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Reader Asks: Sony RX100 or Olympus OM-D E-M5?

Reader Todd B writes:

I am looking to pick up a smaller sized camera then the D800 and see you have been toying with a few.

I was thinking the Sony RX100 looks neat, but see you have been shooting the Olympus OM-D E-M5 which looks great.

Would love to hear your thoughts. It seems 4/3 has really brought some IQ out of its smaller sensor these days.

DIGLLOYD: More than toying— extensive use— I’ll have even more coverage of the Olympus E-M5, and coverage of the Sony RX100 is coming soon.

Get the Olympus E-M5 or Sony RX100 at B&H Photo using my gear page. Thanks.

I shot both cameras extensively on my 12-day trip, and found both extremely useful; it was impractical to carry the Nikon D800 on my mountain bike adventures, nor could I have obtained as many useful images.

But I see them as serving very different purposes. Here are just a few points; I’ll be more thorough in my full review.

  • Think of the Olympus E-M5 as a mini-DSLR and the Sony RX100 as point and shoot with high image quality. Well, actually the RX100 blows away all my prior point-and-shoot cameras in terms of color and noise, though its sharpness is often well below its theoretical 20MP.
  • The Sony RX100 is much smaller and lighter than the Olympus E-M5; it is pocketable; the E-M5 is not pocketable, even with a pancake lens. If there were a ratio of image quality to size/weight, the Sony RX100 delivers a clear value.
  • The Sony RX100 has a 28-100mm f/1.8 - f/4.9 zoom lens built in (no interchangeable lenses, very slow at the long end, limiting its practicality in dim light). Lens performance is very good at the wide-end to so-so at the long end.
  • The Olympus E-M5 is capable of much sharper results consistently. The reasons for this are not entirely clearly, but most of the lenses are clearly a step up. Since many of the Micro Four Thirds Olympus and Panasonic lenses cost nearly as much or even more than the Sony RX100, appropriate expectations must be kept here!
  • The Olympus E-M5 takes a wide variety of lenses for Micro Four Thirds (Panasonic, Olympus, others) as well as allowing many other kinds with adapters.
  • The Olympus E-M5 offers 5-axis image stabilization with all lenses, a feature I have found to be highly effective, including for video. The Sony RX100 does well also, but perhaps not as well.
  • The Olympus E-M5 has an EVF which is very helpful for those with presbyopia and/or in bright light. However, the Sony RX100 rear LCD is really excellent as such things go.

Due to the lack of support in Adobe Camera RAW for the Sony RX100 ARW files, I cannot yet evaluate the image quality from RAW (using some other RAW converter requires a ton of fresh evaluation of conversion options, not going there). The Sony RX100 JPEG files are good, but appear to deliver less than what one might expect from RAW. Sony RX100 color rendition and flash fill is superb.

NOTE: Iridient Digital has RAW support for the Sony RX100.

Sony RX100
Olympus OM-D E-M5

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