Fujifilm XE-1 and Olympus OMD EM-5 at Hampton Court Palace

Having very recently purchased both cameras today I took the Fujifilm XE-1 and Olympus OMD EM-5 on an outing to Hampton Court Palace just south of London. This is only the second time I’ve tried both of these cameras, having been somewhat delayed by the appalling weather we’re having here in the UK. Yesterday’s storm died down enough to leave bright clear skies for a few hours and it was an opportunity I wasn’t going to miss. Before I go further, there is a preface to this post which can be found here: Fujifilm XE-1 vs Olympus OMD.

The benefit of Hampton Court is that there are plenty of outdoor scenes to photograph as well as some quite dark indoor environments, so it’s a pretty good workout for any camera. When I arrived the sun was incredibly strong and as is the case at this time of the year, quite low in the sky. It became immediately obvious that the EVF of the Fuji wasn’t going to perform quite as well as that on the Olympus, and as expected in the harsh light the viewfinder became rather dim. This can be rectified by cupping your hand around the eyepiece to keep out stray light. However the viewfinder on the OMD gains up quickly and remains bright whatever the conditions. The next niggle came once again in the form of the aperture ring on the 18 to 55 lens on the Fuji – this is a little loose for my liking and it felt like every time I handled the camera or let it dangle at my side the aperture ring moved and displaced my settings. I had to keep an eye on that throughout the day and I had to adjust it several times before I could shoot, at which point a couple of opportunities had been lost (aside from that the build quality of Fujinon lenses is excellent). Further shots were also lost thanks to the slower focus on the XE-1 and the slight lag of the EVF. This is enough to irritate me slightly because I enjoy street photography and candid photography. This highlights the point that prior to purchasing any camera system it’s vital that you consider the kind of images you’re going to be taking, obvious as that might sound. The OMD is agile with very fast focus, so if moving targets are your thing then this will be a more useful camera.

Indoors both cameras can cope with pretty much any lighting and both are very good at high ISO values. The XE-1 is not clean at 6400 if that is what you’re expecting, but it certainly isn’t noisy either (in fact I don’t mind a bit of grain) and both cameras are commendable in low light. This is why it’s so important that you try any camera you’re considering buying before handing over your cash – most camera stores will let you have a good play before you make your purchase. You can’t possibly judge image quality from website images or pictures the size of those on my blog or any other – you need to take some full resolution shots and scrutinise them until you are satisfied. But don’t get too fanatical about pixel peeping, it’s an unhealthy pursuit unless you’re preparing your files for large scale printing or competitions.

Much is made of the characteristic colours of Fuji cameras and Olympus cameras. And I’ve seen some pretty scary examples of Olympus colour rendition scattered about the web (think Tango orange). The fact is that many example photographs have been taken with “out-of-the-box” settings which are usually far from ideal. The Fuji XE-1 has truly excellent auto white balance control (as does the Olympus in most conditions) and the images are very neutral straight out of the camera (we are of course still talking about JPEGs here) so the first thing I do is add a tiny amount of warming (yellow bias) in the XE1’s menu. This is very subtle, all it does is take away the slightly cool tone which is the starting point on the Fuji. I then standardise the OMD to be a close match by turning off the enhanced warming and then dropping the colour balance one notch towards the cooler (blue) end of the spectrum. There will still be some variation when you’re using Auto WB, more so with the OMD, but it’s easily corrected. The final stage in standardisation is carried out during post-production where my Lightroom everyday setting is slightly tweaked – this is nothing more than adding +4 to the top colour temperature slider for the Fuji images. It’s down to personal taste though.

So what else did I learn today about my new cameras?  I also discovered that at high ISO values the OMD seems to hold colour and detail a little better than the XE-1. That was a surprise, but the OMD is full of surprises.  I cannot stress enough that good glass is a vital prerequisite to any test of this kind –  many of the OMD shots that I’ve seen about the web have been taken with the kit lens which is far from ideal and does not render as much detail as high-quality optics. Here I have the Pana Leica Summilux 25mm f1.4 on the OMD and the 18 to 55 on the Fuji. Optically both lenses are quite similar in quality, in fact they are superb and I would not hesitate to recommend them. As far as wide to tele zoom lenses go the Fujinon 18-55 f2.8-f4 is a real cracker – and it’s terrific value, particularly if you buy it as part of your XE1 kit. I’m afraid the OMD nearest equivalent is much more costly.

I am constantly asked which of the two cameras has better image quality. Well for me, image quality is not the be all and end all of my decision-making process, performance is equally important if not more so at times, depending on what you shoot. Both cameras are capable of producing excellent output in knowledgeable hands (as are most cameras). One is not necessarily better than the other, they are both very impressive. It will be a matter of personal taste as to which you prefer. I think that where the XE-1 is concerned I may have something of a mental block – I feel as though I’m using a camera which is still in its beta testing form – there are too many unnecessary annoyances for me to completely fall in love with it. I was looking forward to this camera so much, much was promised, but not enough is being delivered in my opinion. This was compounded by getting my hands on the OMD the day before  – in terms of performance and features the OMD is light years ahead of the XE-1, leading to a tinge of boredom when I pick up the Fuji. I can’t believe I just said that. I’m going to get murdered for it. But to be fair on the XE1, they are both very different cameras, the OMD is more like a little DSLR and the XE1 is a simpler and purer machine. Let’s hope a firmware update can improve the speed of the XE1 and let’s get on Adobe’s case regarding RAW support (it’s rumoured Capture One might sort this out first). With that sorted out, the XE1 will be a formidable little camera.

To make up for posting fewer Fuji photographs in my last post I’ve included more in this one. Incidentally today I got less than 200 images from the Fuji before I had to change the battery. I don’t compose using the LCD screen and I rarely chimp my pictures, so I suspect the cold weather may have had something to do with it. And remember that new batteries improve over the first few charge cycles.

Fujifilm XE-1 Images

Olympus OMD EM-5 Images

Incidentally the Real Tennis court doesn’t open to the public until April. I was very fortunate to get a private tour today from one of the members and as such I was able to access the members’ rooms and galleries. It felt strange sitting exactly where Anne Boleyn and the rest of Henry VIII’s wives had sat in centuries gone by. And seeing the locker room was another treat, it has resisted all forms of modernisation and it’s like stepping back in time, quite wonderful to see.

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  • Sam - November 26, 2012 - 2:41 pm

    Balanced comments again and quality shots. You got a lovely day for that. I think you have an advantage here by being able to compare results from these two cameras. Just today I read a glowing report about the X-E1 as a traveller’s camera, for street work and so on, but I feel comparisons in the same context on the same day are a better gauge. They are for me anyway. An interesting read.

    By the way, I was doing a bit of amateur writing recently about the X-E1 and kept getting the letters the wrong way round and the hyphen in the wrong place! It’s age with me…

    You’re worth reading as usual, and all being well you shouldn’t get murdered for it!


  • Lindsay - November 26, 2012 - 2:58 pm

    Hi Sam, great to hear from you and I must say I also enjoy reading your articles at theimageplane. As you say, balance is key and I do have the luxury of being able to compare both cameras. And that is precisely why the Fuji is lagging behind in several areas, had I not experienced the exceptional performance of the OMD then perhaps I would not be quite so critical at times. As for the Fuji being a useful street camera, that will be interesting, I will be putting it to the test within the next week or two and I will of course report back. Part of the problem is the EVF (which is not as responsive as that on the OMD) whereas the OVF on my X100 is a delight for street work (I was never tempted by the XP1 due to it’s size and feel). I’ve probably been getting the letters the wrong way around quite often as well, I’m terrible for that kind of thing. I can also blame my age!

  • Frans van Zomeren - December 3, 2012 - 5:20 pm

    Lindsay, A very nice, real use based review, with nice, very “clean”, uncluttered pictures. I would like to start thanking you for that. I am an enthousiast phtographer and I am contemplating to buy either the OM-D or the X-E1 as single interchangeable systems next to my X100 as replacement of my recently sold Oly E5 with bag of FT lenses. (I am reaching 60 and I really want a lighter system.) I might ask to much of this single system because I want to use it both for Landscapes, street and as a stealthy, non-intimidating camera to photog people outside and inside with available light. I also use my X100 as I make pictures at chamber music events.
    The questions I would like to ask are:
    1) how would you rate the AF performance of the X-E1 with the X100?
    2) how would you rate the EVF of the X-E1 with that of the OM-D?
    Thank you very much for your time,


  • Lindsay - December 3, 2012 - 5:52 pm

    Hi Frans, the OMD and XE1 are very different and if you’re familiar with the X100 then the XE1 will feel quite similar in many ways. The image quality of both cameras is excellent, though slightly different and subject to personal preference. For the activities you describe the extra depth of field (just under a stop) on the Olympus may be an advantage. I would say the autofocus of the X100 and XE1 is similar but remember this is very dependent upon lens choice, the new Fujinon zoom lens is faster to focus than the primes. If focus speed and accuracy is one of your main concerns then the Olympus is better, particularly in low light. But if you are managing OK with your X100 then you should be fairly happy with the XE1. As far as the EVF is concerned, both are good, but again there will be an element of personal preference. I happen to prefer the EVF of the Olympus because it’s very like looking into a DSLR, and it gains up very quickly in bright light (whereas the Fuji is dimmer and does exhibit a bit of lag). When considering any new camera I always advise that you try to get to a camera store where you can compare them – handling is very important and you may pick up a camera and realise immediately that it doesn’t feel right. For example the OMD has very small buttons and if you have large hands it may feel a bit fiddly. Good luck with your decision.

  • Matt - December 6, 2012 - 9:42 pm

    Lindsay, your objective reviews and insight have been a tremendous help. I purchased a slightly used OMD and love it. I do love the Fuji colors though but had a hard time justifying the cost and “niggles”. To that end, concerning JPG settings on the OMD to somewhat mimic the Fuji colors, what exactly are the settings you are using? This is what I have learned so far so please add or delete anything you feel would help: turn off warming, turn off noise reduction, turn off noise filter, decrease white balance one notch towards blue and shoot in “natural” setting. Also, any other suggestions regarding the OMD that you found helpful would be appreciated.

  • Lindsay - December 6, 2012 - 10:13 pm

    Hi Matt, yes those are the JPEG settings I tend to stick to, this generates a fairly neutral file which can be tweaked easily in Lightroom. I would also recommend reducing sharpness a notch. Tastes vary hugely so it’s a case of playing with the settings until you find something which suits you. I think Oly colours are fantastic (providing you turn the warming off) and really pop. I think it’ll take another couple of months to really get to know my OMD but I’ll keep updating my blog as I go along. Lens-wise I’m loving the PL25 f1.4 and the 45 f1.8. The Oly 40-150 zoom is a corker too, very close to my pro glass for a fraction of the price (but slower, obviously, so I keep it for daytime outings).

  • Michael - May 18, 2013 - 6:04 pm

    Lindsay, I am a happy OM-D owner, and your suggestions to turn off the warming, and reduce sharpening have improved my jpegs substantially! I agree that turning the sharpening down makes the images appear more film-like. Thank you very much for that!
    I just bought a HLD-6 battery grip, and would recommend it to any OM-D owner. It dramatically improves the ergonomics, and makes the camera easier to use heavier lenses, such as the 75mm f/1.8. It can be used with the grip only, or with the battery extender attached to the bottom, which doubles the size of your battery life.
    best wishes,

  • Lindsay - May 19, 2013 - 9:11 am

    Hi Micheal, one of the things I like about the OMD is the ability to fine tune almost all of its functions – as a professional that helps to make my life much easier at times. I like shooting JPEG in my personal work and the OMD does produce very good files, packed with detail. A few people have recommended the grip – I really must get one!

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