Olympus OM-D E-M5: The best of the micro 4:3 cameras

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Camera Review
Introduction | Olympus OM-D E-M5 sensor performance | Olympus OM-D E-M5 versus competition | Conclusion

Olympus OM-D E-M5 vs Pen E-P3

The OM-D E-M5 introduces a new 16 Mpix LiveMos sensor that we will first compare with the 12 Mpix sensors found in the preceding generation of Pen cameras, the Pen E-P3, Pen E-PL3, and Pen E-PM1.

The OM-D E-M5’s Overall DxOMark Score, 20 points higher than the Pen E-P3 and its 12 Mpix sensor, gives a good sense of how much progress has been made. And the new hybrid’s 16 Mpix sensor does indeed provide some tangible benefits:

Color depth: The new sensor provides finer gradations, with a score 1.3 Stops better under studio conditions.

Dynamic range: The improvement on this front has been spectacular, with a gain of 2EV over the Pen E-P3 and the entire line of older-generation Pen compact hybrids.

As for low-light sensitivity, the OM-D E-M5 shows a notable gain on the order of 2/3EV — not bad for a sensor with the same sensitive surface area.

Often criticized about their sensitivity, the low-light scores for micro 4:3 sensors usually max out at around 600 ISO. To date, the OM-D E-M5 is the best compact micro 4:3 sensor in terms of low-light sensitivity, achieving a score that is fairly close to those for APS-C sensors.

Olympus OM-D E-M5
The signal-to-noise chart clearly shows that the new high-end hybrid wins for print-based image quality, with the gap becoming more significant at higher sensitivities.

Olympus OM-D E-M5 vs Panasonic Lumix GX1 and G3

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Comparison

With a DxOMark Overall Score 15 points better than those obtained by its 16 Mpix micro 4:3 Panasonic competitors, the G3 and the GX1, the OM-D takes a comfortable lead and offers a significant competitive advantage.

As for Color Depth, the Olympus sensor provides finer gradations, with a score of 1.8 bits better. We found the same difference between the older 12 Mpix Pen sensors as for the 16 Mpix Panasonic sensors.

Olympus OM-D E-M5
The color depth of the OM-D E-M5 is manifestly better than that of the Lumix GX1 and G3.

Dynamic range: At 1.7EV higher, the OM-D beats the Panasonic cameras hands-down. This is a significant gain. As seen on the chart, the dynamic progression for the G3/GX1 starts to stagnate at 800 ISO, whereas that of OM-D E-M5 continues to increase in amplitude, achieving 12.3EV at 200 ISO (a sensitivity that actually translates to 107 ISO).

Olympus OM-D E-M5
The superiority of the OM-D E-M5 sensor’s dynamic range compared to the Panasonic Lumix hybrids is obvious.

Low-light sensitivity: As for sensitivity, the OM-D E-M5 is slightly higher but still at the same general performance level as for the Panasonic GX1 and G3, with a score of 667 ISO for the Panasonic duo vs 826 ISO for the OM-D.

Olympus OM-D E-M5 vs Sony NEX-7 and NEX-5N

Olympus OM-D E-M5

Unsurprisingly, the OM-D E-M5’s sensor score is lower than the excellent scores of the two Sony compact hybrids equipped respectively with 16 Mpix and 24 Mpix CMOS EXMOR sensors. But with only 6 points separating it from the NEX-5N, the OM-D comes closer to such APS-C hybrids of reference than any compact micro 4:3 has ever come before, thus changing the game by reducing the image quality gap between micro 4:3 cameras and these APS-C-equipped NEX cameras.

Color depth: The Sony cameras keep the lead by 1 bit, give or take… but in the real world, the difference is undetectable on a photo.

Dynamic range: The OM-D is outdistanced by the NEX-7 by one full bit in terms of exposure latitude, which isn’t a whole lot, considering that the latter camera is a champion in this area. As for the NEX-5N, which achieves a score of 12.7EV, the Olympus is evolving in the same direction at 12.3EV, putting it well within the same general category.

Low-light sensitivity: With their sensor’s larger sensitive surface area, the two Sony NEX cameras come out on top, but only by a tiny 1/3 EV. The pixel pitch of the OM-D E-M5 is the tightest among the three sensors. In short, this is a great success for a significantly smaller sensor.

Olympus OM-D E-M5 vs Fujifilm X10

DxOMark Score: 21 points separate the OM-D from the Fujifilm X10 with its much smaller sensor (6.6 x 8.8 mm vs 13 x 17.3 mm for the Olympus).

Color depth: OM-D has a very significant lead of 2.3 bits.

Dynamic range: The OM-D E-M5 provides an additional 1 EV of exposure amplitude (always useful).

Low-light sensitivity: The difference in size between the sensitive surface areas results in a gap of 1.7 EV between low-light sensitivity scores in favor of the OM-D (826 ISO vs 245 ISO for the X10). This gain is substantial for photos at high sensitivity. Logically, the X10 concedes the game at 1600 ISO. The OM-D E-M5 stretches its sensitivity range up to 25600 ISO. As one can see on the comparative SNR curves below, the OM-D E-M5 achieves the same score at 6400 that the Fuji X10 does at 1600 ISO.

Olympus OM-D E-M5
The 2/3" sensor of the Fuji X10 is far behind the much larger 4:3 sensor of the Olympus compact hybrid. Their respective SNR curves speak for themselves.

Olympus OM-D E-M5 vs Nikon 1

Olympus OM-D E-M5

DxOMark Score: Our tests on the Nikon 1 hybrids’ 1-inch CMOS sensor showed it to be powerful and well-designed. But the OM-D E-M5’s new LiveMos sensor brings with it a gain of 15 and 17 points over the Nikon 1 J1 and V1’s overall scores, respectively. The new Olympus sensor scores better across all our evaluation criteria.

Color depth: The OM-D shows a gain of one bit, progress that is barely visible in a print, but heading in the right direction nonetheless.

Dynamic range: The OM-D E-M5 beats the Nikon 1’s honorable scores with an already comfortable dynamic range that has been improved by 1 EV.

Low-light sensitivity: With a more generous sensitive surface area, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 logically achieves a low-light score of more than 1 EV greater than that of both the Nikon 1 J1 and V1: 826 ISO vs 372 and 346 ISO, respectively.

Olympus OM-D E-M5
The signal-to-noise ratio of the Olympus OM-D compared to those of the Nikon 1.