NOTE: This post contains unedited images from both cameras. ALL images are straight-out-of-camera (SOOC). Only resizing has been done to speed up downloading time. You can click on individual images for a bigger enlargements. But for original resolution, you will have to email me.
Finally, I have in my hands the NEX-3 with it’s 18-55mm kit zoom lens to test out against the E-PL1 with it’s 14-42mm kit zoom lens! The NEX-5’s main difference to the NEX-3 is just better HD video and better build quality. So, let’s take a look at the NEX-3 versus the E-PL1. For detailed specifications and original resolution image comparison, please refer to www.dpreview.com
I am basically sharing my personal experience with both cameras here and I do my best not to be bias.
My style of testing is focused on the practical usage of cameras rather than comparing technical charts. So I brought the cameras along with me in my recent trip to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, East Malaysia.
First, I like the NEX-3’s finishing. Though the design looks awkward with a really small body and a big lens, I could quickly get over it by holding the lens instead of the body. It’s finishing gives me a high-tech feeling. It feels like a very advanced toy with swift responses, intuitive dials and electronic sounds.
But the first frustration quickly came when I took more than 15 mins and still could not find how to format my SD card in it. In the end, I just packed the camera for the trip and my friend solved the issue for me, fiddling with it on our way to Kota Kinabalu. First impression: Deep “Menu-Diving”!
For the E-PL1 and NEX, it seems that the camera designers want minimum buttons on the camera. So, we end up with a lot more “menu-diving” due to one-button-for-all concept. This is something I am not used to as I have been accustomed to having aperture and shutter speed dials in most of my cameras since I started photography. Maybe this will appeal to the new generation? I am not sure.
Both the NEX-3 and E-PL1 do not have dedicated aperture/shutter speed dials. They are designed with digital interfaces for you to scroll in/out, up/down, left/right in their digital menu to figure out how to even change the aperture setting for example. After having got used to the E-PL1, fiddling with the NEX is not too hard for me.
BUT I still prefer to have the dedicated dials back like the E-P1/2! Before we go further looking at the images, I must say that at least the NEX comes with “auto-rotate” feature for it’s images at the price tag below RM2000. The E-PL1’s lack of “auto-rotate” in it’s images frustrates me constantly!
My concept of using such small mirrorless digital cameras is for “de-stress”. I do not expect myself to spend much time post-processing these images at the computer after shooting. I want jpegs that are good enough for uploading to facebook and other sharing avenues almost instantly. (How I wish they come with wireless and bluetooth technology!)
I’d also like to spend more time shooting rather than editing my images. I’d like it to be small so that I can easily carry it around and reach for my camera before I miss a moment. Another attractive thing about these mirrorless cameras is the almost limitless kind of lenses that can go on them via adapters. So, you will never get bored!
The following shot is done at an exposure of 10sec by resting the camera on a wooden rail which shakes intermittently. The in-body I.S. in the Olympus E-PL1 is amazing! It is very useful. The shot I did with the NEX is simply blur.
Now let’s take a look at high ISO comparisons:
The NEX-3’s high ISO capability is impressive. Now, we look at some night street shots:
In the following comparison, the NEX-3 automatically brightens up faces, though it can seem a little artificial-looking at times (to me), but it can also be useful.
In a more technical point of view, the following shots will show that the NEX-3 has quite bad barrel distortion and corner sharpness:
Next, I tried shooting through the peephole in my hotel room and found the advantage of the NEX-3’s internal focusing. The E-PL1’s lens kept pushing against the door due to it’s AF movement, causing difficulty in achieving such shots.
The NEX-3 tends to underexposed by about 0.5-1 stop in most cases, but can be an advantage when it comes to photograph bright lights.
The E-PL1’s 14-42mm kit lens has a slight advantage in shooting macro over the NEX-3 due to it’s slightly longer focal length:
Now, we take a look at some everyday life shots, note the difference in color-processing:
This is my initial review of the Sony NEX-3 vs the E-PL1:
1. Price is attractive. The zoom lens comes with a hood. (maybe the reason why the E-PL1’s kit zoom lens has no hood is probably Olympus has calculated that flare isn’t an issue with it’s lens… but I have no “flare” issue with the Olympus MZD 14-42mm lens so far)
2. Formatting card is troublesome and menu requires quite a bit of “diving”!
3. Finishing is nice, sleek and fashionable.
4. Ergonomics: Holding it is awkward. You gotta hold the lens NOT the body. The ergonomics of the camera is really bad. I kept accidentally depressing the menu button as well as the rec button on the NEX. As for the E-PL1’s “rec” button, it can be deactivated in it’s menu.
In addition, I also kept accidentally sliding the battery compartment door open. This is quite annoying.
5. Size is considered huge for a mirrorless camera. It’s even bigger than the Panasonic GF1. The kit zoom 18-55mm feels like a SLR lens to me. Only when you use a small prime lens on it that the NEX become much smaller.
6. iAuto is very intelligent, and it seems more intelligent than the E-PL1. It detects type of scene quite well, automatically brightens up dark faces quite a bit (but can appear slightly artificial at times). It’s more intuitive and responsive than the E-PL1. But it also tends to underexpose a little, and color-processing is more towards the cold tone.
7. Lack of in-body I.S. (image stabilization). There are many occasions in lowlight situations when handholding the camera at 1/8 sec could have achieved the shot that the NEX-3 wasn’t capable of and the E-PL1 did it. I must say Olympus’s in-body I.S. is really impressive!
8. Impressive lowlight AF with or without infra red assist beam. Infra red beam can be intrusive for shooting strangers in lowlight situations (night street shooting).
There’s a ergonomics problem again here. My index finger tends to cover up the infra red beam emission when using AF in lowlight. However, the NEX-3’s AF can find focus in dimmer situations better than the E-PL1, with or without the infra red assist beam. I blocked the infra red assist beam and did a test on this.
9. Camera automatically activates AF searching before user semi-depress shutter button. This is impressive!
10. Camera shoots even when focus is not achieved in Single-shot AF mode. User must remember that only when the AF confirmation box shows up with the beep sound, focus is actually achieved. The AF really seems a lot faster than the E-PL1 BUT it may not get the focus right all the time.
If you want really good AF, you should still go for a high end DSLR!
The E-PL1 is more stubborn in activating it’s AF as it will NOT shoot when focus is not achieved. This is something that Olympus users MUST understand. It’s a different system after all.
Some people actually prefer the camera to “fire off” without such restrictions and take chance on getting that ONE shot, in which probably the NEX is more suitable for you. And bear in mind, when using the “continuous/sequential shot mode” in both the NEX and the E-PL1, focus is locked on your first shot ONLY.
11. The rotating dial is great for changing aperture and shutter speed. This is what I miss badly on the E-PL1, which exists on the E-P1 and E-P2.
12. Sweep Panaroma feature is impressive. This is a useful feature. For the E-PL1, you need to use Olympus software to do it.
13. High ISO on the NEX-3 looks good up till 6400, and useable at 12800.
14. Olympus E-PL1 still produce better jpegs than the NEX straight out of camera.
15. The barrel distortion and corner sharpness of the NEX-3’s 18-55mm lens is pretty bad. But if you are not photographing straight lines subjects with lotsa details, you probably won’t notice.
I feel that the NEX is more suitable for slightly advanced users who knows how to do some minimum tweaking with softwares like Photoshop, Lightroom… If you do some tweaking on it’s exposure and white balance at post-processing, the files can really turn out quite nice.
The bigger sensor on it gives you better high ISO performance, more depth-of-field. You also have to get used to it’s poor ergonomics and troublesome menu interface.
As for the E-PL1, it’s more suitable to people who don’t wanna mess with Photoshop/Lightroom. It produces beautiful jpegs straight out of camera for immediate sharing.
The E-PL1 is small and compact. It has legendary in-body I.S. which saves you from carrying a tripod. As you can see from the above images, it’s images ARE sharp, not at all losing to the bigger sensor NEX!
In fact, there is no visible barrel distortion and it’s sharp corner to corner!
The ISO1600 on the E-PL1 is smooth and sharp. Though we really hope Olympus can give us good ISO6400 one day.
The E-PL1 does have issues that really bothers me.
It’s lack of a simple “auto-rotate” feature. It’s slow in finding AF, and even unachievable in lowlight situations.
My personal thoughts and advice:
1. If you want the best images from the smallest camera you can find, get the Leica M8/M9. But you have to live with manual focus and some post-processing.
2. If you want the best SOOC jpegs, get Olympus.
3. If you want the smallest 1.5x crop sensor camera, get the NEX. It offers you depth of field from a 1.5x crop sensor, better high ISO and you can also adapt Leica lenses and other manual focus lenses on it via adapters. But I’ve yet to test it’s MF capability, so I can’t say for sure how useable it is. But, you have to do some post processing to make the files look good.
4. If you want FAST AF, go for a good DSLR like the newly announced Nikon D7000. (It’s amazing how dependent we have become to AF that it’s no longer the photographer shooting BUT the camera shooting in most cases today)
5. If you want great HD video, get the Canon 5Dmk2.
6. If you want ultimate bokeh, the shallowest depth of field, get the full frame Leica M9 with the 50mm F0.95 Noctilux OR the full frame Canon 5Dmk2 with it’s 85mm F1.2L lens or any other full frame digital bodies with fast optics.
If you can afford, maybe you should get a Medium Format Digital Camera or a Large Format Sinar 4 by 5 Digital! Now, we are talking about world class bokeh!
But I only have one word to say, “If your shot sucks, it sucks. It doesn’t matter about the bokeh.”
In my next post, I shall write about my dream Olympus PEN, which I hope Olympus will listen. I shall propose something well within Olympus’s ability to produce. Though I doubt they will listen to what Olympus users want (it’s been proven), I will still write for my own pleasure’s sake.
Related Post: E-PL1 vs GF1