Olympus Pen E-PL3 vs Panasonic Lumix GF3 vs Sony Alpha NEX-C3 Resolution
To compare real-life performance when zoomed-out, we shot this scene with the Olympus Pen E-PL3, the Panasonic Lumix GF3, and the Sony Alpha NEX-C3 within a few moments of each other using their best quality JPEG settings.The lenses on each camera were set to approximately the same field of view and all three cameras were set to f5.6 in Aperture Priority.
The ISO sensitivity was manually set to the lowest available setting, 200 ISO on the Pen E-PL3 and NEX-C3 and 160 ISO on the Lumix GF3.
The image above was taken with the Olympus Pen E-PL3 with the 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 kit lens lens. The lens was set to it’s 14mm maximum wide angle focal length. In Aperture Priority with f5.6 selected the camera metered a shutter speed of 1/1600th of a second at 200 ISO. The original image size was 5.5MB. The crops are taken from the areas marked with red rectangles and presented here at 100%.
Overall, this is a very pleasing result form the Olympus Pen E-PL3. The exposure is spot-on and there’s good detail throughout the tonal range. The image is sharp and contrasty and the colours are natural and not over-saturated. The E-PL3 shares the slightly warm auto white balance of other models in the Pen range which gives its images a slightly retro feel. I quite like this, but if you don’t it’s easy enough to change.
At first glance the crops from the E-PL3 look very impressive with crisp edges and good detail resolution. In the first crop, the detail on the chapel buiding and foreground rocky hilock is clearly picked out. There’s a slight textured look to the flat colour in the sky but it’s clearly not affecting the image detial in any way.
The lighthouse crop shows good clear detail everywhere from the foreground houses to the very clean lines of the lighthouse itself in the distance, again there’s that slight texture in the sky though. The third crop from the very edge of the frame isn’t quite as crisp as the others and there’s the merest hint of colour fringing, but it’s not what you’d call soft. The final crop from the centre of the frame is hard to fault with every rooftile and other small detail clearly and distincly defined.
In terms of resolution of fine detail the Olympus E-PL3 really shines in this comparison. Right from the off the Pen E-PL3 crops are punchier with sharper edge detail and none of the softness evident to a degree in both the Lumix GF3 and NEX-C3 crops. If you look closely you can see a small amount of purple fringing in the third Pen E-PL3 crop. It could also be argued that the high contrast and sharpness has come at the cost of a slight graininess to the look of the E-PL3 crops, but you’d have to be really looking for something to criticise. Whichever way you look at it the Pen E-PL3 crops are very impressive indeed.
To compare noise levels under real-life conditions we shot this scene with the Olympus Pen E-PL3, the Panasonic Lumix GF3, and the Sony Alpha NEX-C3 within a few moments of each other using their best quality JPEG settings at each of their ISO sensitivity settings.All three cameras were set to Program auto exposure mode and the lenses were set to approximately the same field of view. The ISO sensitivity was set manually.
The above shot was taken with the the Olympus Pen E-PL3 in Program auto mode. The 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 kit lens was set to its widest angle focal length, the sensitivity was set to 200 ISO and the exposure was one second at f3.5. The crops are taken from the area marked with the red square and presented below at 100%.
The Pen E-PL3 has given this scene a stop more on the exposure than the Lumix GF3 and Sony NEX-C3, and the result is much better detail in the shadows and the area from which our crop is taken. On the base 200 ISO crop the detail is very good but the slight graininess that was apparent in the outdoor crops is also present here. It isn’t obtrusive and it doesn’t obscure any of the image details, but it’s a definite characteristic of the E-PL3’s 12.3 Megapixel CMOS sensor and processing.
There’s still good detail at 400 ISO, but that graininess is now much more apparent. It’s most evident in the wood panelling, but its effect on fine image detail is still fairly negligible. At 800 ISO it’s beginning to gain the upper hand though and at 1600 ISO there’s no question that this is an image shot at a high ISO setting. Despite that, even the 160 ISO crop isn’t unpleasant, there’s a good balance between suppression and image detail and the quality of the noise isn’t harsh. As you’d expect, it gets much worse from 3200 ISO upwards with the noise gaining a colour component in addition to the luminance noise of the mid ISO range.
Compared with the Panasonic Lumix GF3 the Olympus Pen E-PL3 crops look brighter, but it’s hard to tell if there’s more detail in the slightly underexposed GF3 crops. Certainly at 160 and 200 ISO the GF3 crops don’t show much evidence of noise. Like the E-PL3 the Lumix GF3 does a great job of striking a balance between noise supression and detail retention right up to 1600 ISO, but the crops look at little softer and less detailed than those from the E-PL3. Beyond that, things even up a bit, but over most of the ISO sensitivity range the Pen E-PL2 is a clear winner over the Lumix GF3.
Compared with the Sony Alpha NEX-C3 the Pen E-PL3 looks every bit as good as the bigger-sensor NEX-C3 at the lower sensitivity levels. At 200 ISO it’s too close to call, though arguably the Pen E-PL3 has the better of it. Beyond 400 ISO though, the NEX-C3’s bigger sensor advantage begins to tell. There’s still very good detail in the E-PL3 crops, but it’s being maintained by image processing that’s becoming just a little bit intrusive, certainly compared to the NEX-C3 crops.
Another thing worth bearing in mind if good low light performance is important to you is that the NEX-C3 has two composite low light modes shown in the final two crops. Hand-held Twilight and Anti Motion Blur both provide a significant improvement in image quality over what you’d get in a single-shot mode with a high ISO setting. We’ve included the Pen E-PL3’s (non-composite) DIS low light mode for comparison.