Yesterday's Light

Images in Space and Time

Not Quite a Match

Late last week I finally received the Olympus OMD EM5 that I’d ordered about a month earlier.  It is, to say the least, a nifty little camera.  With the emphasis on “little”.  Which is why I bought it.  Like so many others, I don’t like carrying my relatively heavy Canon 5D MK II around all the time.  If we’re in a city, for example, it’s like carrying an anchor around your neck.  It can be especially annoying when trying to maneuver in a crowd.  A smaller camera would be just so much easier to deal with.  While I do have smaller cameras (the Canon G10 and Canon G12), they have serious limitations.  The G10 is pretty much stuck at ISO 100 (any higher and the noise is really bad, I think) and the G12 can’t go much higher than ISO 400.  Neither is very good at night, in my opinion.  And, of course, you’re stuck with a single lens.

The EM5, therefore, seems like a good idea. After reading all of the very positive reviews, I couldn’t wait to give it a try.  So after getting the battery fully charged and spending a little time getting the basics down, I headed outside and started taking pictures.  When I uploaded them and examined them in LR, however, I was just a little disappointed.  They simply weren’t as sharp as I thought they should be.  So I decided to run a little test.  Perhaps, I reasoned, I was setting the bar a little too high.  Maybe my mental image of what a “sharp” image looks like is biased by what I get from the MK II.  Those pictures (assuming a good lens) are very, very sharp.  Sometimes they damn near look 3-dimensional.  They’re not only sharp, they have excellent “depth” as well.

So out I went again – with both cameras.  I took multiple images with each, setting each lens at 50 mm (well, 25 mm on the EM5, since that’s equivalent to 50 mm on a 35 mm sensor).  The aperture was set at f/8, and my focus point was the same for both cameras.  I didn’t use a tripod.  I then came home, uploaded everything and went back into LR4.  Some of the results are shown below.  I should also note that nothing has been done to these images; they appear just as they came out of the camera (except, of course, that they’ve been converted to JPEG’s).

Webster “Welcome” sign, EM5

The first one is of the infamous “Welcome to Webster” sign “Where life is worth living”, taken with the EM5.  The next one is the same shot taken with the Canon 5D MK II.

Canon 5D MK II

Actually, not much difference here.  If you go to 100% and look very closely, you might see a little better resolution in the Canon image.  In my mind, though, they’re very close.

The same is true for the next two.  In this case, I was also trying to get as much contrast as possible with a wide tonal range.  Both cameras managed the range very well.

Wheel, EM5

Wheel, Canon 5D MK II

Again, I’d say it was a “draw”.  You have to look really close to see that the Canon is just a little bit better.  You have to be a serious, serious, pixel-peeper in other words.  And I’d bet a lot of money that no one could see the difference on a print.

The next two are more interesting, though.  At least I think so.  Originally, I took this image just to get as many words in the picture as possible.  Plus, I wanted to see how they each handled the reflection in the door.  But I wound up finding something else.

School door, EM5

School door, Canon 5D MK II

Even viewing these 2 images normally, I think that there’s a difference.  To me, the Canon image is just sharper and more detailed.  I didn’t know why at first, so I blew both images up a little bit and compared them again.

Cropped school door, EM5

Cropped school door, Canon 5D MK II

If you look at these last 2 images, you should be able to see more of the little black dots in the cement column on the Canon image than you can see in the EM5 image.  And they’re sharper.  Not by much, but I think it’s clearly visible.  There’s just a little more detail.

Most of the other images (not posted) tend to reflect the same general pattern.  The Canon is just a little bit better.  Not by a lot, but it’s visible.

The “test”, of course, isn’t quite fair.  The lens I used on the EM5 is one of the kit lenses – the 12 – 50 mm lens that arrived with the camera.  It’s a reasonably good lens, but probably not in the same league as the Canon 24 – 105 mm lens used with the 5D MK II.  So that could explain at least part of the difference that I observed.

It’s also interesting that the Canon system always recorded a lower white balance temperature – usually by about 500 degrees.  Each Canon image was noticeably bluer than its Olympus counterpart.  I have no explanation for that.  If anything, the EM5 images were more “correct”.  Each one tended to come close to normal “Daylight” (5500 degrees).  Since these were taken midday, I’d say that’s where they should have been.

In any case, the EM5 is definitely a keeper.  I ain’t giving the 5D MK II away, though - it’s still the best camera I’ve ever owned.  Heck, I don’t even want the newer MK III.  I’m happy as hell with this one.  But the EM5 will be much easier to deal with on those nighttime walks in Las Vegas later this year.  And it won’t break my neck.

8 Responses to “Not Quite a Match”

  1. John - Visual Notebook

    All things being equal, I’d expect a 21 Megapixel camera to out perform a 16 MP camera. I don’t think that’s too surprising, but maybe what is, is the resuling color of images. Is it me, or does the Oly have a bit more richness in the tones, and a little more pleasing saturation? Seems like it might. Clearly though, both cameras produce exceptional images, which we should expect from modern digital cameras. The question is, outside the weight difference, do you like holding the smaller camera? How is the electronic view finder? The devil’s in the details I guess…

    Reply
    • Paul Maxim

      I don’t know that it’s the number of megapixels, John. Some of the experts have even said that Olympus should have gone with 12 instead of 16. I think the Canon sensor is “better” because it’s bigger and has larger individual sites. As for the Oly being “richer”, perhaps. Again, it seems to assign a higher WB temperature (which will definitely make it look warmer). But I also think the Canon shows a bit more detail and is more finely textured.

      Yes, I like the feel of the camera – it’s very solid and easy to grip. It probably would be even better with the battery grip, but that’s also going to make it bigger. I’m not sure about the EVF. It’s good, but not nearly as clear and bright as the optical viewfinder on the Canon. Of course you can use the live view LCD for composition as well.

      Now all I have to do is figure out how to afford a higher quality lens…………..

      Reply
  2. Earl

    Paul, nice comparison. it almost looks like there’s a bit more contrast in the Canon 5D MK II images but I’d suspect most of the difference is the camera lens. In these types of comparisons I always wonder too how well Adobe’s Camera Raw interprets the different Raw files. Still, it’s astounding a small sensor camera like the E-M5 can match up so well against a Pro Consumer D-SLR like your Canon.

    Previous science, logic and common sense would have said with a sensor the size of the E-M5′s 12Mp might have been better, but somehow Olympus has made 16Mp work plenty “good enough.”

    In my previous research for lens I’ve personally moved toward the Panasonic m4/3′s Lumix lens because it seemed users were rated them a bit sharper then the Olympus ones. However, Olympus now has some wonderful primes out that seem as sharp as some of the best DSLR lens — the 12mm f/2, 45mm f/1.8, and 75mm f/1.8. There’s also a really nice Panasonic m/4’3 25mm f/1.4 prime that has Leica glass and the Lumix 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens can make for a really small package.

    Yeah, you’d better start putting away money for all those new lens you’re sure to want. I speak from experience. :-)

    Reply
    • Paul Maxim

      Thanks, Earl. It was actually your photographs from Italy that made me wonder if there was something wrong with my EM5. My first images looked softer than what I remembered from your posts. But everything seems to be working fine. And I do think that the lens is definitely a factor.

      Speaking of which, I’m definitely doing some research of my own. So far, I like the Olympus 45mm f/1.8. I like that particular focal length and I like that it’s such a fast lens. Just have to figure out how to “sneak it” by my wife! I’d also love to have the 75mm version……….

      Reply
  3. chris maxim

    So explain to me again why Webster is “where life is worth living” again? Nice pictures though

    Reply
    • Paul Maxim

      I’ve never figured that out, Chris. Pure propaganda in my opinion. Heck, Webster has one of the ugliest, dumpiest Main Streets in Monroe County. It’s really depressing in the winter time.

      Now, you could put a slogan like that on the LV signs and I might believe it…………..

      Reply
  4. Paul

    Nice comparisons, Paul. It’s simply amazing what these small cameras can do, save for controlling DOF very well, but that’s more of a physics problem. :) As for the slogan, seems every small town, or perhaps not so small town has one. While I was out of in California, I passed through a town, whose name I cannot remember, and it had a slogan of something like: A City of Potential. I translated it to mean: It sucks, but think of what it could be! LOL

    Reply
    • Paul Maxim

      The EM5, of course, does very well with DOF, especially with some of the f/1.8 lenses you can use.

      “A City of Potential”? What the heck does that mean? I can imagine, though, that many of these towns have long, hotly debated meetings in which they try to come up with a slogan that everyone agrees with. It’s probably a situation where the “compromise” is worse than any of the original ideas. One of the slogans we see over and over in our travels is the one that shows the name of the city and then the phrase “An All America Town”. I’ve always wondered about that one. I mean, shouldn’t it be “An All American Town”? What does “All America” mean? Well, probably nothing. As in politics, it’s just a slogan. Sounds good when you say it, but doesn’t really mean anything.

      Reply

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