Q and A: Olympus or Sony?
Q. I am purchasing a compact interchangeable lens camera and have seen you discuss the Olympus PEN and Sony NEX models. Both look good but I am leaning toward the Sony. Which one would you pick for yourself?...
Q. I am purchasing a compact interchangeable lens camera and have seen you discuss the Olympus PEN and Sony NEX models. Both look good but I am leaning toward the Sony. Which one would you pick for yourself?
A. I love this class of camera, which combines the image quality and much of the flexibility of a digital SLR with small size and portability that makes them perfect for travel. I own both the Olympus and Sony systems and have used them extensively, coming to love them both for different reasons. Both have their advantages and make a great choice for anyone, but if I could only have one I would choose an Olympus PEN camera, specifically the $449 E-PL1 or the $599 E-PL2. They are the latest models and provide the best value and performance.
There are reasons some may want to choose the Sony NEX system. Its larger sensor has higher resolution and more surface area than the Olympus cameras, so it performs better in low light. If you are doing a lot of video the $699 Sony NEX-5 is probably the best choice because of its ability to record 1080i video and the optical image stabilization of the two available zoom lenses. (The Olympus models and Sony NEX-3 record 720p video.) The Sonys also have an excellent night photography mode and create superwide panoramic images very easily, even in 3D if you want.
If you simply want to enjoy taking pictures and create memorable images, I have to give the nod to the Olympus PEN cameras. The system is much more extensive and the cameras have a familiar form factor that handles very well and reminds me of using a classic, high-quality rangefinder camera.
Despite the somewhat smaller sensor, compared to the NEX the PEN models simply deliver better looking images straight out of the camera. When I look at images from my PEN cameras they are a joy to behold as I marvel at the beautiful color, tremendous detail and overall natural look they provide. This is due to the optical quality of the Olympus lenses and the cameras' superior image processing, which is acclaimed by reviewers and consumers alike. The in-camera image stabilization helps deliver sharp results regardless of the lens used.
Olympus leads in available lenses and accessories. This will change over time as Sony fleshes out its NEX system, but for now it isn't even a race. Olympus has an optional electronic viewfinder and twice as many dedicated lenses available. Most lenses are very affordable and optical quality is excellent throughout. I saw some neat new Olympus accessories at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. There is the $80 PEN Pal, a Bluetooth module that sends pictures from a PEN camera to your cell phone for sharing, and the $60 MAL-1, a close-up lighting attachment. The MAL-1 mounts in the camera's flash shoe and draws power from the camera, using two small LED spotlights on flexible arms to illuminate your subject.
Sony does not sit still, especially in the advanced camera market where it is thinking outside the box and making mighty strides. There may come a day when my answer is different but for now it is the Olympus PEN system that I prefer.