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Altar retablo (center crop),
Mission San Juan Capistrano CA, 2018.
Olympus OM-D E-M1,
M. Zuiko ED 45mm f/1.8 (FF=90mm)
f/5.6, 1/80 sec., ISO 6400

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Photographic Image Quality:
Camera + Lens Comparison: 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 that, 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 E-M1, 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 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). The linked full-resolution file for each image will open in a new tab.

Top left: A7R-II. Two things really stand out to me: 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). Full resolution image: BooksDetailA7RII.jpg.

Top right: OM-D E-M1. Tiny details might not be noticed, but there still would be a subtle difference in the impact of any size prints from this camera and the A7R. Full resolution image: BooksDetailEM1.jpg.

Bottom left: E-PL7. Since it's the same sensor as the E-M1, we are comparing lenses here. The small "pancake" zoom simply can't keep up with the fast prime 45. Full resolution image: BooksDetailEPL7.jpg.

Bottom right: DSC-HX90V. Grainy mush at this size, but irrelevant for any realistic use of the camera (see conclusions below). Full resolution image: BooksDetailHX90V.jpg.

Book detail, A7R-II Book detail, E-M1

Book detail, E-PL7 Book detail, HX90V

Personal conclusions

▸ 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. Possibly 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. The left one is at its widest (FF=24mm) setting, the right—from the same spot—at its longest (FF=720mm). Both printed well at 8"×10", and would be more than adequate for Web and social media use.

Campus pool wide view Campus pool telephoto view

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