More m4/3 > Leica > m4/3 > Leica etc. Olympus E-5

Panasonic GH2 Zeiss 50mm f/2 Planar Leica M9 Voigtlander 35mm f/1.4

Following on from yesterdays post - here's another piece from the discussion.

"But...HOW would you describe the difference between the Panasonic GH1 as compared to the Leica M8 or M9?"
"The best way to describe how a Leica M9 file looks is it seems like someones removed a softening filter, or if you're adjusting the dioptre setting on your viewfinder and suddenly it snaps into focus from being just out.
Colours seem to seperate more and it gives an almost 3-D look to a 2-D image. All cameras that have no Anti-Aliasing filter produce the same effect, to a greater or lesser extent. A few years ago I saw some Nikon D3 images taken on a camera which had its AA filter removed, and the result was the same. The images were stunning. Its a simple thing to do, but no-one apart from Leica, Sigma and in the past Kodak seem to have had the courage to do it. Though many Medium-Format digital cameras and backs dispense with AA filters also.
Leica and Kodak have come up with the best solution so far. As a by-product there is also a greater colour intensity. The Sigma Foveon sensor cameras, SD14 etc, are known for it, so were the Kodak Pro 14n and SLR/n cameras and so are the Leicas M9 & M9, though the M8 can produce some odd colours.
I believe, though I have no evidence whatsoever to back this up, that the GH2 has a weaker AA filter than the GH1 and the rest of the m4/3 cameras, because it gives, to my eyes, a sharper file. I've written piece after piece on my blog saying that I couldn't really see the difference between native m4/3 lenses and supposedly better quality M-Mount Leica, Zeiss etc. lenses on m4/3 cameras. Until the GH2 that is.
The Panasonic sensors, all m4/3 cameras use, are very good for colour, and indeed produce images that can rival and in some cases surpass any DSLR at low ISO's but the size of the 4/3 sensor probably rules out any idea that they will bring out a non-AA version. I also doubt that anyone else will either. Thom Hogan the Nikon "guru" is constantly writing pieces trying to convince Nikon to bring out non-AA versions of their cameras but they don't seem inclined to do so. However I believe that Panasonic probably reduce the strength as much as they dare, but are wary, like the majority of camera makers, that low noise high ISO performance is important for many possible buyers of their cameras.
Its always struck me that Canon take a quite agressive attitude to noise reduction, producing files that I and others feel are somewhat soft. The new Sony 16MP sensor in cameras like the Pentax K-5, Nikon D7000 etc. is very good, with great high ISO performance, but it doesn't have the "bite" of something like the M9 at low ISO's.
I'm a great enthusiast for m4/3, I used it from the start and its by far my most used system. The origin of this thread was based on the question, "Anyone here switch to Leica system? And then switch back to m43?" I responded to that because thats what I do every week. Use m4/3, then use a Leica, then m4/3 again. To talk about the two systems in the same way and to use them together, shows the respect I have for what the Panasonic engineers have come up with. This afternoon I was out shooting with my M9 and my GH2 fitted with a Zeiss 50mm M-Mount lens. The difference between the two is now less than it was on other m4/3 cameras, in my opinion, and I'm very pleased with what I'm getting from the GH2. However the M9 still wins my personal resolution battle.
Its not just MP's either. I sold a Nikon D3X to buy the M9. I often blow up my M9 files to the same size as the D3X files, and they look sharper to me, even after interpolation. I don't get that from the GH2, though at their native size the GH2 files are pretty impressive. Remember that for the majority of what I do I'm using the base ISO. In the case of both cameras thats ISO 160. If the majority of my work was indoors in low light, I would use neither, as both cameras aren't particularly good at that.
To see what I'm talking about, you really need to look at some raw files from both cameras. Jpgs don't really tell the whole story of what you can get from a file. I did have some Leica M9 raw files on my blog, but nobody looked at them so I removed them.
If you're interested I could do some more."
As mentioned I took both the M9 and GH2 out yesterday. In many ways it was a "back to the real thing" day. While I enjoyed my spell with the GF2, these are the two cameras that produce the files that get me rushing back to the screen to check them out.
Leica M9 Voigtlander 35mm f/1.4
Leica M9 Voigtlander 35mm f/1.4 Classic
Panasonic GH2 Zeiss 50mm f/2 Planar
Panasonic GH2 Zeiss 50mm f/2 Planar
This was the first time I'd ever taken both these cameras out together. I very rarely carry more than one camera as it always makes me think of Dennis Hopper from Apocalypse Now!
However my version was a little more restrained! I used two small light lenses. The Leica had a Voigtlander 35mm f/1.4 fitted and the GH2 a Zeiss 50mm f/2. The latter is interesting as it gives me the closest Leica type results I can get from m4/3. 
The combination produced this amazing fungus shot. 
Panasonic GH2 Zeiss 50mm f/2 Planar
Panasonic GH2 Zeiss 50mm f/2 Planar
A friend on flickr described this as three-dimensional and it does have that look about it.
Leica M9 Voigtlander 35mm f/1.4
Leica M9 Voigtlander 35mm f/1.4 Classic
Panasonic GH2 Zeiss 50mm f/2 Planar
Panasonic GH2 Zeiss 50mm f/2 Planar
Leica M9 Voigtlander 35mm f/1.4
Leica M9 Voigtlander 35mm f/1.4 Classic
As I discussed in the Dpreview thread, the Leica M9 still wins in the resolution / sharpness stakes, but with the right lens the GH2 isn't that far behind. I recently had a look at some M8 files I took in 2009. I felt that the results from the GH2 that I'm getting looked better, and indeed sharper than those. In fact its only images from the M9 and D3X that now "beat" the GH2 for low ISO image quality, out of all the cameras I've used. A remarkable achievement for a 4/3 sensor. 
If only this sensor had made it to the Olympus E-5. There's a review of that camera over at Dpreview. 

There's a couple of paragraphs from that review which probably sums up much of what I feel about the E-5.
"Let's make on thing very clear from the outset: the Olympus E-5 is the best Four Thirds DSLR ever made. It offers a better feature set, better baseline image quality, better ergonomics and better build quality than any previous E-series camera. Although at its heart is a relatively old 12MP CMOS sensor, Olympus has managed to squeeze more resolution out of it than we would have thought possible. Low ISO shots taken in good light are outstandingly detailed, and in these conditions the E-5's AF, metering and WB settings (coupled with a very good JPEG engine) work well together, and make the E-5 a pleasure to shoot with. 

There are frustrations though - for one, the E-5 is priced too high. Also, its sensor is relatively noisy, dynamic range is good but not as wide as we'd like, and the maximum continuous shooting rate is relatively slow. The E-5's menu system is a bit fussy, the lack of any meaningful customization in movie mode is frustrating, likewise unpredictable AF in multi-point mode. None of these issues is fatal by itself, but taken as a whole, they add up to a camera which just isn't quite good enough to compete in this market segment, especially given the strength of fresh-faced competitors like the Pentax K-5."
A shame really. 
With the GH2 sensor the E-5 could have been a really good camera. There are rumours about Olympus coming up with a "pro" m4/3 camera and "pro" m4/3 lenses, whatever that means. However it seems to me that Panasonic have already beaten them to it in terms of camera specifications with the GH2. Whether Olympus can come up with something that justifies the "pro" tag remains to be seen. Isn't the m4/3 idea the complete antithesis of the "tank-like" construction of much of what is described as "pro" photo gear anyway? 
I've always taken the view that if you want reliability then a backup camera or cameras are the best idea. Do you buy one Canon 1DS Mk III or two Canon 5D MK II's? Its roughly the same price. My choice would be the latter option. 
Still we shall see what Olympus come up with. 
In terms of lenses the rumoured Panasonic 12-50mm f2.8-3.5 and 25mm f1.4 look interesting. Both of these look certain to be announced very soon and the zoom would be pretty high on my shopping list. If the other rumour about a Panasonic battery grip is true, and with the way the GH2 consumes power I hope it is, then Panasonic are moving in the right direction as far as this "pro" is concerned. 
I would suggest that before thinking of "pro" bodies and lenses, Olympus need to sort out a decent sensor first and foremost. I would have bought an E-5 if it wasn't for the sensor. No matter how good it is at low ISO 12MP just isn't enough. Neither is its medium and high ISO performance satisfactory. I've said quite a few times that it seems to me the way to see what the excellent 4/3 Olympus lenses are capable of is probably best achieved by buying an adapter and putting them onto a GH2. It seems unfortunate to me that the best sensor that Olympus can come up with to show off their excellent optical performance is the E-5 sensor. I've seen what the Olympus 50mm f/2 lens can do in terms of image quality on the GH2, but the AF is appalling. It would have been nice for Olympus to provide its supporters with the same quality sensor allied to the undoubted handling capabilities of the E-5. Still its not to be and it does seem that the 4/3 range of cameras no longer has priority at Olympus. If by "pro" m4/3 they can come up with a system that allows their wonderful 4/3 lenses to work properly and with a sensor that does them justice then I'd applaud that. My suspicion however is that they will just let 4/3 quietly and slowly ride off into the sunset, leaving a whole lot of unfulfilled promise behind. I hope the E-PL2 is not a sign of things to come, as marginal adjustments to already existing products don't really get my adrenalin pumping. Olympus have a history of being innovators and risk-takers in the camera market, they seem to be coasting in their comfort zone currently and thats disappointing.
Words - David
Images - David and Ann