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Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons

 

 

ISO 800, 1600 and 3200 from an Olympus E-30, E-3 and a Nikon D300 RAW and JPEG compared

There is no doubt in my mind that, despite an increase in pixels from 10 to 12MP, and so a reduction in pixel pitch, the new Olympus E-30 enjoys significantly improved high ISO image quality over any previous Four Thirds camera. Most telling is the absence of horizontal banding that can plague ISO 1600 and ISO 3200 images from previous Four Thirds DSLRs that used the Panasonic-made LiveMOS sensor, especially in images with large areas of darkness in the frame.

Four Thirds does have a reputation for poor high ISO image quality. The original Olympus E-1 was very noisy above ISO 400, although it was widely praised for the dynamic range and colour reproduction in its images at lower ISOs. That was with the Kodak FFT (full frame transfer) sensor, later used in higher resolution form with the E-300 and the E-500. I think the Kodak sensor was naturally quite noisy, but I'm also pretty sure that Olympus' image processing was not a match for Canon's Digic processor at the time.

The Panasonic tie-up, that resulted in the LiveMOS Four Thirds sensor, first seen in the E-330, did result in less noisy images, though high ISO banding became an issue. One aspect of the noise in LiveMOS generation E-System DSLRs has been really quite good control of chroma noise. This is much harder to correct in post processing than luminance grain. I have always thought that the banding problem was solvable, either through better management of the sensor data channels and related circuitry, or with improved image pipeline processing - better still, both. The E-30 has vindicated my hope and from a bandning point of view, high ISO images are now very uniform. This, alone, makes ISO 1600 and 3200 on the E-30 much more usable.

It seemed like an obvious thing to do - to compare the high ISO image quality of the new E-30 with the previous-generation E-3, which is still the E-System flagship model, of course. And just for fun, and as one was available, I decided to make a comparison with Nikon's much-praised D300 DSLR, which shares about the same pixel count as the E-30.

I'll be the first to admit that this test is not perfect. It's quite improvised, and the important issue of dynamic range is not catered for here, but I hope the test results will be of some use to those interested.

The cameras were mounted on a tripod and the shutters were fired after a self-timer delay to avoid operator-induced wobble. All image stabilisation modes were switched off and manual focus was employed, verified visually using magnified live view mode. Surprisingly, the D300, which has a superb 900K dot 3 inch screen, compared to the 230K pixel 2.7 inch screen of the E-30, displays a much lower resolution view for critical focus in live view, making crictical focus a lot harder to use, but that's another issue.

Low light test conditions

I chose a typical low light environment, illuminated with tungsten lighting. I set all three cameras to 3000K manual white balance. You will see from the JPEG samples that the Nikon produced a much warmer tone than the Olympus cameras, and less contrasty. It's possible that the D300's Picture Control settings, although set to 'Standard' may have been customised by the camera's owner - although he denies it!

It's worth pointing out that the D300 was fitted with an 18-200 Nikkor lens, which is not likely to be as sharp or as contrasty as a good quality shorter range standard zoom, like the 14-54 Zuiko Digital Mark II used on the Olympus bodies. All three cameras were set with noise filters set to 'standard'. This only affects the JPEGs, of course, but once again I have no idea if Nikon's 'standard' is the same as that of Olympus. Anyway, if you are seriously intersted in these tests, you will have to compare the RAW samples provided.

There was some variation in exposure, but the sample frames were matched to within aabout a third of an EV by evaluating the grey levels of the colour chart in the pictures in Photoshop, using a histogram view. In hindsight, I should have set the exposure to manual, but it was easier to leave it on auto, using centre-weighted metering.

JPEG crops gallery

There is a thumbnail gallery, with comments, of 100% crops to evaluate the JPEG samples on page 2 of this article, along with the links to the full size sample JPEGs and RAW files.

E-30 JPEGs look good at both ISO 800 and 1600

Fundamentally, the E-30 JPEGs look good at both ISO 800 and 1600. There is a noticeable increase in noise at ISO 3200 and the grain does look somewhat clumpy in dark areas at this setting, but light tones remain relatively clean. The increased resolution of the E-30 compared to the E-3 helps with the visibility of fine details and, if anything, I'm tempted to say that the E-30 has marginally less noise grain than the E-3. But I feel there is more smoothing being applied to the E-30 JPEGs so there is little, if any, increase in base resolution, despite the extra pixels. That may be disappointing, but the absence of banding makes a huge difference to the usability of ISO 1600 and 3200.

The Nikon D300 JPEGs are very smooth, even at ISO 3200, especially in the dark tones. Olympus still has some work to do there, but the Olympus results are more contrasty and detail stands out better. However, I do feel the Nikon is making better use of its sensor's resolving power - with JPEG output, at least.

Evaluating RAW

I haven't yet had time to evaluate the RAW files. Today's news that Olympus Studio (v.2.22) can now process E-30 raw files will make that task easier. Olympus Master 2.11 will also develop E-30 ORFs. I'll certainly be looking forward to your views based on your experiences of these samples.

Reader feedback:

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Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons

Four Thirds User editorial team Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons
This article contains some analysis of the high ISO performance of the Olympus E-30, compared with t... (more)

clknight Please give me your take on this....
I posted this thread on another forum: [url]http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/read.asp?forum=1022&me... (more)

Ian Re: Please give me your take on this....
I think you mean 'D300' there? Unfortunately, other work pressures this week mean I haven't ha... (more)

Ian Re: Please give me your take on this....
By the way, please please, if you are going to post our samples on another site (which technicall... (more)

Ian Re: Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons
I have just printed the ISO 1600 JPEGs from each camera to A4 on my Epson Stylus Pro 3800. The Nikon... (more)

mathu Re: Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons
Sorry Ian, but this comparison makes no sense at all. The images from D300 are highly postprocessed ... (more)

Ian Re: Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons
All had their noise filters left on standard or normal. On E-System cameras I would recommend a l... (more)

mathu Re: Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons
Quick look at RAW files: These are ISO1600 developed in Raw Therapee with all postprocessing turn... (more)

Ian Re: Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons
Thanks Mathu :) Is RAW Therapee officially supporting the E-30 already? If not and it's by cha... (more)

mathu Re: Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons
I developed ISO800 with +2EV correction to analyse the amount of noise in the shadows. Unfortunat... (more)

Ian Re: Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons
Once again, thanks for this Mathu. I'm still a bit cautious about using Raw Therapee if it's not ... (more)

clknight Re: Please give me your take on this....
No, I didn't mean the D300. I was talking about the comparisons between the E-3 and the E-30 from P... (more)

Ian Re: Please give me your take on this....
No problem - I saw people asking for info that was in the intro to the article, but they didn't k... (more)

Robert Watcher Re: Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons
... (more)

Alex Stewart Re: Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons - exposure question
I feel reluctant to ask this, because it's my first post and it could be seen as critical whereas I ... (more)

Ian Re: Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons - exposure question
Hi Alex, welcome to the site. Feel free to ask questions, that's what we're here for! The test... (more)

Ian Re: Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons
Rob, apologies for not responding earlier - thank you for putting my mind to rest about the D300 ... (more)

Alex Stewart Re: Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons - exposure question
Thanks, Ian - lightning fast response! Point taken about the exposure: there's no single "right" on... (more)

Ian Re: Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons - exposure question
Very interested to hear what you think. Ian... (more)

Alex Stewart Re: Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons - exposure question
I really like the semi-indoor scene with five variants (with a person exiting stage left at ISO 800)... (more)

Alex Stewart Re: Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons - exposure question
Oh - my last sentence is jangled. What I meant is that for the purposes one would want to use the h... (more)

Bear Re: Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons - exposure question
My experience, and I suspect that of others here, is that people read a lot in magazines and other p... (more)

Alex Stewart Re: Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons - exposure question
Agreed. I just read a book about William Albert Allard (mainly National Geographic work) - he hand-... (more)

Xtack Re: Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons
Elsewhere in the forum (unfortunately I can't recall the thread) I read that the stated ISO for Niko... (more)

Bear Re: Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons
I seem to recall the posting, Olympus rates it cameras pretty accurately I believe.... (more)

clknight Re: Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons
Yes, according to DXOmark: D300 ISO 1600=1200 and 3200=2000. It's even worse for the higher... (more)

Xtack Re: Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons
I am now interested in understanding the standard/method used by Nikon and Canon for calibrating ISO... (more)

clknight Re: Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons
I don't see why they would be interested in calibrating their ISO settings. We all know the higher e... (more)

Bear Re: Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons
Not sure I buy into the conspiracy theory - is there a standard methodology for measuring and calibr... (more)

clknight Re: Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons
I'm just reciting the gospel according to DXOmark. Click on "ISO Sensitivity" for each camera and... (more)

Bear Re: Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons
clknight - I've seen the dxomark ratings. they are pretty conclusive but they are measured after the... (more)

Xtack Re: Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons
DXOMark uses ISO 12232 standard protocol for measuring ISO equivalency of different cameras. I belie... (more)

Bandit Re: Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons
I really don't see how any ISO numbers could be fudged on any camera? This would effectivly screw up... (more)

Bear Re: Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons
It may simply be that there is no external standard to which all camera companies adhere when calibr... (more)

Bandit Re: Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons
I agree with the above, they should be set the same. I can't see any evidence they arn't though? I h... (more)

Bear Re: Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons
Bandit Agreed entirely on the performance thing. Absolutely no doubt about it. D700 and the new 5D ... (more)

Bandit Re: Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons
Me too? Seems daft and pointless. Hi ISO performance is not the be all and end all to compare cam... (more)

Bear Re: Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons
Could be a marketing issue as the press loves to find something to add an air of objectivity to the ... (more)

Bandit Re: Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons
Yeah the DR thing is the main killer for me, ( it's OK but you just have to be a lot more carefull,... (more)

Bandit Re: Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons
PS re the actual price difference between Full frame and four thirds as a system..it's not that grea... (more)

Xtack Re: Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons
Answer to our questions of why the ISO equivalence ratings are different between different manufactu... (more)

Alex Stewart Re: Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons
Sorry for the lag... my family goes back to Canada for Christmas. I wanted to check the exposures o... (more)

Bandit Re: Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons
This is an interesting thread and I for one is pleased it has not turned into a Canon/Nikon Olympus ... (more)

Alex Stewart Re: Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons
Bandit, you raise a topic I feel reluctant to raise myself: the possibility of a breakthrough techno... (more)

Alex Stewart Re: Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons - exposure question
I'm pretty sure this isn't the right way to do this but I am not able to see an alternative. Becaus... (more)

John Perriment Re: Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons - exposure question
Hi Alex, Posting pictures within a thread like this is fine, because we always like to see new... (more)

Alex Stewart Re: Olympus E-30 high ISO comparisons
Thanks, John. I particularly welcome your comment after going into your personal website. Unfortun... (more)