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Which One? Sony NEX C3 vs Olympus EP3

by Chris Gampat on 08/19/2011

The Sony NEX C3 (or NEX-C3 and NEXC3) is a hot new camera; but so is the Olympus EP3 (or E-P3, E P3, EP 3, and EP-3). In the world of mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras, these two are currently amongst the choices of many users. Whether you want a DSLR alternative, a smaller camera with more power, or a camera for street photography, you may be confused as to which one to purchase. This post will hopefully clear things up.

Before you go on reading you may want to check out our EP3 review and our NEX C3 review.

Ergonomics

Sony NEX C3: Small, awesome LCD screen that flips up. It seems like this camera was designed to be shot from the hip. It’s not bad overall, and changing the settings isn’t difficult providing you have a bit of time.

Olympus EP3: Small, feels great in the hand, designed for you to walk right up to a subject, touch the screen, and move on. Very, very nice styling as well. Plus there are interchangeable grips.

Winner: EP3 for the interchangeable grips and customization. The NEX system still needs to mature a bit at the time of this writing.

Ruggedness

Sony C3: The body feels as if it’s made of plastic.

Olympus EP3: The body doesn’t feel as rugged as it’s predecessor, the Olympus EP2. However, it is made of aluminum, and that’s more than tough enough for most people. Do note though that this also makes it heavier in the hand.

Winner: Aluminum wins, this goes to the Olympus EP3.

Autofocus

Sony NEX C3: Super fast focusing. Tracking could be better though. Also, the focusing still isn’t as smart as a DSLR based on your composition of the scene.

Olympus EP3: Perhaps the fastest focusing we’ve seen to date. It even outpaces a DSLR by a small margin. Plus the touch to focus feature makes shooting even easier. Before this camera, I hated touch screens.

Winner: Olympus EP3. It took you years to fix the autofocus, but now it’s very good.

Manual Focus

Sony NEX C3: This camera has peaking built in. That means that you’ll see lines go across the screen showing you exactly what in the scene is in focus. For legacy lens users, you’ll be smitten with this and perhaps want to convert over from any other system you have just for this feature.

Olympus EP3: The Micro Four Thirds system allows you to magnify a certain area of the screen for critical manual focusing. The EP3 allows you to do it with the touch of a button.

Winner: Sony NEX C3. Peaking is just so much more natural and you’re still able to see the rest of the scene without needing to magnify an area 10x.

Battery Life

Sony NEX C3: I needed to charge it perhaps every other day when I used it often. Dimming the screen helped tremendously though.

Olympus EP3: Same as the C3, but due to the amount of energy that the touch screen pulls, it was sapped quicker.

Winner: Sony NEX C3 by a hair. Olympus could still save themselves by developing another battery that could work with the EP2 and EP3.

Lens Choices

Sony NEX C3: Native lens choices aren’t that many. However, Sony seems to be putting more and more priority on primes. Many would argue that these smaller systems are designed for prime lenses. More adapters are also being made for the Sony system for users to adapt any lens they want.

Olympus EP3: The Micro Four Thirds system already has numerous adapters for various lenses. Additionally, both Olympus and Panasonic create their own lenses. Because you have two companies producing products, more of it tends to come out.

Winner: Olympus EP3. This is because Panasonic and Olympus both jointly design lenses and the system is older. Sony, I’m sure, will catch up.

Image Quality

Sony NEX C3: The sensor in the Sony NEX C3 produces some very vivid colors. The bigger sensor also allows for a larger dynamic range, color depth and better control over high ISOs.

Olympus EP3: Olympus’s colors are still very, very good. However, the images from the Sony NEX C3 still look more professional. To be fair, both cameras need top of the line glass to really take advantage of their sensors. When it comes to glass, Olympus wins hands down.

Winner: Tie. Sony’s sensor has great potential but requires better lenses. Olympus’s sensor isn’t as strong as the APS-C beast inside the C3, but their lenses are perhaps the best in the EVIL line up of cameras.

High ISOs

Sony NEX C3: The new sensor soaks up light much more than I’ve seen before. What do I mean by that? Well, at ISO 6400, it seems more sensitive than my Canon 7D at an equivalent exposure level. Additionally, the noise control isn’t that bad. Everything is usable.

Olympus EP3: I’ve had more than one person write in and tell me that the EP3 is very usable at the higher ISO settings. I’ve thought so myself. In fact, the EP3 did things that I didn’t even think were possible at the near nuclear levels.

Winner: Sony NEX C3 for the reasons that the camera has better noise control but while still maintaining more detail in the images.

Ease of Use

Sony NEX C3: The Sony NEX system was seemingly designed so far for the user the set the camera in Auto mode and leave it. So if you wanted to change any of the settings, you needed to go through lots of menus. That’s still there, but it’s more manageable now with the C3. Also, good going with explaining every single feature of the camera through the menu system.

Seriously, thank you Sony for listening to us. Now get rid of the company philosophy or the Executive that forces consumers to buy only Sony products to work with their system. For example, your hot shoe. Did you really need to create your own?

Olympus EP3: Everything about the camera is very simple for the most part. The new menu is very swank, and the entire camera can pretty much be controlled via the screen (with some exceptions.).

When it comes to shooting though, there is nothing better than setting the camera to Aperture mode, touching an area of the screen and hearing the satisfying shutter noise.

Winner: Olympus EP3. However, Sony made a great effort this time around. But it’s just not for me.

Portability

Sony NEX C3: Man, that thing is tiny. Combine that with the light weight and you’ve got yourself a travel camera that your hands will never tire of.

Olympus EP3: It’s a light camera, but it begs to be slung around your chest with a nice leather strap. Think of it almost like a Leica.

Winner: NEX C3.

Conclusions

This was a very tough battle. The Olympus EP3 is what I consider to be revolutionary to street photography. Indeed, I deemed it better than the Leica M9-P and Fuji X100. However, when I used the Sony NEX C3 I was very impressed with the image quality. My only problem was that I wish that the lens line up were better. Sony bought Minolta and they have a very close relationship with Zeiss. Doesn’t it only make sense that they should have better lenses?

With this said, Olympus’s strength is in their lenses. I’ve always thought this: I only believe Canon, Nikkor primes, and Leica are better lens makers. However, they still need sensor improvement, although they’ve come a long way in high ISOs with full frames and against APS-C sensors.

As far as focusing goes, the Olympus cannot be beat. Seriously, Nikon had better watch out.

However, the Sony has a strength of it’s own. By using the flip up LCD screen, one can shoot from the hip with ease and not alarm any one. With the Olympus, you’ll shoot so quickly that you can move right on after you’re done. And the shot rarely misses its mark.

In the end though, I need to give this to the Olympus EP3 and admit that this has been the most difficult comparison review I’ve done to date. With that said though, this battle of NEX C3 vs EP3 is also a bit crazy. They’re targeted at slightly different markets, but have enough similarities to overlap into the competitor’s intended reach. In the end, it will all come out to your shooting style.

I’d personally also choose the Olympus for the reason that I’m smitten with their lenses and already have a decent investment in the system. However, the moment that Sony releases a digital Minolta CL-E, I will kiss the Micro Four Thirds system goodbye…maybe. I’ve got a hunch that Olympus knows this game isn’t over.

Sony NEX C3: B&H or Amazon

Olympus EP3: B&H or Amazon

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