Sony Alpha NEX-5N Ken McMahon and Gordon Laing, Dec 2011

Olympus E-P3 vs Panasonic GX1 vs Sony NEX 5N image quality

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To compare real-life quality, I shot this scene with the Olympus E-P3, Panasonic Lumix GX1 and Sony NEX 5N within a few moments of each other using their best quality JPEG settings.

Each camera was fitted with its respective kit zoom lens and adjusted to deliver the same vertical field of view. Each lens was also focused on the same point on the image and set to f5.6 in Aperture priority mode for a level playing field; f5.6 was chosen to maximise sharpness and minimise diffraction.

The sensitivity was manually set to the lowest available setting on each camera: 200 ISO on the E-P3, 160 ISO on the GX1 and 100 ISO on the 5N.

  Sony NEX 5N results
1 Sony NEX 5N Quality
2 Sony NEX 5N RAW vs JPEG
3 Sony NEX 5N Noise
4 Sony NEX 5N Sample images

The image above right was taken with the Sony NEX-5N with the 18-55mm kit zoom set to 23mm (35mm equivalent) and the aperture set to f5.6 in Aperture Priority mode; f5.6 was chosen to maximise sharpness while avoiding diffraction, and selected on all three cameras below for a level playing field.

On this page you're comparing cameras with different aspect ratios: the Olympus E-P3 and Panasonic GX1 employ the Micro Four Thirds standard with a squarish aspect ratio of 4:3, while the Sony NEX-5N with its APS-C sensor delivers slightly wider 3:2 shaped images. Where aspect ratios differ, I always match the vertical field of view in comparisons, which obviously penalises models with wider ratios. As such on this page, I'm only effectively comparing a 4:3 crop from the middle of the Sony 5N image and am ignoring thin strips on either side. This means the 5N is effectively operating like a 14.2 Megapixel camera in this test, making it the middle of the three models on test with the Panasonic GX1 boasting 16 Megapixels and the Olympus E-P3 still employing 12.

The three models may sport different effective resolutions, but a quick glance at the crops below reveals the biggest difference is in terms of image processing. The Sony NEX-5N and especially the Olympus E-P3 are clearly adopting punchier processing than the Panasonic GX1 which looks quite soft in comparison. We've seen this before with the earlier Panasonic G3 and like that model found the GX1's images can greatly benefit from a boost in contrast and especially sharpening. While testing these cameras I also had the chance to compare all three Panasonic Lumix G kit zooms and found the older, non-collapsing models were fractionally crisper at this focal length - not massively so, but it's a contributing factor in the relative softness of the image here.

Moving onto the crops, there's no coloured fringing to note on the first row, which implies some digital processing taking place. The real action starts on the second row though, where the difference in default processing settings in addition to any optical variations in the respective lenses becomes readily apparent. The Olympus E-P3 is the punchiest of the three, although arguably is a tad over-cooked. The sharpness is certainly eye-catching, but depending on your preferences, you may wish to reduce it a little. Conversely the Panasonic GX1 is looking soft in comparison here, and while many details can be brought-out with a boost in sharpening, there's still a fuzziness in certain areas - most visibly here in the tree foliage - which is also present on RAW files. Meanwhile the Sony NEX-5N takes a sensible middle-ground, delivering a decent degree of real-life detail without any undesirable processing artefacts.

Really fine details seem to trip up the GX1 in this test, but as the crops move onto areas closer to the camera as seen on the third and fourth rows, it begins to perform better. Note this might suggest a focusing error, but all three cameras were focused on the same part of the image just to the lower left of centre.

Looking at the third row of crops, the three models initially look similar, but start pixel-peeping and you'll see fractionally higher detail on the GX1 and 5N, as their higher resolutions would suggest. Likewise on the fourth and final row of crops where the GX1 and 5N again resolve slightly greater fine detail than the E-P3.

Out of the camera without changing any settings, I'd say the Sony NEX-5N enjoys the best overall image quality in this test, carefully balancing enhanced detail while avoiding undesirable artefacts. The Olympus E-P3 may be slightly out-resolved by its rivals here, but it's only by a very small margin which will only really be apparent to dedicated pixel-peepers; certainly what Olympus are achieving with this ageing 12 Megapixel sensor is impressive, and those who favour punchy results will prefer its default output, although others may prefer to tone it down a little. Meanwhile as I've said before, the Panasonic GX1 can really benefit from a boost in sharpening and contrast, but don't hold this comparison too much against it. When viewed in isolation the GX1 images look detailed and very natural. It's only when you place them next to a model with more aggressive processing that they look comparatively soft. Of course some may also prefer this approach as it's easier to add sharpening and contrast than it is to take it away.

Now let's see how they compare at higher sensitivities and low light in my Sony NEX-5N Noise results.


Olympus E-P3
Panasonic Lumix GX1
Sony NEX 5N
f5.6, 200 ISO
f5.6, 160 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f5.6, 200 ISO
f5.6, 160 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f5.6, 200 ISO
f5.6, 160 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f5.6, 200 ISO
f5.6, 160 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO

Sony NEX 5N results : Quality / RAW vs JPEG
/ High ISO Noise

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