Many times, the most interesting items are neither on the top or the bottom. Mid-level cameras tend to offer the best of both worlds, making them very interesting devices.
In fact, anyone who has been recently looking for an affordable interchangeable lens camera has surely heard about these four: Fujifilm X-E2, Olympus OM-D E-M5, Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 and Sony NEX-7.
At first it may seem these four models have nothing in common, but they all have an integrated viewfinder and excellent specs –some of these are actually considered the respective company’s best-, not to mention they all cost around 1000 Dollars. The X-E2 is more expensive than the rest thanks to its lens, but we just had to include it.
We’ve already talked about all of them separately, but today we’ll pit them against each other and decide which one is the absolute best. Not an easy task, since we would have no problem recommending them individually as excellent cameras. But, which one is the best?
Some may prefer the classic design of the X-E2, while others opt for the more modern and compact design one the NEX sports. The retro design of the Olympus E-M5 with the penta-prism of its viewfinder also raises mixed opinions. And the balance between old and new the GX7 offers also has its share of fans and detractors.
So, leaving design aside, let’s take a look at something much more subjective: ergonomics. Which one of these cameras is the most comfortable to use? All of them are, actually, but if we have to choose, the GX7 and the X-E2 are the best thanks to their firm grips and how easy to configure they are.
In the case of the X-E2, it’s thanks to its lens and the mechanical ring to control the diaphragm, something that makes up for the lack of a second dial, so common in similar models.、
The E-M5 doesn’t disappoint, but with the M.Zuiko 12-50 mm f3.5-6.3, the camera feels unbalanced and awkward to handle.
The NEX-7, though very small and comfortable to carry around, has very unpractical menus, especially compared with the A7 and A7R, that not even the double dial can make up for.
Electronic viewfinder for all of them
Another thing they all have in common –which sets them further apart for low-end cameras-, is the integrated electronic viewfinder, something they all handle in a similar way.
Aside from its position –on one side, except from the Olympus, in the center-, the GX7 offers the first articulated viewfinder on the market. It can be moved in a 90-degree angle, so it can also be used as a waist-level viewfinder.
Is it useful? To be honest, we haven’t used it much, but like it tends to happen with features like this, as long as it bothers no one, there will always be a use for it. Without a doubt it’s something good.
If you look at the viewfinders in more detail, you’ll discover the E-M5 is at the bottom with its 1.4-megapixel resolution, below the 2 megapixels th e rest offer. However, the optical system of this Olympus camera does an excellent job, making up for this.
Which one do we prefer? The refresh rate sets the GX7 higher than the rest, but we feel the X-E2 is better in this regard, offering the most vivid and crisp pictures –less “digital-looking”-, even in dim light scenarios when noise is present. The NEX-7’s viewfinder, because of its age–it was presented during 2011-, is left at the bottom.
In regards to the screen, all of them feature foldable screens, except for the Fujifilm one. Panasonic and Olympus’ cameras, also, feature touch screens, a very nice feature for users who like to select a focal point in seconds.
All of them are fast and reliable (the GX7 and the E-M5 are slightly faster than the rest). Nothing unexpected, considering their price.
As for the speed of the burst mode, though the NEX-7 (10 FPS) is technically the fastest, there’s a catch: this is a high-speed mode that blocks exposition y and, also, doesn’t last for very long when shooting in JPEG and RAW combined. In normal mode, the NEX offers just 3 FPS.
The GX7 can reach 40 FPS (or 10 FPS, easier to handle), but both are based on the electronic shutter. It can work at 5 FPS while lasting considerably long when shooting in JPEG. This model, by the way, is the only one with a shutter speed of 1/8000 of a second.
The E-M5 offers 9 FPS, or 4 FPS with continuous focusing. The X-E2 offers 7 FPS (with the fixed focal) or 3 FPS. It can shoot about 20 pictures in JPEG, but when shooting in RAW, it can barely shoot 10 and the camera lags, even if you’re using a high-speed memory card.
This doesn’t mean one camera is better than another, as none of them is radically better than the rest. That being said, the E-M5 and the GX7 offers the best and more reliable burst modes.
The wireless connectivity is another important feature, something Fujifilm and Panasonic’s cameras excel at thanks to the Wi-Fi connectivity.
The GX7 is particularly good in this regard since it can not only send pictures to a phone or tablet, but it can also be controlled from one of these devices. Something impossible for the X-E2 as of now, though many users have been asking for this in the next firmware update.
Though Fujifilm presented the X-E2 as the camera with the fastest focal system in the world, everyone advertises their cameras the same, so we prefer waiting and testing for ourselves.
The X-E2 does what they were promised. Still, it’s too different from the first X series cameras with their fast and agile focal system. After testing all of them, we can’t really say Fujifilm’s camera offers the best focal system among these models.
They’re all excellent, and there weren’t many situations in which they couldn’t focal–even with low light-. Still, we have to choose the GX7 as the best of the bunch in this regard, closely followed by the EM-5. Both Sony’s and Fujifilm’s cameras focal impeccably, but they are a bit slower.
As for the manual focus and help menus, the X-E2 is the obvious winner. Along with the focus peaking system, it’s the only one that offers a Split image system that works kind of a rangefinder. Those who prefer manually focusing will surely love this.
The stabilization systems are also worth mentioning, with two clear winners in this regard: the E-M5 and its 5-axis mechanical system that’s effective for both pictures and video, and the GX7, which once again proves itself as the best.
Aside from the stabilization system, the GX7 also features a mechanical stabilizer in the sensor, which works with non-stabilized lenses so you don’t have to choose between one and the other.
It comes to lens and price
Since the lens is extremely influential on the results of a camera, before taking a look at the pictures, let’s take a look at what’s inside.
The GX7 comes with the Lumix G 14-42 mm f3.5-5.6. The excellent and very luminous 12-35 mm f2.8 would have been great; it would increase the price far beyond the 1000-dollars limit.
Although the NEX-7 was the most expensive in its time, we’ve taking advantage of its age to compare it equally with the rest. Along with the modest 18-55 mm f3.5-5.6 and it also costs around 1200 Dollars, though the lens it includes is far from being excellent.
With the E-M5, we’ve used the 12-50 mm f3-5-6.6, though it can use much better lenses. Though bulkier that what we’d like to, it’s the one that offers the greatest wide-angle coverage (24 mm) and the only motorized zoom–excellent for video recording- and an interesting macro.
The X-E2 and the 18-55 mm f2.8-4, with its luminosity and design, are clearly above the rest, though you’ll have to pay total 1399 dollars for both.
As usual when we review models we already know, the results are unsurprising. Still, as we previously knew even before reviewing them separately, they’re all excellent cameras.
In fact, we’re talking about some of the best sensor son the market: the GX7 and the E-M5 feature a 16-megapixel Micro Four Thirds sensor; the NEX-7 offers the fan-favorite 24-megapixel APS-C, and the X-E2 pushes a 16-megapixel APS-C to its limits thanks to the improved lens and X-Trans technology.
During our tests, the CMOS of the X-E2 is the best, from 200 to 6400 ISO. Its resolution and excellent detail level, even in high sensitivity, put it above the rest, though the 24 megapixels of the NEX-7 are not to be underestimated.
The E-M5 and the GX7 offered very similar results, though, as usual, Olympus offers better-looking JPEG files. The results are the same in RAW, though the lens of the E-M5 gives it a small edge in this regard.
When using them without thinking about reviewing every single detail, it’s actually pretty hard to notice a significant difference between them. The results are still the same, of course, but the differences are insignificant for the average user.
In any case, these differences are what matter to us, so the X-E2 is the best when it comes to image quality, noise control and dynamic range.
Does this mean the X-E2 is the best of the bunch? Not exactly, since it’d be unfair to ignore every other detail we’ve pointed out about the other cameras. But if we absolutely have to choose, then yes, the X-E2 is the winner.
It’s more expensive than the rest, but its lens makes it worth it. The rest of the devices suffer precisely in this regard, which only sets it further apart from them. You can also get the X-E2 along with the simpler Fujinon 16-50 mm f3.5-5.6 XC or a fixed lens, but this 18-55 mm is not bad.
But it’s not just about the sensor and the lens. Its design and viewfinder also make it and excellent camera we will still be talking about for a while.
This may seem evident for the Sony NEX-7 as well, but it’s not the case. Since it’s at the end of its life cycle, it is relatively cheap, but the zoom is not the best (neither are the menus) and the NEX-6 is more affordable and better in some ways.
Something similar happens with the Olympus OM-D E-M5. It’s a very nice choice, and we do like its design. But there’s little point in getting it now that you can get the OM-D E-M1. In any case, if your budget is tight, this is the cheapest camera among the four ones we reviewed, and it still offers and excellent price-performance ratio.
In any case, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 would be our second place. We already tested it and its price and specs left us totally satisfied -it has everything you will possibly need-. The 14-42 mm zoom is its weakest aspect, but with a good lens, it’s better than the X-E2 for those who don’t like that classic design.