A Sony A7r - Panasonic GH3 file comparison - Part 1 - Still Images

This is something I wanted to test to help clarify where I want to go with my gear after buying the A7r. This is a two part comparison, firstly for stills in this post and secondly for video, which I will do later. The second I really don't which is better for me, but for this I could guess the outcome before starting. And some might say - 'Is it a fair comparison?'

Well yes I think it is. When m4/3 first started it seemed difficult to convince some DSLR owners that decent results could be obtained from this small camera with it's small(ish) sensor. But now it's almost gone the other way. m4/3 is currently 'talked up' into being something I think it isn't on certain sections of the camera owning internet. I've personally been very surprised by some of the statements about the E-M1 for example. Touting it as some kind of 'super camera'. Now as regular and long-time readers will know, I am and always have been an enthusiast for the m4/3 system and I see no reason to not continue doing so. But there needs to be an acceptance of realities here on the part of some other 'enthusiasts.' I do now get taken to task occasionally for daring to suggest that m4/3 is still pretty dismal at high(er) ISO settings. And while there have certainly been improvements, I personally cannot see how any current m4/3 camera could be described as even having a 'decent' high ISO performance. Much as I like the cameras for what they can produce at their base ISO, anything above ISO 800 is pretty poor as far as I'm concerned and to be avoided if at all possible.

So, I have no reservations about posting this comparison. If m4/3 cameras are to be regarded as decent all-round cameras then their performance at high ISO's has to be a consideration. As I've written often enough, that's never been a priority for me and what I take pictures of, but for some it is. I think it's therefore legitimate to show just what a gap in quality there is between one of the best m4/3 sensors around on the GH3 and what is in my opinion the best digital sensor yet produced.
So I shot the scene below with my A7r fitted with a Nikon 50mm f/1.4G and my GH3 fitted with a Nikon 28mm f/1.8G. Both stellar lenses in my experience. Everything was set so that the two cameras were producing results as close as possible to each other.

I've included three 100% blowup comparisons at ISO'S 200, 1600 AND 6400. All three are out of camera jpgs.

The A7r files are clearly nicer to look at, with a lovely rendition of fine detail even at ISO 6400. The GH3 file is actually quite unpleasant at this setting and shows the smaller sensors inability, in my opinion, to render anything approaching a decent image.

So does raw make a difference? Well below is a comparison between the GH3 and A7r at ISO 200. The GH3 file is processed via Raw using the Adobe ACR default setting and the A7r file is once again from the OOC jpg.

Now there is definitely an improvement in the GH3 file, but to my eyes the A7r jpg. again renders fine detail beautifully and produces a much better looking result. 

So what's the point of all this? Well firstly to show that 35mm / 'Full-frame' sensors aren't all about minimal depth of field and low noise levels, but that there is a significant quality jump over a smaller sensor. Now that hasn't always been the case. When the G1 first appeared many reviewers noticed that the 12MP sensor on the Panasonic G1 was the equal of and perhaps even slightly better than the 12MP sensor in the Nikon D3 and D700 at its base ISO of 100. But now the A7r has a 36MP sized sensor and the m4/3 has only moved up to 16MP. And the difference is really starting to show.

Secondly, if this blog is about anything, it's about the reality of how things are, not how we would like them to be. In some instances, including those that affect how I make a living, the difference between these two camera outputs is insignificant. The GH3 is perfectly capable of providing the cover for an upmarket glossy magazine and a decent A3 double page spread. But it's still the case that if you use the high(er) ISO settings the quality of the m4/3 image becomes compromised. So if you are working in either a professional setting or a situation where the highest quality is demanded, then it's as well to be aware of that. Plus you'd better make sure that the composition is right because cropping a m4/3 image is just going to make the situation worse.

Thirdly, it's important to be very careful about what claims you make about a camera. And no matter how good a camera like the Olympus E-M1 is in terms of operation, ultimately any camera is judged by the images it produces. Olympus may like to assert it's a 'professional' camera, and in some cases it can be regarded as such. But with image quality very similar to that of the GH3, just how far can this taken? My bottom line, and the bottom line of many professionals is how good is the image quality of the camera I'm using in the situations I will use it most? Now I've liked using m4/3 cameras and they have given me that smaller, lighter option, with for the most part adequate image quality for what and how I shoot. But the fact is that the A7r has cancelled out that smaller, lighter advantage for the body and by making careful choices can do the same with lenses as well, so where does that leave m4/3? I guess we will only know the answer to that in the next year or two, but it's worth I think exploring the differences between these two cameras outputs since the differences in body size, weight and the 'mirrorless advantages' are much less than they used to be between these two formats. And it strikes me as not very useful to pretend that the relative image quality is closer than it actually is. 

If you want to have a look at all the jpgs. and raw files, including all the other ISO settings between 200 and 6400, you can download a .zip file from Google Drive HERE.

For my continuing SONY A7r OWNER ASSESSMENT - Click Here

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