OLYMPUS OM-D E-M5 review - Part 8 - More comparison with the Fuji X-Pro 1 - Is there any value in this "pixel-peeping"? + Some general musing on the review so far.

Firstly, an explanation as to why there is so much of this testing and "pixel-peeping" on the blog currently. Well, I'd love to be out shooting with the Olympus, but ever since its arrived the weather has been terrible. As per usual in the UK as soon as people start talking about a drought it just rains and rains and rains! And so it is at the moment. Hopeless weather for shooting outdoors and unfortunately no prospect of it getting much better for a couple of days yet.

Secondly on the question "Is there any value in this "pixel-peeping"? Well each of us is only able to answer that question for ourselves. Certainly I think there is. If I didn't I wouldn't do it. I want to know how my cameras perform. I want to know which is best for what I shoot. I want to know what they are capable of.

Its often the case that people choose to dismiss it as irrelevant, as pointless and misleading. Usually, of course, accompanied by an air of moral superiority. So OK, if you don't want to do it thats fine. But lets be clear, this "picture-peeping" has been going on since photography was invented and I'm sure it will carry on until it disappears and 3-D holographic imaging triggered by our brainwaves becomes a reality.

I'll bet Julia Margaret Cameron and Ansel Adams did it, and probably most of the well-known photographers in between. Whether its looking at pixels on a screen or getting a magnifying glass out for a print, anyone who is serious about what they produce and who cares about quality will see it as an essential part of their art / craft. Besides, I'm not sure I trust anyone who doesn't do it. If someone doesn't have the curiosity to investigate the limits of their equipment and the results it produces, then what does that say about their curiosity to investigate the limits of their creativity?

Anyway, I will continue to do it, and judging by the phenomenal amount of hits I'm getting on these tests, a lot of people seem interested in it. And apart from anything else, if it stimulates discussion and debate, what on earth is wrong with that?

So following on from the jpg. comparisons, I decided to do a comparison between what the Olympus and Fuji can do when converted from raw. Currently there is no way to do a comparison using the same software, so I decided to see what I could come up with using Silkypix for the Fuji and Capture One for the Olympus. Plus I wanted to do it at the cameras base ISO's.

Before that, just a comment or two on the Olympus high ISO results. Some people are suggesting that I'm being somewhat hard on the Olympus. Well maybe I am. But then this review, as ever, is totally based around how and what I shoot. If you want an objective review then this probably isn't the best place to look for it. As I've stated endlessly, I'm not a high ISO shooter any more. Shooting events and weddings etc. in the past, I did a lot more of it than I do now, but currently my cameras rarely move from their base ISO settings. However, its important for me to know how they will perform, if and when I need to crank up the ISO. 

Part of how we assess high ISO performance is to do with what we are doing with our pictures. I'm obviously taking pictures that are for sale and will earn me a living. Others aren't and this can affect what we find acceptable or not. As I wrote a couple of posts back, I've just had an ISO 6400 image from the Fuji accepted by a VERY picky picture library. This is something of a milestone, though it did involve me downsizing it somewhat. The other thing to remember is that high ISO performance can depend on what and how you shoot, and one of the most important things is exposure. As is well known even the slightest under exposure at high ISO's can result in more noise. Also images at high ISO's shot in daylight tend to look better than images shot under darker more murky conditions.

The other consideration, and this applies to "pixel-peeping" as well, is that we tend to see what we want to see, and that can colour our reaction to what the results are. Looking at the same result we may think "Hey that looks better than I thought, its really not that bad" or "Oh, I was hoping for something better than this, its a bit disappointing." Perception and expectation are everything.

Finally on this issue, I am trying really hard to be objective, and not write a multi-part love poem to the OM-D. And I really do love it, assuming its possible to have that emotion about an inanimate object!! Just to make it clear I think its a great camera, a real groundbreaker and easily the best m4/3 camera I've ever used. (In my opinion of course!!) But a lot of people are reading these posts, and that number has increased somewhat recently, so I'm trying to make clear that the camera has failings as well as strengths. How significant those strengths and failings are to each of us is a question we can only answer individually. For my part, I care little about how the camera performs beyond ISO 200, but there are others who do, so I'm attempting to come up with an assessment that talks honestly about what I am seeing and how I respond to it, even though that may have no relevance to what I use the camera for, and indeed others may completely disagree with. But then thats the nature of the beast. As I'm fond of saying, opinions are like a*******s, everybodys got one!

Anyway, enough of this, lets get back to some tests.(And who doesn't love a test!!)

Firstly the obligatory camera porn. This time in Black and White with just a dash of soft-focus and diffuse glow.

Fuji X-Pro 1 Nikon 50mm and Olympus OM-D Voigtlander 35mm
Fuji X-Pro 1 Nikon 50mm and Olympus OM-D Voigtlander 35mm

So shot at ISO 200 and f/8 for both camera / lens combinations. It was quite difficult to come up with a pair of lenses that would give reasonably similar results. I ended up using a Nikon 50mm f/1.8D lens on the Fuji, and a Voigtlander 35mm f/1.2 Nokton (II) on the Olympus. Not ideal but certainly representative of what I would use, and both, when stopped down to f/8 are very fine lenses.

As usual, to see the full-size high-res. versions of the images below click on picture > flickr > Actions > View all sizes > Original

To start with here's a comparison of the out of camera jpgs.

Fuji X-Pro 1 Nikon 50mm and Olympus OM-D Voigtlander 35mm

Fuji X-Pro 1 Nikon 50mm and Olympus OM-D Voigtlander 35mm

Both produced excellent images. The Fuji might just be slightly smoother, and as usual has produced accurate colour, but then the Olympus is pretty close as well. Top notch from both.

I had to process the raw files differently. The Fuji files were run through Silkypix to produce Tiffs using the Super Neutral setting. I then imported them into Adobe Camera Raw 7 in Photoshop CS6 and processed them with a series of adjustments I've come up with, which produces the sharpest images I've been able to get out the Fuji files without either Adobe or Capture One support.

The Olympus files were processed in Capture One Pro Vers. 6, which does support the camera.

Fuji X-Pro 1 Nikon 50mm
Fuji X-Pro 1 Nikon 50mm

Fuji X-Pro 1 Nikon 50mm
Fuji X-Pro 1 Nikon 50mm

Using my somewhat convoluted method the colours are not quite as accurate as the jpgs. but this is primarily a test for sharpness and overall image quality, and in that respect the Fuji performs very well indeed, as I've come to expect.

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Voigtlander 35mm Nokton
Olympus OM-D E-M5 Voigtlander 35mm Nokton

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Voigtlander 35mm Nokton

These, processed in Capture One, are very good indeed. Is this the best quality from m4/3 so far? I think it is. Note the almost total absence of luminance noise, something that has plagued the 16MP m4/3 sensors since they first appeared. Under these ideal circumstances, with a tripod mounted camera, a top quality lens at one of its "sweet spots" and careful processing this is really a high quality result. The OM-D has a little sharpening applied whereas the Fuji has none, but files from both cameras look really good, and would reproduce beautifully.

From what I've seen so far, I would have expected this kind of quality from the Olympus, and this confirms it to me. Whatever opinions we might have about its high ISO performance, I suspect few of us would have issues with the OM-D's performance here. When you factor in its superior handling and all-round versatility and speed (not forgetting the price of course!) then it does become apparent why its getting so much attention.


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