While Panasonic released the very first Micro Four Thirds camera, the Lumix G1, back in 2008, it was Olympus who first made a real impact with their retro styled E-P1. Olympus have always drawn on their legacy by calling their compact M4/3 cameras "PENs", referring to the Olympus Pen half frame cameras from the 1960's and onwards. Also, their SLR styled cameras are called "OM-D", referring to the compact, reliable and successful series of film based Olympus OM SLR cameras from the 1970's.
These two lines of cameras make up their current offerings:
|Camera||Olympus OM-D E-M1||Olympus OM-D E-M5||Olympus PEN E-P5||Olympus PEN E-PL5||Olympus PEN E-PM2|
|Announced||Sep 10th, 2013||Feb 8th, 2012||May 10th, 2013||Sep 17th, 2012||Sep 17th, 2012|
|Dimensions||130 × 97 × 63mm||122 × 89 × 43mm||122 × 69 × 37mm||111 × 64 × 38mm||110 × 64 × 34mm|
|Built in flash||No||No||Yes||No||No|
|In a nutshell||Weatherproof, pro ergonomics, 4/3 lens compatability||Weatherproof, retro design||Enthusiast friendly, but expensive||Compact, useful features||Very compact, more stripped of features|
Unlike the Panasonic camera lineup, all Olympus cameras feature essentially the same 16MP sensor. The sensor is Sony sourced, and is generally perceived as much better than the 12MP Panasonic sensor featured in previous Olympus camera models.
Of course, all Olympus cameras feature video recording. However, if you are truly interested in video, it would mostly be better to look for a camera from Panasonic. The Panasonic cameras rely on lens based Optical Image Stabilization, which works better for video recording than the sensor based image stabilization Olympus uses.
Also, the higher end Panasonic cameras can record videos at a higher bit rate. Finally, Panasonic cameras record at 25/50 fps in PAL regions, while Olympus cameras only support 30/60 fps regardless of region.
All Olympus cameras have built in image stabilization based on sensor movements (IBIS). This works with all lenses, even old mechanical legacy lenses, and can be an advantage over Panasonic cameras.
The E-M1 cleverly replaces both the E-M5 and the Four Thirds Olympus E-5 as the high end camera. By employing on sensor PDAF technology, it can focus older Four Thirds lenses very quickly, when using an adapter. This is a first for Micro Four Thirds cameras.
Besides the PDAF technology, the sensor is the same as from the other Olympus cameras. It does, however, not have a low pass (anti aliasing) filter, which gives sharper images.
The imaging sensor has PDAF sensor built into the sensor surface. This means that some of the sensor pixels are replaced with PDAF sensors. In real life usage, this doesn't have any negative impact on the image output, even if there are some small "holes" in the image output.
The PDAF sensors are used to provide very fast focusing of legacy Four Thirds lenses, when using an adapter. However, the PDAF technology is not used while recording videos. This is sad, and a bit of a lost opportunity, in my opinion. The autofocus speed during video recording is one of the areas where Micro Four Thirds cameras do not excel. Even if the Panasonic GH3 does quite well in this respect.
The good grip makes the camera a lot more ergonomic to use than the predecessor E-M5, especially with large lenses.
Olympus had a big hit with the retro designed E-M5.
Personally, I think the ergonomics are not very good. However, the camera becomes a lot more usable if you get the extra grip.
The E-P5 got a somewhat mixed reception. While the upgrade from the E-P3 is welcome, including, e.g., the tilting LCD screen, it is generally seen as quite expensive compared with what you get. Essentially, it is the same camera as the E-M5, but without the built in electronic viewfinder (EVF).
In addition to offering the tilting LCD screen, it also provides better control over the exposure with a two-dial control system.
I think the E-PL5 is a quite interesting camera. It has the same sensor as higher end Olympus cameras, while the ergonomics are a bit stripped down, at a much lower price.
Beyond the ergonomics difference, it is worth noting that the more expensive E-P5 also has a more advanced five axis image stabilization feature.
This is essentially a further stripped down version of the E-PL5. Just like the E-PL5, it gives you quite good image quality, at a lower price.
This camera is good for those who want the smallest possible camera, which still features a good image quality, and IBIS (in body image stabilization), and at a reasonable price. What you lose, though, is less buttons and dials, and you have to rely more on digging into menus for changing settings.
Olympus has got a quite full camera lineup now, from the technological wonder of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 to the cheap, but well performing Olympus PEN E-PM2. Generally, Olympus cameras are good for those who are more interested in photography than video. Otherwise, go for Panasonic.
Rumours now indicate that Olympus is in the process of launching a new OM-D model, which will probably sit well below the E-M1 in terms of price, competing with cameras like the Nikon D5300 and the Panasonic G6