Having compared the size of several different mirrorless interchangeable lens systems, we'll now take a look at how much detail relative to noise is captured at any given ISO by each of these systems.
Special thanks to B&H Photo for providing the following cameras used in this comparison: Panasonic G2, Olympus E-PL1, Olympus E-P2, Sony NEX5, Panasonic GF1. The Panasonic GH1 is mine.
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Design and Methods:
- The goal here was to show the relative potential of these systems, hence I will present only RAW conversions and not in-camera JPEGs. There are many sites with excellent in-camera JPEG comparisons.
- All images were made using Sony, Samsung, and Panasonic (14-45mm) kit zooms at f/5, which was chosen because it represents a setting of good center sharpness with adequate depth of field for all systems.
- All kit zooms were used at their widest setting, and the subject distance was constant. The Panasonic lens at 14mm actually has a slightly wider angle of view than the Sony/Samsung at 18mm, but the reverse is true after Lightroom correction of barrel distortion. For practical purposes, the diagonal angle of view was fixed.
- Since the purpose here was to look at sensor rather than lens performance, only center crops from the within sharp focus portion of the image were used for comparison.
- To present a valid comparison of detail relative to noise at any given ISO, exposure times were matched for all systems as follows: 1) ISO 100: 2s; 2) ISO 200: 1s; 3) ISO 400: 1/4s; 4) ISO 800: 1/4s; ISO 1600: 1/8s; ISO 3200: 1/15s; ISO 6400: 1/30s. Lighting sources were kept constant.
- Each shot was done in triplicate to ensure reproducibility.
- All system settings were image stabilization off, self-timer, sturdy tripod.
A few details about the RAW conversions:
- RAW files were processed in Lightroom 3.2 RC, which supports all of the cameras tested.
- Custom white balance was applied during RAW conversion, and each RAW file was white balanced off of the gray paper in the image. Due to my imprecise white balance matching and differences in the LR 3.2 color profiles for each camera, I could not match colors perfectly. The colors on the GH1 crops are particularly off and do not represent a sensor problem but rather a limitation of my testing methodology.
- Some of these cameras differ in image brightness (in Lightroom) given the same nominal ISO, f-number, and shutter speed. In order to present as controlled a comparison as possible, "Auto tone" was used in Lightroom to more closely match the final brightness of each image.
- Sharpening settings were Lightroom default (same for all cameras), and both luminance and color noise reduction were disabled entirely.
- In order to provide as fair a comparison as possible, the Sony and Samsung images were downsized during export from Lightroom such that their diagonal image dimension would match that of the Micro 4/3 cameras. Showing all images at their native size would have penalized the Sony and Samsung for using more megapixels, while the chosen method is akin to comparing equal-sized prints from each camera.
- RAW files provided for download have been converted to DNG for the sake of conserving storage/bandwidth.
Here is the test scene with yellow rectangles indicating the selections shown in the crop comparisons which follow:
ISO 100 crops (NEX 5 not shown since it has no ISO 100 setting):
ISO 100 RAW files:
ISO 200 crops:
ISO 200 RAW files: