Home Features Panasonic Lumix G9 v Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk.II: A close call

Panasonic Lumix G9 v Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk.II: A close call

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  Getting the buzz: Fast and just the job for wildlife photography — the Panasonic Lumix G9 faces up to the impressive Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II (image: Panasonic)
Getting the buzz: Fast and just the job for wildlife photography — the Panasonic Lumix G9 faces up to the impressive Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II (image: Panasonic)

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. 

  The Panasonic Lumix G9 (seen here with the Leica DG 12-60mm zoom) is slightly chunkier than the Olympus. It offers a DSLR-style top control screen which is an undoubted attraction for new buyers
The Panasonic Lumix G9 (seen here with the Leica DG 12-60mm zoom) is slightly chunkier than the Olympus. It offers a DSLR-style top control screen which is an undoubted attraction for new buyers

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.

  The OM-D E-M1 Mark II has a long pedigree to match its name. It has a deservedly high reputation among m4/3 fans but the new G9 is camera that matches it in performance and improves on features in several areas
The OM-D E-M1 Mark II has a long pedigree to match its name. It has a deservedly high reputation among m4/3 fans but the new G9 is camera that matches it in performance and improves on features in several areas

Slightly nicer

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. 

  Enthusiasm unbridled: Andy Sands, right, isn
Enthusiasm unbridled: Andy Sands, right, isn’t impressed with the G9 — but then he wouldn’t be, he’s an Olympus dealer   —while Mike is under anaesthetic. The Olympus OM etc etc is on the counter, the G9 favouring the befuddled editor with its contrast-detect AF system

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. 

Lens choice

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. 

  Although he doesn
Although he doesn’t sell micro four-thirds gear, Ivor Cooper of Red Dot Cameras was happy to pose for the G9 and the really rather special 42.5mm Leica DG f/1.2 Nocticron, a lens which equates to 85mm and makes an ideal portrait optic (image Mike Evans)

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.

  Choosing the right prescription for your next micro four-thirds speed demon: The Panasonic Lumix is just ahead of the game for the time being. Image from the G9 and Olympus Pro 25mm f/1.2   — a good marriage of marques. This is a better lens than the elderly Leica DG 25mm, the odd one out in the Leica DG lineup
Choosing the right prescription for your next micro four-thirds speed demon: The Panasonic Lumix is just ahead of the game for the time being. Image from the G9 and Olympus Pro 25mm f/1.2 — a good marriage of marques. This is a better lens than the elderly Leica DG 25mm, the odd one out in the Leica DG lineup

Insanely fast: Chris Niccolls of TheCameraStoreTV on the Panasonic G9 — watch the test here

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11 COMMENTS

  1. I sometimes wonder where I might be now, if in 2010 I had chosen the EP-1 rather than the D-lux 4 at the outset of my digital journey! As it is, I’m now APS-C and one inch sensors which give me a beautiful range of choices of horses for courses. So I can only salivate on the sidelines at your juicy description of the G9, Mike, though I think there is always the thought that settling for one camera only would make me a better photographer, and the Panny-Leica option would be a strong contender for that role!

    • I do believe that having one camera and sticking to it is a recipe for better photography. John Shingleton has a lot to say on that and I think he is basically right. I sometimes wish I had just one camera (or one system for that matter) but I feel I need to cast my net wider or I would be unable to make informed comments or comparisons. Macfilos would become a duller blog, although John would contend that it would succeed on a diet of photographs rather that the current medley of gear and photo contend.

      • I agree that one camera does give you more time to concentrate on just getting the right shots, and it does free your mind from the DSLR conundrum, or which lens, which light, should I do this, that or the other – of which you then do neither. I know, a year and whatever now with my X, and while I am researching new camera’s, saving hard, working hard, and shooting often – I am not running out to buy new gear.

        However there are a small number of occasions where I would like other options (I so wanted my DSLR and telephoto lens while shooting the seals at Ravenscar, and will take it next time), so finding the balance is probably the greatest achievement we could all manage.

  2. If my memory serves me well, and at my age there’s no guarantee, the top plate layout seems very similar to the Canon 5d I used to have. That seems a reasonable approach if Panasonic wants to convert pro photographers.

  3. All that remains is for Leica to come up with a M4/3 body with all traditional controls like the Fuji X-T2. Then all preferences would be covered. That might even convert me.

    • Of course, all Leica needs to do rebadge the G9 or the GX9. I too believe it would sell, even at the usual Leica premium. Just look at the D-Lux which is just a rebadged LX100 — Leica fans think it is wonderfull. Sadly, Leica has stated time and time again that they will never adopt m4/3. Indeed, Stefan Daniel was insistent that the D-Lux sensor be referred to as "four-thirds" and not "micro four-thirds". I have often wondered if there is some licensing issue behind their reluctance.

      • Just a small historical aside: the Digilux 3 was a rebadged Panasonic and it was Four Thirds, not of course MFT, but the difference as I understand it lies in the lenses not the sensor size. I’d be interested to know if anyone shares my suspicion that a major plus of Four Thirds (telecentricity – to do with the relationship between sensor size and lens size) was thrown away when MFT went for the gain (then but not now!) of reduced size. APS-C cameras have also come down in size over several years now.

  4. I have just ordered the Panasonic G9 and the Leica 12-60 as it’s key features (viewfinder in particular) look promising. I have the Leica SL as a replacement to my M240 due to my aging eyes. The SL is my favourite camera of all time for image quality and haptics and the glorious viewfinder. However it is heavier than I desire – I live in a rural area and that means I have to order a camera to try it. The G9 viewfinder looks very very promising for my needs and the current specs of M43 look more than adequate for most professional and enthusiast use – I grew up when we lived with ISO 64 so I laugh at all the general incompetent web focus on things like ultra high pixel count and shooting at ISO 100,000 when most equipment today is more than adequate for most people – especially when the vast majority never print large prints and only pixel peep on their computer instead of enjoying the emotional impact of the image. l am going to explore the G9 and M43 glass to see if it can be my single camera system and compact and fun to take images with.

    By the way, I love that bird picture! Cheers, Brian

  5. I think it comes down as much to ergonomics as anything. See which one feels most natural and which one you’re most likely to carry with you.

    • This is so, apart from the lens issue, of course. If you have Panasonic lenses you’re probably better off with the Lumix; similarly, with Olympus lenses stick with the OM-D.

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