think the X-T1 is a wonderful "photographer's" camera, I think the Olympus E-M1 is a better overall camera. I'll be writing more about that on Wednesday.

david blanchard said...

I wish the xt1 was the em1 as far as the design goes, the em1 feels so much better in the hands.Nice write up!

Wing Yip said...

The Fuji X-T1 design is SO appealing, BUT, in actual use, it just doesn't truly flow as well as say the E-M1 or other more modern DSLR styled controls. I think I read somewhere from someone that there is a reason why cameras have done away with all the manual dials in favor of DSLR style controls... Camera layout and design has evolved to this point where it's better to have multi buttons and multi functioning dials that can perform multiple tasks.. it works well and is a smarter design and streamlines the photographic process.

That's just it about Fuji. As much as I love their IQ, most, if not all, of their X cameras seem to be missing something in one way or another. Not 1 X camera has everything I wanted in it. In the beginning it was mostly around AF & MF performance. It's been much improved since then, but I can't honestly say it's the world's fastest APS-C AF which I believe was part of the marketing hype.. just no way, the X-T1 may be the best of the X cameras to date, but not the world's fastest AF by a long shot. The new ISO dial, very cool, but a few things not very well thought out, I think. I'm fine with the locking button on the ISO, but why lock all positions? Why not just the "A" position like on the Shutter dial, and let all other settings outside of "A" be set freely sans-lock button pressing? And, regarding the ISO dial again, it seems they didn't design it with all the possible ISO settings in mind... ran out of space or just forgot?.. To specify, why not have H1, H2 & H3?.. I think Fuji design team working on it may not have talked to each other well.. oh, we have (for example) 9 ISO markings on the ISO dial.. but, oh?! we have 10 ISO settings! There shouldn't have been an option to choose which 2 of the 3 highest ISO settings should be set, should have had them all available. True, most people will probably never go up to those ridiculously high ISO settings anyways, but still, it was a useless option to occupy the user's mind with and just had every single ISO setting available on the ISO dial and that will require less pondering.. and say you decide you really wanted that 1 setting you decided not to assign to H1 or H2, then you have to go back into menu and reassign so you have access.. and menu diving is one of those things the Fuji X-T1 was suppose to be designed so well you didn't have to menu dive as much.

Does it make sense the rear LCD cannot auto-rotate to match camera orientation like the EVF can?

And being one of the weakest attributes to the X-T1, why have a dedicate movie rec button that cannot be reassigned to a more useful custom button?.. probably can change in future firmware update?

I do like the less protrusive grip on the X-T1, but as much as I feel the grip on the E-M1 is the one slightly out of place design element that doesn't 100% merge with the more traditional retro-looking design of the camera, it does feel great and because that part is all metal with the rest of the body, the camera feels much more substantial and not so hollow as the X-T1 (and all other X cameras) can feel... the E-M1 is a DSLR element and it works very well in the hands... and after all, the E-M1 is suppose to be a professional mirrorless camera as a DSLR equal or replacement in most regards.

Anyways, the E-M1 is the most solid feeling camera I've held in a long time. There's a lot of metal all around and there's no play. Coupled with some of the more substantially built lenses such as the 75mm, any one of the MFT Voigtlander Noktons, the new Pany-Leica 42.5 f1.2, etc.. the E-M1 just feels very confident and classy in the hands.. I've never held a Leica, but I imagine with the right setup, it could feel pretty darn close to one as far as build quality is concerned.

Looking forward to what the upcoming X-Pro 2 might be like, hopefully it will be monumental.