Panasonic GH3 - Review and User Experience - Part 7 - ISO comparison with Olympus OM-D and Sony NEX-6

For my full Panasonic GH3 Review and User Experience - CLICK HERE

This is a comparison between the Panasonic GH3, Olympus OM-D and Sony NEX-6 at their base ISO's and ISO's 1600, 3200 and 6400. The base ISO's are from raw and the others from out of camera jpgs. at standard setting. Aperture was f/11. 12-35mm f/2.8 zoom was used on the m4/3 cameras and Sigma 30mm f/2.8 on the Sony. 

I've uploaded four full-size comparison files to Google Drive and you can download the files HERE.

The results were interesting. At base ISO, all were pretty similar, with the OM-D having just a little bit more luminance noise than the others, which is proably to be expected. However at the higher ISO's there was definitely a hierarchy. The NEX-6 was the best, followed by the OM-D with the GH3 in third place. The Panasonic files have broken up more and you can clearly see this in the comparisons. So, it may have the same sensor as the OM-D (but then again it may not) but the results aren't the same for basic jpgs. 

So a low-light advantage for the OM-D? Well looking at these results with the same lens, and same settings I guess I have to say, well yes there is. However, its still the APS-C sensor of the NEX-6 that is better than both, not by much admittedly, but it is clear. 

So, m4/3 is catching up with regard to high ISO performance but it seems its not quite there yet. Is this significant to you? Well only you can answer that. Is it significant to me? Well not really. I shoot very little, if anything at all these days, at anything other than base ISO, and if things changed and I was offered a lot of work where hand holding in low-light was required, I'd go out and buy one of the Fuji's with the X-Trans sensor anyway. Or a Nikon D4 or a Canon 5D Mk III. Basically I'd use anything other than these three cameras, because I don't believe any of them are that suitable for that kind of work.

However, if you are looking for that one camera that does everything, then it should be said that the NEX-6 seems to give the best results. But then if you take image stabilisation and lens availability into account, that advantage probably disappears.

Bottom line is I'm sure I could get a decent printed version from any of the files at ISO 3200.

However, I was intrigued that the OM-D results were better than the GH3. I did expect them to be pretty much the same. 

So, though I would normally shoot high ISO on jpgs, since they are a lot cleaner as will be shown clearly shortly, I decided to have a look at the raw files from the cameras, and I used the ones at ISO 3200.

Using "flat" raw development, no sharpening, no noise / CA etc, removal of any kind this is what 100% blowups produced.

This is from the GH3. 

This is from the OM-D

This is from the NEX-6

All three images shot at ISO 3200 - identical settings - identical raw processing.

Not so clearcut now. The Panasonic image is somewhat darker, but then as has been often demonstrated camera ISO settings are not necessarily the same. 

As I indicated they are all pretty bad and there is rampant colour noise in all shots, which is the reason I shoot jpgs. at these ISO settings. The colour noise structure also looks remarkably similar in all three pictures.

It is of course possible to process the raw file so its an improvement and colour noise isn't a problem to remove, though removing luminance noise looses detail. Here's the GH3 file again, from raw with my own settings applied.

Somewhat better and for m4/3 at ISO 3200 not that bad really.

But what of this Olympus OM-D - Panasonic GH3 difference. Since the GH3 seems to produce darker files, lightening them up is going to make the noise worse, but this will depend on factors like metering and there are cases when the darker file is more suitable than a lighter one. 

Contrary to what the jpgs, seem to indicate, I think the GH3 and OM-D files are in fact very close, and its the jpg. processing that makes the Olympus files look better. The raw NEX-6 file at ISO 3200 isn't much better but that has probably the "cleanest"  jpg. processing of them all.

Whether this is enough of a difference to influence people one way or the other in what they buy, I'm not sure. Plus I could probably take other shots and get different results, but thats not something I plan on doing. 

As I wrote above and have written many times before, if you shoot a lot in low light using high ISO's is a m4/3 camera what you want? It certainly wouldn't be my first choice. 

However it is clear that the GH3, and of course the OM-D do now make a reasonable job of high (ish) ISO's. Considering the size of the sensor and the pixel density, I'm not sure we can ask for much more than that. 

IMPORTANT UPDATE - I've done some more investigation into the GH3 and OM-D high ISO performance with some REALLY interesting results in my next post which you can see here -

IMPORTANT UPDATE 2 - Check out the following post for more raw conversions using Rawker software - 

For my full Panasonic GH3 Review and User Experience - CLICK HERE

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