This should be a fun comparison. I have the pleasure of having three of the best mirrorless cameras around in my possession right now: a newly acquired Fuji X-E1 with 35mm f/1.4, my trusty Olympus OM-D E-M5 and the Panasonic GH3, fresh into my hands for review. Expect full reviews of the Fuji X-E1 and Panasonic GH3 in the coming weeks. Edit 3/2/13: My full review of the Panasonic GH3 is now up. Edit 4/17/13: My full review of the Fujifilm X-E1 is now up.
Note: Since this review has been published, I have updated the Fuji X-E1 RAW crops after developing with Lightroom 4.4 Release Candidate, which has much improved demosaicing of the Fuji X-Trans sensor. Crop images show the updated processing now.
Anyway, I thought it would be fun to pop the Panasonic Leica 25mm f/1.4 on the two Micro 4/3 cameras and do a controlled studio shot against the Fuji X-E1 with its Fujinon 35mm f/1.4. Due to the different sized sensors, these setups result in an almost identical field of view, with the 4:3 aspect ratio of the m4/3 cameras allowing for a little wider field of view in the vertical direction. The 35mm on the X-E1 is slightly narrower than the 25mm on Micro 4/3, however (equivalent to the field of view of a 53mm lens on full frame vs the equivalent field of view of 50mm for the Leica).
As a result of this minor difference in aspect ratio and field of view, the crops you’re about to see will make the Fuji look like it is rendering things slightly larger. All images were taken on a tripod with 2 second timer, and all were taken from the same position.
This is a simple test scene with a few items to focus on, a color checker, and a crystal decanter to provide specular highlights in the background. Below is a few of the test setup:
As I mentioned, all cameras were mounted on a tripod in the same position. Focus was taken on the book, which is at the exact plane of focus of the right-most flower where the 100% crops were taken. All images were taken in RAW and processed with Lightroom 4.4 Release Candidate, which has much improved support for Fuji X-Trans processors. The new Adobe Camera RAW demosaicing results in a little more neutral file with the X-E1 shots, but color can be brought in line with the other cameras with a very minor vibrance adjustment.
I shot the Fuji in RAW+JPEG, and have included the Fuji JPEG as well for comparison. White balance was set using the lower left white square on the color checker. Sharpening was set to 50 at 0.5 pixels, with no luminance noise reduction and default color noise reduction.
Exposure: Those who have looked at DxO’s ratings on the OM-D may be mistaken on ISO measurements, since DxO measures RAW well satuaration for its ISO measurements, rather than the output image brightness, which is what matters for the end result. Please note that all three cameras were set to the exact same exposure value. The OM-D and GH3 were set to f/2.8, with ISOs ranging from 200-12,800, and shutter speeds increasing from 1/3 sec to 1/200 sec. The Fuji X-E1 was set to f/4 (to equalize depth of field between the two formats), with ISOs also ranging from 200-12,800, and shutter speeds increasing from 0.6 seconds to 1/100 sec. All files were shot in manual, and these settings are identical manual exposures. You will see that the Panasonic is rendering very slightly brighter than the other two cameras (which appear equal in brightness to my eye)…maybe 1/6 stop difference, and the Fuji is rendering very slightly darker. The Fuji is about 1/3 stop less sensitive than the GH3.
The crops below are 100% crops from the same area of each image. IMPORTANT: Click on the image below to open the image larger. This will darken the screen and make the image fill the screen. At the bottom of your browser, you will see some blue triangle buttons, a red circle X button, and a green arrow pointing down and to the right. CLICK ON THE GREEN ARROW to view the image full size to see the 100% crops. If your monitor is not of high enough resolution to view the full width, you will still be able to scroll around the images.
On the camera front, the OM-D and GH3 are extremely close. The OM-D may have a very slight edge here, but it’s minimal. As has been hinted at by many people, I think it very likely they use the same sensor, and Olympus usually gets just a little better performance out of the same sensor. However, the story of this test is the X-E1, which easily bests the two Micro 4/3 cams in terms of noise control by about a full stop, and perhaps a little more in the 200-1600 range. The Fuji is providing extremely clean files up to ISO 1600, and still controls noise well while maintaining strong detail at the higher ISOs. For those who know the X-E1 and know that ISO 12,800 is not available in RAW, I underexposed the 6400 shot by one stop, then pushed the file in RAW by one stop, which is what the camera does for the JPEG images anyway.
As part of this, the two outstanding normal lenses can be similarly viewed. Both are quite sharp in the central region, so I wanted to show a closer look of how these two lenses perform. Stopped down, they are both excellent, but how about wide open? Looking at the shots above, they are still both quite good in the center. Below are the overall scenes with both lenses wide open at f/1.4, focused in the same spot. Click to enlarge.
I took a 100% crop from image on the decanter to evaluate wide-open bokeh and specular highlights, and then took a 100% crop from each image on the left edge of the color checker. See the 100% crops below (again, be sure to enlarge the image to full size):
Both lenses produce extremely pleasing bokeh to my eye. Of course, the 35mm f/1.4 has greater blur due to the longer focal length on the larger sensor, and overall, the Fuji is just a little creamier. Both also show a very slight green fringe on the specular highlights, but despite this, I think both look great here.
On the edges, the Leica 25mm f/1.4 is a leg up, being considerably sharper on the image edge wide open. However, it’s quite clear that these are two outstanding normal lenses. Both are among the best I’ve used for any system.
Well, the X-E1 is a camera with fantastic image quality, that much is certain. Not surprisingly, it produces cleaner images throughout the ISO range and retains great detail. Is the Fuji the best of these three cameras then? In pure image quality from the sensor? Yes. In other ways? Not so fast…. Wait for my full review of the X-E1 for more detailed discussion, but both the GH3 and OM-D are much more responsive machines when it comes to autofocus. Still, Fuji has a winner on their hands. It’s also great to see Panasonic put out a body with very high image quality to match the OM-D on the stills side.