In this article I will compare three excellent compact system camera, the Sony Alpha NEX-6 vs Olympus PEN E-PL5 vs Panasonic Lumix GF6. If you are searching to purchase a new Compact System Camera, this article compares three among the most popular mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras on the market that are very popular among amateurs and enthusiasts alike. The Lumix GF6 was the last to be released (April 9, 2013) and I am pretty sure you want to know how it compares against the NEX-6 and E-PL5.
This comparison has several section, in each section I will be talking about different aspects of the camera, so if you want you can skip to the appropriate section that you want to read about. I know it’s isn’t easy to make a choice between the three, each one has it’s own unique features, style and of course price. The Sony NEX-6 costs ~$890 with the 16-50mm Kit lens, Panasonic GF6 costs ~$700 with the $14-42mm Kit lens, and Olympus E-PL5 costs ~$550 with the 14-42mm Kit lens. The NEX-6 the most expensive camera of the three, followed by GF6 than E-PL5. Whether or not it’s worth getting the Sony NEX-6 over the other two or not, you will find this answer in this comparison reviews pretty soon. So let’s start and help you out with your decision.
Camera Design, Screen and Viewfinder
I will start with the external aspects of the camera and after that we’ll dig deeper into the hardware specifications to see what’s happens inside. The GF6 and PEN Lite E-PL5 looks quite similar in terms of their external design with a slightly curved top and modest hand-grip. The NEX-6 on the other hands has a much more prominent grip, a flat top and a slimmer main body. The NEX-6 is only a few (2-3mm) taller than GF6 and E-PL5 but 9mm wider than the other two.
The NEX-6 and GF6 are both made of plastic, the Olympus E-PL5 has a all-metal body construction . Some Sony fans were annoyed to see that the NEX-6 isn’t built with the same standard as the NEX-7 (flagship model). They expected the NEX-6 to have a metal body, but unfortunately Sony had other plans for us. You will appreciate the solid magnesium alloy body of the E-PL5, but non of the cameras have weather-sealing. If you are looking for a weather-sealed camera (dust / splash proof), you should probably check out the Olympus OM-D E-M5, but it’s a more expensive camera as well.
Electronic Viewfinder & Hot-Shoe
Another big difference that you can see by just looking at the cameras from the back is that the Sony NEX-6 has a XGA True-Finder OLED electronic viewfinder. This is a big advantage for the NEX-6. I personally know a lot of photographers who didn’t buy a Compact System Camera because they were waiting for a more affordable model to appear with an EVF. The NEX-7 was a bit too expensive for them, but after Sony has announced the NEX-6, the jump on it ans bought it. There are a few advantages of using an electronic viewfinder, among them are being able to get a more intimate connection between the you and the subject, improved visibility when shooting in bright daylight compare to the back LCD screen, easier to stabilize the camera when the camera is held tightly close to your face.
I personally wouldn’t shoot with a camera without a viewfinder. I come from DSLR and having the option to experiment with both, the viewfinder experience can’t be replaced with the back LCD. you have the option to use the back LCD for composing your shots of course, but believe me, there is a big difference between the two. The NEX-6 viewfinder is of a very high quality. A 1.3 cm (0.5 type) 2,359,296 dots with 1005 coverage. There are many cameras with crappy EVF, but not this one. The EVF shows you clear view if the scene, provides detailed information of the camera settings, levels, histogram, etc.
The GF6 doesn’t have an EVF nor you have the option to attach an external viewfinder. However, the Olympus PEN E-PL5 have an accessory port in which you can connect and optional external electronic viewfinder like the Olympus VF-2 (don’t be confused with the Ricoh VF-2 that was designed for GXR cameras). The Olympus VF-2 cost around $170 and it’s an excellent EVF, It tilts up to 90°, has high 1.5x magnification, fast 60 fps frame rate and features 1,440K-dot resolution. So it’s nice to know that the Olympsu E-PL5 have this option if you need it. The downside of this EVF is it’s size, and it’s quite prominent when you attach it to the camera. When you look at the NEX-6 EVF you can understand its advantages. The NEX-6 built-in EVF doesn’t extend the camera heightand it’s also positioned in the left side which I think it’s more comfortable.
If you don’t see yourself shooting without an EVF, the Olympus PEN E-PL5 and Sony NEX-6 are probably your best options here. Just don’t forget to add the optional EVF cost to the total cost of the camera. That’s around $720 for the E-PL5 Kit + External EVF, still $170 less than the NEX-6 with its Kit lens.
Another thing that we notice here is that E-PL5 and NEX-6 are the only ones to offer a hot-shoe. This means that you cannot attach an external flash to the DMC-GF6 camera and you’ll have to be satisfied with the built-in flash. Talking about built-in flashes, the Sony NEX-6 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF6 have a built-in pop-up flash, the E-PL5 does not have a built-in flash. Having said that, Olympus was very generous and gave us a small FL-LM1 flash in the box. This small flash is pretty useful and better than a pop up flash because it can tilt up and bounce the light towards the ceiling rather than only be positioned forward as with all built-in pop up flashes. It is useful up to 7m, so it’s a bit stronger than the NEX-6 (6m) and GF6 (6m) flashes. You can buy this flash separately but it will cost you $60 (last checked on Amazon on 5.9.2013).
Back LCD Display
The back LCD plays an important role in Compact System Cameras due to the fact that most CSC aren’t equipped with an EVF. So the LCD should be of a high resolution and relatively large size to help the photographer compose the photo, but also to enhance the user experience when viewing photos, checking focus and sharpness, using the touch screen (if the camera does have a touch screen) and having better readability and visibility in bright daylight.
Let’s take a look at the specs:
Olympus PEN E-PL5 — 3-inch | 460K-dots | Touch-screen | Tilting (170° up and 65° down)
Sony NEX-6 — 3-inch | 921K-dots | No Touch-screen | Tilting (90° up and 45° down)
Panasonic Lumix GF6 — 3-inch | 1,040K-dots | Touch-screen | Tilting (180° up and approx 45° down)
The E-PL5 and GF6 have the best tilting mechanism, with the GF6 having an advantage in tilting up 180 degrees, but you can use both the E-PL5 and GF6 for self-portraits. The Sony NEX-6 LCD tilting mechanism is more limited but still very useful when shooting above your head or below your waist line. It’s nice that all cameras have a tilting mechanism that helps in shooting stills and videos from hard shooting angles.
The Sony NEX-6 is the only camera in this group that doesn’t have touch-sensitive display.I assume that people who buy this camera, probably more serious photographers, won’t be needing or want a touch screen, especially when you have this gorgeous built-in electronic viewfinder. With the E-PL5 you can enjoy touch shutter release, touch enlargement, AF area enlargement, frame forward/backward, etc. With the GF6 you can use Touch AF/AE function, Touch shutter and Touch MF assist. The GF6 and E-PL5 are cheaper CSC and aimed towards the amateur photographer and beginners as well. So having a touchscreen on those type of devices can be pretty useful. If you always wanted a camera with a touch-sensitive screen, the PEN Lite E-PL5 and Lumix GF6 are your only option for you here.
The only downside with the Oly is that it has a relatively low resolution screen. 460K-dots is not bad, but 921K-dots are standard now and I hope that the E-PL5 replacement will have a higher resolution LCD. I wouldn’t see that as a big disadvantage because it’s not — but when you don’t offer a built-in EVF, you should provide users with the highest quality display, especially for a camera that was released at the end of 2012. I think that Olympus used this relatively low res screen to reduce the cost of the camera, so maybe it didn’t have any other choice. We do get other things in return so I am OK with that.
So in conclusion, the Panasonic GF6 has the most impressive screen: highest resolution in the group, touch-sensitive display and 180-degrees up tilting.
In terms of ergonomics, I think that the NEX-6 definitely has the advantage here. It has a larger grip, the GF6 grip is very tiny and the E-PL5 grip is OK. Just note that the E-PL5 grip is removable. So if you don’t want to use it, just rotate the screw and take it off. I’ve read many opinions from many photographers who do want to have a better grip. This is something that seems not relevant at first, but when you attach a relatively large lens to the camera you start wishing you had a better grip. If you don’t intend to attach a large lens but rather use the Kit lens or a pancake lens, this might not be an issue.
I personally have large hands so I find the NEX-6 to be very comfortable, especially when I attach a large lens like the 55-210 mm (SEL55210). The NEX-6 helps me hold the camera firmly and securely in my right hand, without a grip I would probably feel much less comfortable to use the camera with large lenses. This is a feature that many serious photographers ask for because thy are buying those type of telephoto or ultra-wide angle lenses that are relatively large in size and weight more than normal lenses.
Sensor & Image Quality
The image quality plays a very significant role in interchangeable lens cameras. Although the combination of the sensor, image processor and lens affect the image quality, the sensor has a very significant role here. Sensor manufacturers are improving sensor technology every year and it’s amazing to see how image quality has improved over the years.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF6 and Olympus PEN E-PL5 are both Micro Four Thirds cameras and utilize a Micro 4/3 sensor. The Sony NEX-6 follows its own path and uses an APS-C size sensor. This means that the GF6 and E-PL5 both are compatible with all Micro Four Thirds lenses, no matter from which vendor there are. This allows camera reviews websites to make more accurate image quality test because they can use the same optics/lens to measure the sensor’s quality. The image processor does play an important role here, but the things that affect image quality the most are related to the sensor physical size, pixel size (pixel density) and the sensor’s technology.
Let’s take a look at the specs first:
Panasonic Lumix GF6 — 16.0MP (effective) | Micro Four Thirds (17.3 x 13 mm) | 4592×3448 pixels resolution | Aspect ratios: 1:1, 4:3, 3:2, 16:9 | Supersonic wave filter | lens based image stabilization | ISO 160-12800 (25600 boost)
Sony Alpha NEX-6 — 16.1MP (effective) | APS-C (23.5 x 15.6 mm) | 4912×3264 pixels resolution | Aspect ratios: 3:2, 16:9 | Charge protection coating on Optical Filter and ultrasonic vibration mechanism | lens based image stabilization | ISO 100 – 25600
Olympus PEN E-PL5 — 16.1MP (effective) | Micro Four Thirds (17.3 x 13 mm) | 4608×3456 pixels resolution | Aspect ratios: 4:3, 3:2, 16:9, 1:1, 3:4 | Supersonic Wave Filter | Built-in sensor-shift Image Stabilization (yaw/pitch) | ISO 200-25600
There are some quite a few differences here that it’s important to pay attention to. First of all, the sensor size.
The Sony NEX-6 utilizes an APS-C size sensor, which is much larger than Micro Four Thirds. The NEX-6 also has a native 3:2 aspect ratio, Micro Four Thirds have 4:3 native aspect ratio – but all Micro Four Thirds cameras allows you to shoot at 16:9 aspect ratio, but the vertical resolution is reduced. In the GF6 for example, if you shoot at 16:9 you get an image with 4,592 x 2,584 pixel resolution compare to 4,592, 3448 pixel resolution when shooting in 4:3 native aspect ratio.
Considering that all three cameras have roughly the same resolution, the Sony Alpha NEX-6 have the advantage of having larger pixels / less pixel density. The size of each pixel on the NEX-6 is roughly 4.8 microns and the size of each pixel on the E-M5 and GF6 is roughly 3.75 microns. This is quote a big difference. Whether or not it has a big implication on image quality (especially in high ISO) we’ll see soon enough.
The Olympus PEN E-PL5 has a built-in image sensor-shift image stabilization. The other two cameras don’t have this feature, you will have to buy a stabilized lens. Image stabilization adds to the overall cost of the lens. This is a big advantage for the E-PL5, because you can attach any non-stabilized lens to it and it will instantly be stabilized on the E-PL5. This image stabilization is not as effective as the 5-axis image stabilization on the Olympus OM-D E-M5, but nevertheless, it’s still very effective too, but only compensate for yaw/pitch.
All cameras gives you the option to shoot in RAW file format.
The thing that I’m sure many of you are interested to know is how the three cameras compare in terms of image quality, especially in high ISO. We already know that Olympus OM-D E-M5 M43 camera was able to beat many APS-C DSLRs. The image quality of the E-M5 just blew me away when I first saw the high ISO sample images on dpreview. I just couldn’t believe the image quality that comes our of this sensor – BUT, and this is a big ‘but’, the PEN Lite E-PL5 and GF6 are not OMD-E-M5, the are much cheaper cameras.
I use ephotozine.com to analyze the image quality. I compared the three cameras and carefully analyzed the images and here’s my observation conclusions:
- ISO 200 (E-PL5 starts at ISO 200, so to be fare) – all three cameras perform extremely well. The GF6 image looks softer and therefore seems to have lower noise, but I can clearly see that the text is less sharp than the other two cameras. NEX-6 is the sharpest out of the three – Advantage: NEX-6
- ISO 400 – noise kick in the GF6 images, and I can certainly see visible chroma noise in the dark areas and also in mid-tones. This is quite visible. I tripe check that I am viewing a ISO 400 image and not ISO1600. I will have to see if that something with that particular image and whether we see it in ISO 800 as well. The Sony NEX-6 image is very clean and sharp, E-PL5 sharp also looks good, but looks much less sharp than the NEX-6. Advantage: NEX-6
- ISO 800 – NEX-6 image looks superb! – really impressed with the image quality. Very little visible noise, only visible at 100%, very clean!
E-PL5 noise is more visible, but still very clean image overall. The GF6 continues with the same issue that I’ve noticed in ISO400, chroma noise in dark areas. I did confirm that against other sample images on different websites. High ISO performance is not the strong part of the GF6 unfortunately. Advantage: NEX-6
- ISO 1600 – Chroma noise starts to appear on the E-PL5 and NEX-6 as well, but image still very useful. For the GF6 is a game over – I would shoot at ISO1600 for small prints and for the web at most, I really expected more from this camera. Again, the NEX-6 wins here and I love the fact that Sony uses less aggressive N/R because it will be easier to remove the noise using noise removal software. Advantage: NEX-6
- ISO 3200 -The E-PL5 actually looks better than the NEX-6. The only reason for that is (most probably) much stronger NR, we can see that in the NEX-6 holds on to details much better, looks much sharper and applied much less NR. Serious photographers will prefer the NEX-6 approach to NR, because many of them will edit their photos in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and they want to have more control over the final output. So E-PL5 as less noise, but NEX-6 has more details and looks sharper
The Olympus E-PL5 doesn’t have a 3.5mm mic jack, but you can use the camera’s accessory port and attach the SEMA-1 external microphone adapter set and attach the ME-51S stereo microphone to it. The SEMA-1 adapter has 3.5mm stereo jack so you can attach any other external stereo mic that can connect to the 3.5mm port. With the GF6 you are unlucky, the GF6 doesn’t have a mic input jack and nor it supports other alternative ways to attach an external microphone.
You might expect that the Sony Alpha NEX-6 to have a audio-in mic jack, after all, it’s a higher-end model and have great video capabilities – but no, the NEX-6 doesn’t have a mic input jack. However Sony introduced the Sony ECM-XYST1M that attaches to the NEX-6 multi-interface hot-shoe. You can purchase this excellent mic from B&H Photo Video store for $144.16 (the last time I checked / 5.9.2013). This mic included windscreen, pouch and audio cable and will give you very high-quality sound recording. You can adjust the internal mic position to either 0° or 120°. Use 0° for recording sound that comes right in front of the mic (e.g. person speaking in front of the camera) or record sound from a wider frequency by using 120°. This will give you much better sound quality and your videos will be more enjoyable to watch. I think that this is a must have accessory for video enthusiasts who intend o buy the Sony NEX-6.
Let’s take a look at some sample videos.
First is Sony NEX-6 sample video, shot at AVCHD 50 fps (PAL) – make sure you watch it in Full HD
Second is Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5
Last one is Panasonic Lumix GF6
The Comparison Continues…
Now let’s take a look at a specs comparison table that shows more of the differences between the three cameras. I excluded information a that we’ve already talked about in earlier sections.
|White Balance Presets||6||8||5|
99 phase-detection AF points
25 contrast-detection AF points
|35 AF points|
|The Sony NEX-6 has the advantage of having Hybrid AF (both contrast-detection AF and phase-detection AF). This adds more to the accuracy rather than the speed from various tests I've seen on the web.
NEX-6 AF Test
Olympus E-PL5 AF Test (AF-S)
The GF6 uses Light Speed AF System with Full time AF and tracking AF which should provide very good AF speed, No video is present at the time of writing this comparison.
The NEX-6 has a very snappy autofocus but I've read a few AF test reviews that shows that the AF speed difference between the NEX 6 and NEX 5N is not significant at all. I think that it's more about accuracy than real substantial speed difference.
You can check snicolphotos.com report here. The Sony NEX-6 have much more AF points with phase detection and this will certainly help to improve subject tracking speed and accuracy.
|Shutter Speed||60-1/4000 sec||30-1/4000 sec||60-1/4000 sec|
|Flash X Sync Speed||1/160 sec||1/160 sec||1/250 sec|
|Exposure Compensation||±3 (at 1/3 EV steps)||±5 (at 1/3 EV steps)||±3 (at 1/3 EV, 1/2 EV, 1 EV steps)|
|AE Bracketing||±2 (3, 5 frames at 1/3 EV, 2/3 EV steps)||With 1/3, 2/3, 1, 2, 3EV increments, 3 frames||(2, 3 frames at 1/3 EV, 1/2 EV, 2/3 EV, 1 EV steps)|
|Wireless||Built-in||Built-in||Via Eye-Fi connected card|
|The NEX-6 and Panasonic Lumix GF6 have built-in Wi-Fi which can be used to remote control the camera and transfer photos directly to your smartphone or tablet device (with the NEX-6 you do it using PlayMemories Mobile app and with GF6 you do it using the Panasonic Image app that you need to install on your mobile device first)|
|Continuous Shooting (Burst)||4.2 fps||10 fps||8 fps|
|AF Illumination Lamp||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Battery Life (CIPA||340 shots||360 shots||360 shots|
|Installable Apps||No||Yes (check here||No|
|Panoramic Images||Yes (Creative Panorama Mode)||Yes (Sweep Panorama)||Yes, BUT only Panorama assist mode, no automatic Panorama mode|
The Sony NEX-6 is the better camera of the three. It features Hybrid AF, which suppose to increase the AF speed especially when tracking moving subjects, and the contrast detection ads the speed. The combination of both should yield an improved AF performance compare to cameras that utilize contrast-detection AF only. Most of the test that you see online at testing the AF against static subjects and therefore you won’t notice a big difference there. I also liked the built-in Wi-Fi feature on both the NEX-6 and the GF6 too. The NEX-6 has the fastest burst speed in the group, the GF6 is the slowest with only 4.2 fps burst speed. The E-PL5 lacks an automatic mode for creating panorama images, and you get a panorama stitch assistant but doesn’t automatically stitch the images for you.
You can clearly see that the Sony NEX-6 is the better camera overall, both in terms of features and performance. I was really impressed with the NEX-6 image quality but less impressed with the Panasonic GF6 IQ. The GF6 can take beautiful image but you probably be better shooting in low ISO. I would buy the NEX-6 if you are an advanced photographer who is searching for a premium CSC camera with an electronic viewfinder, high quality LCD, fast and accurate AF performance, high ISO performance, very fast burst, good ergonomics, hot-shoe and 1080p60 (progressive) video recording capabilities. The NEX-6 is the best camera in this group for video recording, as you get the option to shoot in both 1080p60 and 1080p24 as well. You have the option to attach an external microphone via the multi-interface connector to improve sound quality.
I would buy the Panasonic GF6 if I am searching for an affordable Micro Four Thirds digital camera that can take decent photos and will shoot most of my photos in lower ISO. The GF6 has some very cool features, including NFC to automatically transfer images between the camera and your phone / tablet without the complexity of authorizing processes. The GF6 can record very good quality videos, has the best articulating LCD in this group, has very useful touch sensitive screen that is responsive and can be uses as a shutter AF and for accurate selected focusing.
I would get the Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 for its metal durable body (love that!), very autofocus, very good images even at high ISO, very responsive touch-sensitive display that allows you to take full control of the camera features (ie. shutter release, change camera settings, choose AF points, etc.), fast burst (8fps), built-in image stabilization (oh yeh!) and it comes with a bundled flash.
If you came here because you want to be sure whether or not to buy the NEX-6, don’t think too much, this is an EXCELLENT camera by all means. If I had to choose one, I would get the NEX-6 without thinking twice. But of course that comes for a much higher price tag. For those of you who are debating between the GF6 and E-PL5, it really depends on specific features that you are looking in your camera. I personally prefer the E-PL5 for its better image quality in high-ISO, built-quality, large the larger selection of micro four thirds lenses, absolutely a fan of in-body image stabilization and I will certainly take advantage of the 8 fps burst shooting speed.
If you are just starting our I recommend buying the camera of your choice with a kit lens. Spend some time with it and than you will be able to decide which other lens(es) you need.
Now it’s your turn to make a decision. I hope that this article helped you get a better understanding on how the three cameras differ. If you have ant questions please do so by leaving your question in the comment section. If you enjoy this comparison, please share it with your friends. Thanks for reading and have a great day!
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