Panasonic G5 - Review and User Experience - Part 5

Comparison between Panasonic G5 and Sony NEX-7 with regard to image quality and image size.

This is what has turned out to be a VERY interesting comparison between the G5 + 12-35mm f/2.8 lens and my Sony NEX-7 fitted with a Nikon 28mm f/2.8D lens. So interesting in fact that I did it twice just to make sure I hadn't done something to skew the results.

There are differences between the shots because of the different sensor sizes, image proportions and lenses but the two images are similar enough to make a fair comparison. I did three versions of this. As above with the files at their native size. I then did one with the NEX-7 image downsized to the G5 size in terms of MP's and then one with the G5 image upsized to the NEX-7 size in terms of MP's. 

G5 image was taken at ISO 160 and the NEX-7 at ISO 100. I used identical processing for the raw files I shot with both cameras which was the Adobe Camera Raw default setting. Focus point for both camera / lenses was the Leica red dot.

In all three cases I preferred the G5 image in terms of sharpness and overall look. I have always given my opinion that the NEX-7 files are somewhat soft for my tastes and need a lot of sharpening, but I must admit to being genuinely surprised by just how good the m4/3 image is. OK, the 12-35mm is probably a better lens than the Nikon 28mm, but then the Nikon is hardly the worst lens that I could have used on the NEX-7 and is better than many of the NEX range, particularly since I used it at what I believe to be its optimum aperture f/8 and because of the APS-C crop, its created the picture using its "sweet spot". 

Some people might think that I "fixed" the results to justify my re-born love affair with m4/3 but I didn't. Also as regular readers are only too aware, if I'd found some great advantage to the NEX-7 image then I would have had no hesitation in dumping all my m4/3 gear and buying more NEX!

Now if ever this was a justification of the "Its not how many pixels there are, its the quality of the pixels" position then this is it. I believe that the pixel densities are about the same in the two sensors (please correct me if I got that wrong) and there is no doubt in my mind that the NEX-7 has a stronger anti-aliasing / low pass filter, but I think its clear how I'm able to stitch images together to create files that are the same size and equivalent quality to much better (supposedly) specified cameras with sensors that record images with more pixels.

It is also, I believe, an indication of how the Panasonic and Olympus philosophy of not concentrating on the number of pixels a sensor can record but how well it can record them is paying dividends. Much as admire Sony for their innovations, they have pushed things a bit too far at the moment, in my opinion. Both the NEX-7 and the otherwise excellent RX100 seem to be right on the limit of what is possible and both would have benefited I think by being somewhat more conservative. I would even argue that the Nikon D800 & 800E are maybe over-pixeled. To see what I mean try downsizing some of the samples I've made available from that camera. Take them down to 24MP size and they look superb. Downsize them down to around 20MB however and they look absolutely stunning, wonderfully sharp and detailed on a computer monitor screen.

However, there is no doubt that more pixels means "better" images for many people. This is certainly true of the image libraries I submit to. If I was to submit two images much the same as the test images I've shot here, they would probably accept the Sony one and reject the Panasonic image, no matter that the latter was actually sharper. That is unless I removed the exif data from both and then it would be a different story. To a large extent I've been an unwilling victim of this. I have used cameras with higher pixel counts but ultimately poorer image quality because of commercial considerations and I'm not alone in that. In terms of sheer quality of image, its difficult to beat either a Leica M9 or Sigma SD-1 at base ISO in terms of sharpness or for the sheer beauty of the image. However that doesn't mean that images shot with those cameras are going to sell more than an image shot with a D3200 and indeed if available at their native resolutions there are many cases when the D3200 shot would be chosen simply for its larger size.

There's also no doubt that most print reproduction methods even out some of these differences that we see on screen and of course there is also post-processing and sharpening which can make a difference. However I also think that there is no doubt that m4/3 continues to "punch above its weight" and once we (including myself) get over the preconceptions that we have because of the sensor size and actually start using our eyes it will become clear just how good the format is and how it most definitely has a secure future providing it keeps apace with everything else. The results here are further confirmation that I'm making the right decision to have m4/3 as my "go to" format. To be honest the size of the files was the only thing that has held me back before. I don't know how much more convincing it will take before my DSLR monsters are consigned to ebay to never re-appear but its certainly less after this test than before it.

As before I've made my files available via Google Drive and you can download a zip file with all three examples here.

 CLICK HERE for my ongoing Review and User Experience with the G5

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