Size Comparison: Olympus OM-D E-M5 vs. Canon 5D Mark II

My last several posts, except for the CowParade Austin cows, have shown photographs that I have taken with my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera that I acquired in late May, right before Barb and I went to Ruidoso, NM for a week vacation.

This past Saturday morning I went to the Austin Shutterbug Club workshop on macro photography, and we were told to bring a camera, tripod, flash, and a macro lens (if you had one). I decided to bring my new little Olympus system with me.

Right before the workshop was to start, one of the other members, Jane, walked over and asked me if that was the Olympus camera that I had written about in my blog. I said well yes it was, and I took the camera off of my tripod and handed it to her to look at.

Jane had previously commented on Facebook how sharp the images from this camera had been, and she asked about that. I said that the amount of sharpening that I had done in post processing was basically just the default amount that Adobe Lightroom gives to this camera model.

Other than the sharpening, Jane was completely taken by surprise by the size of this camera. It was much, much smaller than she had anticipated, and I believe that she said “but it’s so small” at least three times during our brief conversation.

That’s when it hit me that most Nikon and Canon DSLR shooters hadn’t yet realized what these new mirrorless interchangeble cameras were all about. I know that I personally hadn’t given them even a glancing look before I had read Kirk Tuck’s blog about a year ago, when he made me aware of the Olympus PEN cameras, but he also stressed that the Electronic View Finder (EVF) was a big part of the “magic” that these cameras provided.

I have been firmly entrenched in the Canon 5D system for 6 years now (first the 5D, then the 5D Mark II). I have slowly acquired a collection of 8 lenses, 5 Speedlites, and all sorts of other accessories that go along with it. I have always liked these full-frame cameras in every respect, except for when Barb and I travel on vacation. Taking the camera, just a couple of lenses, and a tripod was still a significant amount of gear to pack and haul around.

In an effort to “lighten up”, I bought a Canon PowerShot G11 in the spring of 2010, and was going to see how well it could deliver on a vacation to Niagara Falls. Unfortunately, that camera never made it to Niagara Falls. It was stolen at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. Good thing that I had also brought my Canon 5D Mark II, three zoom lenses, and my tripod.

We later went to a friend’s 50th birthday party in Las Vegas in November 2010, and I knew that the casinos wouldn’t allow a big DSLR inside (even if I promised that I wasn’t going to take any photos), so I went without any camera at all. I saw so many fascinating photographic subjects while I was there that I vowed never to leave town without a camera again. When I got home, I ordered a replacement for the stolen camera; a Canon PowerShot G12.

I never have liked that camera. I don’t really know why. There are several reasons, but they all seem to distill down to the fact that it is inferior in every respect to the 5D Mark II. I used it only when I went somewhere that I didn’t think a big DSLR would be allowed (like on the tour of the Monrcrief-Neuhaus  Athletic Center).

Anyway, I finally solved my travel camera problem this past May, when I bought my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera, four lenses, an external flash, and a small Gitzo GT1542T Traveller tripod.

Now here’s the big surprise – to me, anyway. This little camera system has quickly become my camera of choice. It’s because of the size and weight. The Canon 5D Mark II takes a slightly better photo, but you could never tell that by the size (resolution) of the photos that I post here on the web.

I do still use the Canon 5D Mark II for all of my commercial work. (But admittedly that is only about once a month). But for everything else, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 is “good enough” in image quality at 16 Megapixels. It is smaller, lighter weight, and quite frankly, more fun to use.

Now I have deviated somewhat from my original purpose of writing this blog post. Like Jane, and myself until recently, I don’t think a lot of “serious amateur” photographers, fully realize what’s going on with these physically small, mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras popping up everywhere.

I am not going to try to convince anyone of anything in this post, but I do want to clearly show the difference in size between a full-frame DSLR camera and lenses to a “functionally equivalent” mirrorless interchangebale lens camera, specifically my Olympus OM-D E-M5.

Before anyone leaves flaming comments, yes I realize the DSLR can produce a higher resolution photo – but not by a huge margin. And yes, the full-frame Canon can produce a shallower depth-of-field at the same aperture setting. But if you’ve looked at the photos in my previous blog posts, you will clearly see that the Olympus can easily blur the background due to depth-of-field.

Other than that, the lens comparisons that I will show are indeed very, very close to each other. All that I am trying to show is the difference in the physical size, and you can infer the weight difference.

I have already written way too many words about this! Here are a few more photos that show the difference in size between the camera bodies themselves.

Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to my story.

Note that in the next photo that I placed the Olympus slightly in front of the Canon, which make it appear larger, due to the perspective of the lens on the camera taking this photo.

In the next photo you can see the buttons on the back of the camera. Many reviewers on the internet feel that they are too small and too close together. I don’t feel that way at all. It is a bit awkward to get my thumb to hit the Play button, to the left of the Fn1 button, but I don’t need to press it very often. I do think that the buttons have a squishy or spongy feel, that I am not crazy about, but I do not have any trouble using any of them.

You can see just how much thinner the little Olympus is.

And here’s a nice feature that the Olympus has over the Canon – the OLED screen on the back tilts up about 75 degrees, as shown here, and it can also be tilted 45 degrees downward (handy when you want to hold the camera way above your head to shoot over the crowd).

In the next photo, I show the two “kit lenses”. For all practical purposes, they give me equivalent results. The Olympus lens is a 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3, which is equivalent to a 24-100mm f/3.5-6.3 on a full-frame camera. The Canon lens is a 24-105mm f/4.0, and of course I use it on a full-frame 5D Mark II. The Olympus has a wider aperture when the lens is zoomed to wide-angle, but it has a smaller aperture (f/6.3) when zoomed out to 50mm. I prefer the Canon’s constant aperture, but have always wished it were f/2.8 instead of f/4.0 – but to do that, the lens would have an even larger diameter!

And here you can see the difference in length and diameter between these two functionally equivalent lenses.

Here are the same two lenses mounted onto the cameras.

Remember that the object in front will appear larger than the object behind it in the photo.

And finally, here they are as I normally would use them: complete with lens hoods, and plates attached to the cameras for mounting them on tripods. The Canon has an L-plate, so that I can mount it in either landscape or portrait orientation without having to reposition my tripod ball head. The Olympus just has a base plate that runs the entire length of the camera. I like the ones made by a company named Really Right Stuff.

Here are a couple of prime (non-zoom) wide-angle lenses. The Canon lens is a 24mm f/1.4, while the Olympus is a 12mm f/2.0 (which is 24mm equivalent on full-frame).

Here I just stand them up, with the camera mount end facing up.

Put on the lens hoods, and mount them on the cameras.

By the way, here is my Behind the Scenes (BTS) photo. I used the Olympus with the 12-50mm lens to take this photo of the Canon G12 camera that I used to take all of the other photos in this post. I was using all natural light coming in from a large window to my right. I did use the G12 in Manual mode, and used my Sekonic light meter to tell me what to set the aperture, shutter, and ISO to on the little G12. I still had to add +1 stop of exposure to ALL of the photos in Lightroom for this post. Just another reason why that G12 and I don’t get along very well…

Now here are a couple of “identical” lenses. The Canon is a 50mm f/1.4, while the Panasonic is a 25mm f/1.4 (which is exactly equivalent). Yes, the Panasonic and Olympus Micro-Four Thirds lenses are completely interchangeable between their cameras. Both of these lenses are very sharp and produce excellent photos. Canon does have a 50mm f/1.2 lens, but it costs a fortune, and this one leaves nothing for me to desire!

Here they are with lens hoods and mounted on the camera bodies.

Now if I have ever taken your portrait, there is a very good chance that I used the lens on the left in this next photo. It is the Canon 85mm f/1.8 lens. On the right is the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lens (which is equivalent to 90mm f/1.8). Like the previous two lenses, these lenses are extremely sharp and give great results!

Here they are mounted to the cameras. Note that I have removed the Really Right Stuff plates from the two cameras.

Let’s add the lens hoods.

Speaking of lens hoods, this is an area where Canon is definitely better than either Olympus or Panasonic. The Canon lens hoods are much deeper, so they function better. The Canon lens hoods can all be “reverse mounted” (turned around), while none of the Olympus or Panasonic lens hoods can do that. This makes them much easier to store in your camera bag. Finally, Canon provides the lens hood with the L-series of lenses (those with the red ring around them near the end), but even on the non-L lenses they are not terrible expensive. Panasonic did include the lens hood with the 25mm f/1.4 lens. But Olympus doesn’t include a lens hood with any of the 3 lenses of theirs that I have, and they are very expensive. On top of that, I ordered two of my lens hoods directly from Olympus, and they took 9 weeks to deliver them to me.

While I had those two lens hoods, that could keep the camera supported upright, I added the external flash units to both cameras.

Neither of these two cameras have a built-in pop-up flash, although the Olympus does come with a very weak removable “pop-up equivalent”. The Canon 580 EX II flash unit is significantly more powerful, in terms of the amount of light that it can produce, over the Olympus FL-600R flash unit. In all other respects, they both seem to have pretty much the same amount of functionality and features.

In the next photo, I show the macro lenses that I have. The Canon is a 100mm f/2.8, while the Olympus is the same 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 that I showed earlier. Huh? What’s up with that?

Well, the Olympus lens also includes a very ingenious mechanism, where you push the button on the side of the lens, and then slide the zoom ring forward until it “clicks”. That puts it into a 43mm macro (86mm equivalent). The Canon is capable of capturing a life size, 1x magnification image, while the Olympus only states that it can then focus down to 0.66 foot (7.92 inches, or 20.1 cm), and does not state its maximum magnification capability.

I thought it interesting that the Canon 100mm macro lens seemed to be about equal in three dimensional volume as the Olympus lens WITH the camera attached.

And here are both macro lenses, with lens hoods and cameras attached.

Here are 6 of the 9 lenses that I have shown earlier (I forgot to include the 45mm Olympus and the 85mm Canon – I never intended to put the Canon 100 macro in). The Micro-Four Thirds lenses are in the front, while the Canon EF lenses are in the back.

It is pretty easy to see that when you drop in 3 or 4 lenses into a camera bag, and carry it around on your shoulder for several hours, the difference in weight quickly becomes significant. It forces you to pare down the full size lenses, while there is very little penalty to “bring the whole set” of the Micro-Four Thirds lenses…

And also worth noting is that I usually also carry a tripod when I go out shooting. Now that I have a smaller, lighter camera, with lighter lenses, I can use a much lighter tripod too!

Here the Canon 5D Mark II, with 24-105mm f/4.0 lens is perched atop a Gitzo G1327 Studex carbon fiber tripod, with a Really Right Stuff BH-55 ball head with B2-AS II lever release clamp holding the B5D2-L plate screwed into the base of the camera.

The Olympus OM-D E-M5, with 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens is perched atop a Gitzo GT1542T Series 1 carbon fiber tripod, with a Really Right Stuff BH-30 ball head with LR clamp holding the BOEM5 plate screwed into the base of the camera.

This little Gitzo GT1542T tripod is sturdy enough to comfortably hold the Canon camera and lens, it folds up to only 16.7 inches (42.4 cm), and only weighs 2.2 lb (1 kg). Now THAT will easily fit into my suitcase.

So it took me a few years to come up with my “travel camera system”, but as you can see, I finally found something that I am very happy with!

Thank you for reading my blog.

17 thoughts on “Size Comparison: Olympus OM-D E-M5 vs. Canon 5D Mark II”

  1. That’s quite a tour Gregg. 😉 The new crop of micro 4/3 certainly raises the standard of “good enough”. It’s such a fun time in photography.

    Compared to my D3 and the Kodak, the camera is toylike in size. I could probably take 3 m4/3 bodies and about 8 lenses and still not equal the weight of the D3 and 2 of my work lenses. Let’s not even discuss my medium format film stuff, where one of my prism finders weighs more than a lot of DSLRs.

    I got a chance to toy around with the OM-D at a recent coffee gathering. Someone asked me if I would ever shoot commercial or a wedding with one. For commercial, I would say it would suit 80% of what I do. For a wedding, if I had my way in shooting it, I could do 2 OM-D bodies, a 25mm Lumix and the 45mm Oly and not be tired at the end of the gig. Yeah, I would definitely try it.

    That of course brings up the question that will be posed by so many of “What if you show up with a camera that doesn’t look ‘Pro'” – well, I think I’ve reached the level of maturity where that simply doesn’t matter any more. People really need to get over this crap.

    1. Libby, thank you for reading my blog and for leaving your constructive comments!

      I think that the different size cameras (different formats) all have their place, but I now believe that the physically smaller cameras are just as capable as the next larger format was just a few years ago. It’s very much like when professional photographers started using the smaller (at the time) 35mm film cameras, rather than their medium format cameras for certain kinds of photographs.

      1. The micro 4/3 still won’t fly for certain things, for instance if I need a certain lens look, sports, and large venue weddings. I shot an industrial job today and the m 4/3 would not have played well. But I am going to start using for product shooting as soon as I get a few jobs in progress out of the way. One job has been going on for 3 months, and I simply just can’t switch cameras because I have to maintain certain looks.

        1. Libby, of course you are right about the Micro 4/3 still won’t fly for certain things. For instance, I have a tilt-shift lens for my Canon system, but there is nothing like that for the Micro 4/3 system. When you need it, you need it. For the average, advanced amateur, these smaller, lighter cameras probably do all that they want or need for a camera to do.

  2. What a great post. It clearly shows the size difference of the systems. The two cameras do look cute next to each other 😉 As you know, I too have been very pleased with my Olympus cameras and use it more often than my Canon 7D.

    1. Well, thank you, Andy! Yes, they do look cute side-by-side like that. Kind of like a brother and sister family snapshot. I read your blog regularly, so I see the great photos that you take with your two camera systems (and now also with your inexpensive Panasonic point-and-shoot. Thanks for leaving a comment on one of my blog posts!

  3. Greg!

    What a nice surprise. I’ve just gotten back from a vacation, started looking for a smaller / lighter camera system to take, found the OM-D, and then up popped your blog. Thanks for all the photos & the extensive write-up.

    That system sure looks good. There are times I have been happy with just a point-n-shoot on vacation but I’m _much_ happier with better photos. Something like this looks like a great way to go.

    Hope all is well!

    1. Mike, what a small world! I am exteremely happy with my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera, lenses, and flash. I bought it to be my “travel camera”, but I now find that I use it for much more than just that. Make no mistake, the Canon 5D Mark II (with lenses and flashes) does indeed create a slightly better image, so I still use it for commercial assignments. However, the OM-D E-M5 does have several advantages over the Canon 5D Mark II. The 5-axis image stabilization works MUCH better that I expected it to, and I have taken many handheld photos with ridiculously slow shutter speeds that turned out great! The electronic viewfinder allows you to view the exposure BEFORE you take the photo (what Kirk Tuck calls pre-chimping). I spin the control wheel to change the exposure compensation, and see the results before I ever release the shutter. Of course, the size of the OM-D is much better to deal with when the camera is around your neck all day. Lastly, as I described in my blog post on the Texas vs. Wyoming football game, the smaller camera will allow you to get into places that do not allow “professional cameras”.

      For more image quality examples from the OM-D, check out my recent “Exploring Beatrice, Nebraska” post, and also my three “My First Photowalk in Downtown Austin” posts. And if you were wondering if you can get decent bokeh with the micro four thirds sensor, check out my blog on “Macro Photography of My Neighbors Flowers”.

      Thanks for visiting my blog, and especially for leaving your comments!

      1. So you asked me to let you know what I finally deicded…. I got started with my OM-D system this week! I picked up the camera, 45mm, and Rokinon fisheye. It’s just a start; I’ve set a monthly budget (and this was more than a month’s worth!) so I’ll be early spring finishing.

        I ended up with the silver. After a lot of hemming and hawing I’ve decided to go all primes for a change of pace. And since they’re mostly silver… there you go.

        Gosh, it’s a capable little camera! As you’ll remember, like you I got interested in getting it just as a travel cam. And just like a lot of others I’m quickly discovering that it’s going to be capable of so much more. The snaps I got around the house this weekend with just the 45mm were amazing. Even wide open they were sharp enough. Also no worries about bokeh; there’s plenty.

        My very first digital camera was an Olympus C4040; a Christmas present from my mom in 2001. At some point I got a c5050 for SCUBA; still have that one. They were great cams and this one remind me of them in a very good way. They even use the same basic menu structure and share some icons!

        So thanks again for the blog post on these!


        1. Mike, I believe that you will really enjoy this camera! But first you should spend the time to print out the owner’s manual and spend the 20 hours or so to really go through it thoroughly. That seems to be the most difficult thing there is to getting the most out of the camera.

          Yes, that 45mm lens is very sharp, indeed! I have that one, and two other primes (Olympus 12mm and Panasonic 25mm), and all three of the primes are very sharp. I must admit that I use the 12-50mm f/3.5 – 6.3 “kit” zoom most of the time, even though I know that I am giving up a little bit of image quality for the convenience taking a single lens with me.

          I still use my Canon 5D Mark II for every photo shoot that I get paid to do, but almost all of my personal photography is now done with the Olympus OM-D E-M5.

          If you ever post any of your photos from your OM-D E-M5 online, feel free to include the link so I can see what you are into shooting with it!

  4. Loved the post!

    I am semi-pro in portraiture and looking to upgrade from the Rebel I’ve been using forever. I’m a huge believer in “the technique and the lens make the photo, not the body” but even I have to roll my eyes a bit and admit that technology is technology and I’m behind the times. 😉

    That being said — my work is mainly portraits (newborn, engagements, etc.) where subjects are decently still / posed, however, I also work with toddlers and small children who stay still for all of about thirty seconds. Other reviews I’ve read say the Olympus is more difficult to use in high-movement situations but still others deny that claim.

    I NEVER take my 50mm or 85mm lenses off my camera; they’re my go-to lenses.

    All of that being said — personal recommendation? I was planning on making the move to the 5D Mark II after the holidays, but now I’m almost wondering if the Olympus would be an actual contender?

    1. Kristi, for the type of use that you describe, you wouldn’t go wrong with either system. If you are not bothered by the size and the weight of the Canon 5D Mark II, then that is the system that I would recommend that you go with. The image quality is better, but not by much. If you are selling your portraits as prints to your clients, then this difference in image quality should be your main concern. You also get more megapixels with the Canon, but since the sensor has a 3:2 aspect ratio, you end up cropping away many of those pixels when you print on the standard print sizes (which such as 8×10 – which is a 4:5 aspect ratio). I still use my Canon 5D Mark II whenever I am being paid by a client for the photography or prints.

      The Olympus will not have any problem locking focus onto some moving toddlers. With the excellent Panasonic/Leica 25mm f/1.4 and Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lenses, you would have the equivalent of your 50mm and 85mm lenses, and have a MUCH lighter camera/lens combination. I find the Electronic View Finder of the Olympus helps me achieve a proper exposure in low light BEFORE I take the picture. (As opposed to the Canon, where I take the picture, examine the result on the LCD on the back of the camera, make any exposure compensation changes, and then retake the photo – and where have those little toddlers now gone?)

      You might want to go to one of your major camera stores in Georgia that would let you hold, and better yet, try out each camera for a couple of hours. I think that you will know which camera is the right one for you after you handle them both for a short while.

  5. It’s like looking at a whale and a minnow. No wonder my back hurts thinking about hauling one of those big guys. My granddaughter is just fine with it, more power to her.

    1. Marilyn, yes, the size difference is pretty dramatic. I rarely use my Canon 5D Mark II anymore. It is a great camera, but the little Olympus is just so much more fun to use and to carry around. I often think about selling the Canon, all 8 lenses, and the 5 speedlites that go with it. Somehow I just can’t quite do that, even though it makes the most rational decision to do so.

  6. Thank you for this great post. I am going on safari later this year and currently use a 7D with a 17-40 F4 and a 70-200 F4 IS. From what I read, I am going to need a longer reach but am reluctant to get yet another long lens when our weight restriction is 30 lbs total. Any experience with the EM-5 in that environment?

    1. Rande, thank you for stopping by and leaving your comment! Your Canon 7D has a 1.6 “crop factor” that turns your 70-200mm lens into a 112-320mm equivalent on a full frame camera. The Olympus OM-D E-M5, like all Four-Thirds and Micro Four-Thirds cameras, has a “crop factor” of 2.0. That means that the 75mm lens (supposedly one of the sharpest lenses on the planet) would behave like a 150mm f/1.8 full frame equivalent. That aperture of f/1.8 will allow in more than 4 times as much light (more than 2 stops) than your f/4.0 Canon lenses. For your long telephoto needed on a safari, I see that Olympus offers a 75-300mm zoom, which would give you a 150-600mm equivalent on a full frame camera. It isn’t especially bright with the aperture varying between f/4.8 and f/6.7, but the good news is that it is priced at only $550! You can see all of Olympus’s M.Zuiko lenses for the Micro Four-Thirds cameras at Panasonic lenses work just fine on the Olympus camera, too, and you can find them at I understand that Sigma is now making lenses for the Micro Four-Thirds cameras, and I believe this link will get you to their lens products, but I am not sure how to see just their Micro Four-Thirds lenses.

      Besides the lenses, the camera should absolutely be able to stand up to the hard environment. The OM-D E-M5, with the standard 12-50mm “kit” lens is completely weather sealed, which also means that it will keep dust out of the camera, and off of the sensor. Have a great time on your safari, and I hope that you get some great photos!

      1. Thank you for the information, I will check it all out. I’m all about saving weight, and not just for this safari. I am not a pro, and while I like the feel and handling of my 7D, I don’t enjoy lugging it around on vacation. So glad to see alternatives available.

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