We've reviewed both the Sony Alpha NEX-7 and Olympus OM-D E-M5 but which is the better buy.
By clicking one of our links you're supporting our labs and our independence, as we may earn a small share of revenue. Recommendations are separate from any business incentives.
The Olympus OM-D E-M5 and Sony Alpha NEX-7 are both part of a new niche of compact system cameras designed to appeal to the hearts (and deep wallets) of advanced, enthusiast photographers. Both are durably built, house electronic viewfinders, shoot with significant speed, and cost $1000 and up.
In testing both cameras, we liked the performance and handling of the NEX-7, with it getting the edge in video performance as well. The NEX is designed with a little more modern flair, with a somewhat unique "Tri-Navi" control scheme. Most buttons and dials on the camera are unlabeled (their function is called out on the rear LCD), but with three control dials it does give you plenty of options once you adapt to it.
The OM-D E-M5's main draw is its retro style and water resistant ("splash-proof") body, but we were wowed by its autofocus speed and responsiveness. It doesn't quite match the NEX-7 for shot-to-shot performance, but the autofocus speed and accuracy actually made it better for shooting action, as it returned more usable shots. Our biggest complaint there was the byzantine menu system on the Olympus, though we felt the NEX-7's menu wasn't really tailored to advanced photographers either.
Of course, the main difference between the two cameras is the size of the image sensor. The E-M5 uses the same Micro Four Thirds sensor as the Olympus PEN series of cameras, while the Sony NEX-7 features a larger APS-C sensor, like those found in beginner and prosumer DSLRs. That yields some big performance gaps for the NEX-7, though the two cameras are similarly sized.
If you're deciding between the two cameras, it's important to note that the E-M5 is slightly cheaper and can utilize a much larger library of Micro Four Thirds lenses. The one thing to keep in mind, though, is that the majority of MFT lenses are not weather resistant, so you'll lose that advantage with most of your choices. You can buy a weather-proof Four Thirds adapter to use the host of weather-resistant Four Thirds lenses, but then you've got a bulkier camera that costs just as much as the NEX-7.
All in all, we found the NEX-7 to be a superior camera to the E-M5 in most scenarios. The larger image sensor offers better low light shooting, greater dynamic range, and the grip on the NEX-7 is fantastic. The big complaint we have with the NEX-7 is a common (if largely temporary) issue—the lack of lenses. The only lens we found that really got the most out of the camera's abilities was the $1000 Carl Zeiss 24mm f/1.8, a body and lens combination that would cost you $2300 altogether.
The OM-D E-M5 is a very fine camera, able to stand toe-to-toe with just about every DSLR under $1000. Still, we'd say that the NEX-7 makes up for the price gap ($1000 for the E-M5, $1349 for the NEX-7) with superior handling and control that will appeal to the advanced photographers likely shopping in this part of the market. You'll have to wait for some better lenses, but the adaptability of the system and performance of the body make it worth the inconvenience.
To read our full in-depth review of the Olympus OM-D E-M5, please go here.
To read out full in-depth review of the Sony Alpha NEX-7, please go here.