Olympus E-PM1 Ken McMahon, January 2012
Olympus PEN E-PM1 vs Sony Alpha NEX-5N Quality

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To compare real-life quality, I shot this scene with the Olympus PEN Mini E-PM1 and Sony Alpha NEX-5N within a few moments of each other using their best quality JPEG settings. The Sony Alpha NEX-5N was chosen as it has the same 16.1 Megapixel sensor as the NEX-C3 which was unavailable at the time of testing.

The lenses on both cameras were set to approximately the same field of view and both were set to f5.6 in Aperture Priority mode.

The sensitivity was manually set to the lowest setting available - 200 ISO on the Olympus PEN E-PM1 and 100 ISO on the Sony NEX-5N .

  Olympus PEN E-PM1 results
1 Olympus PEN E-PM1 Quality
2 Olympus PEN E-PM1 Noise
3 Olympus PEN E-PM1 Sample images

The image above was taken with the Olympus PEN Mini E-PM1. The lens was set to its 14mm maximum wide angle focal length (28mm equivalent). With an Aperture of f5.6 selected the camera metered an exposure of 1/125 at 200 ISO. The original image size was 5.31MB. The crops are taken from the areas marked with red rectangles and presented here at 100%.

Our test scene presents a bit of a challenge here with the foreground in shadow and the distance lit by bright winter sun. But the PEN E-PM1 has made a good job of the exposure retaining both the highlight detail in the sunlit wall and the shadows in the near foreground. The auto white balance is on the warm side which is typical of PEN models, personally I quite like it, but if you don't it's easy enough to change.

What about the crops? Overall the level of detail is good, if a little on the soft side. In the first crop the rocks and grass in the foreground are clearly defined with a high level of detail, the edges of the chapel building and walls are cleanly defined and you can just make out three people standing in front of the wall. In the lighthouse crop the windows in the foreground are reasonably sharp, but the lighthouse itself is a little indistinct and the line of the cliff tops is also a bit vague, though the atmospheric conditions are at least partly to blame.

The third crop, from close to the edge of the frame is also a little soft, but no more so than those from nearer the centre, and there's just the tiniest hint of a purple fringe along the edge of the window frame and drainpipe. And again on the fourth crop from close to the centre of the frame the edges and fine detail are well resolved, but just that little bit softer and less contrasty than results from the same sensor in the PEN E-P3 and E-PL3. I think this is no bad thing. The slighter softer look is a little more natural and less processed and if you want punchier results with slightly harder edge detail it's a simple enough matter to increase the contrast or shoot raw and apply your own processing.

Compared with the Sony NEX-5N the most obvious difference is that with a 2 Megapixel advantage the detail in the NEX-5N crops is a lot bigger and therefore easier to make out. The other visibly obvious difference is that the Olympus PEN E-PM1 test shot is a lot warmer than that from the NEX-5N. Where the NEX-5N has a tendency to opt for cooler white balance the PEN E-PM1, like other models in the PEN range, tends to go in the opposite direction with, some would say, overly warm results. As I pointed out before, if you shoot RAW+JPEG, or indeed adjust the white balance, you can change this easily enough.

In terms of detail in the individual crops, in the first crop, there's not much in it, but moving to the second crop the NEX-5N has made a much better job of resolving detail in the lighthouse and cliff and the detail in the foreground of this crop is also better defined. The edge crop from the Olympus PEN E-PM1 has the slightest hint of purple fringing, but, like the NEX-5N the detail in the brickwork here at the edge of the frame is as clear and sharp as in the middle. In fact the detail in this crop looks a little bit sharper than in the NEX-5N. Finally the central crop from the Olympus PEN Mini E-PM1 shows an excellent level of detail with crisply defined edges but, I think the NEX-5N squeezes a small margin of extra detail out of this scene. Compare the two chimneys on the foreground roof, the vertical rails along the front of the balconies and the window frames at the top of the crop and in each case the NEX-5N is little clearer and sharper.

Now let's see how they compare at higher sensitivities in our High ISO Noise results


Olympus PEN Mini E-PM1
Sony Alpha NEX-5N
f5.6, 200 ISO
f5.6 100 ISO
f5.6, 200 ISO
f5.6 100 ISO
f5.6, 200 ISO
f5.6 100 ISO
f5.6, 200 ISO
f5.6 100 ISO

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM1 results : Real-life Quality / High ISO Noise

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