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  1. #1
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    Default Olympus E-PM2 and E-PL5: Will the Smallest Cameras Continue to Get the Older Sensors?


    It's no secret that the smaller, less expensive, non-SLR-styled Micro 4/3 cameras are the best selling ones. The discounted Olympus E-PL1 and E-PL2 have been at or near the top of the selling charts in Japan for a long time, and from what I have been able to tell from several unofficial sources, the GF2/3, E-PM1, and E-PL3 have also sold well.

    A key factor in the high sales of these cameras has been their relatively low price, presumably made possible in part by the use of the first generation 12MP Micro 4/3 sensor (the sensor found in all Olympus Pens plus the Panasonic G1/2/10 and GF1/2/3). There is no explanation other than price for the fact that Panasonic put the 1st gen 12MP sensor in the GF3 despite the fact that the GF3 was introduced after the G3, which featured a newer 16MP sensor.

    As a GF3 user, I'm perfectly happy with the image quality I get from this camera, but all things being equal, I would prefer to have the better performing, newer sensor. I don't mind paying extra for it either. What I don't want is the size of a G3 or GH2. The GF3 is my coat pocket camera, so I'm unwilling to go larger to get a different sensor.

    When Panasonic announced the GF5, the press release indicated that the new camera featured a "newly developed 12.1-megapixel Live MOS sensor and redesigned Venus Engine". The Venus Engine is the in-camera JPEG processor and therefore not relevant to me as a RAW shooter, but a new 12MP sensor sounded like good news. DPReview's GF5 preview noted: "Under the hood, the GF5's newly developed 12MP CMOS sensor is an evolution of the one used in the GF3, but with improved circuitry that doesn't block as much light entering the photosite, giving better low light performance".

    Sadly, the RAW samples provided by Focus Numerique show that the GF5 sensor offers little improvement over the GF3 sensor and doesn't come close to the level of the G3. Here are a couple representative ISO 6400 Lightroom 100% crops with default color noise reduction (NR) only:



    Compared to the GF3 file, the GF5 file is slightly less noisy but also less detailed, suggesting the possibility of on-chip luminance NR (although we cannot rule out a combination of slight misfocus and improved noise handling).



    Note that the G3 is disadvantaged in the above comparison since we are comparing at 100% view rather than matched output size. Nevertheless, it is clearly superior to the GF5 in the level of detail relative to noise.

    Panasonic's sensor stratification strategy to date has been as follows: The flagship (at least for video) GH series gets its own sensors. The other high-end cameras (G3 and GX1) get a different new sensor, and the smaller and less expensive cameras (GF3, GF5) get a less expensive, lower performance sensor.

    With the exception of the newest model (OM-D E-M5), all of the Olympus Micro 4/3 cameras to date have used the same 1st gen sensor. Before long, we are sure to see replacements for the smallest Olympus bodies, the E-PM1 and E-PL3, and as I read the forums, I can see that many people are counting on these replacements to use the higher performance sensor from the OM-D E-M5. I hope that this will be the case, but it will be a break from Panasonic's strategy if Olympus chooses this route.

    The Micro 4/3 system is not about having a cheap alternative to larger systems. Rather, the system exists for those of us who want a smaller, yet still highly capable alternative to larger systems. As such, I hope that the manufacturers will avoid strictly associating "small" with "low end", something which most DSLR makers (excepting perhaps Pentax) have been doing for a long time.

    While it's true that many enthusiasts find the smallest of Micro 4/3 cameras to be uncomfortable or cramped, there are others of us who love a very small camera and want the most capable tool possible in that form factor. Of course there needs to be a tiny and inexpensive body for "point and shoot" upgraders, but I believe there is room in the market for an equally tiny and more costly model for enthusiasts.

    Panasonic and Olympus would also do well to mind the competition. The entry level Sony NEX cameras use sensors which are only slightly if at all behind the sensors used in their flagship models. In fact, the lower end NEX-C3 and F3 sensors outperform the high end NEX-7 sensor when it comes to edge performance with certain wide angle lenses including the Sony 16mm pancake. The fact that entry level Micro 4/3 cameras offer significantly worse sensor performance than high end models would not be lost on reviewers and could lead to the perception that our system as a whole is more disadvantaged in terms of sensor performance than it actually is.

    I hope Olympus kept all of this in mind when choosing sensors for the next generation of their coat-pocketable Micro 4/3 cameras.
    Amin
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  3. #2

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    Perhaps it's just my hope, but I'm sticking with it as a prediction:

    Panny makes the sensor, and can play sensor games. They (stupidly) reserve the high-end sensor for the GH series only. They would have a lot more sales, IMO, if they included that sensor in at least the G3, and also GX1.

    Oly doesn't own the sensors, so buying in bulk will be an important part of their consideration. Also, parts list, managing the different boards and workflows, etc.

    I think there's a possibility the EPM2 could have the same old sensor, but if it did, then they need not up-rev it. There is nothing more to add to the EPM1 before it's no longer the EPM1 (i.e. if you add tilt screen or in-built EVF, then it's no longer that tiny little camera). Maybe a touch screen. So, if there is an EPM2, I think it should have the new sensor, but it wouldn't have everything else (new IBIS, tilt screen, IBIS in video, 9 fps, etc.)

    Now, Oly would be REALLY dumb to leave it out of a new EP5, IMO. If they want to keep a high price point on the EP5 series, then they need the new sensor. IMO, the EP5 should add new sensor and tilty screen. Also, a new shutter. It can keep out the weather sealing, built-in EVF, maybe even IS during movie mode.

    The EPL series is an odd tweener, and even more so if tilty screen comes to the EP5.

    So, I think they have to, I think they will, though if they do keep the old sensor for any camera, it would be the EPM1 (to justify a very low price), but then I'm not sure why you would need to up-rev the EPM series, other than marketing.

    IF there is no new sensor in the EPM2, then I'll end up with an EP5 + EPM1. If they uprev the sensor in the EPM2, then I'll get two EPM2s.
    EP3, GX7, P20, O40-150, P100-300
    NEX6 w/MF lenses and RX100


  4. #3

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    Quote Originally Posted by Amin Sabet View Post
    DPReview's GF5 preview noted: "Under the hood, the GF5's newly developed 12MP CMOS sensor is an evolution of the one used in the GF3, but with improved circuitry that doesn't block as much light entering the photosite, giving better low light performance".
    I took that to mean that the GF5 has gapless microlenses on an otherwise GF3-like sensor.

    The GH2 was said to have gapless microlenses. When the G3 (and later GX1) came out there were a few people asking whether the new sensor had gapless microlenses and the answer wasn't clear, but the GH2 retained about a half stop advantage in dark settings suggesting that the G3 sensor wasn't using all the tricks.

    The sample photos show about a half stop advantage for the GH5 over the GH3, too. So again I'm thinking gapless microlenses.

    I wish I had citations but this is all from my (occasionally faulty) memory.


  5. #4
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    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Aegon View Post
    I took that to mean that the GF5 has gapless microlenses on an otherwise GF3-like sensor.
    I'd be happy with that if it brought the GF5 sensor performance close to the G3 performance, but it doesn't seem to be.

    Quote Originally Posted by Aegon View Post
    ... but the GH2 retained about a half stop advantage in dark settings suggesting that the G3 sensor wasn't using all the tricks....
    I don't think this is right. If anything, the G3 is a hair better at light collection (based on both DxOmark data translated into QE by sensorgen.info as well as personal experience processing RAWs), whereas the GH2 seems to have a bit cleaner shadows and therefore slightly better dynamic range.
    Amin
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  6. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by WT21 View Post
    There is nothing more to add to the EPM1 before it's no longer the EPM1 (i.e. if you add tilt screen or in-built EVF, then it's no longer that tiny little camera). Maybe a touch screen. So, if there is an EPM2, I think it should have the new sensor, but it wouldn't have everything else (new IBIS, tilt screen, IBIS in video, 9 fps, etc.)
    I would line up to buy an E-PM2 that was is exactly the same as the E-PM1 other than the addition of the new IBIS, sensor, and touch screen from the E-M5.

    Quote Originally Posted by WT21 View Post
    Now, Oly would be REALLY dumb to leave it out of a new EP5, IMO...
    Agree, and I don't think there's much chance they would be that dumb.
    Amin
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  7. #6
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    Default


    I sure hope they use the same sensor of the E-M5 on the new PENs. When I looked for a second body along side my E-P3, I picked from between the E-PL3 and the E-PM1 because I liked the fact that they are more compact than the E-P3, but have the same focus performance and sensor output, so I can pretty much slap any lens on either camera without worrying about different focus performance or image quality... Now that I got the E-M5, the PENs became primarily back-up bodies because of the different sensor performance. I am hoping the next gen PENs will have the same sensor with the E-M5 so that they can legitimately become a second body again, rather than just a back-up. Otherwise, I will seriously consider getting another E-M5 as a second body, although I hate to add more bulk to my camera gears...

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  9. #7

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    That's a big question right now. I was holding out for a smaller Olympus Model with new sensor but gave up when gx1 prices Went down. I would suspect that lower priced models like Epm Would get the new Gf5 sensor. What happens in the in between territory between that and Omd. ? It would make sense to use Omd sensor in EP but I suspect it would be priced pretty high lest it cannibalize Omd sales.
    My hope is to see a lower priced viewfinder model from Olympus like G series from Panasonic.


  10. #8

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    Why oh why is Panasonic wasting resources pumping out the old 12MP sensor. If they wanted to keep market differentiation, they should have just taken the tech on the 16MP and bring it back to 12MP.

    Better yet, as said, tool everything to the new 16MP sensor. Make a whole bunch, differentiate on what the cameras already do..
    GX high end compact
    GF entry compact
    G mid range catch all
    GH high end

    Have all the same sensor except maybe the GH to really put it out there... everyone wins. Though, this doesn't help if they are purposely holding oly back as well =/

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  12. #9

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    Totally agree... A PM1 sized body, with no image compromise would be perfect as a second body to my E-M5...

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  14. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by MrKal_El View Post
    Totally agree... A PM1 sized body, with no image compromise would be perfect as a second body to my E-M5...
    That's pretty much exactly what I had in mind when I wrote this post . Of course, you said it in about 800 fewer words than I .
    Amin
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