Panasonic Lumix G9 v Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk.II: A close call
For several years Olympus has been the popular choice among pro-level micro four-thirds system cameras. It has been the one to beat for autofocus speed and accuracy and, with its complementary Olympus Pro lenses, has seemed to be the natural choice. Now it has a strong competitor in the Panasonic Lumix G9 which arrived on the scene last month.
There’s not a lot in it between these two cameras, although I have chosen the Panasonic because I am already committed to the Panny eco-system with my stock of Leica DG lenses. DPReview has just published a comparison between the two cameras (written by Allison Johnson) and, well, the conclusion is that if you are an Olympus person — owning Olympus lenses — then go for the Oly. If, on the other hand, you appreciate the chunkier Lumix body, the superb electronic viewfinder and own Panasonic lenses, then the Panasonic is the natural choice.
Super fast duo
Frankly there is hardly anything in it between these two cameras in terms of autofocus speed. This is despite the G9 relying on contrast-detect while the Olympus offers phase detect. As DPreview points out, though, the system on the G9 is the best CDAF they have ever tested. I can confirm that it is super fast compared with my other autofocus m4/3 cameras, including the Panasonic GX8, and larger-sensor mirrorless designs such as the Leica CL and SL. And neither of the two latter models are slouches in the AF department.
The G9 stands out in the size and clarity of its 3.8m dot viewfinder with its 0.83x magnification, one of the best I’ve experienced and second only to that of the SL in my opinion, and in its revised 5-axis in-body stabilisation. When combined with stabilised Panasonic or Leica DG lenses, this system is capably of achieving a 6.5-stop advantage over a non-stabilised system (such as the Leica CL). As DPreview makes clear, these two cameras offer the best stabilisation on the market. The large LCD status screen on the top plate of the G9 is an undoubted plus point for the Panasonic, setting it apart from the Olympus.
According to the testers, the Olympus produces “slightly nicer JPEG sharpening and colours at base ISO” but this doesn’t worry me one bit since I tend to shoot mainly RAW. The Panasonic, though, offers better higher ISO performance and that is definitely of interest to me.
The Panasonic, as I can attest from my own experience, has a simpler, more intuitive menu system. I have always found Olympus cameras fiddly and the menus difficult to navigate. However, if you take the time to get used to the camera, I am sure the Olympus system becomes second nature. As someone who swaps around between a number of cameras, I just find the Panasonic more congenial.
The Lumix has a slightly larger, chunkier body which I like — with its large grip it is definitely easier to handle with longer zooms or heavier primes such as the 42.5mn Nokticron. Others might prefer the Olympus for its more compact dimensions, although in my opinion that leads to some rather compact controls. My local Olympus dealer, however, is adamant that the control layout is better than that of the G9. In particular, he finds the placing of the front and rear control wheels much more convenient on the Olympus. I disagree.
Finally we come to the lens question. If you already own G lenses from Panasonic or Leica then there are a couple of built-in advantages which make a case for favouring the G9. The Lumix “Depth from Defocus” system, which I haven’t yet tried, works only with native lenses, not with otherwise compatible Olympus optics. For me, though, the clincher is the G9’s ability to work with the manual aperture rings on the Leica DG lenses. I love the ability to change aperture as on a manual M lens rather than having to use a soft control dial. All the newer Leica DG prime lenses have aperture rings, including the 12mm, 15mm and the 42.5mm. The old 25mm Summilux is an unfortunate exception, as is the 45mm macro. However, if you buy the Olympus body these rings do not work.
The G9 is extremely well built and has good weather protection (as does the Olympus). Both cameras are currently selling for the identical price of £1,499. Both come with a range of lens kits. I would choose the Olympus with the excellent 12-40mm Pro zoom at £2,199 or the Panasonic with the even better and more versatile 12-60mm Leica DG zoom at £2,019. One thing I can say: The Olympus has the most ridiculous name and I really don't know what the Japanese company is thinking of. The Panasonic wins with its simpler G9 moniker every time.
For the first time in a couple of years, the OM-D di dah di dah has a serious competitor in the G9. I am still in the early stages with this camera but I hope to bring you a more detailed report in the near future.