In this article I am going to compare the Olympus OMD EM1 Mark II vs the Panasonic GH5. I own both of these top of the range Micro 4/3 cameras.
I have been using them for a few months now with a variety of different lenses and for different types of photography including landscapes, portraits and travel.
There are loads of comparisons on line that deal with the video side of things far better than I ever could as a primarily stills photographer. However despite the often stated presumption of using Olympus for stills and Panasonic for video I thought it would make an interesting comparison to see if this still holds true with these two flagship Micro 4/3 cameras.
So let’s get straight into the comparison by looking firstly at the specs and then on to ergonomics and handling.
- Both have the latest 20mp Micro 4/3 sensors
- Both shoot 4k video although the GH5 has many more options including super slow motion full HD at 180fps as well as higher bit rates.
- The EM1 II has a 3 inch touch screen LCD and 2.36 million dot viewfinder
- The GH5 has a larger 3.2 inch touch screen LCD and 3.6 million dot viewfinder
- Both are weather sealed down to -10c
- The Olympus can shoot at up to 60 fps with the electronic shutter and 15 FPS with the mechanical shutter
- The GH5 shoots at 11 FPS
- Both have in-body 5 axis image stabilisation
- Both have a variety of shooting modes including time-lapse, HDR and focus bracketing
So let’s look a little bit beyond the specs and see what the cameras are actually like to handle.
Olympus OMD EM1 Mark II vs Panasonic GH5 – Handling
First up the Panasonic GH5 is 139x98x87mm and weighs 725g with the battery in. I might note it’s the same battery as the GH4 which is great if you already own some. Compare this with its predecessor the GH4 at 133x93x84mm and with a weight of 560g with battery and you can see that the GH5 has put on a considerable amount of weight and some heft too. Where I really notice this most is in the depth of the grip. It is very comfortable but I have to be honest and say I prefer the GH4’s grip.
The Olympus OMD EM1 mark II is slightly larger than its predecessor at 134x91x69mm and lighter too at 574g but still feels svelt in comparison to the GH5.
Both cameras feel great in the hand and are very comfortable to hold, even with larger lenses attached. However the GH5 is starting to feel quite large for a Micro 4/3 body. A lot of people (myself included) use this system for its light weight and portability.
I personally prefer the size and weight of the Olympus OMD EM1 Mark II. When I had both cameras on me in Asia recently I found myself gravitating towards the Olympus when given a choice. It was the one I naturally reached for out of the two. The reason is not just the size and weight but the fact that I also find the grip more comfortable. The grip on the GH5 is just a little too deep and results in your hand feeling the strain on extended use.
In terms of controls, both of these cameras are incredibly customisable. You can set them up virtually as you want. However one of the benefits of the larger body on the GH5 is more function buttons and more direct access buttons to things like ISO, white balance and exposure compensation. If you are used to the direct controls of a DSLR then the GH5 will feel more natural to you.
The Olympus takes a little more setting up initially but once you have set it up to your liking then you rarely have to delve in to the menu system during everyday shooting. The Panasonic just make sense and is very logical and intuitve in its control layout. I really can’t find fault with it. Picking it up for the first time everything was just where I would expect it to be and using it comes very naturally to me.
As for the menu systems themselves, the GH5’s menu is a little better set out and more intuitive to use thanks to a simple layout and straight forward logical ordering. The Olympus on the other hand does take a little getting used to with some odd naming of items such as noise reduction being called the noise filter etc. However once you are used to it then even the Olympus is quick and easy to navigate through. Top marks to Panasonic here though as I feel their menu system is one of the best available and having used loads of different cameras I find that everything is where I would expect it to be.
One new addition for the Panasonic GH5 is the AF joystick which has been added to the back of the camera. This allows direct access to change your AF point and it is a joy to use. Not only does it enable you to change your AF point more quickly but when clicked it also returns the AF point to home (default is centre point). Panasonic have implemented this brilliantly. There is also a switch which lets you quickly flick between AF-S, AF-C and manual focus.
The Olympus on the other hand relies on the D-Pad and while it is quick to use I do prefer the AF joystick of the GH5 and I’m sure most people would too.
Olympus OMD EM1 Mark II vs Panasonic GH5 – Image Stabilisation
One of the big new additions to the Panasonic GH5 over the Gh4 is in body image stabilisation. Traditionally this has always been one of the big advantages that Olympus had over Panasonic.
However now that Panasonic have added this to the GH5 it really is a great improvement. Not only does it allow you to handhold shots at much lower shutter speeds enabling you to use a lower ISO but I also find it results in a much higher keeper rate for virtually all photos that you take.
So how does the image stabilisation compare between these two models.
Olympus claims 5.5 stops of stabilisation on the EM1 Mark II and Panasonic claims 5 stops on the GH5.
In my testing I found that I could comfortably handhold the Olympus at shutter speeds as low as 1-2 seconds at 12mm and still consistently get tack sharp images. Some even claim shutter speeds as low as 10 seconds are possible but I think that is a bit hit and miss and requires propping yourself up against a wall or tree to try and minimise any movement in your body.
With the GH5 I was able to consistently get tack sharp images at 1/3 second at 12mm on the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro lens ( see my review of that lens here ). So while the Olympus does still hold an advantage in this area the Panasonic certainly puts up a respectable fight.
Olympus OMD EM1 Mark II vs Panasonci GH5 – Auto Focus, Burst rates and action
Both of these cameras are built for speed.
The Olympus boasts an incredible 60 fps burst rate (single AF only) and 18 FPS with C-AF with the electronic shutter . These drop down to 15 FPS (S-AF) and 10 FPS (C-AF) with the mechanical shutter.
The GH5 while not as fast still offers very reasonable rates of 12 FPS (S-AF) and 9FPS (C-AF). So if you actually ignore the headline grabbing rates of the Olympus and look at the most useful option which is C-AF with the mechanical shutter there is on 1 FPS difference between the two.
So how do these two cameras handle fast action.
I’m going to say straight up here that I am not a fast action shooter. I do portraits, landscapes and travel photography. However just in my simple testing having models walk through the scene I found that the Olympus AF system copes better and gives a higher keeper rate than the GH5. Although the GH5 has more focus points at 225 vs Olympus’ 121, the EM1 II uses a hybrid system of phase detect and contrast detect points that seem better able to keep up with movement.
Panasonic’s Depth from Defocus contrast detect system struggles a little bit more when it comes to C-AF and tracking auto focus.
Olympus also captures images at any of its high frame rates in full raw resolution. Pro capture is a feature which will pre record 14 images and constantly hold them in the buffer. Then if you start shooting you will be able to select from those pre-recorded images. It allows you to capture shots where maybe your trigger finger wasn’t quite fast enough.
Panasonic on the other hand offers 6k photo mode which allows you to continuosly record at 30fps and then extract 18mp still images from the recording but only in Jpeg format.
If I’m honest I find the implementation of Panasonic’s 6k photo mode more useful than Olympus’ due to one factor. With the Olympus you have to trawl through and delete any images that you don’t want. With the Panasonic you still have to look through all the images but you can simply select the ones that you want to keep. That saves me having to constantly delete multiple photos. However I rarely find myself using either of these options as I prefer a more considered and slower paced approach to photography but I understand birders, wildlife and sports photographers would appreciate them. Basically you can choose between the Raw files of the Olympus or the Jpegs of the Panasonic.
Standard focus performance from both is excellent
When it comes down to what I use most which is S-AF in single shot mode both cameras are brilliant in good light. They lock on quickly and are incredibly accurate. When the light drops slightly the Olympus is a tad better but there really is not much in it.
One thing I did notice while testing the Olympus 25mm 1.2 Pro on the GH5 was that a strongly back-lit scene could throw the GH5 off and it would hunt or in some cases fail to focus altogether.
When it comes to how I use these cameras I would take both of them over a DSLR any day of the week because they just focus much more accurately.
Let’s not forget that both offer face detection and eye detection which is so useful for portrait work. Both work well but I prefer Olympus’ implementation as it adds a square over the face and then a smaller one over whichever eye is in focus. Panasonic puts a square around the face but then has intersecting lines to show you which eye is in focus. It is not quite as intuitive as the EM1 II and on occasion the intersecting lines do not meet over an eye so I was unsure as to whether the eye was in focus or not.
Olympus OMD EM1 Mark II vs Panasonic GH5 – Image Quality
Both cameras are using the latest Micro 4/3 20mp sensors so they should be quite evenly matched. However there has always been a notion that you use Olympus for stills and Panasonic for video but does this still hold true with the latest generation of cameras.
In terms of IQ the two cameras are virtually identical, offering sharp detailed photos. The GH5 removes the AA filter but in practise I have not noticed this to offer any tangible benefit. Both cameras seem to resolve the same level of detail.
One area where there is a slight difference is that the Olympus offers an extended ISO setting of 64 compared to that of 100 with the GH5. This does allow the EM1 II to give incredibly clean results with none of the noise that used to be present at base ISO in clear skies. This is a big improvement for me personally with my landscape work.
In terms of high ISO performance the two cameras are very evenly matched offering very usable files even at 3200 ISO and even 6400 ISO if the photos are just for web use or small prints.
At up to 800 ISO images are very clean and retain detail. At 1600 ISO you can see a slight loss of detail but no noise. At 3200 ISO there is further loss of detail and some noise creeping in to the images. At 6400 ISO details become smeared and noise is quite visible.
One thing that I have seen is that the Panasonic GH5 seems to handle colour noise a little better than the Olympus EM1 II at higher ISO settings. At 3200 the Olympus sometimes shows some ugly colour noise in skin tones whereas the Panasonic doesn’t. This is in the Jpeg files but not present in the raw files so if you shoot raw then it is nothing to be concerned about. If you shoot jpeg it is worth being aware of.
The colours on the GH5 have been improved quite a lot and I particularly like their natural profile for almost all types of imagery. The L Mono setting also gives very nice high contrast black and white shots. The natural profile on the Olympus is still the one I go to for most images and of course you can tweak the black and white profile in both the highlights, shadows and mid-tones to get it exactly as you wish.
Dynamic range of the two cameras is essentially identical.
I’ll be adding some high ISO examples soon. Having just gone through all my photo from these two cameras I realised that I don’t have good test shots to share because I was using the Olympus 25mm 1.2 (see my review here )and Pana Leica 25mm 1.4 a lot of the time and that allowed me to keep my ISO to 1600 or below at all times while in Asia.
Olympus does have a trick up its sleeve to best the GH5 for stills imagery in the form of the Hi Res mode. This combines 8 images in camera using sensor shift technology to give one hi resolution image.
I have found that this worked better in the EM1 Mark II than on my old EM5 II. It deals with movement better. For instance it is usable for running water now. However movement in trees and grass etc can still leave issues in your images that means this mode is only really fully usable for things like product photography. Let’s hope Olympus can improve Hi Res mode further as it has so much potential.
To use Hi Res mode you have to have the camera locked down on a sturdy tripod. I use the Manfrotto 055 XPRO3 which is absolutely rock solid.
You also need to be using very sharp lenses to really take advantage of this and resolve all the detail.
Another area where the Olympus EM1 II has an advantage is in night photography. Live view, live boost and live composite really are very useful as they allow you to see the image on the LCD screen as it is being created. It gives you a live preview as the exposure is taking place so you know exactly when you have the correct exposure and can stop at the perfect time.
Olympus OMD EM1 Mark II vs Panasonic GH5 – Conclusion
So which camera is the better one for stills photography?
If you are not going to take advantage of Hi Res mode, Live view, Live bulb and Live composite then at £1699 compared with £1849 the GH5 is surely the logical choice with its better viewfinder, LCD and far better video features. It definitely offers the better value and can keep up with the Olympus EM1 Mark II for general photography use.
However having said all that I still prefer the Olympus EM1 II and here is why.
I prefer the handling of the Olympus. I use Micro 4/3 to keep the size and weight of my kit small and light. The Panasonic GH5 is just a little too large for my liking and I prefer the grip on the Olympus which is more comfortable to hold all day long.
The GH5 does have good ergonomics and I particularly like the AF joystick and direct access to ISO via a dedicated button but I am quite happy using the D-pad to move AF points on the EM1 II and I can assign almost any button on the EM1 II to give me quick access to ISO. In all honesty if I am shooting in situations where the ISO needs changing quickly then I will have either camera set to auto ISO and set a maximum ISO and minimum shutter. If I want to set the ISO manually such as when shooting landscapes then quick access is not so vital and a quick press of the OK button and I am in to Olympus’ Super Control panel.
I find the auto focus on the Olympus just a touch more reliable in low light and I prefer their implementation of face detect AF. These two things can and did make the difference between me getting a candid shot of my daughter and not.
Lastly and this is a very subjective thing but I find the Olympus OMD EM1 II to be a beautiful camera and the finish in my opinion feels higher quality and more refined. It just works so well. In fact I would say that ergonomically it is the best camera that I have ever used and in the end this factor more than specs make me want to pick it up and take it with me everywhere.
So which one should you chose?
My brain finds it hard to recommend the Olympus OMD EM1 Mark II vs Panasonic GH5 at this time but my heart would chose the Olympus each and every time. However I will be keeping both as they are two of the best cameras available right now and whichever one you choose I’m sure you will be delighted.