Olympus E-PL2 Ken McMahon, February 2011
 

Olympus 'PEN' E-PL2 results : Real-life resolution / High ISO Noise


Olympus 'PEN' E-PL2 vs Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 vs Sony Alpha NEX-3 High ISO Noise


 
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To compare noise levels under real-life conditions we shot this scene with the Olympus E-PL2, the Panasonic Lumix GF2 and the Sony NEX-3 within a few moments of each other using their best quality JPEG settings at each of their ISO sensitivity settings.

The E-PL2 was fitted with the Zuiko 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 II kit lens, the Panasonic GF2 with the Lumix G Vario 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 Mega O.I.S and the Sony NEX-3 with 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 OSS. All three cameras were set to approximate the same field of view.

The above shot was taken with the the Olympus E-PL2 in Aperture Priority mode with the 14-42mm kit lens at its widest angle setting of 14mm (28mm equivalent). The ISO sensitivity was set to 200 ISO and the exposure was 1/5th of a second at f4.5. The crops are taken from the area marked with the red square and presented below at 100%.

At its lowest sensitivity setting of 200 ISO the E-PL2 produces really pleasing results. This crop is crisp, clean and natural looking with no evidence of noise. There's good detail everywhere from the stone column on the left to the wood panelling on the right and edges are nice and crisp without any evidence of digital processing. Even at 400 ISO, the E-PL2 turns in an exceptionally good result. If you look at the vertical grooves in the wood panelling, they're a little wobbly compared with the 200 ISO crop and you can also see evidence of noise in the panelling itself.

At 800 ISO things take a bit of a turn for the worse with a degree of softening, but the balance between noise and processing to reduce it is a good one. At 1600 ISO both the noise and the softening of image detail become progessively worse, even so, for 1600 ISO overall image quality is still pretty good. At 3200 ISO the noise gains the upper hand and the subject matter would need to be very close to your heart to put up with the loss of detail and generally poor image quality at this and the 6400 ISO sensitivity setting.

Compared with the Panasonic Lumix GF2 we reckon the Olympus E-PL2 has the upper hand all the way to 800 ISO. The crops from the Lumix GF2 are softer and show less detail, and comparing the 100 ISO Lumix GF2 crop with the 200 ISO crop from the E-PL2 we'd say the Olympus E-PL2 crop is markedly better. The 200 ISO Lumix GF2 crop is not only softer than the equivalent E-PL2 crop, it's also noisier and looks more processed. At the higher sensitivity settings between 1600 and 6400 ISO we also think the Olympus E-PL2 crops have a distinct noise advantage over the GF2.

Like the Lumix GF2 the Sony NEX-3 produces slightly softer images than the Olympus E-PL2, but qualitatively, there's little, if anything between them at low to mid sensitivities. The NEX crops are impressively noise-free at the lower sensitivities, and thanks to its larger sensor surface area, it enjoys a lead at the highest ISOs, although perhaps not as great as you'd expect.

Given its smaller sensor, the Olympus E-PL2 does an impressive job at the most common sensitivities. And, whereas earlier 'PEN models we've tested have produced similar sharp punchy results, these crops look a lot more natural and show no evidence of aggressive image processing. If excellent low light performance is high on your list of priorities though, it's worth bearing in mind the the NEX3/5 benefits from two composite modes - Hand-held twilight and Anti-motion blur - designed specifically for producing low-noise reults in low-light situations.

Now head over to our Olympus E-PL2 gallery to see some more real-life shots in a variety of conditions.


Olympus E-PL2
 
Panasonic Lumix GF2
 
Sony Alpha NEX-3
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Olympus 'PEN' E-PL2 results : Real-life resolution / High ISO Noise



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