OLYMPUS OM-D EM-5 Review - Part 2 - Comparison with GX1 and other stuff

OLYMPUS OM-D EM-5 12mm f/2 lens PANASONIC GX1 45mm f/1.8 lens

OLYMPUS OM-D EM-5 12mm f/2 lens PANASONIC GX1 45mm f/1.8 lens

OLYMPUS OM-D EM-5 12mm f/2 lens PANASONIC GX1 45mm f/1.8 lens

Firstly, I would say that from the pictures above you can see that the basic OM-D is very much in the same mould in terms of size as other m4/3 cameras, in this case the GX1. I have a leather case that I originally bought for a GF1, but that also fitted many of my Pens. E-P2 and E-PL1 & 2. It also fits the OM-D very nicely after I created a new hole for the fastening screw. So its very much a m4/3 camera in size / design.

Secondly part of this post is about noise and high ISO performance. I should point out that the above shots were taken with my Fuji X-Pro 1 at ISO 6400 and might serve as a handy comparison for what follows. On the point of the Fuji and high ISO's, my most fussy picture library has just accepted a shot taken at ISO 6400 on that camera. Previously I had trouble getting them to take anything at ISO 800. Just shows how good it is.

Comparison tests between OM-D and Panasonic GX1
Conducted with the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lens on both cameras with identical settings.

There was some internet hysteria about the OM-D's sensor being made by somebody other than Panasonic and that in some way its different to other m4/3 sensors. However the general acceptance now seems to be that it is pretty much the same as the G3 / GX1 unit, and certainly my comparisons bear that out.

The sensor of course is only the first part in a complicated series of in camera adjustments that manufacturers use to produce their jpgs. and you see that quite clearly in the following examples.

There is most obviously a difference in what actually constitutes a certain ISO setting. As you will see the Panasonic files are consistently darker than those from the Olympus. I did in fact think I had done something wrong and did the test again making sure that everything was the same including focusing on the exact same spot. The second set of pictures was exactly the same as the first with the GX1 getting noticeably less exposure. All images are out of camera jpgs. unaltered using the Standard settings for both cameras.

It seems that the Olympus files are marginally cleaner but at the higher ISO settings marginally softer. So the difference seems to be in how the images are processed, and as can be seen how ISO ratings are determined. Neither camera is colour accurate.

I've uploaded 4 samples to flickr. These are full-size files and the high-resolution version can be viewed by clicking on the image > flickr > Actions > View all sizes > Original.

ISO 200
Comparison between OLYMPUS OM-D EM-5 and PANASONIC GX1 with 45mm f/1.8 lens at ISO 200

ISO 800
Comparison between OLYMPUS OM-D EM-5 and PANASONIC GX1 with 45mm f/1.8 lens at ISO 800

ISO 3200
Comparison between OLYMPUS OM-D EM-5 and PANASONIC GX1 with 45mm f/1.8 lens at ISO 3200

ISO 12800
Comparison between OLYMPUS OM-D EM-5 and PANASONIC GX1 with 45mm f/1.8 lens at ISO 3200

Be warned! The ISO 12800 pair are not a pretty sight!

So there is no surprise here. There will be I'm sure no "SHOCK HORROR m43 isn't any good at high ISO settings!!!" headlines anywhere. Anyone who has used a m4/3 camera or even looked at some samples will know this anyway. Now whether they (Presumably Panasonic, since they make the sensors) will ever improve on this is difficult to know. Sure things have got better since the revolutionary G1 of a few years ago. But lets be honest, not much better. However this inability to photograph a black cat down a coal mine, hand-held with little or no noise on the final image, doesn't seem to have stopped Hassleblad, Leaf, Phase One and Leica, turning out cameras and backs that are basically unusable above ISO 800.

To be honest, I'm not sure it bothers Panasonic or Olympus much either. Yes they include these high ISO settings, but I imagine because its expected. Certainly as far as I'm concerned I'd rather they stopped at 1600, which is certainly the limit of what I'd ever use.

In the case of the OM-D, Olympus have developed a rather wonderful image stabilisation system, which works well. This can't obviously handle everything, but this is way better than anything we could do back in the days of film.

So what / who is m4/3 for?

An interesting question, and one I'm not sure even Panasonic and Olympus can answer. They do at times, and with certain products, seem to think that its for some stereotypical teenager (probably female) who wants to take pictures for their facebook page. Though why this supposed customer would look beyond their mobile phone to do this escapes me. They do however, somewhat unwillingly it seems, also think that some of the people who would want to buy into this system are "enthusiast" photographers with a sense of history. i.e. someone who might actually know what an original Pen or OM camera looked like.

I've always maintained that this is where they should aim their products. Firstly because these kinds of photographer actually "get" all the references in the camera designs and secondly because they are probably the people who have the money to buy these (relatively) expensive cameras and more importantly are prepared to go out and do just that.

I'm not going to get into a discussion of "professional" use (well not at this moment anyway) other than to say that the OM-D probably deserves to have the word "Pro" in its title a lot more that the recent Fuji, because of its generally superb handling and build quality. However, I think Olympus are right to state quite catergorically that it isn't a "Pro" camera in any sense that we as photographers would understand. This isn't however to deny that it has many features that would not be out of place on a designated "Pro" camera. It also doesn't mean that a "Pro" photographer wouldn't use it. Personally I prefer to see it as a camera that does certain things very well, and others very poorly. High ISO shooting being an obvious example of the latter.

So how am I doing so far on the objectivity front? Not too over enthusiastic I hope. In reality I love it to bits and can't keep my hands off it, but thats for me and my therapist to talk through!

There will of course be more of this coming, and I really want to get onto what I think are its real strengths, which is its usability and handling.

The Grips

I would just add here the situation with the grips. I don't know what the situation is in other countries, but in the UK if you either pre-order or buy the camera before the end of April, you can then claim the two grips from Olympus at no extra cost. This actually gives a financial incentive to us "early adopters" and is actually a good deal. This morning I duly filled in my claim form and uploaded that and my proof of purchase to Olympus and am currently waiting for it to arrive. Since they only guarantee that I will have it before the end of May, I cannot say when I will be able to write about how that affects the handling. I was certainly very impressed when I used it at the Focus on Imaging show, but I would obviously like more time time with it to see how it changes the cameras "feel".

More later.

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