Olympus OM-D E-M1 vs Sony NEX-6

September 15, 2013

Olympus OM-D E-M1 and Sony NEX-6 cameras side by side

In this article I will compare the Olympus OM-D E-M1 versus the Sony NEX-6.  The newly announced OM-D E-M1 brings some great new features, and this new flagship model put Olympus at a very strong spot in the semi-pro ILC camera’s market. One thing that I personally think was missing was more professional-grade ILC cameras. I assume that there are many people who already spent time shooting with entry-level or mid-range models and want to upgrade their gear.

Both Sony NEX-6 and Olympus OM-D E-M1 offers some feature that you won’t find on any entry-level or mid-range snapper.  The E-M1 costs approximately $500 more than the NEX-6 and $150 more than the NEX-7 (body only). So pricing wise, the E-M1 was designed to compete against the NEX-7.  Both cameras offer an electronic viewfinder and bundled their vendor’s best practices and latest technologies.  The NEX-6 was announced on September 12, 2012 — so it’s (I assume) carries a previous generation tech, but it’s still a very capable camera even in 2013-terms.

In this article we’ll talk about the differences regarding various aspects, including size and body design, key features and the innovative technologies hosted in both cameras. I hope that by the end of this article, you’ll have a much better idea about the differences between the E-M1 and NEX-6, and you will be able to make a smarter buying decision of which camera is the one for you.

Camera Size and Design

Both the Sony NEX-6 and Olympus OM-D E-M1 are beautiful cameras, each one with its own unique appeal. The Sony NEX-6 is much smaller than the E-M1. This is probably the main thing that you notice when you compare the two side by side. The E-M1 more resembles the size of an entry-level DSLR camera, but still has a much slimmer body compare to an entry-level DSLR due to the lack of a reflex mirror.

Sony NEx-6, Olympus OM-D E-M1 and Nikon D3200 size comparison

Sony NEx-6, Olympus OM-D E-M1 and Nikon D3200 size comparison (via camerasize.com)

In the image above courtesy of camerasize.com website, you can see that the NEX-6 the smallest camera of the three, and the E-M1 at almost the same size as the Nikon D3200, but still has a slimmer tummy. This is probably one of the main selling points for the NEX cameras. It appeals to photographers who don’t want to carry a bulky and heavy camera. It’s important to understand (if this is your first ILC camera), that the three pictures of the camera in the top view don’t have a lens attached to them.

This means that in order to fully comprehend the size of the equipment that you are going to carry with you, you need to see it with a lens attached. You can visit camerasize.com and try to mount various interchangeable lenses to those cameras and see how they look, and how it affects the overall size.  The NEX-6 is compatible with Sony’s E-Mount lenses, and the Olympus OMD E-M1 is compatible with all Micro Four Thirds lenses.  There is an option to mount Four Thirds Zuiko lenses to the E-M1 and still get autofocus, but you’ll need the MMF-3 special adapter for that.

The Sony NEX-6 is made of polycarbonate and doesn’t inherit the metal shell of its bigger sister, the NEX-7. The Olympus OM-D E-M1 is made of a dust-proof, freeze-proof and splash-proof fully magnesium alloy body.  It’s freeze-resistant down to 14 degrees. This puts the E-M1 in a much stronger position to capture the attention of the professional outdoor photographer. The E-M1 is in fact a camera that was designed to replace the E-5, rather than serve as a replacement for the E-M5. Olympus want’s all its loyal photographers to move to using the Micro Four Thirds standard, so they can focus in investing their funds in the M43 System, rather than splitting the investment in two separate camera systems.

The OMD E-M1 also features a relatively large grip as well. The NEX-6 doesn’t feel cheap at all, but it just can’t match the handling and durability properties of the E-M1.  In my experience, the E-M1 will suit better for those who intend to mount big and relatively heavy lenses, as well as using a flash. The bigger size just helps to better stabilize the weight of the mounted lens and flash.

The NEX-6 doesn’t have an official battery group, but there is one simple grip that you can buy from jimbuchananspace.com.  On the other hand, Olympus has released an official supported grip for the E-M1 (HLD-7) — which comes with the lock control, wheel dial and two custom function buttons (Fn1, FN2). It also comes with DC power port if you intend to shoot timelapse videos for example.

Top view: Olympus OM-D E-M5 and Sony NEX-6

Top view: Olympus OM-D E-M5 and Sony NEX-6

In terms of button layout and external controls, the E-M1 is the most robust camera of the two. It resembles the amount of controls you can find on a semi-pro camera, This included Auto/Manual switch,  Fn1/Fn1 function buttons, two control dials, etc. It also comes with a depth-of-field preview buttons and on-touch WB selector button as well. The NEX-6 does have a control wheel and control dial and you can swap their usage them in manual mode. So for example, you can use the wheel to change the shutter speed settings. The control wheel is underneath the mode dial to the lack of space at the top of the camera obviously.

I personally am a fan of the E-M5/E-M1 -like design and prefer a bigger body. I have large hands and I shoot with telephoto-zoom lens quite a lot. For me, owning the E-M1 seems to be the better way to go. Others might prefer the NEX-6, especially if you intend to shoot with a normal or/and pancake lens.

So to put things into perspective. The E-M1 is built to the highest standard with magnesium-alloy body and weather-sealing properties, as well as more control for faster access to popular used functions.  With all its controls and weatherproofing — it is aimed toward the enthusiast and semi-pro photographer, although it can certainly satisfy even the professional photographer.  Olympus leaves no other options for the photographer whom have already purchased its Four Thirds cameras, but to move to the Micro Four Thirds System.  I think it’s a smart move, and Olympus made a smart move releasing such a flagship camera that also current Micro Four Thirds shooters can upgrade to as well.

The Electronic Viewinder

The EVF certainly worth its own section. People who buy the NEX-6 or the E-M1 cares a lot about the Electronic Viewfinder.  For some, buying an ILC without an EVF is a “No No” and certainly a deal breaker.  The EVF like the OVF (Optical Viewfinder) plays a significant role in enhancing their experience as photographers, helping to get a more intimate connection with the subject and the scene and provide with better visibility when shooting in bright daylight.

Both the Olympus OM-D E-M1 and the Sony NEX-6 feature an electronic viewfinder. However, there are some important differences between the two which you should be aware about. One of the most important attributes of the viewfinder is its size. The Sony NEX-6 features a 1.09x magnification 2.359 million dot OLED viewfinder with 100% FOV, the E-M1 features a 1.48x magnification 2.36 million dot LCD viewfinder with also 100% FOV.

In 35mm terms, the D3200 has 0.53x (equiv.) magnification, the Nikon D7000 has 0.65x (equiv.) magnification and the Canon EOS 5D Mark III has a 0.71x (equiv.) magnification. So both the NEX-6 and the E-M1 feature a very large viewfinder in DSLR terms.  A few of the advantages that you get with EVf over OVF is the ability to enhance the brightness of the viewfinder screen when shooting in low-light and show more information on the screen.


The NEX-6 comes with an OLED viewfinder, which should result in more vivid colors and deep black, as well as put less stress on the battery. The NEX-6 viewfinder is positioned at the left side at the rear size of the camera, due to its smaller size obviously – the E-M1 as it closer to the center like in a traditional DSLR camera.

The E-M1 viewfinder features 29ms image display lag time and like the NEX-6 it features an eye sensor that automatically switches between the EVF and the rear LCD monitor when the EVF is not in use. The E-M1 viewfinder provides 2-axis level gauge (H/V), one-touch 2x magnification, 3 types of viewfinder info themes and 21mm diopter adjustment range. The NEX-6 viewfinder has 21mm diopter adjustment range with two types of overlays: an electronic gauge and a live histogram, as well as On-screen grid lines as well.

The E-M1 also features a new technology called “Adaptive Brightness” which automatically adjusts the backlight brightness of the LCD display to give you the same experience as you were looking through a conventional optical viewfinder.  You can adjust the Hi Light and Shadow brightness control, as well as control the Hue and color saturation of the image without taking your eyes of the viewfinder and viewing the changes right in the EVF. You can control those changes using the two top-right wheel dials. The Adaptive Brightness technology will help you get a natural view of the scene and prevent you from making incorrect exposure compensation adjustments – While the visual editing functionality helps you quickly fine tune the image to your liking, before you capture the shot, and without the need to edit your photo on your computer.

Both the Sony NEX-6 and the Olympus OM-D E-M1 have impressive viewfinder specs, and this is one of the features that enthusiasts and semi-pro photographers are looking for when buying a camera.  The E-M1 EVF is slightly larger, more robust in terms of features, but both provide a magnified high-definition clear view of the scene.

Above all that, both cameras feature a 3-inch Tilting display with 100% coverage. The NEx-6 has 921K-dot display, the OMD E-M1 has 1037K-dot display. The E-M1 however features a touchscreen, whether the NEX-6 display is not a touch-sensitive display.

NEX-6 vs E-M1 – The Sensor and AF System

I still didn’t mention the sensor, so it’s time to talk a little bit about this important feature too. The Olympus OM-D E-M1 is a Micro Four Thirds camera and comes with a newly developed 16MP 17.3 x 13 mm Micro Four Thirds CMOS sensor and Olympus latest TruePIC VII image processor. The Sony NEX-6 is equipped with a 16MP APS-C 23.5 x 15.6 mm CMOS sensor and Sony’s Bionz image processor.

Image sensors size comparison: Micro Four Thirds vs APS-C

Image sensors size comparison: Micro Four Thirds vs APS-C

In the past we’ve seen that APS-C sensors were able to outperform the Micro 4/3 quite significantly in terms of noise at higher ISO — but newer generation Micro 4/3 sensors are capable of delivering high ISO performance that is on par with APS-C in most part. The image quality depends on many parameters, and when it comes to the sensor the sensor technology, pixel size and image processing play a significant factor as well. The advantage of utilizing a smaller sensor is that it gives lens manufacturers the option to produce smaller and lighter lenses, as well as the ability to create smaller camera bodies.

In reality we can see that there are many Micro Four Thirds cameras (like the E-M1) that are not compact in size. This is of course a choice of design, and not the limitation of the system itself. In fact, the NEX-6 carries an APS-c sensor and it’s a very compact camera for its type — much slimmer and more compact than many other Micro Four Thirds cameras that use a much smaller sensor.

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 features a Dual Fast AF system that takes advantage of both 81-point Contrast Detection AF or 37-point Phase Detection AF to deliver very fast an accurate AF performance. The E-M1 camera can automatically switch between the two depends on the lens used. Olympus Zuiko Four Thirds lenses are optimized for phase-detection AF, whether M.Zuiko lenses are optimized for contrast-detection AF to perform best.

This unique Hybrid AF mechanism was designed to give photographers who are moving from Olympus E-series cameras (e.g. E-5, E-3) to the E-M1, to still enjoy the same high performing autofocusing mechanism without any compromise. By doing so, Olympus hoped that more photographers will adopt the Micro Four Thirds system.


The Sony Alpha NEX-6 camera also enjoys a Fast Hybrid AF system, but only some lenses support. (e.g. E 18-55 mm OSS, E 55-210mm OSS, E 18-200 OSS, E 24mm F1.8 ZA, and others). Sony will expand the supported lenses with new firmware update in the future. I recommend heading to Sony’s official website to find out more updated information about the supported lenses and firmware update related information.

The difference between Dual and Hybrid is that with the Dual AF on the Oly, the camera can work with just one AF system at a time, whether in Hybrid AF, the camera takes advantage of both system’s advantages. You might won’t feel the difference in casual shooting of static subjects, as phase-detection prevails when it comes to tracking fast moving subjects with continuous autofocus. It’s more about accuracy and difference situations, rather than increase in AF speed (the strength of contrast-detect AF).

Olympus also claims better AF performance than the one on the OM-D E-M5. If you were a bit disappointed with the E-M5 AF performance, according to Olympus, there is a marginal improvement — however I didn’t find any information about the differences in numbers, anything more scientific that will tell us exactly how much better (e.g. Faster) the E-M1 AF is compared to the E-M5.

Image Quality Comparison Analysis

As of the time of writing, dpreview has already loaded its studio scene image comparison tool with the OM-D E-M1 test image — so we can analyze and get a good understanding of the E-M1 image quality, and see how it compares against the NEX-6.

Here’s my image observation analysis conclusions:

  • ISO 100 – out of the box, the E-M1 produces a sharper more contrasty image. It is quite visible when you look at two 100% scale image side by side.  I am very impressed with the E-M1 image, really superb detailed image. In some cases I give it up to more in-camera sharpening, but in this case it looks like that either the lens, sensor or both results in just a better detailed image. I would give my top score to the E-M1 here.
    Winner: E-M1
  • ISO 200 – we get the same result at ISO 200. Both cameras produce very clean images, but when you look at the dark areas, you can see that the E-M1 has a slight advantage over the NEX-6 when it comes to noise, but nothing to be concerned about either way.
    Winner E-M1
  •  ISO 400 – It seems that the NEX-6 put a slightly higher in-camera sharpening, and you can see the result in the black-white shapes, in which the NEX-6 image carries slight jaggies, not apparent on the E-M1 image. Vertical resolution is certainly better on the E-M1 – however both render very high-quality image
    Winner E-M1
  • ISO 800 – at ISO 800 things are a mixed bag, at least when it comes to noise and details. The NEX-6 produced cleaner image but at the cost of fine details, at least in in low-contrast areas. Probably due to stronger NR. I personally still prefer the E-M1 output, looked more polished and detailed are better preserved. Both produce a very clean image at this high ISO sensitivity though. Chroma noise is also evident on the NEX-6, but not apparent in the E-M1 image.
    Winner: E-M1
  •  ISO 1600 – E-M1 puts a stronger NR, but able to maintain more details. It looks like a very smart NR algorithm that differentiate between different areas of the photos to prevent losing those fine details. For example, fine text is readable on the E-M1 and not that much on the NEX-6 (consider both have same resolution).
    Winner: E-M1
  •  ISO 3200 – The E-M1 doesn’t stop to surprise me. I mean, take a look at the Nikon D7100 image to see what I mean. The E-M1 just blows away the Nikon APS-C camera D7100 and outperforming the Sony Alpha NEX-6 too. Chroma noise is very evident on the NEX-6, but absent on the E-M1. The image is also much cleaner. I was expecting the E-M1 IQ to drop significantly, but this is not the case. It seems that ISO3200 doesn’t even matter, the E-M1 is just very impressive in the noise department. The NEX-6 image looks pretty noisy. Remember, we are comparing an APS-C (NEX-6) sensor vs a smaller Micro Four Thirds (E-M1) one. This certainly tells us that considering the same sensor resolution, the M/43 sensor can certainly outperform a relatively new APS-C Sensor, and by quite a large margin.
    Winner: E-M1

At ISO 6400 and ISO 12800 both cameras handle noise quite differently.  NEX-6 has much higher NR, but seems to maintain more details, which I think it’s due to its higher in-camera sharpening. Overall, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 result in a better rendering in my opinion. I was very impressed with how the OM-D E-M1 handles noise and the IQ at High ISO is nothing but SUPERB!

The Alpha NEX-6 doesn’t fall too far behind, and at medium-size scale it’s hard to notice the differences.  The E-M1 produced slightly more saturated image out-of-the-box, but the image still maintains its natural look. The E-1 deliver professional results as expected from a semi-pro flagship Micro Four Thirds camera.  So if I had to choose a winner, I would give my top score to the OM-D E-M1, but it doesn’t make the NEX-6 look bad – the E-M1 performs better in my observation using dpreview’s Studio Scene image comparison tool (you can check it out here).

Image Stabilization

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 features a 5-axis sensor-shift image stabilization mechanism, which reduced vertical and horizontal angle rotation, as well as vertical and horizontal shift and rolling camera shake.


This means that it doesn’t matter which lens you attack to the EM-1 (e.g. Four Thirds, Micro Four Thirds), the lens will benefit from that internal image stabilization — no need for a lens-shift IS. Lens-shift IS usually compensate for 2 or 3-axis, whether the E-M1 like the E-M5, compensates for 5-axis movement types.

The Sony NEX-6, neither any NEX camera comes with in-body image stabilization (IBIS). In order to get image stabilization, you’ll need to buy an E-mount image stabilized lens (i.e. OSS [Sony], VCS [Tamron], etc.). This provided even a bigger advantage for photographers who are shooting with legacy lenses. This is a big advantage in my opinion, and certainly something to consider when debating between the two cameras.
Furthermore, Olympus improved the IBIS over the E-M5 by adding a new IS-AUTO mode, which automatically detects the camera’s movement and applies optimal corrections, so will get a sharp non-blurry image. The E-M1 also feature what Olympus is calling “Multi-Motion IS”, that together with the 5-axis IS mechanism, provide the excellent image stabilization correction for movie recording.

Other Features

Let’s take a look at some other features and see how those are compared between the two cameras.

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The Olympus OM-D E-M1 provides less appealing frame-rate shooting options for the enthusiast Videographer compared to the NEX-6. Having 60p and 24p on the NEX-6 is a very useful feature for those who like shooting and editing high-quality videos.

We can’t end our comparison without checking an Olympus OM-D E-M1 unboxing video. So check this video shot by Jamie MacDonald:

You can see the little bundled external flash, but look at that gorgeous camera 🙂


The Olympus OM-D E-M5 is $500 more expensive than the NEX-6, but in my opinion this camera is well worth that extra price for the enthusiast photographer, especially for semi-pro photographers who needs the best Micro Four Thirds system can offer for stills photography.
The E-M1 has many advantage over the NEX-6: weather-sealed magnesium alloy body,  more control and buttons for fast access to popular used functions, more advanced and slightly larger EVF, better image quality across the ISO sensitivity range, better ergonomic design if you intend to shoot with relatively large and heavy lenses or use an external flash, one-touch HDR, two function buttons, built-in timelapse feature, optional official battery group, DOF preview button, WB button, 5-axis image stabilization and lens availabiltiy of course — If that’s doesn’t worth the extra money that you pay for it, what does?

The NEX-6 wins when it comes to size, video features, Hybrid AF, built-in pop-up flash, sweep Panorama and the availability of high-quality e-mount Zeiss lenses for the E-mount. I think that Olympus did an amazing job with the OM-D E-M1. It will appeal to both enthusiasts and professional photographers alike. This is the perfect camera to upgrade to, even if you own the E-M5, but more for those who want to advance their photography skills and owned a PEN or a mid-range Panasonic Micro 4/3 camera.

When it comes to image quality,  the E-M1 proved to be a real winner. I was very impressed with the sample lab-test photos on dpreview. This is certainly a next-Gen sensor and image processing capabilities. The result is a camera that doesn’t limit the photographer — on the contrary, it opens a room for more creative freedom so you can take better images and maximize your potential as a photographer.
If I had to choose one, I would certainly get the E-M1 without thinking twice. Of course that comes for quite a hefty price difference, and let’s not forget that most photographers we’ll buy one or two lenses to get started.
Some people prefer getting the least expensive offer, and save the money for better lenses – I can understand that.  You need to ask yourself whether those extra features (e.g. Weather-sealing) will benefit and compliment your shooting style. If not, you might look for a cheaper option instead and put the extra money on a better glass instead.

Now it’s your time to make a choice. Take your time, make sure you understand the cons and pros of each camera. These are two of the most impressive ILC cameras on the market right now, each one aimed at slightly different audiences, but in some way they overlap. If you are serious about getting your photography skills to a new level and have the budget, go with the E-M1, otherwise, the NEX-6 is an excellent camera and offers a great value as well.

Just one last thing. With the introduction of the OM-D E-M1, Olympus also introduced the new Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro interchangeable lens, and now part of the E-M1 Kit offering. This is an expensive lens that sells for ~$1000 when sold desperately . If you are searching for a fast-aperture normal zoom lens, the 12-40 mm (equivalent to 24-80mm) is an amazing lens. It gives you a versatile all-purpose zoom range, as well the option to take advantage of its fast aperture for shallower depth of field and low-light shooting.  So if you have the money to invest in such a lens, it’s well worth it (although I suppose it’s safer to wait for some reviews to show up on the web).

Hope you like this comparison. If you do, please LIKE it and don’t forget to subscribe to my Facebook page. Thanks for reading.