The E-M1 versus the E-M5

E-M1: US$1400

E-M5: US$1000

For that extra US$400 you get:

  • A bigger, heavier camera
  • Lower battery life
  • A better EVF
  • Slightly better LCD
  • Slightly better build with slightly better sealing
  • WiFi
  • A built-in grip
  • Better 4/3 lens focusing, better continuous AF with m4/3 lenses
  • 1/8000 shutter and 1/320 flash sync

If I think of anything else when the meds wear off, I'll add it to the above list. 

I'm pretty sure you all know I'm a huge fan of the E-M5. After all, I gave it the Serious Mirrorless Camera of the Year award last year. Certainly so far this year, the E-M1 would have to be one of the candidates for that award this year (the Panasonic GX7 and Fujifilm X-E1 also come to mind). 

That said, I'm a little worried about the price push on the E-M1. Coupled with the yen depreciation, the bump over the E-M5 is considerable, perhaps as much as 45% depending upon how you account for the currency differences over the time period between the two cameras. This is pushing the E-M5 upwards to a price above cameras like the Nikon D7100 (remember, that's a 24mp camera with proven autofocus performance, longer battery life, and a bigger sensor), so that first bullet up there is something you don't want to ignore. The biggest difference between the E-M1 and D7100 is weight (D7100 is only 54% heavier than the E-M1, while it is 91% heavier than an E-M5). In size, they're nearly the same width, the D7100 is 14% taller (but has a flash up there that the E-M1 doesn't), and the mount differences make the D7100 20% thicker than the E-M1.

More than one person yesterday sent me an email with a David vs. Goliath reference. But this new David is bulking up and the original Goliath wasn't all that big to start with (about 6'9" in the original texts). Moreover, it wasn't size that was the reason David won the battle, but rather using a tool that Goliath's armor didn't protect him against.

So I'm having a little trouble reconciling where Olympus is trying to go here. No doubt they'll get plenty of early takers for the E-M1 at the US$1400 price, as most of us who partake of m4/3 want even modest advances in our tools. We want to win back some of the ground we give up with the smaller sensor. But count how many of those bullet points gain ground against the less expensive D7100. Arguably, none. (I wrote "arguably," not "absolutely," so don't bombard me with fan boy accusations. I'm trying to play Devil's Advocate here.)

They gain ground against the E-M5, for sure. But is it US$400 worth of ground? That's where I'm having a bit of difficulty. Moreover, that difficulty is compounded by the prospect of an E-M5 update, which some at Olympus have hinted is in the works. Does that mean that the higher modeled number goes down scale, or is it going to leap-frog the E-M1 in performances, features, and price? 

As a clue we have the updated lens roadmap: nothing new except the Pro line of lenses, which will be an unspecified wide angle zoom, the 12-40mm f/2.8, the 40-150mm f/2.8, and an unspecified "super-telephoto." 

Hmm. Olympus is seeing themselves as a high-end, enthusiast-only maker maybe? That really doesn't square with all those E-PLs and E-PMs they sold and the seven Plain Jane lenses they've introduced. Moreover, I'm not sure why I would want the US$1000 E-P5 now that the E-M1 is out. For US$400 extra cash in my pocket I lose the EVF, lose build quality, and lose the grip, plus lose 15% of the weight and some size (more than added back if I buy the optional EVF). The E-M5 seems a better tradeoff at that same price, for the most part. 

All that said, the initial feedback from the E-M1 launch has all been positive from their most likely customer base. I look forward to trying the camera myself. Maybe then I can better rationalize its price.  

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