The fact that they were announced so closely to each other also makes a battle between their spec sheets much more fair, so let’s see how the two compare in key areas.
Design and ergonomics
The two models share a DSLR-like design in that each features a substantial grip and a centrally positioned viewfinder. Each has been protected against dust, inclement weather and freezing conditions to a similar degree, and while the OM-D E-M1 Mark II is the smaller and lighter of the two, its deep grip still lets you get good purchase.
Both offer a similar level of control to each other from their top plates, albeit in slightly different ways. The GH5 offers many customisable Fn buttons on the rear, although digging through the E-M1 Mark II’s menu shows that it can also be extensively customised. Not only that, but the Fn Function Lever on the back allows certain controls to be quickly alternated between different, pre-determined setups.
While the GH5 sports a dial around its menu pad, the E-M1 Mark II only offers directional buttons. To some this may seem less flexible, although whether this is an issue really comes down to what you’re used to. While this does make certain things easier on the GH5, this is hardly a deal breaker.
The GH5 also sports a handy, rubbered joystick that can be used to shift the focusing point among other things, a popular feature that’s springing up on models from many manufacturers. That’s not to say that it’s in any way difficult to adjust the focusing point on the E-M1 Mark II, but some will no doubt appreciate the convenience of this additional control.
Both models have also been designed with touchscreen LCDs that can be adjusted in the same way through a side hinge. At 3.2in in size and with 1,620k dots the GH5’s monitor is a little more impressive on paper than the 3in, 1,037k-dot display on the EM-1 Mark II, although the difference in practice is not significant.
Both cameras employ latest-generation 20MP Micro Four Thirds sensors, and neither features an optical low-pass filter. Panasonic has partnered this with its latest Venus engine while Olympus has furnished its model with its TruePic VIII Dual Quad Core Processor.
Both also feature five-axis image stabilisation systems, together with the ability to work with the image stabilisation systems incorporated into Micro Four Thirds lenses. Panasonic claims an impressive maximum 5-stop effect for its own system, while Olympus reckons you can achieve up to 5.5 stops with the body alone, and up to 6.5 stops when using the 12-100mm f/4.0 IS PRO lens.
These are impressive figures, although it’s worth remembering that these are maximum figures quoted for specific combinations of lenses and camera settings, rather than what you’re likely to see whenever you use this feature.
As flagship models, each camera is loaded with far too many clever and useful features that can be gone into in much detail here. A few, however, stand out on each.
The feature that arguably makes the greatest impression on the GH5 is its viewfinder. With 3,680k dots and a magnification equivalent to 0.76x in 35mm terms, it presents a large and excellently clear view. The OM-D E-M1 Mark II’s viewfinder is certainly capable, with the same magnification and a slightly lower 2,36million dots, but it doesn’t make quite the same impression when you bring it up to the eye.
Other notable features on the GH5 include the Post Focus option that lets you decide on the point of best sharpness in the frame after capture, as well as two cards slots that both support UHS-II media. The OM-D E-M1 Mark II also feature dual slots, although UHS-II support is only provided in one of them.
The OM-D E-M1 Mark II has plenty of clever tricks of its own, including 60fps burst shooting and up to 18fps with continuous focus (both with the electronic shutter). Even with its mechanical shutter is still manages an excellent 15fps and 10fps with continuous autofocus.
The fact that it ties this with a 121-point Hybrid contrast- and phase-detect AF system arguably makes it far better suited to sports and action than the GH5, which uses a more standard contrast-detect AF system. The GH5 does, however, have 225 focusing areas, and for static subjects in good light is impressively fast to focus.
Other key additions on the OM-D E-M1 Mark II include the High Res Shot mode that creates a composite image at 50MP and the clever Live Bulb option that lets you see long exposures developing as they are captured.
Following a number of video-centric predecessors, the Lumix GH5 very much has movie recording as its focus. The OM-D E-M1 Mark II has the honour of being Olympus’s first mirrorless camera to record 4K video, and while it lacks some of the party tricks of its rival, it’s impressive to see the company has specified it as well as it has.
Both cameras are capable of recording 4K footage in two flavours, DCI 4K and UHD 4K. Internally, the GH5 can record 10bit footage at 4:2:2 at up to 30p, and 8bit 4:2:0 footage too, and through its full-size HDMI port it can output 10bit 4:2:2 footage at up to 60p. By comparison, the E-M1 Mark II can record 8bit 4:2:0 footage at up to 30p internally and output 8bit 4:2:2 footage through its HDMI port.
The GH5 is loaded with many supporting features such as Waveform Monitor, Vector Scope, Time Code and SMTPE colour bars. Cinelike D and Cinelike V profiles are also on hand, but you have to pay extra for the V-LogL video option. Incidentally, this isn’t included on the OM-D E-M1 Mark II as standard either, although you do get a flat picture mode to provide a better starting point for grading.
Firmware updates for the GH5 model have already started to expand video functionality; v. 1.1 has made 10-bit 4:2:2 Full HD recording a possibility, and more updates are in the pipeline.
Both cameras can have 8MP frames extracted from 4K footage, although the GH5 goes one further to allow for a 6K (18MP) frames to be pulled out too. Headphone and mic sockets are found on each too, and both cameras benefit from their image stabilisation systems soldiering as you record too.
Both of these cameras appear well worthy of their flagship status, although they each lend themselves better to different types of shooting.
The GH5 is the clear winner where video recording is concerned, with a plethora of supporting options and the advantage of 10bit internal recording. With its effective image stabilisation system and superb viewfinder, it’s also a great option for shooting when light levels dip.
The more refined hybrid AF system and faster burst rate perhaps makes the OM-D E-M1 Mark II a better option for casual video users who may have fast action as a priority, while its smaller and lighter body makes its more portable too. Overall, this perhaps edges it slightly ahead as the better all-rounder of the two, with a slightly cheaper asking price only adding to its appeal.