Olympus OM-D E-M1 vs Fuji X-T1 Low ISO Comparison (ISO 200-800)
Here is the comparison of the OM-D E-M1 to its director competitor, the Fuji X-T1. Although the X-T1 has similar resolution of 16.3 MP, it is physically larger in size (APS-C) and hence has larger pixels than the OM-D E-M1. Let’s take a look at ISO 200 (Left: Olympus OM-D E-M1, Right: Fuji X-T1):
As expected, both sensors perform very well at ISO 200. There is a bit of fine grain visible on the OM-D E-M1 and it appears sharper, but that’s most likely coming from differences in RAW processing in Lightroom, which applies slightly different sharpening algorithms to both cameras.
The same is true for ISO 400.
As we push to ISO 800, we start to see differences in ISO performance.
Olympus OM-D E-M1 vs Fuji X-T1 High ISO Comparison (ISO 1600-6400)
As ISO is pushed to higher levels, the performance differences become more apparent. Noise patterns on the OM-D E-M1 definitely increase in comparison.
We see a similar situation at ISO 3200. At this point, the difference is around 2/3 to a full stop of advantage on behalf of Fuji.
Both lose details at ISO 6400, but it is pretty clear that the Fuji X-T1 retains colors better, particularly in the shadow areas. Noise patterns on the X-T1 are noticeably better throughout the frame. Again, I am seeing between 2/3 of a stop to a full stop of difference in performance here. If you take the ISO 6400 sample from the X-T1 and compare it to ISO 3200 on the OM-D E-M1, they look similar.
Olympus OM-D E-M1 vs Fuji X-T1 Summary
As expected, a physically larger sensor does produce better results, particularly at high ISO levels above ISO 1600. Unfortunately, since Fuji does not have the ability to produce RAW files at “boosted” levels (ISO 100, 12800 and 25600), I could not provide comparisons for those (I only compare RAW output). As noted above, there are visible sharpness differences between the two cameras and it has nothing to do with the optical quality of lenses, but more with the way Adobe Camera RAW and Lightroom render RAW images. It seems like Adobe applies more aggressive sharpening on the OM-D E-M1 RAW files by default, which makes its crops appear sharper. Either way, you can see that the larger APS-C sensor on the X-T1 provides cleaner output when compared to the Olympus OM-D E-M1. When comparing images side by side, I see roughly 2/3 of a stop to a full stop of advantage on behalf of Fuji X-T1 at ISO 1600 and above. If you are a JPEG shooter, you might see even more differences, since Fuji does an excellent job with noise reduction when rendering JPEG files.
Olympus OM-D E-M1 vs Nikon D5300 Low ISO Comparison (ISO 100-800)
Let’s take a look at how the Olympus OM-D E-M1 compares to a cropped-sensor DSLR. A lot of our readers wonder what they would lose in terms of image quality if they were to swap their DSLRs to a Micro Four Thirds system. In this case, the DSLR candidate for the comparison is the Nikon D5300. Here is the performance comparison at ISO 100 (Left: Olympus OM-D E-M1, Right: Nikon D5300):
The difference in resolution between the two (24 MP vs 16 MP) already gives an advantage to the Nikon D5300, since its noise patterns are reduced when the image is downsampled to 16 MP. On top of that, the D5300 has an APS-C sensor that is physically larger, which also translates to larger pixels. The D5300 has a pixel pitch of 3.91 microns, while the OM-D E-M1’s is 3.75 microns. These differences are not very noticeable at low ISOs though.
At ISO 200, the performance is again similar.
As we push towards ISO 400, the pixel-level noise on the E-M1 is apparent in bright areas, while the D5300 is still very clean.
And noise patterns are even more noticeable at ISO 800 on the E-M1, with shadow areas already showing more noise in comparison.
Olympus OM-D E-M1 vs Nikon D5300 High ISO Comparison (ISO 1600-25600)
Things start getting worse at ISO 1600, with the D5300 clearly leading the game in noise performance:
That’s again expected to see. Looking at noise levels, images look similar if we compare ISO 800 on the E-M1 vs ISO 1600 on the D5300, so there is about 2/3 to a full stop of difference between the two here.
ISO 3200 again shows a visible difference in performance between the two.
And at ISO 6400, we see a lot of noise and artifacts on the E-M1, while the D5300 shows finer and cleaner grain.
Both cameras lose a lot of shadow and color details at ISO 12800.
And ISO 25600 looks bad on both cameras as well.
Olympus OM-D E-M1 vs Nikon D5300 Summary
While differences in performance are not as evident at lower ISO levels, increasing ISO to 400 and beyond clearly reveals that some of the best APS-C DSLRs on the market have a clear advantage over Micro Four Thirds in noise performance. That’s no surprise, given that the former have physically larger sensors, which translates to cleaner images. It looks like starting from ISO 1600, there is about 2/3 of a stop to a full stop of difference in noise performance when a 24 MP image from the D5300 is down-sampled to 16 MP to match the resolution of the OM-D E-M1.
Olympus OM-D E-M1 vs Nikon D600 Low ISO Comparison (ISO 100-800)
And full frame camera owners might be wondering how the best of Micro Four Thirds compares to a budget full-frame DSLR like the Nikon D600:
As expected, both look very clean at ISO 100. In comparison to a Micro Four Thirds sensor, a full-frame sensor is 3.8 times larger in physical area. That’s a huge difference in sensor size. The Nikon D600 has a pitch pitch of 5.9 microns, while the OM-D E-M1 is only at 3.75 microns. So comparing noise performance between the two is just silly!
ISO 200 is clean on both still, although there is a tad of difference in some areas.
At ISO 400, the D600 is still impressively as clean as ISO 100, while the E-M1 is showing some noise.
And the performance difference is even more apparent at ISO 800.
Olympus OM-D E-M1 vs Nikon D600 High ISO Comparison (ISO 1600-25600)
As expected, pushing ISO to 1600 reveals huge differences in performance between the two:
And the same is true for ISO 3200:
In fact, comparing ISO 3200 on the D600 is equivalent to comparing ISO 800 on the E-M1 – about two stops of difference!
Again, there are about two full stops of difference at ISO 6400.
Pushing to ISO 12800, the gap is even bigger – the E-M1 lost most of its shadow details and the noise patterns are extremely high, while the D600 retained pretty much all the details, even in the shadows.
Lastly, ISO 25600 is no comparison either.
Olympus OM-D E-M1 vs Nikon D600 Summary
As stated above, it is just silly to compare Micro Four Thirds to a full-frame camera, so I only provided the above comparison for fun to our readers (plus, a number of our readers requested such comparisons before). A more appropriate way would be to compare Micro Four Thirds to APS-C and smaller formats. Since I have already done that extensively in my previous Olympus OM-D E-M5 review, I would suggest to visit the camera comparisons page of that review to see comparisons with Sony A6, Sony A7, Canon EOS M and Nikon 1.
In short, at 3.8 times smaller physical area, Micro Four Thirds does not stand a chance against full-frame sensors in noise performance. And that’s expected! I measured approximately two stops of difference in noise performance between the two and you can see it for yourself – simply take the above crop of ISO 25600 from the D600 and compare it to ISO 6400 from the OM-D E-M1.
However, keep in mind that the above comparisons are based on pixel-level performance of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 – something that is becoming less and less relevant for a lot of people, including myself. Check out the next Summary page, where I talk about this subject in more detail and explain why I believe that smaller format mirrorless systems are the future for most photographers out there.