5DMk2 vs OM-D High ISO Test

Started Jan 15, 2013 | Discussions thread
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Binone
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5DMk2 vs OM-D High ISO Test
Jan 15, 2013

A few weeks ago I posted a comparison of the 5D MK2 to the OM-D in good light.  You can find that thread here: http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/post/50428206, but to save you some reading, basically there was no meaningful difference that would be visible on any print.  That may be expected of any modern sensor camera, but what about at high ISO?  I decided to run a test at ISO 1600 to 6400 and see how the 2 camera systems compare.

There are 2 ways to do this comparison.  The things that are often important are depth-of-field and shutter speed.  Since the DoF of m4/3 is 2 stops greater than a FF sensor, the DoF of the OM-D at f5.6 is the same as the 5D at f11, then for equal DoF and shutter speed, then the ISO for the OM-D can be 2 stops less than the 5D.  So, in low light, for a given shutter speed and DoF, the OM-D can be shot at ISO 1600, while the 5D will have to use ISO 6400.

There are also times where you have to open the lens as far as it goes; the subject is a bit in the distance so DoF will be OK and the light is so dim that you have to maximize ISO.  In those instances, the performance of one camera at a specific ISO can be realistically compared to that of the other camera at the same ISO, because you'd use that high ISO in the field to keep shutter speed as short as possible.  So, I ran this comparison both ways: 1:  5D Mk2 at ISO 6400 vs OM-D at ISO 1600, to simulate the situation where you want the same shutter speed and DoF; and then with the images shot at the same ISO on both cameras for the 2nd scenario.

Here's my setup:

5D Mk2.  Manual Exposure.  Manual ISO.  Auto WB.  RAW.  24-105 f/4 L lens set to 50mm and f/11. Auto Focus using the center spot.  Processed in ACR with default settings.  The 5D2 image was downsized in PS CS6 to be the same width as the OM-D image.

OM-D.  Manual Exposure. Manual ISO.  Auto WB.  RAW.  Panasonic 12-35 f/2.8 set to 25mm and f/5.6. Auto Focus using the center spot.  Processed in ACR with default settings

Both cameras were mounted on the same tripod and remotely triggered.

For both cameras I shot a sequence of exposures at 1/3 shot increments and picked 2 that appeared to be the right exposure and equal densities.  The EVs may have been different, but I wasn't testing metering accuracy.  As it turned out, the EVs used for both cameras were the very close.

For a location, I wanted something where the light wouldn't be changing, so I picked a room in an old Civil War era fort that is unevenly lit by incandescent lamps.

I used auto-focus with both cameras and both cameras had no problem focusing.

Here's the overall scene, with the OM-D first:



OM-D.  ISO 1600.  Auto WB.  f/5.6

Now the 5D Mk2 Image:

5D Mk2.  ISO 1600 Auto WB f/11

The first thing I noticed when processing the photos is that the OM-D, set to AWB absolutely nailed the color balance.  It's perfect.  The Canon is WAY off.  Now, some may like the warmer tungsten balance produced by the Canon, but if I want that, I'll add it myself.  I'd rather the camera get the colors accurately, and the OM-D was absolutely spot on.  Because I didn't want to have color balance as a major issue when comparing images, I re-processed the Canon exposures in ACR using tungsten color balance.  Here's the re-processed Canon image:

5D Mk2 with ACR color balance set to tungsten.

It's still warmer than the OM-D image, but a lot closer than the original and, for this purpose, close enough. Both of the above images were shot at ISO 1600.

Both cameras were focused on the barrel at the left end of the middle row.  (By the way, they're empty).  Let's take a look at a tight crop from the above scene to compare IQ at the different ISOs.  First, in the case where the exposure value (EV) is the same, comparing the 5D at ISO 6400 to the OM-D at ISO 1600.  Here's the crop from the OM-D, below:

OM-D  ISO 1600  f/5.6

5D Mk2  ISO 6400 f/11

Both of the above images have been exposed to have the same EV and DoF.  There's no real comparison here:  The OM-D produced a much more noise-free image.  If you enlarge and look at the printing on the sign behind the barrel, you'll see that it's quite clear on the OM-D shot, and that noise makes it more difficult to read on the 5D image.

Therefore, in low light, when shooting so as to maintain a common depth of field and exposure value, the OM-D's 2 stop greater DoF enables you to shoot at a 2-stop lower ISO and the resulting image displays significantly less noise.  The DR of the OM-D image also appears to be better, but it may simply that the darker areas of the 5D image are obscured by noise.

The next comparison is where I compare the 2 cameras at the same ISO.  In this case, the OM-D would enable you to shoot at a higher shutter speed, but that isn't a factor in this comparison because the cameras were on a sturdy tripod and the barrels weren't moving.  So, here are both crops at ISO 1600. First, the OM-D image

OM-D ISO 1600

Now, the 5D image at ISO 1600

5D Mk2 ISO 1600

I'm going to have to score this one slightly in favor of the 5D.  There isn't a lot of difference in the noise, but what difference there is favors the 5D.  The 5D is also maintaining somewhat better shadow detail (notice the brick pattern in the shadow of the sign on the left).  If I took the time to color balance these 2 shots so that they're the same, and perhaps adjust EV slightly, I doubt that anyone could tell the difference between large prints made from both images.

Now, here's the same crops, but at ISO 3200.  First, the OM-D image:

OM-D ISO 3200

Now the 5D image:

5D Mk2 ISO 3200

There's a larger difference here in favor of the 5D.  The wood racks still look quite smooth in the 5D image, whereas there's quite a bit of noise noticeable, especially in darker areas, on the OM-D.  The printing on the sign behind the barrel still looks clearer on the OM-D image, so maybe there was a bit of a focus shift, but noise certainly favors the 5D.

Now, same thing at ISO 6400:  Again, the OM-D first:

OM-D ISO 6400

Now the 5D at ISO 6400:

5D Mk2 ISO 6400

At ISO 6400 is where the wheels are starting to come off the wagon for the OM-D.  While the image may be useable for small prints, the noise pattern is much more noticeable, and coarse, than that of the 5D at this ISO.

To my eye, the difference in noise is slightly less than one stop between the 2 cameras.  The OM-D at ISO 1600 is very slightly better than the 5D at ISO 3200.  I think that this is a remarkable performance for so small a sensor.  Then, consider the first scenario that I presented, above, which for me is a realistic one.  That is, I'm shooting the OM-D at f/5.6 and would have to shoot the 5D at f/11 to obtain the same DoF.  Therefore, I have the ability of shooting the OM-D at a 2 stop lower ISO and, since there's about a 1 stop difference in ISO performance, I gain a full stop of lower noise in that scenario.

My conclusion is that while the 5D MK2 is quite useable up to, and including ISO 6400, and I've done that many times with good results, the highest ISO where I feel that OM-D provides a good IQ is 3200.  I haven't tried to apply any NR to any of the images, and doing so might extend the useable ISO range of the OM-D, but that's another test.

My shooting typically doesn't demand a very shallow DoF.  I'm not often shooting portraits. So, the scenario that I presented first, where I compared the 5D at ISO 6400 to the OM-D at ISO 1600 is the most realistic for most of my shooting.  In that case, the OM-D will allow me to obtain a higher quality image in low light.  I'm impressed.

 Binone's gear list:Binone's gear list
Nikon 1 AW1
Canon EOS 5D Canon EOS 5D Mark II Panasonic Lumix DMC-F5
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