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May 08

Olympus E-M5 vs Panasonic GH2: Dynamic Range Battle

Olympus OM-D E-M5

So at lunch today, I finally got a chance to test the Olympus E-M5 against the Panasonic GH2 in dynamic range.  I chose a high DR area, and then decided to see how they did when overexposed 3 stops and pulled back, and underexposed 3 stops and pushed back.

All shots were taken one after another with the Olympus 12mm f/2 lens at f/5.6.  For the base exposure, I metered until the clouds just barely started to clip in the JPEG preview (the shots were all RAW).  The final images between the two cameras were right on in exposure (identical mid tone values for the 0EV EC shot).  I then increased exposure 3 stops and took a shot and then decreased exposure three stops. I  did the same for each camera.  In Lightroom 4.1 RC2, I then pulled back the highlights on each overexposed image until no more detail could be recovered.  In the underexposed images, I increased black point until it didn’t clip and used +100 on the shadows slider for each file.

This is the overall scene (this is the E-M5 mid-shot):

Tested Scene

Here’s is the overexposed image and what the GH2 could recover in the highlights:

Panasonic GH2 - 3 Stops Overexposed, Recovery in Lightroom

And here’s what the E-M5 could recover in the highlights.  The clouds are still too far gone to recover, but they were well over 2.5 stops blown, so it’s not surprising…but the E-M5 kept all the detail in the buildings as well as the water, while the GH2 lost all of that.

Olympus E-M5, 3 Stops Overexposed, Recovery in Lightroom

Looking at 100% crops of the building area, you can see that not only did the GH2 ultimately lose the detail, but that it also lost all color data for some of the detail it could recover.  The E-M5, on the otherhand, perfectly recovered everything but the clouds.

GH2:

100% crop of GH2 recovered image - Click to Enlarge

E-M5:

100% crop of E-M5 Recovered Image, Click to Enlarge

Next, I took a look at the shadows.  There wasn’t a lot of extreme shadowing in the frame, but the bridge above, of course was the place to look.  This much shadow recovery is equivalent to a 3 stop push.  There is a lot of noise for both cameras in the pushed shadows, that’s for sure, but the E-M5 again retains more detail, has better noise control, and retains the rust color of the bridge steel.  The GH2 loses the color information and a lot of the darkest detail.

Upper Left Crops:
GH2:

Panasonic GH2 - 3 Stops Under Exposed, Recovery in Lightroom (100% crop), Click to Enlarge

E-M5:

Olympus E-M5 - 3 Stops Under Exposed, Recovery in Lightroom (100% crop), Click to Enlarge

So, this definitely confirms what I’ve been seeing while I shoot regularly…the E-M5 has significantly better dynamic range than the GH2 (or any other m4/3 cam I’ve ever used) in both the shadows and the highlights (though the difference in everyday use is bigger in the highlights).  In my experience with the E-M5 so far, it’s been very difficult to clip highlights at all…you really have to almost try to do it.

About the author

Jordan Steele

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Admiring Light; Photographer; Electrical Engineer and Dad

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  1. Flax

    That last GH2 image looks familiar.

    One reason I did not jump on the OM-D is because I figured it’s sensor could not be that much better than my GH2. But maybe it is. DxO should be interesting.

    That plus the 25mm being back ordered forever is why I moved to the X-Pro1 + 35mm. If I could get it to focus on moving subjects…it would be just about perfect for me.

    Enjoy your blog, always something interesting here.

  2. Marco

    Interesting though my own experience suggests better raw DR from the Pannie 16MP sensor in the G3 and GX1 (I know DXO don’t agree but that’s my shooting experience). I would be interested to see that comparison, though from what I have read so far I imagine the OM-D would still win, but not by such a dramatic degree.

    1. Jordan Steele

      Hmm…in my experience the GX1 and GH2 have nearly identical dynamic range. The highlight end seems downright the same, but the GH2 might have a slight edge in the shadows, so if anything I’d say the GH2 has a very slightly wider dynamic range.

  3. John

    The micro four-thirds sensors at dxo seem to top out with the GH1 rated highest and the GH2 next getting a slightly lower total score. I can’t see them rating this sensor better than either of those two I just mentioned since the sensor in the EMD is allegedly already used in one of the other Panasoncs and they don’t score better than the GH1 or GH2, but their testing methods are different than others. I know dpreview seemed to indicate superior dynamic range for the EMD over other micro four-thirds, even the GH series, if I recall properly, they also use a different measuring method. While I like the reported focus speed of the EMD I won’t change from the GH2 unless the images really do deliver more dynamic range, so I am waiting to be convinced. To me dpreview seems to offer the best arguments in favor of the EMD. The problem I see with your methods here is that there is too much subjectivity in the way the tests were conducted, and ISO settings on the cameras may not match the actual real ISO that is delivered which can mean noise can be introduced more for a camera if its ISO reported is actually lower than what it really delivers – dxo charts that but I can’t recall how the GH series tracks. But it would be great if the dynamic range were improved on the EMD. In my estimation the micro four-thirds offerings could use a new sensor from Fuji, like in the xpro 1 – now that would be an amazing combination. I do like the body of the EMD it is a very good step and am tempted.

    1. Jordan Steele

      DxO also doesn’t tell the whole story. The GH1 rates higher than the GH2 in noise according to DxO as well, but noone who has actually used both cameras would agree with that…the GH2 is way better at 1600 and up.

      I can tell you from my extensive experience with the GH2 and GX1, that the E-M5 in real world use has a huge DR advantage…it just doesn’t clip highlights like the Panny sensors do, and there’s more shadow detail as well. The overall effect is that the E-M5 yields a much richer file. It is the first m4/3 camera I’ve used that truly produces DSLR level files in all respects, and feels on par with most current APS-C offerings.

  4. jottka

    Exifs:The exposure for GH2 is F5,6 11/1000 sec.For the OM-D it is f5,6 1/125 sec.
    To make a valid comparison seems to be difficult if exposure is not equal.

  5. jottka

    Correctionof typing error 1/1000 for the GH2

    1. Jordan Steele

      Exposure was 1/4000 for both cameras for the shadow comparison and 1/125 for both cameras for the highlight comparison. The 1/1000s exposure is the base exposure I started with. I only show that for the Oly here, but the GH2 shot looks similar, as this shot natively will fit in the DR of both cameras.

      I overexposed by three stops to see how bright each camera could record before clipping the RAW data, and then underexposed each camera three stops to see how dark each camera could record before clipping the RAW data. These are the shots that are used in the comparison. If you look at EXIF for each image, you will see this is the case.

      So, to be clear, three shots were taken for each camera, one at 1/1000, one at 1/4000 and one at 1/125.

  6. dslrclown

    Facts:

    GH2 has a very bad red channel noise pattern which seems to be implemented by purpose from Panasonic.
    As soon you should scenes with a lot of blue in it….the noise gets down and you can shoot nice videos/pictures in low light

    Gh2 hast only 8,5-9 steps of usable dynamic range. It crushes 2-3 steps of black and 2-3 steps of highlights. This also seems “its so designed to be limited”

    Funny thing is – that american and asian users have “banding issues” but my german-EU GH2 has cealr image even in low light (just normal noise pattern). To some degree I was able to get “banding” with my Canon 600d.

    Why?

    The Gh2 could threaten and damaged the sales of the higher priced HD camera from panasonic. So, its very clear that even the GH3 (estimated late summer or to the next photokina) will not be “a dream dslr”.

  7. Mick Rogers

    Aha, just what I thought, the EM-5 crushes the older GH2! That means the cheap E-PL5 and E-PM2 are better too. That’s great news.

  8. Mirrorkisser

    I am not surprised, that the gh2 loses the DR-battle.

    I would be very interested in the Olympus, i like its image stabilization aswell. But the codec is not much of a blast (very low bitrate) and you can not film in 24 or 25p, which unfortunately puts this camera into the housewife videocamera-live-event-category. if they fix this, i would change my gh2 right away.

    Until then the gh2 is still the best deal for that kind of money. The nikon d5200 is also great, with other short comings though. in that price category its just impossible to find a camera that has it all. So i am still very happy with my gh2 and will maybe update once the bmc becomes available in bigger quantities and with an active m43 mount…

  9. san ching

    Is this city Columbus where I live? It’s so happy to see our scenic view can be tested on the web.

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