But wait a second…
So, the 1Ds II is about a stop better at high ISO….or is it? I started thinking…in pure noise performance, yes, it is. However, I’m not concerned with the technical performance of something…I’m concerned about the final print, or final image on screen. It’ s like when you have a car that has a 600 hp engine vs one that has a 480 hp engine. Yes, one has a more powerful engine, but what if the 480hp car weighs 20% less?
This was my thinking, and the detail advantage of the Micro 4/3 bodies is the lower weight of the car. That is, if I can use noise reduction techniques and still get a file with the exact same amount of detail, then that should be the real comparison. So, I kept the 1Ds II files the same, and increased luminance noise reduction in Lightroom until I achieved what to my eye was identical levels of detail between the three cameras. This ended up being at around a level of 20-40 depending on the ISO.
The following are the crops with noise reduction tweaked to yield a similar final level of fine detail (only showing base ISO and 1600 and higher):
And for fun, I also shot one of the 1Ds II shots at ISO 3200, underexposed by a stop and then pushed in post by a stop to yield effective ISO 6400:
Wow – that’s interesting! At base ISO, the light noise reduction has eliminated the fine grain noise present in the Micro 4/3 shots, while leaving detail essentially untouched. At least, to my eyes, it still seems like the GH2 and GX1 are resolving more fine detail than the 1Ds II, with identical noise performance. The 1Ds II still does obviously retain a dynamic range lead.
At ISO 1600, the GH2 and GX1 are again able to match or beat the 1Ds II in resolution, and noise performance looks essentially identical here. The GH2 is falling a little off the pace in the red shadow crop, where a little bit of artifacting has crept in. The GX1 stays solid here, though.
At ISO 3200, the GH2’s color shift is visible, and it’s shadow detail has deteriorated a little more, but it’s right with the others in the mid-tones and highlights, as well as in resolution. With the noise reduction here, there is no longer a detail advantage to the Micro 4/3 bodies, but they look equal to the 1Ds II. Overall, the GX1 and 1Ds II crops look extremely similar to my eyes, with the GX1 maybe having a little less noise with this processing in the midtones and highlights, while the 1Ds II has a tiny bit cleaner look in the red shadows.
At ISO 6400, the GH2’s color shift becomes rather extreme, and it is exhibiting some pattern noise in the red shadows. The GX1’s noise profile is very close to the 1Ds II, but the 1Ds II is holding a very slim advantage in the appearance of the noise. It is more film like here, while the GX1’s looks more digital. This is especially noticeable in the shadows. Still, the difference would likely be extremely difficult to notice except in large prints.
Just a side note with the image above, which are crops taken from the left and right sides of the image at base ISO…you can see that color response in the blues and purples and greens is essentially identical here. The GH2 does still hold on to a slight resolution advantage at the edges here (though this could possibly be due to the lens).
Well, that was interesting. You can make up your own mind here, but I see a few key points:
- The GH2 and GX1 hold a real world resolution advantage over the 1Ds Mark II despite the similar megapixel count, likely due to a lighter anti-aliasing filter.
- The 1Ds Mark II has better dynamic range than the Micro 4/3 cameras, which is visible as extra shadow detail.
- The 1Ds II has about one stop better noise control in pure sensor performance.
- Due to the resolution advantage, that one stop advantage can be negated up through ISO 3200 by proper RAW noise reduction, yielding similar noise performance and similar or better detail for the GH2 and GX1
- In my eyes, color performance is essentially identical. There may be a difference, but I’ll be darned if I can see one with my eyes.
So, in my mind, for base ISO work, the GH2 and GX1 should be able to give you shots of similar quality to the legendary 1Ds Mark II, provided you don’t need the 1Ds II’s extra dynamic range. Even at high ISO, these tiny cameras are able to hang in there with the 1Ds II all the way through to ISO 3200, with the GX1 able to come extremely close even at ISO 6400. It’s an exciting time when little mirrorless cameras can achieve image quality at this level.
43 thoughts on “Micro 4/3 vs a Full Frame Legend”
Jordan, im tremendously impressed by the scope and care you took to make this fascinating comparison
m 43 is maturing into a real contender… i no longer use my Nikon d 80 for the bulk
,i cant wait for your review of the Olympus pro…. ihope you can review one when they come out
the clarity and style of the review are impeccable i like your approach better than dp review
your iso 6400 iso with the pushing of the canon was very cool
your commentary is nicely written too
thanks loads for this
paul in nyc
Thanks for posting such a careful test and adding tweaking results too, very interesting.
I particularly like the way clicking on an image enlarges it to a sensible size without any flash-based nosense. Thanks for keeping things simple.
Can you post a portrait sample too, with near-to-wideopen apertures … I mean in a new comparison section. I’d like to see the real value of 35mm-frame, as I see it.
Hi, thanks for the interesting comparison – would be good to see it done with the GH2 on the latest firmware and would also be good to see the images as raw rather than jpeg.
Well, you’re in luck! The above comparisons WERE done with the GH2 on the latest firmware, as well as everything shot in RAW. (I can’t show the images in RAW, as RAW files aren’t viewable on the web). Read the first page and I detail the shooting procedure as well as the RAW processing for each camera. All RAW conversion was done in Lightroom 4 beta, and the images were not touched after conversion.
Thanks for test!
Thank you. I’m amazed at the clarity you bring to this subject. I think I understand everything you reported and was able to see the results in the views.
I am more often confused after reading a review but that is not the case here. Thanks again! 🙂
This article has convinced me to go ahead and do what I was considering – selling my DSLR (Nikon) kit, and putting the money into more glass to use with my newly acquired GX1. I hate lugging kit around, and so often the DSLR kit bag was left at home while I pocketed my Canon S95 (or G9 prior to that) and shot with that instead. I’ve only had the GX1 for a couple of days but the instant I first read about it I realised that it was probably the ideal way forward – and as soon as it was in my hands (with the kit compact power zoom attached) and I’d taken a few test shots, I was hooked!
Thanks for putting together such a concise and informative comparison.
Jordan, I have also sold my Canon gear in favor of m4/3rds. 2 60D’s, 24-105, 70-200, 10-22, 28, 50, 85, 400 EF lenses. All gone. Bought GH2 with 14-140, 7-14, 100-300, 14 f2.5, 25 f1.4, 45 f1.8 m4/3rds lenses. Adapters for other older lens. Quite a kit.
Boy did I save money and weight. People are really impressed with the small size of the system and the pictures. How small my camera bag can be.
The main reason I did this is was on a trip with my 60D and was using Live-View more that the optical viewfinder. I had a HoodLoupe on the swivel LCD. I loved the instant feedback. I thought it would be great to have a Viewfinder that had Live-View. Also, a lot of my work is video production and the GH2 rivals much more expensive cameras in video quality. Better than the Canon.
the big question here is: is that GH2 stock or hacked? I’ve seen video footage of the GH2 at 12800 with the same amount of grain you’re showing here at 3200. i think it’s unfair to compare a stock gh2 when the hack is free, easy and beefs the camera up so much.
Hacking a GH2 does not change its still capture or noise characteristics. The reason HD video is showing less noise at high ISO is because the image has been downsampled from 16 MP to 2 MP when converting to 1080p.
There’s no reason not to hack the GH2 for video capture, but don’t expect much (if any) improvement to your stills from it.
The GH2 was with the latest official firmware. As Voldenuit mentions, the reason video footage looks cleaner is the reduced size. The stock GH2 shooting video at ISO 3200 looks extremely clean, and ISO 1600 and below shows absolutely no noise at all in video.
A good common sense approach to real comparison, that being, what one sees. I read in many articles of pros moving to m43 and having great experiences. Then I remember the “experts” (mostly not pros but self promoting enthusiasts) who derided 43 and m43 because of sensor size, swivel/tiltable monitors, live view, movie mirrorless and noise these were NOT dSLR things. How times change the most of these ‘experts’ have run off with their tails between their legs or are making last ditch stands with the last items of noise and dynamic resolution. They forget that when a print is made or a display is shown on a TV or monitor this is not seen and people don’t seem to care any more.
What would these people have done with a film camera loaded with a roll of 100 ISO film in the old days when the sun was going down.
As Jordan has pointed out for most prints and displays the images from M43 are totally acceptable and la lot less painful to achieve.
Thanks, very well done. I’m considering a similar switch. As bodies come and go, the real dilemma for m43 is the lenses. Yes there are many,but I don’t see any that can match the canon 14-105+100-400 or oly 14-54/12-60 + 50-200.
Micro 4/3 does still have a little bit of a hole at the long end, with regards to fast lenses, though it should close a bit this year. Panasonic will be releasing a 12-35mm f/2.8 and a 35-100 f/2.8 as well.
One nice thing is that if you really want to, the Oly 14-54 and 50-200 work very well on Micro 4/3 with the 4/3 adapter. Autofocus and everything. Of course, the lenses are a bit big for the system, but oh well.
wow, this is a nice indipendent test. Simple and to the point.
Clearly the dynamic range seems the only drawback in image quality then.
As I do lots of Underwater pictures this is not a major point of disadvantage.
But the increased depth of field and compacteness of the whole M43 system and lenses make this new technology a true winner.
As I see new high grade prime lenses coming up there is no reason to look back into the huge dslr land for me. The mighty Canon and Nikon have a lot of work to do now to keep up.
Are you sure the IDs Mk II’s “DR advantage” isn’t just due to a slightly different tone curve, or even a lower contrast lens? The contrast and edge-to-edge sharpness of 4/3rds lenses is almost always superior to their equivalents in other DSLR formats.
Of course, in this test, it would be impossible to rule out what you are suggesting, but I know from experience that the 1Ds II has better dynamic range. This is especially evident in the amount of detail recoverable in the highlight range in RAW. The GH2 and GX1 files can recover a little over half a stop in the highlights. The 1Ds II can recover almost two full stops. It’s rather remarkable, and one of the very few things that made shooting with the 1Ds II better. That said, I’ll take the savings on my back and shoulder and just expose properly (or do an HDR if I need the extra DR).
Interesting. I use a GF1 and can recover 1+ stops in post. I do however shoot knowing that m43 has less DR than APS-C (or FF), and it informs my shooting style. In some ways, this has improved my photography, having to think about exposure before pressing the shutter release.
I have read that the GH2 has less DR than the GH1, so this might be a factor.
However, I switched from a 40D + L lenses to a GF1 + small primes a few years ago, and my shoulders and back are thankful for the reduced weight.
Good and interesting tests, thank you for publishing this article. I did a quick and simple comparison between the Panasonic G3 (with Panasonic 20mm f/1.7) and the Nikon D700 (with AF 50mm f/1.8D) myself. Having a 16 megapixel sensor the G3 noticeably outperforms the D700 (12 megapixel) when it comes to detail. I was a little surprised by this, because I thought the D700 sensor would still be superior, having larger higher quality pixels or something like that. At higher ISO’s (800-1600) the Nikon D700 yields cleaner images, but with some noise reduction, the G3 files look reasonably good. You do lose some of that extra detail though. I think that the difference in small prints is almost invisible. It also depends on the subject and light conditions at the moment of photographing. Anyway, I too am pleasantly surprised by the technical progress that has been made. A micro 4/3 camera kit weighs less and is much smaller than full frame or even APS-C kit. Also AF on the latest m4/3 camera bodies and lenses is fast and accurate enough for most uses. However, for heavy duty pro work I would not recommend these small systems.
I can’t seem to be impressed with the comparison of sensors 7 years apart. The GX1 sensor is performing really well – even more so in the Olympus OM-D. Why don’t you compare the OM-D to the current crop of best APS-C cameras and see it outshine some of them? No handicaps, no generation gaps, 100% fair fight and beating the best out there. That would be really convincing.
I have seen the samples out there and I am convinced the OM-D can beat the Sony NEX 5N, the 60D or even the D7000 in a fair fight. This is especially true in the JPEG mode, because the Oly JPEG engine is probably the best out there.
I agree with Jack. Comparing it with a a famous but outdated 1D-II is not entirely fair, and reeks of rationalisation (for switching to 4/3). A better comparison would be with the Canon 7D or the 1D-X.
Well, it’s a 1Ds II, not a 1D II, and what it reeks of is ‘It’s the Canon camera I happen to own.” Not having easy access to a 7D precludes comparisons with it, though I will be doing some comparisons between the E-M5 and the Sony NEX 5N or 7 in the coming weeks.
However, if you look around, you’ll see that the 1Ds II is slightly superior to the 7D. The 1D-X is not in the same league. We’re talking about a $7,000 brand new pro DSLR. It SHOULD kick the snot out of any m4/3 camera. If it doesn’t, there’s something seriously wrong.
My rationale for switching from Canon FF with a bag full of L glass to M4/3 was entirely rationalized by size reduction, which is huge. The fact I get quite similar image quality is a nice bonus (especially with the E-M5).
Thanks for sharing this information. It scratched an annoying itch to know how my new GX1 would have compared to my old 1Ds2. I have a 1Ds3 for my commercial work, and it is demonstrably better than the GX1 and 1Ds2 in terms of resolution and dynamic range (much more recoverable shadows), but I find I never take it with me when I go on long walks to shoot landscapes because of the combined weight of the camera, lenses and heavy tripod. Hence the GX1. I’ve long figured that the 1Ds2 was about all I could ever need in terms of IQ for my travel & landscape photos, which I print up to 16″x24″. I suspected that the GX1 was close, and your comparison has put my mind at ease on this score.
FWIW, I recently tested my Panasonic 14-45 zoom against my Canon 17-40 f4L & 70-200 f4L zooms and found its performance to be as close as to make no difference in a print, which is to say very, very good.
There is only one good reason to use FF, and that is shallow DOF. Now, it is evident, if you compare sensor sizes, that some can’t do in DOF what others can, but, others can perfectly do what some can’t. What does that means? Well with the choice of adapters and lenses on the market, you can get DOF as much as you want on any ILS camera, just get a faster lens. But try to get a full sharpness all over the picture with a FF sensor, here you’re done.
Now, magnify any FF sensor shot and wee when the moment comes that you see the single pixels. Do the same with an smaller sensor, you will find out the the dynamic range advantage and higher iso performance comes only from the larger pixel size you find on a FF sensor. A 24 mpix FF equals a 12 mpix APSC. Now, what makes me a bit sad, is the pixel race and the thought that more is better. If, today, Sony would redevelop the Nikon D200 sensor and push it with modern techniques to get higher Iso ability, i would like to get a NEX with that sensor right away. We do not race for pixels on the end, we race for billboard sized shots, and, seriously, “who needs that?”. Do you shoot billboards, and if you do, with a soft like fractal designs Print Pro, you just make any size billboard with a 10 mpix shot.
Steve Huff has made a compared match between Laica M, Sony RX1R, and a Nikon 1V1, and resized all shots of the 3 cameras to same size. Now, Jack, guess what? Well? it’s just the same as you show us here, same quality, different FOF, different color temperatures, but on the end, not worth to spend up to 17000$ for nuts.
Where one can see real worlds of differences, is on medium format, but here again, take the quality and all the disadvantages, beginning with the real world of difference in prices, and you’re done.
Take care and tks for the test
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Especially with Canon cameras, which appear to have a LOT of noise reduction going on even when supposedly turned down to their minimum, modern MFT cameras still appear to be able to hold their own with FF cameras of 4-5 years ago. It’s a great time to be a MFT photographer!
Great work, and useful comparisons. My conclusion? The resolution advantage of the smaller cameras is too tiny to make we want to replace my 1-Ds mark ii any time soon, when I consider the many advantages that I would be giving up in exchange. The size and weight savings of 4/3 are of no relevance to me. I am not yet so weak and decrepit that the weight of a 1-D format camera is a problem for me.
Great comparisons. I never doubted the IQ that 4/3 cameras can deliver, but you have established it beyond questions.
Nevertheless I am not going to part with my enormously tough, weather resistsant, fast focussing 1-Ds ii. It does everything I want, and fits my hanss far better than any 4/3 camera. Heck, I am not even going to part with my 1-D ii N. As for weight I have got so used to lugging a 1-Dsii adn 24-70 f/4 everywhere that I no longer notice it.
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It is a nice comparison, but far from persuading me to switch to 4/3 it has made me happier about my decision to carry on using my old, reliable 1Ds ii for most of my photography, and it is now 2017.