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Comparison of Olympus E-M5 and Panasonic G3 RAW Files - Same Sensor or Not?

Discussion in 'Micro 4/3 News and Rumors' started by Amin Sabet, Mar 8, 2012.

  1. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Apr 10, 2009
    Boston, MA (USA)
    The French website Focus Numerique has published controlled studio testing throughout the ISO series for the Olympus E-M5, Sony NEX-7, Panasonic G3, Nikon V1, and Canon G1X.

    Link: Test Olympus OM-D E-M5 : gestion du bruit électronique - Focus Numérique

    Focus Numerique kindly gave me express permission to republish crops from their test images, and I set out to determine whether there is anything to suggest whether the Olympus E-M5 is using the same 16MP sensor as the Panasonic G3. Olympus has not stated whether the E-M5 sensor is made by Panasonic nor given any specifics as to how the sensor differs from the GX1/G3 sensor.

    I processed the files using Raw Photo Processor (RPP, Mac). If you download the files, they can also be processed using Picasa or Raw Therapee. There is no support yet for E-M5 files in Lightroom or Aperture.

    The first thing I did was to compare ISO 6400 files. Interestingly, the G3 file looked more "sharpened" than the E-M5 file, which was not the case for the low ISO files. There was nothing to suggest misfocus or shake-induced blur in the E-M5 file, and both sharpening and noise reduction (NR) were disabled in RPP. Furthermore, the difference in apparent sharpening was also evident in Raw Therapee. From this, I can only guess that either the E-M5 is doing on-chip NR at high ISO or the G3 is doing on-chip sharpening. It could also be something related to the way both RAW apps treat those files, even with sharpening and NR disabled in the apps.

    The bottom line is that the E-M5 file at ISO 6400 had less evident noise but also less evident detail than the G3 file at ISO 6400. Once I sharpened the E-M5 file a bit to try and match the level of apparent sharpening and detail of the G3 file, I got the following 100% crops:


    Based on the above, I would say that high ISO performance is nearly identical. It's close enough that we could well be looking at two files from the same sensor when you consider that I am using a RAW processor that doesn't officially support the E-M5 and having to do extra processing in Photoshop to get the levels, colors, and apparent sharpness to roughly match up.

    The next thing I set out to test was dynamic range (DR), which is a bear to test properly. With current cameras, DR is primarily determined by the amount of detail-obscuring noise in the shadows. Cameras with high DR are those that have clean shadows which can be "pushed" during processing to bring out usable shadow detail.

    To try and get a sense of DR, I took the base ISO RAW files for each camera (ISO 160 for the G3 and ISO 200 for the E-M5) and first looked to see if the highlight clipping was similarly recoverable in each file. Thanks to the carefully controlled testing by Focus Numerique, this seems to be the case. Given matched highlight headroom, we can then look at the pushed shadows to get a sense of relative DR.

    I pushed the low ISO files by 4 stops for each camera and then tried to match colors/brightness/levels using the other available controls in RPP as well as I could (with mixed success). Below are 100% crops from the two shadow areas of those files:



    I'm not sure what to make of those. My first impression was that there is more apparent detail in the E-M5 pushed shadows, but there really isn't a whole lot in it.

    In summary, using available files with limited RAW support, I see very little performance difference between the Olympus E-M5 sensor and the Panasonic G3 sensor. To me this is a good thing because the G3 sensor is excellent. However, to those looking for a breakthrough in DR with the E-M5, I don't think you'll find it in the RAW files.
    • Like Like x 27
  2. thearne3

    thearne3 Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jan 28, 2010
    Redding, CT USA
    Looks pretty darn close, Amin. Thanks for doing this! It's just further confirmation that the files will be very usable...can't wait!
    • Like Like x 1
  3. drewbot

    drewbot Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Oct 21, 2011
    Toronto, ON
    The differences are so marginal it's hard to really say one is a clear cut winner above the other.

    This comparison does show, however, the great value of the G3 that has been out for months.
  4. KVG

    KVG Banned User

    May 10, 2011
    yyc(Calgary, AB)
    Kelly Gibbons
    Wow, sure looks like the same performance at the very least.
  5. LovinTheEP2

    LovinTheEP2 Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Feb 15, 2011

    I do think there is a significant DR improvement FOR OLYMPUS when compared to the PEN lineup. Would be nice to see an EP-3 and E-M5 comparison done the same way and see how much better the OM-D is vs. the 3rd Gen PEN's.

    Comparing solely against the G3 Panasonic isn't necessarily fair as many of don't like the Panasonic form factor so for me and many other m43 Olympus users, it is a significant step up.

    That said, it does look like the Pana sensor. Can't imagine that it was manufactured and developed by someone else that it would soooooo similar in IQ. Guess we'll need someone to eventually have a dead E-M5 and have the sensor X-ray'd to see who makes it ;-)
  6. Livnius

    Livnius Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Jul 7, 2011
    Melbourne. Australia

    So it looks like it is in fact the G3 sensor....Its Live MOS, it's Panasonic. End of.

    .....assuming it is. why the secrecy ?
    Surely it could only be to increase the "all new sensor" hype.
    Either that or Olympus figured they would sell less units if the public knew it was the humble G3 under the bonnet.

    Given that many here and on others forums agree that IBIS offers very little if anything at all above 1/100 and below that is best used on stationary objects......surely that then leaves its best purpose as being video !!!
    More and more I'm reading threads about people turning IBIS off during regular shooting.

    I think the happiest people about now are those G3 users who didn't sell their camera for $300 and pre-order a $1100 Em5 !!
  7. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Apr 10, 2009
    Boston, MA (USA)
    I've seen that sort of comparison elsewhere and informally have done it myself. There is an improvement at the RAW level comparing the G3 sensor to the E-P1 sensor (same sensor found in all Pen cameras), both in terms of DR and especially in terms of high ISO performance, so based on the comparison I showed here, we can expect the E-M5 to outperform the E-P3 sensor by a similar degree.

    I can't speak for others, but I leave IS on with my E-P3 all the time and find it to be very helpful with all my lenses.

    There are no doubt many great things the G3 offered which Olympus is now getting around to matching, sensor performance being one of them. However, there are also quite a few things that some people prefer about Olympus cameras. Good that we all have choice!
    • Like Like x 2
  8. krugorg

    krugorg Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jul 18, 2011
    Minnesota USA
    I know there have been a lot of threads on this; however, in my real world experience I have yet to see where IBIS caused a problem with any of my E-P3 shots. For example, I recently forgot to turn off the IBIS when I was doing some daylight, outdoor handheld shots, where the shutter speed was in the 1/2000 range. I shut it off about halfway through my shots and then pixel peeped when I got home... I definitely couldn't see any differences that I could attribute to the stabilization.

    There may be some variation in IBIS performance for the different bodies (lighter E-PM1 for example), but my E-P2 and E-P3 have been solid, and I would expect the E-M5's 5 axis to be an improvement on them.
  9. krugorg

    krugorg Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jul 18, 2011
    Minnesota USA
    Thanks for the thoughtful analysis, Amin!

    They do look close... interesting to see the slight differences in shadow details and noise/grain, but think this would be within the same range as differences between the E-P3 and GF2?

    Anyways... I am bracing for the DPR backlash, but it is just nice to see the latest m4/3 sensor in an Oly body. :biggrin:
  10. Livnius

    Livnius Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Jul 7, 2011
    Melbourne. Australia
    It'll be great to see just how the new 5axis IS works in real world scenarios....conceptually it sounds great.

    One thing is for sure, Olympus is putting a lot of thought into their latest cameras and evidently their lenses.....Panasonic on the other hand has completely fluffed it's lines with its latest lens offering, the GX1 though is great so it has saved face for the company.

    Panasonic REALLY needs to impress with the fast zoom lenses it releases later this year, and the GH3 needs to push the envelope too.

    Pixel peeping and personal preferences aside...the Em5 is a strong positive for the m43 system as a whole.
  11. Brian Mosley

    Brian Mosley Administrator Emeritus

    Dec 15, 2009
    Certainly a worthwhile attempt at a comparison Amin, given the available tools - I'd like to see the DX0 analysis for final confirmation.


  12. krugorg

    krugorg Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jul 18, 2011
    Minnesota USA
    Well said, imo. It is nice to see a lot of focus on m4/3 right now with some new people buying into the standard. Not from the fanboy perspective, but just because market share will drive the technology, bodies and even more lenses.
  13. pictor

    pictor Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jul 17, 2010
    Take the G3, remove the integrated EVF to sell it as an expensive accessory, add a button you have removed previously, change the shape a little and Bob's your uncle!
  14. krugorg

    krugorg Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jul 18, 2011
    Minnesota USA
    My Uncle's name *is* Bob! Weird, does this mean I should buy a G3?
  15. LovinTheEP2

    LovinTheEP2 Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Feb 15, 2011
    I think Olympus only missed the boat with Manual Focus Peeking. I wouldn't be surprised if Panasonic include their own version of it in the GF5(?).

    They may also include better video specs that what Olympus offered even though I'm not a video guy so I don't even bother with the spec. For me, I only use on a .. hmmm.. maybe I'll take a video of this.. only cause it's there. Not cause I really care or needed a video of x event.
  16. dixeyk

    dixeyk Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 9, 2010
    I'n not so sure I would say that Panasonic has fluffed its lines. Olympus and Panasonic seem to be working on two different markets. Olympus is certainly leveraging their lens experience and making some very nice stuff. The OMD is a gorgeous enthusiast piece (like the E-P1, E-P2 and E-P3 before it). Panasonic seems to be going for a broader appeal and trying to attract point and shoot users looking to step up. Of course the E-PM1 likely was meant to appeal to the point and shoot folks and so far it seems as though the 2 year old GH2 still has a slight edge in sensor quality but in general they do seem to be oriented slightly differently.

    It will be interesting to see what Panasonic does with regards to a GH3. I assume they are working on a replacement for the aging GH2 and I suspect they will probably up the ante again with regards to the sensor. I would like to see some of the cooler stuff introduced in the OMD trickel down to the more consumer oriented models. In the end I think its great to have choices.
  17. dixeyk

    dixeyk Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 9, 2010
    Okay that's just CRAZY TALK!
  18. Gakuranman

    Gakuranman Mu-43 Regular

    Mar 22, 2010
    Thanks for doing this test. To be honest, it's the first decent report I've seen that seems to show the G3 and E-M5 offering the same quality. In all previous tests, the E-M5 files looked better than the same shots taken with the G3.

    I wonder if perhaps the raw converter has anything to do with this? It strikes me as odd that we've been seeing what seemed to be the best shots yet from a m43 camera out of the E-M5 until the Focus Numerique test. To my memory, there have been 4 or 5 ISO tests I have seen previously where the E-M5 came out on top, and this is the first where it seems to be on par or slightly below the G3. That would suggest that this test is the odd one out based purely on the number of tests, although it has to be said that some of the previous tests I saw were comparing Jpegs.

    In any case, the jump from my E-P3 will be significant enough to make me happy with the upgrade. I'm still not convinced this is the same sensor as the G3 though, but perhaps it's just wishful thinking on my part...

    In reply to someone above who asked why Olympus would hide the sensor manufacturer, especially if it was the G3 sensor, I think the answer is obvious. We would have had dozens of forum posts about people complaining that the E-M5 is 'only' as good as the G3 and that Olympus are still stuck with 'Panasonic leftovers'. Well, we had those sort of posts anyway I guess. I still think knowing the sensor manufacturer is pointless though - far better just to judge with our eyes with tests like these.

    I can't wait to get my hands on my silver E-M5 :) .
    • Like Like x 1
  19. kwalsh

    kwalsh Mu-43 Top Veteran Subscribing Member

    Mar 3, 2012
    Baltimore, MD
    Thanks for the test! Well done given the limitations of the tools.

    Robin Wong posted some high ISO images shot RAW and processed with the Olympus converter in which he said all NR was turned off in the Olympus software. None the less the images show rather heavy NR and fairly extreme chroma NR. So certainly something was going on there, whether in the RAW converter or the camera it was hard to say.

    In this case I doubt the RAW tools you used did anything. I suspect in camera NR on the RAW files at high ISO. Panasonic does this as well with certain in camera NR settings (and to everyone's great confusion in a really weird way on the GH1, but for most Panasonic cameras other than the GH1 setting NR -2 will stop the camera from doing any RAW NR). It is possible the Olympus NR settings affect RAW at high ISO as well. Or they may have gone the Sony route and made it impossible to turn off (I really hope not).

    Anyway, interesting results. The high ISO noise results really aren't that surprising, I wouldn't expect the EM-5 to do any better than the G3 or GH2. The low ISO DR is more of a question. I have taken some RAW measurements from sample base ISO files from more than one source and shadow noise statistics really do look better than the G3/GX1 and more GH2 like (it is not possible to make a perfect comparison between the GH2 and EM-5 as Panasonic clips its shadow noise profile and Olympus does not so there is a bit of fudging required).

    Thanks again for taking the time and the good write up!

    • Like Like x 2
  20. MrDoug

    MrDoug Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Sep 5, 2011
    Boise, Idaho
    I have been happy with the G3.. (I have Oly EPL3 as well) I have never really been a Panny guy.. but the G3 is a awesome camera.. I have been seeing the G3 prices holding pretty steady. this tread and comparisons will only add to that.. buy the G3 .. or both ..
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