In this post I’m going to compare the Panasonic GX9 vs Olympus OMD EM5 III vs Fuji Xt30. As you probably know, I’ve shot Panasonic, Olympus and Fuji cameras for years now, going back to the the Panasonic G3, EM5 and X Pro1. I want a compact and lightweight camera that I can use mainly with prime lenses for some projects that I have planned in the Philippines later in the year. The project will be documentary and involve lots of candid portraits as well as some street photography. I plan to use whichever camera I choose with a (35mm equivalent focal lengths) 50mm and 85 ish mm prime lenses as those are my preferred focal lengths for the kind of shooting that I have planned. On the Panasonic and Olympus I shot the Pana-Leica 25mm 1.4,Olympus 45mm 1.2 and Sigma 56mm 1.4 while on the Fuji I paired it with the 35mm 1.4. I had planned on using the 56mm 1.2 as well but in the end couldn’t get hold of one in time for my testing but the AF performance is pretty much on par with the Fuji 35mm lens and having owned the 56mm previously I know how it performs.
Firstly let me say that all the specs are available online so I’m not going to go through them all here. I’ll just talk about those that mattered to me for the project that I have planned. Those being image quality, AF, handling and performance.
While the GX9 and EM5 III uses a 20mp Micro 43 sensor the Fuji XT30 makes use of the larger 26mp APS-C sensor found in the XT3 so it should be a no brainer that the image coming out of the Fuji is better and it performs better when pushing your ISO higher. The thing is that when reading forums on the internet they would lead you to believe that the difference is night and day and this simply is not the case. Yes the Fuji is slightly better once you get up to 3200+ ISO but the differences wont be enough to make or break an image. For me the more interesting question was about the colour each camera produced and I was particularly interested in the Acros black and white profile of the XT30 as a lot of my project will be shot in black and white. Quite frankly I chose the XT30 as one of the most affordable ways to get the Acros profile. In my opinion the image quality produced by all the cameras is good enough for what I had in mind.
Fuji are heralded within the media for being excellent for portraits, skin tones and the Acros profile and in a lot of situations I know why. I love the organic look of the colours coming off the X-Trans sensor and under the right lighting conditions the Acros profile produces some beautiful black and white images. However sometimes the colours can feel just a little flat while the Panasonic and Olympus in my opinion actually produce more pleasing colours more of the time. I am a big fan of the colours that both Panasonic and Olympus cameras put out SOOC. For me they win when shooting colour images but the Fuji does well for black and white work. This is why I bought an XT 30 just for this project. However I like the Fuji and Panasonic black and white rendering equally and it really depends upon the subject and light as to which is better in a given situation.
In terms of handling all the cameras are small, lightweight and discreet. They are quick in use and it is easy to quickly change settings on them. I prefer that the Olympus has a separate door for memory cards and I still prefer the PASM system employed by virtually every camera manufacturer rather than the separate dials for shutter speed employed by Fuji. (note the XT30 has a shutter speed dial which when using most Fuji lenses combines with the Aperture ring to give control over exposure). The XT30 does not have and ISO dial unlike its big brother the XT3.
All the cameras feel well built although I’d have to give the nod to the GX9 and Em5III (although I have heard issues reported around the strength of the tripod plate on the EM5II) as they just feel a little higher quality finish and of course the Em5III is weather sealed.
I had fully expected to love the little Fuji XT30 but there were 2 major issues for me once I had a little time with the camera. Firstly, I wanted to shoot the 35mm 1.4 and 56mm 1.2 for my project and quite frankly the AF motors on these lenses still proved to be pretty poor. I had hoped that with the latest generation of camera bodies the AF when using these lenses would have improved but unfortunately (and this is no fault of the XT30’s) it hasn’t. Now I know that a lot of Fuji users love these lenses and in terms of their image quality, yes they are gems but the problem I had while testing the gear out (on not very trying subjects) was that it took multiple shot to get perfect focus. No, it wasn’t a bad copy of the lens, this is exactly how I remember my previous version being as well. I guess it is my own fault for hoping for an improvement that simply can’t be provided by a newer camera. These lenses desperately need updating and I really hope Fuji is working on this as their more modern lenses perform much faster. However it is these lenses that I particularly wanted to use. I’m not interested in the f/2 primes as I’m giving up some of the benefits of that APS-C sensor when shooting with them. In all honesty I like the ergonomics and handling of the EM5 III the most, so unless the XT30 is going to give me tangible benefits (which it would if these lenses auto focussed quickly enough) over it then I’m not going to choose it. The EM5 III is simply more fun and gives me more confidence that I can nail the focus every time.
While the Fuji XT-30 does offer slightly improved High ISO performance the differences are minimal and I’d still place my limit of acceptable IQ for portraits at ISO 3200, exactly the same as the Micro 43 cameras.
The second major issue (and one which even had me and my wife spend and evening trying to figure out) was the Fuji App to transfer images to your mobile device. I have used this app before, along with the ones form every other major camera manufacturer (except Canon). The best ones are from Olympus and Panasonic, Sony’s is fine too and Nikon’s although temperamental usually works. Well this Fuji App is a complete and utter bag of S**t. I spent hours trying to get it to connect to my phone, my wifes phone, my tablet and in the end gave up. When I’m out in the middle of nowhere taking photos and I want to quickly transfer some images then this is a big no no for Fuji. I didn’t previously have this issue when I owned the XT2 so I can only assume that the updated app is either useless, has compatibility issues or it’s the XT30’s fault. Either way in the end no matter how beautiful the Acros black and white images were, far too many were out of focus and when they were in focus the app made viewing them on my mobile device impossible. The Fuji is sadly out of the race and has been sent back.. As you saw in my Olympus OMD EM5 III Review this camera does everything that 90% of people will need it to do with no fuss. It makes photography easy and fun and dare I say it, quite cool too.
However I already own the Panasonic GX9 and a GH5 so is the Olympus at approximatley £1000 twice as good as the Panasonic GX9 which can be had for under £500 (as of early 2020)?
In the Olympus’ favour it has slightly better IBIS, is weather sealed, has a better viewfinder and offers Hi Res mode as well as the useful long exposure modes such as Live Bulb and Live view. In the Panasonic’s favour for me is the fact that it uses the same menu system and has the same colour profile as my existing GH5 and so using the two together would be a more seemless experience and mean my lazy ass doesn’t have to memorise two menu systems. It is of course half the price.
When I wrote my Olympus EM5III review it was before the Coronoavirus Pandemic had really hit the UK hard. Money and business was quite good and I could afford the additional cost of the EM5III over the GX9. However as I sit here writing this (early April) the UK economy has basically shut down, business has dried up and I am now putting a much higher priority on bang for buck to ensure that I get the most out of any investment that I make in to a camera or system. This puts cost way higher up my list of priorities than would previously have been the case and I’m sure like many photographers out there I am now really asking myself the question, do I honestly need these extra features and are they really going to make a difference to my work and earning potential.
For me, in the end it comes down to the image I can produce. Yes it is nice to have the better viewfinder but the one in the GX9 does not hinder me from getting the shot. I also quite like the tilt mechanism on it. Yes, hi res mode would be nice to have and I can see myself using it quite a lot for landscapes but the projects that I have lined up will be fine with 20mp of resolution. Am I going to suddenly start doing a lot of long exposure photography to make use of live bulb and live view…..If I’m bluntly honest with myself then no, that just isn’t going to happen.
Does my camera need to be weather sealed? Well a lot of us like to kid ourselves that a certain specification is an absolute must. I hear people all the time saying that weather sealing is absolutely essential. I don’t buy it for the most part. I used to live in the Outer hebrides, a place where the weather could not be more challenging to a photographer. My cameras back then didn’t offer top notch weather sealing and you know what I did when the heavens opened… I popped my camera back in my camera bag and waited for the torrential wind blasted downpour to pass. Just before and just after the storm is the best time to photograph anyway not during it. Even if the cameras were weather sealed like a tank the front element of the lens woud be covered in rain and ruin any image. The philippinnes, just like the Outer Hebrides is prone to sudden torrential downpours but for the subjects that I plan on shooting it is irrelevant as I doubt many portrait subjects will be willing to stand out in the rain while I photograph them. Long story short, weather sealing is nice to have but not essential for me.
Both the GX9 and EM5 III have fast enough AF speed for my needs. Yes the Olympus may be a little better at tracking thanks to its phase detect Af points but it doesn’t make a difference for what I shoot as the GX9 is quick to focus and has decent face and eye detect AF.
The crux of the matter comes down to which camera offers the features that I need in the cheapest package and this is where the GX9 delivers in spades. IMO it is probably the best value camera in the photographic universe at the moment.
In terms of output it is virtually identical to the Olympus EM5 III however it actually bests it in my opinion in one area that is vital to my project. The black and white profiles of the latest generation of Panasonic cameras and in particular L Monochrome D is just about my favourite black and white profile of any camera.
Despite wanting the Fuji XT30’s black and white output the |fuji sytem currently has too many compromises to work for me (Slow AF, No IBIS, Poor Wifi App, No PASM). Despite quite liking a lot of the EM5III features I don’t really need them. My Panasonic GX9 takes beautiful black and white images (particularly in the L Mono and L Mono D profile) and offers everything that I need in a small lightweight package. It doesn’t hurt that it looks beautiful too. So I’ll be using it alongside my GH5 for my projects this year.