D500 vs E-M1 II (FW 2.0) for Auto Cross

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ijm5012

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About a year ago, I wasn't happy with the C-AF performance I was getting out of my E-M1 II when it came to shooting motorsports, so I rented a D500. That was both a blessing and a curse, because I realized how good the D500 was in this scenario (no surprise there), and I ended up buying one second hand, along with some nice Nikon f/2.8 glass. When it came to the E-M1 II, I found that its AF algorithm struggled with the situations and speed required in motorsports, whereas the D500 excelled.

Fast forward a year, and Olympus has finally given E-M1 II users the update they have been demanding since the camera's release. I have been waiting for an opportunity to compare the two cameras side-by-side to see just how the E-M1 II stacks up against the D500, and I finally had a good opportunity this past weekend when shooting a local auto cross event.

For the head-on shots, the D500 was set up with the following settings:
  • C-AF via BBAF
  • D25 focusing (it's like the E-M1 II 9-point AF, but it gives priority to the center point)
  • Blocked shot AF response to "quick"
  • Subject motion to "erratic"
For the head-on shots, the E-M1 II was set up with the following settings:
  • C-AF via BBAF
  • 5-point AF cross
  • C-AF sensitivity set to "+2 High"
  • I also use the "S-OVF" option in these situations
The D500 was using the 70-200 f/2.8 VR II @ 200mm wide open with the TC-14e II making it 280mm at f/4 ("equivalent" to the DoF of a 210mm lens on m43 @ f/2.8). The E-M1 II was using 100-300 II @ 210mm wide open at f/5 (280mm f/7.1 in APS-C terms).

The three side-by-side images below show the D500 on the left, and the E-M1 II on the right. The three solo images were taken with the E-M1 II and 12-100 PRO to show how the combo did with panning and shutter speeds in the 1/40-1/20 range (something I've always had an issue with when shooting with the E-M1 II, with fine details and text being blurry upon 100% viewing).


SIDE BY SIDE HEAD-ON COMPARISON
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E-M1 II + 12-100 PRO PANNING
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Keep in mind that this was only an auto cross event, and not a true motorsports event, so the speeds are much lower here than they would be on a true racing circuit, but this was a pretty high-speed configuration as far as auto cross circuits go. However, upon comparing the head-to-head images, I must say that I'm really impressed with the E-M1 II's performance, even with the "consumer" 100-300 II, a $600 lens going up against a lens that cost over $2,000 when new (plus a $400-500 teleconverter), although the combo can be picked up second hand now for around $1,400.

Comparing the cameras, I must admit that I do like the rendering of the Nikon camera more than the Olympus when comparing them head-to-head. Also, there's not denying that the Nikon generates nicer, softer backgrounds (not only is the lens 2/3 stops faster, but the larger sensor gives it an additional stop advantage in DoF control). Like it or not, this can be important when shooting motorsports because many times you're limited in terms of how close you can get to the track (there's run-off area, catch fencing, guard rail, etc.), so any bit of advantage you can get in terms of softening the background/foreground to emphasize your subject is helpful. I think APS-C strikes a good balance in this regard because it gives you the extra reach over FF which can be helpful, but is still a pretty large sensor (although all of the high-level motorsport photographers shoot FF, with big honkin' telephoto glass like 400/2.8's, 500/4, 600/4's, etc.).

At the end of the day, the FW 2.0 update for the E-M1 II was a massive boost to the camera's C-AF performance. As far as what I'll do, I'm not making any knee-jerk reactions, as all of the gear I have is fully paid for so I'm in no rush to sell anything. I'll likely continue to shoot both cameras side-by-side at more events this summer (events that'll put the AF system through its true paces), but I must say that I'm very happy with the E-M1 II now, and look forward to seeing how it does in more strenuous situations.
 

alex g

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Nice comparison, Ian, thanks for posting it.

Interesting how much more saturated the Oly head-on image is than the Nikon... shadows seem to drop off to black faster in the latter too. I figure that the two images were shot on different laps, so that might have something to do with it of course. I wonder how they would compare if one was to tweak their respective colours to match each other.
 

ijm5012

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Nice comparison, Ian, thanks for posting it.

Interesting how much more saturated the Oly head-on image is than the Nikon... shadows seem to drop off to black faster in the latter too. I figure that the two images were shot on different laps, so that might have something to do with it of course. I wonder how they would compare if one was to tweak their respective colours to match each other.
Thanks Alex. There definitely is a difference in the yellows between the Olympus and Nikon. That's where I really wish Olympus would give us the Pen-F's great control cover the saturation of individual colors. For these images, they were processed in DXO PL using the built-in camera profile, with the tweaks being to the tone curve, contrast, and sharpness (all kept pretty even between the two cameras).

I also realized in doing this comparison just how magenta the E-M1 II tends to render reds. In editing some images, I had to bump the red hue channel a fair bit towards orange to have the image reflect the actual color of the car (it was obviously a different car than this).

In theory I could go through and tweak the colors as needed, but I just don't have the patience to do something like that, haha. Editing images for straightness, contrast, sharpness, tone curve, etc. is enough time behind the monitor for me.
 

alex g

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Agreed on the reds front.
I use Lightroom and in general I find both the default and Huelight camera profiles too saturated for my liking. It's as if SOOC jpegs somehow hold up pretty well despite being so saturated, but trying to replicate that look from RAW files doesn't work so well. I guess Olympus have spent a fair bit of time tweaking the parameters of their in-camera processing... :)
 

OlympMick

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Thank you for posting of your experiences. I've never shot with the D500 but by all accounts it's class-leading when it comes to CAF performance, and I'm very much interested to find out how much FW 2.0 had improved the EM1.2's AF performance and if it had caught up to the D500. From my own experience, I know that FW 2.0 had yielded quite significant CAF performance but I had no way of knowing how it compared to the class-leader. Your experience is quite telling indeed.

Now, if only someone would just compare the two cameras when it comes to BIF......
 
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Thanks for this post, i am on the verge of upgrading body wise (camera body i wish i could upgrade mine :biggrin:).

I was torn between the Olympus or the G9 but this gives me the confidence to come down on the Olympus side, as you probably know i like to do a bit of BIF and after owning a D500 i do know what a beast it is for fast moving subjects, the Olympus may not match the D500 but it looks like it will better my G80.
 

pdk42

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Thanks Ian - I've been waiting for someone to re-run these sort of tests with FW 2.0 :). It's really good to see that the Oly performance is now reaching the point that Oly promised when the camera was launched. It's really nice to have it now, but why did we have to wait over a year?
 
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Thanks Ian - I've been waiting for someone to re-run these sort of tests with FW 2.0 :). It's really good to see that the Oly performance is now reaching the point that Oly promised when the camera was launched. It's really nice to have it now, but why did we have to wait over a year?
Because it was going to go in the 1MK111 untill the G9 came out :biggrin:
 
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Thanks Ian - I've been waiting for someone to re-run these sort of tests with FW 2.0 :). It's really good to see that the Oly performance is now reaching the point that Oly promised when the camera was launched. It's really nice to have it now, but why did we have to wait over a year?
<RANT>
Because for some reason mirrorless camera companies thing that the "Kaizen" approach gives their brand more :hiding:
</RANT>
 

drd1135

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I suspect the software just wasn't ready and they didn't want to wait any longer to release the camera. I wonder how sales would have gone if they had just admitted that at launch. Oh, and thank you, Ian, for the really nice comparison.
 

ijm5012

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Thanks everyone. I want to stress again that this was a pretty low-level stress test when it comes to C-AF performance. The speeds are fairly low (certainly nothing like what you see on a proper racing circuit), but at least for the head-on shots the cars were going from heavy acceleration to hard braking, which tests the C-AF algorithm's ability deal with sudden change in velocity of the subject being photographed. I will be doing more testing of the E-M1 II against the D500 at a race circuit later this summer, and will document and share my results.

Regarding the DoF difference, this is where I would really like to see something like a 100-300 f/4, or 100-300 f/2.8-4. The PL 50-200 covers a good amount of range and still offers reasonably fast apertures, but I have a very difficult time justifying the price of that lens (although from the early reviews I've seen, the bokeh appears to be better than the 40-150 PRO, which was one of my biggest complaints with that lens).

Thank you for posting of your experiences. I've never shot with the D500 but by all accounts it's class-leading when it comes to CAF performance, and I'm very much interested to find out how much FW 2.0 had improved the EM1.2's AF performance and if it had caught up to the D500. From my own experience, I know that FW 2.0 had yielded quite significant CAF performance but I had no way of knowing how it compared to the class-leader. Your experience is quite telling indeed.

Now, if only someone would just compare the two cameras when it comes to BIF......
Thanks Mick. Unfortunately, I'm not too useful when it comes to BIF. Hopefully somebody else will be able to provide a comparison

Thanks for this post, i am on the verge of upgrading body wise (camera body i wish i could upgrade mine :biggrin:).

I was torn between the Olympus or the G9 but this gives me the confidence to come down on the Olympus side, as you probably know i like to do a bit of BIF and after owning a D500 i do know what a beast it is for fast moving subjects, the Olympus may not match the D500 but it looks like it will better my G80.
Mike, if you do go Olympus, you're gonna have to change your name here on the forum :p. Honestly though, after FW 2.0, I think that the Olympus is the way to go. The G9 is awfully tempting though thanks to its 4K 60p video, but if your focus is on still photography, you can't go wrong with an E-M1 II (especially if you manage to pick one up from the refurb store using one of the discounts, and then just buy an extended warranty to cover the camera for 3 years).

Thanks Ian - I've been waiting for someone to re-run these sort of tests with FW 2.0 :). It's really good to see that the Oly performance is now reaching the point that Oly promised when the camera was launched. It's really nice to have it now, but why did we have to wait over a year?
Paul, yes it's certainly frustrating. Waiting nearly one and a half years for the camera to deliver on the C-AF performance we were promised from the get-go is annoying, but I suppose it's better late than never. Unfortunately, I think the reputation of the E-M1 II may have been damaged, as there are a number of reports out there about C-AF not living up to its claims (pre FW 2.0 of course), but when people do a search for the camera, they're likely to find those threads, which at the time were true, but now don't hold as much relevance.
 

damianmkv

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I must say that in the above, i prefer the d500 shots. And I know i've said it before but the e-m1 could "hit the mark" for panning without too many issues...although the Nikon makes it easier, to the point that my 14 year old was using it to shoot a GT2RS from a GT4 last weekend at 1/50 - 1/60s and i'd guesstimate 99.5% were in focus

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porsche GT2 RS by damianmkv, on Flickr

( Obviously i could've done better :hiding:...)

Yes, i know its not a "wow" shot too. But if Olympus had refined the 1.2 before releasing it, I'd still be with the system and not elsewhere
 

Robstar1963

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no as in its not any better ? Or "noooooooo" as in its too late now ?
no as in its not any better ? Or "noooooooo" as in its too late now ?
No as in whoops forgot to include the quote that went with it asking shouldn’t this be in ‘other discussions’ above answer NO !
 

ijm5012

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I must say that in the above, i prefer the d500 shots. And I know i've said it before but the e-m1 could "hit the mark" for panning without too many issues...although the Nikon makes it easier. But if Olympus had refined the 1.2 before releasing it, I'd still be with the system and not elsewhere
I tend to agree with you Damian about the Nikon rendering. At least when it comes to photographing vehicles, when I compare shots taken with my D500 and shots taken with my Olympus, I tend to like the tones and gradations I get out of the Nikon. There have been many times where I've looked at the Nikon JPG and thought to myself "is there any need to edit the RAW version of this image?". Then there's the whole DoF discussion, which as I said in my OP, is an advantage of a larger sensor, because many times when you're at a track there's only so much you can do in terms of getting close to the subject (this obviously only matters in head-on shots, because when you're panning you're stopped way down so DoF becomes irrelevant). When that's the case, faster glass and larger sensors give you more ability to throw the background out of focus.

I also honestly like the handling of the D500. The grip is excellent for my hands (both in terms of depth and height, I can get all my fingers on the grip without needing to buy the battery grip), I like the placement of the buttons on the left hand side of the camera, which makes it easy to zoom in, zoom out, protect images I like during review, and delete ones that I don't. Then there's the OVF, which I just find easier to and more natural to shoot with when following a car out on track. If I use my E-M1 II first I think "The EVF isn't bad at all", but then I switch to the D500 and it's readily apparent that for some reason, it's easier to follow the action with the OVF.

I'm happy with both camera systems, and still think that each serve their own purpose, but with the release of FW 2.0 I think the E-M1 II is a fantastic all-around camera (i.e. the camera it should've been at launch). However, in a situation like yours where you've changed systems entirely because the Nikon makes it easier to shoot what you enjoy shooting, I don't see how it would be worth it to switch back again, especially when the D500 is just so good at what it does. I'm still looking forward to seeing some of the images you capture with the D500 from drag racing here this summer :2thumbs::drinks:
 

damianmkv

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Thanks Ian - next chance is end May..the problem is that we're going on holiday 2 days later and my wife might decide i should be at home..
 
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