Photographic Image Quality:
Camera + Lens Comparison (2): Update

Technology is changing rapidly; physics is not.* You'll see this reflected here, for example in sensor capability (increasing) and lens size (unavoidably consistent).
* (At least, not the relevant physics for photography.)


▸ Sony A7R-II (right); Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS. Full-frame, 42 Mp sensor. (The lens was rented for this test so that the 90mm FOV would match the Olympus 45mm.)

▸ Olympus OM-D E-M1 (left); M. Zuiko ED 45mm f/1.8 (FF=90mm). Micro 4/3", 16 Mp sensor.

▸ Olympus Pen E-PL7 (center, bottom); Olympus M.14-42 mm f/3.5-5.6 (FF=28-84mm). Micro 4/3", 16 Mp sensor.

▸ Sony DSC-HX90V (center, top); non-interchangeable Sony lens 4.1-123 mm f/3.5-6.4 (FF=24-720mm). 1/2.3", 18Mp sensor.

Four cameras discussed above


Test setup

All four shots were tripod-mounted and triggered by self-timer to prevent any possible camera shake. All were set with aperture priority at f/8 and ISO 800. The tripod was positioned so that only minimal cropping of each image would be needed to produce the same view of the shelves. Other than color balancing, there was no development manipulation in Lightroom or Photoshop. Lighting was from a single Dracast LED panel, set at daylight color. Although the full image shown here is from the A7R-II, at least three (probably all four) of them would look just fine at Web size and resolution. Differences become evident when they are enlarged (below).

(image opens in new large window)


Image detail

Each image was cropped to approximately a 6× enlargement -- or what it might look like on a 40"×60" print. Unrealistic, yes—but a good way to understand the capabilities and limitations of current photo gear (without scientific resolution testing).

Book detail, A7R-II
A7R-II. Highlights: 1) The second book from left is sitting on its side; you can see that there are separate pages, rather than a featureless white shape. 2) Fifth book from left: details of the little diagrams on the spine are simply amazing (thanks to the FF 42Mp sensor).

Book detail, E-M1
OM-D E-M1. Not quite the same detail in this enlargement, but full-image prints show only a very subtle visual difference between this and the A7R (and "zero" difference for editorial use).

Book detail, E-PL7
E-PL7. Since it's the same sensor as the E-M1, we are comparing lenses here. The small "pancake" zoom is simply far inferior to the fast prime 45.

Book detail, HX90V
DSC-HX90V. Grainy mush at this size, but that won't detract from any realistic use of the camera (see conclusions below).


Personal conclusions

Repeating the disclaimer from our intro page: there are many highly-regarded manufacturers who offer products similar to those tested here. Rather than advocating any of them (or these), I'm simply illustrating the wide range of choices that we have today.

▸ Thanks to Sony's recent introduction of the A7R-III—at 1½ times the price of the (now discounted) A7R-II—this one just became affordable. Notice in the top picture that the camera body is very similar in size to the Olympus, lacking the mirror mechanism of the much bigger and heavier Canon DSLR (preceding page). I'll use it, with one or two carefully selected prime lenses, for top-quality landscape and similar work.

▸ The E-M1, which I've loved for several years, will remain my go-to for its tiny fast/sharp primes, pro-level zooms for video, an ultra-long tele at half the size and a fifth the cost of full-frame, and more.

▸ I had originally intended the PL7 (with pancake zoom) to be a "pocketable" carry-around; it's now sitting in no-man's-land between the others. Probably still useful as a second body for other MFT lenses.

▸ The "mini-Sony" now becomes a true always-in-the-pocket (or glove compartment) answer to the proverbial saying that "your best camera is the one you have with you." It has the advantage of a pop-up optical viewfinder for use in bright light (which the PL7 doesn't) and the ultra-zoom lens (which the phone doesn't). It's actually smaller (but thicker) than the iPhone, but the downside to this is the tiny, hard-to-use buttons on the back.

In all fairness to the HX90V, which clearly "flunked" the test above, I'll conclude with two images that "aced" its intended role. Both printed extremely well at 8"×10", and would be more than adequate for any online use.

Campus pool wide view
FF=24mm. Lens at its widest setting (4.1mm).

Campus pool telephoto view
FF=720mm. From the same spot, longest setting (123mm).


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