Micro Four Thirds high ISO noise compared - G1, E-P2, E-P3

Is the sensor in the new Olympus E-P3 an upgrade or not?

The test frame

Olympus have told me the LiveMOS sensor in the new Pens announced last week is new. Apart from the doubled read speed, up from 60 frames per second to 120 frames per second, the sensor is, I'm told, more sensitive and delivers improved high ISO noise and better dynamic range. There are plenty of cynics who think this is questionable. And to be honest, until support for RAW conversion programs arrives, we may not know the exact details of what any improvement there is, if at all.

The best that can be done is to compare JPEG test images shot under identical conditions. So this is what I have done here, using the very original Micro Four Thirds camera launched almost three years ago, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1, the Olympus Pen E-P2 from late 2009, and the very latest Olympus Pen E-P3, which isn't going on sale for around a month. This exercise does not 199% determine sensor performance. The performance of the JPEG engine in the image processor plays a lot in the image quality we'll be comparing. But the sensor performance does have some bearing, especially as the cameras were set up to minimise image processing effects.

All three cameras were fitted with the same exceptionally sharp Olympus Zuiko Digital 50mm F/2.0 Macro lens, set to f/7.1 for optimum lens performance.. Halogen lights in a kitchen setting utilised were used and each camera was white-balance calibrated. Noise reduction/filters and sharpening in the cameras were switched to the lowest possible settings. Reference shots at ISO 3200 were taken with the G1 and the E-P2, and an ISO sequence of shots from ISO 2500 through to ISO 12800 were taken with the E-P3, at one third EV increments. 100% (one image pixel to one screen pixel) crops are reproduced below.

So the question is - which E-P3 result matches the G1 reference shot the closes and which E-P3 reference shot matches the E-P2 the closest? Over to you!

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 - ISO 3200

Olympus Pen E-P2 - ISO 3200

Olympus Pen E-P3 - ISO 3200

Olympus Pen E-P3 - ISO 2500

Olympus Pen E-P3 - ISO 3200

Olympus Pen E-P3 - ISO 4000

Olympus Pen E-P3 - ISO 5000

Olympus Pen E-P3 - ISO 6400

Olympus Pen E-P3 - ISO 8000

Olympus Pen E-P3 - ISO 10000

Olympus Pen E-P3 - ISO 12800