Olympus E-M10 Review
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Olympus E-M10 Image Quality
Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Realistic colors with very excellent hue accuracy.
|In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured. More saturated colors are located toward the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center. Mouse over the links to compare ISOs.|
Skin tones. The Olympus E-M10 does fairly well here, producing natural-looking Caucasian skin tones, just slightly on the warm side. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc.
Hue. The Olympus OM-D E-M10 does shift cyan toward blue, light green toward yellow, and oranges toward yellow, but shifts are fairly minor. (The shift from cyan to blue is much less pronounced than most cameras, leaving sunny sky colors a little warmer than most.) Overall hue accuracy is excellent with a Delta-C color error after correction for saturation of 3.7 at base ISO, which is much better than average, and hue accuracy remains better than average across the ISO sensitivity range. Hue is "what color" the color is.
The Olympus E-M10 lets you adjust the image saturation, contrast, and sharpness in five steps each. As can be seen below, the saturation adjustment is fairly effective, covers a decent range, and does a good job of not impacting contrast, though it boosts red and orange a little more than other colors.
|Saturation Adjustment Examples|
The table above shows results with the default as well as the two extreme saturation settings. Click on any thumbnail above, then click again to see the full-sized image.
|See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images
Exposure and White Balance
Indoors, incandescent lighting
Warm color cast with Auto and cool with 2,600K white balance settings, but good color with Incandescent and Manual settings. Average exposure compensation required.
|Auto White Balance
|Incandescent White Balance
|Manual White Balance
Indoors, under normal incandescent lighting, color balance is very warm with the Auto white balance setting, with a strong orange/yellow cast. Results with the Incandescent setting are however actually pretty good, just a little warm, while the 2,600 Kelvin setting is quite cool with an obvious blue-green tint. The Manual setting is the most accurate, providing nearly neutral color balance that is just slightly on the cool side. The Olympus E-M10 required an average amount of positive exposure compensation here, at +0.3 EV. (Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.)
Natural looking colors overall, with good exposure.
|Manual White Balance,
|Auto White Balance,
Outdoors, the Olympus E-M10 performed very well, with natural colors and good exposure. Skintones are good but slightly warm with the Auto white balance setting in our "Sunlit" Portrait shot, so we preferred Manual white balance, though it too is still a touch warm. The Olympus E-M10 required an average amount of positive exposure compensation (+0.7 EV) to keep the eyes relatively bright. Default contrast is a bit high, but despite the bright appearance in some areas there are very few blown highlights in the mannequin's shirt and flowers, which is much better than average. And there are few lost shadows as well. The Far-field shot has very good exposure at default settings and almost no blown highlights or lost shadows. Noise in the shadows is also quite clean, though there are signs of more aggressive noise reduction in darker regions. (Note that these shots were taken at ISO 200 as ISO 100 is an extended setting with inferior dynamic range.)
Very high resolution, ~2,400 lines of strong detail in JPEGs, about ~2,500 lines from processed RAW files.
|Strong detail to
~2,450 lines horizontal
|Strong detail to
~2,350 lines vertical
|Strong detail to
~2,500 lines horizontal
ACR processed ORF
|Strong detail to
~2,450 lines vertical
ACR processed ORF
In-camera JPEGs of our laboratory resolution chart reveals sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 2,450 lines per picture height in the horizontal direction, and a little less at 2,350 lines in the vertical direction. Complete extinction of the pattern doesn't occur until about 3,200 to 3,400 lines, though. Adobe Camera Raw was able to extract just a touch more high-contrast detail here, though color moiré is more apparent near the limits of resolution. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail.
Sharpness & Detail
Very good sharpness and detail overall, though edge-enhancement artifacts on high-contrast subjects are visible. Mild noise suppression visible in the shadows.
|Good definition of high-contrast
elements with some visible
|Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur
detail in areas of subtle contrast.
Sharpness. The Olympus OM-D E-M10 captures very sharp images overall, though as is usually the case for most manufacturers, edge enhancement artifacts are visible on high-contrast subjects such as sharpening halos around the lines and lettering in the crop above left. The E-M10 does however seem to apply slightly less aggressive default sharpening than the E-M5, but it also features adaptive sharpening which takes into account the lens and aperture used, so sharpening behavior will vary. The E-M10 also doesn't have an optical low-pass filter, so the images don't need quite as much sharpening to begin with. Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.
Detail. The crop above right shows fairly mild noise suppression artifacts in the darkest areas of the model's hair as base ISO, smudging individual strands together when contrast between them is low, though quite a few individual strands remain visible. Overall detail is very good for a 16-megapixel Micro Four Thirds model, though there are some minor demosaicing errors and aliasing artifacts visible in the hair as well as in some of our other test shots, the result of the E-M10's lack of an optical low-pass filter. However the E-M10 seems to do a good job at minimizing them in JPEGs. Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears.
RAW vs In-Camera JPEGs
As noted above, the Olympus E-M10 does a great job at capturing lots of fine detail in its JPEGs, but more detail can often be obtained from carefully processing RAW files, while at the same time reducing sharpening artifacts. Take a look below, to see what we mean:
In the table above, we compare an in-camera JPEG taken at base ISO using default noise reduction and sharpening (on the left) to the matching RAW file converted with Adobe Camera Raw 8.4 RC using default noise reduction with some strong but tight unsharp masking applied in Photoshop (300%, radius of 0.3 pixels, and a threshold of 0).
As you can see, the Adobe Camera Raw conversion contains fine detail superior to the camera's Super Fine JPEG at default settings, especially in the red-leaf swatch where where much of the thread pattern is resolved, though it does leave behind more noise at default noise reduction settings. Out of camera images also have a bit more "pop," with higher contrast. Still, the E-M10's JPEG engine does a very good job capturing most of the detail offered by its 16-megapixel sensor, at least at low ISOs. (And its expanded ISO 100 setting does even better, but at the cost of limited dynamic range.)
ISO & Noise Performance
Very good high ISO performance for its class.
Default High ISO Noise Reduction
|ISO 100||ISO 200||ISO 400|
|ISO 800||ISO 1,600||ISO 3,200|
|ISO 6,400||ISO 12,800||ISO 25,600|
The Olympus E-M10's high ISO performance is nearly identical to the well-regarded E-M5's. Images are quite clean and detailed at ISOs 100 though 400, though some minor chroma noise is visible in the shadows. ISO 800 shows a bit more noise, both luminance and chrominance, but detail is still quite strong. At ISO 1,600, we see some moderate detail loss due to stronger noise and noise reduction efforts, as well as more visible chroma noise in the shadows, but fine detail is still good. At ISO 3,200, additional blurring occurs reducing fine detail, though chroma noise is slightly better controlled. ISO 6,400 is fairly soft and mottled, though some fine detail is left and chroma noise is still fairly well controlled. ISO 12,800 is very noisy, with strong yellow blotching in the shadows. At ISO 25,600, noise and noise reduction is intense, smudging out almost all fine detail, and a lot of yellow and purple chroma blotching is present as well.
Overall, though, high ISO noise performance nearly matches the best we've seen from a Micro Four Thirds model thus far, and competes well with many APS-C rivals. As always, see the Print Quality section below for maximum recommended print sizes at each ISO.
A note about focus for this shot: We shoot this image at f/4, using one of three very sharp reference lenses (70mm Sigma f/2.8 macro for most cameras, 60mm f/2.8 Nikkor macro for Nikon bodies without a drive motor, and Olympus Zuiko 50mm f/2.0 for Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds bodies). To insure that the hair detail we use for making critical judgements about camera noise processing and detail rendering is in sharp focus at the relatively wide aperture we're shooting at, the focus target at the center of the scene is on a movable stand. This lets us compensate for front- or back-focus by different camera bodies, even those that lack micro-focus adjustments. This does mean, though, that the focus target itself may appear soft or slightly out of focus for bodies that front- or back-focused with the reference lens. If you click to view the full-size image for one of these shots and notice that the focus target is fuzzy, you don't need to email and tell us about it; we already know it. :-) The focus target position will simply have been adjusted to insure that the rest of the scene is focused properly.
Extremes: Sunlit, dynamic range and low light tests
High resolution with very good dynamic range. Very good low-light performance as well.
|+0.3 EV||+0.7 EV||+1.0 EV|
Sunlight. The Olympus E-M10 did very well with this difficult shot, requiring the average amount of exposure compensation (+0.7 EV) to keep the mannequin's face bright in this harsh lighting. As mentioned previously, despite the bright appearance of the mannequin's shirt, dynamic range is surprisingly good, with very few highlights blown and very good detail in the shadows as well. Performance here is well above average, particularly for a Micro Four Thirds model.
Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here. In actual shooting conditions, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown here; it's better to shoot in open shade whenever possible.)
The camera's contrast adjustment was some help in handling the harsh lighting in our "Sunlit" Portrait and Far-field shots.
|Contrast set to lowest,
|Contrast set to lowest,
At its lowest contrast setting, the Olympus E-M10 did a good job of revealing shadows as well as some highlight detail, while maintaining fairly natural-looking skintones in our "Sunlit" Portrait shot.
|"Sunlit" Portrait Contrast Adjustment Examples|
The shots above show the results of the minimum, default and maximum contrast settings. While you can see the extremes, it's pretty hard to evaluate small differences in contrast on small thumbnails like these, click on any thumbnail to go to the full-size image. As you can see, the E-M10's contrast setting is effective on both highlights and shadows, and didn't impact saturation much, which is a good thing.
|Off at 0 EV
Aperture priority, f/8
|On at 0 EV
Aperture priority, f/8
Like most cameras these days, the Olympus E-M10 has the ability to detect faces, and adjust exposure and focus accordingly. As you can see from the examples above, it works well, as the center image with face detection enabled is much better exposed for the face without having to use exposure compensation. The Full Auto setting worked even better by choosing Portrait scene mode which used a larger aperture (f/2) and applied Auto Gradation to reduce strong shadows and highlights. An excellent performance under very difficult lighting such as this.
Similar to dynamic range optimization systems from other manufacturers, the Olympus E-M10's Gradation setting applies local contrast adjustments in an attempt to preserve shadow detail and prevent highlight clipping with the Auto setting. Above are examples of the Normal (default), Auto, Low Key and High Key settings applied to our "Sunlit" Portrait shot with no exposure compensation. Mouse over the links to load the associated thumbnail and histogram, and click on the links to visit the full resolution image.
As you can see, the Low Key setting applies Gradation for making subjects darker (in the thumbnail and histogram above, you can see that the camera shifted levels to the left, darkening the image dramatically), while the High Key setting does the opposite for brighter subjects (shifting levels to the right so that lighter tones are blown, but darker ones are opened up). The Auto setting did a good job here, boosting shadows and midtones without blowing highlights.
Far-field Gradation Comparison
Above, we can see the Gradation options at work in our Far-field test shot series. Mouse over the links to load the associated thumbnail, and click on the links to visit the full resolution image.
High Dynamic Range
High Dynamic Range
The E-M10's in-camera HDR feature works by combining four shots at different exposures. Two strength settings are available: HDR1 and HDR2, with the later providing a more extreme result. ISO is fixed to 200, and slowest shutter speed is 1 second (4 seconds total).
Above, you can see the E-M10's in-camera HDR mode at work with our Far-field shot. HDR1 did a pretty good job brightening shadows and toning down highlights, though you can probably do better by using the bracketing mode and combining the images yourself in software. HDR2 mode looked overprocessed and was too bright with blown-out highlights as well as fuzzy details and more visible noise.
Notice that the HDR images are not cropped compared to the non-HDR image, which can imply the camera does not microalign the source images, or at least can't compensate for much camera motion. This is pretty much confirmed by the user manual which says to use a tripod for HDR shots, potentially making this mode less useful than those offered by some other manufacturers, however we found we were able to capture HDR images hand-held with no alignment issues. It's also interesting that the camera seems to detect subject motion between frames and attempts to prevent ghosting, as some moving objects (such as the flag or the airliner in HDR1) are not ghosted as one would normally see in a composite image.
Dynamic Range Analysis (RAW mode)
A key parameter in a digital camera is its Dynamic Range, the range of brightness that can be faithfully recorded. At the upper end of the tonal scale, dynamic range is dictated by the point at which the RGB data "saturates" at values of 255, 255, 255. At the lower end of the tonal scale, dynamic range is determined by the point at which there ceases to be any useful difference between adjacent tonal steps. Note the use of the qualifier "useful" in there: While it's tempting to evaluate dynamic range as the maximum number of tonal steps that can be discerned at all, that measure of dynamic range has very little relevance to real-world photography. What we care about as photographers is how much detail we can pull out of the shadows before image noise becomes too objectionable. This, of course, is a very subjective matter, and will vary with the application and even the subject matter in question. (Noise will be much more visible in subjects with large areas of flat tints and subtle shading than it would in subjects with strong, highly contrasting surface texture.)
While we once performed our own dynamic range measurements based on in-camera JPEGs as well as converted RAW images (when the camera was supported by Adobe Camera Raw), we've switched to using DxO Labs' results from their DxOMark website. As technology advanced, the dynamic range of modern high-end cameras in some cases exceeded the range of the Stouffer T4110 density scale that we used for our own measurements. DxO's approach based on RAW data before demosaicing is also more revealing, because it measures the fundamental dynamic range of the sensor, irrespective of whatever processing is applied to JPEGs, or to RAW data by off-the-shelf conversion software.
In the following, we use DxO's "Print" dynamic range results, which are scaled based on camera resolution. As the name suggests, this scaling corresponds to the situation in which you print at a given size, regardless of how many megapixels the camera might have. (In other words, if you've decided to make a 13x19 inch print, that's the size you're printing, whether the camera's resolution is 16 or 300 megapixels.) For the technically-minded, you can find a discussion of the reasoning behind this here on the DxOMark website. Also note that DxO Labs uses a signal-to-noise (SNR) threshold of 1 when defining the lower boundary of acceptable luminance noise in their dynamic range measurements, which corresponds to the "Low Quality" threshold of the Imatest software we used to use for this measurement.
Here, we compare the Olympus E-M10's dynamic range to similarly priced cameras, the Canon T5i/700D DSLR and the Sony A5000 CSC. (Ideally we should be comparing to the Sony A6000 since it's closer in price, but that camera hasn't been tested as of this writing.) As you can see from the above graph (click for a larger image), the E-M10's dynamic range compares nicely with the Sony A5000 except at base ISO, where the Sony has about a 3/4 stop advantage (13.01 vs 12.29 EV). Compared to the Canon T5i, the Olympus E-M10 enjoys almost a 2 stop advantage (1.87) at base ISO, and continues to outperform the T5i up to about ISO 1,600, above which all three cameras perform essentially the same. Click here to visit the DxOMark page for the Olympus E-M10 for more of their test results and additional comparisons.
The Olympus E-M10 performed well in low lighting, capturing bright exposures at our lowest light level at all ISOs. Noise was well-controlled up to ISO 3,200 and even ISO 6,400 looks good, though there's some chroma noise noticeable in darker shadows at lower light levels. We didn't notice any significant issues with hot pixels, banding or heat blooming.
White balance was fairly neutral using the Auto setting, just slightly cool at most ISOs, though blacks and dark greys took on a slightly reddish tint at lower light levels.
The camera's autofocus system was able to focus on our subject down to below the 1/16 foot-candle light level unassisted with an f/2.8 lens, which is excellent, and in total darkness with the aid of its focus assist lamp.
How bright is this? The one foot-candle light level that this test begins at roughly corresponds to the brightness of typical city street-lighting at night. Cameras performing well at that level should be able to snap good-looking photos of street-lit scenes.
NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) Thanks to their phase-detect AF systems, digital SLRs tend to do much better than point & shoots, but you still shouldn't expect a quick autofocus lock with moving subjects. The E-M10 uses contrast-detect autofocus as is found in most point & shoot cameras, so its low-light focusing ability is less than that of most SLRs with phase-detect systems. That said, though, the larger, more sensitive pixels of the E-M10's sensor do better under dim lighting than do the tiny pixels of most point & shoots, (A useful trick is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. This avoids any jiggling from your finger pressing the shutter button, and can work quite well when you don't have a tripod handy.)
Good 24 x 36 inch prints at ISO 100 and 200; makes a nice 20 x 30 inch print at ISO 800 while ISO 25,600 should be avoided or used only with less critical applications.
ISO 100/200 produces a great 24 x 36 inch print with impressive fine detail and excellent color rendition. Although a little taxing on the 16MP sensor as you can see some pixelation if you look closely, you can easily wall-mount 30 x 40 inch prints or even get away with 36 x 48.
ISO 400 images look very close to ISO 200, but there's a hint of noise reduction showing up in the shadow areas. All in all it makes for good 20 x 30 inch prints, while 16 x 20 inch prints look even better with excellent fine detail and pleasing colors.
ISO 800 prints also look good up to 20 x 30 inches. You can start to see a little more noise reduction softness around the edges of low-contrast areas and in the shadows.
ISO 1600 images still show an impressive amount of fine detail, especially in high contrast areas, and colors still look great, which all makes for pleasing 16 x 20 inch prints.
ISO 3200 prints look good up to 13 x 19 inches as noise reduction is beginning to look a little heavy in the shadow areas. However, prints still show great high contrast detail and nice color rendition.
ISO 6400 images look acceptable for up to 8 x 10 inch prints with noise reduction taking its toll on low contrast detail and in the shadows.
ISO 12,800 prints are a bit on the noisy side, plus heavy-handed high ISO noise reduction is hurting fine detail, but the E-M10 still manages to produce an acceptable 4 x 6 inch print.
ISO 25,600 images are too lacking in fine detail with a lot of noise, and therefore it's difficult for us to consider any print sizes acceptable at this ISO.
The Olympus E-M10 brings a lot of image quality performance to the table for a very affordable price point. Similar to the E-M5 before it, the E-M10 produces very similar print quality results with excellent fine detail and great colors at lower ISO levels. Even as the ISO rises, high-contrast fine details remain crisp and sharp, and colors remain accurate. We did see a little less performance from the E-M10 compared to the E-M5 at the very high ISO levels. At ISO 25,600, prints are best avoided as they show a little too much noise and not enough fine detail for us to consider them acceptable at our smallest standard print size (4 x 6).
Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon Pro9000 Mark II studio printer, and the Canon Pixma MP610 here in the office. (See the Canon Pixma Pro9000 Mark II review for details on that model.)
The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Olympus OM-D E-M10 Photo Gallery.
Recommended Software: Rescue your Photos!
Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. We get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A lot of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digital camera reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...
Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Olympus OM-D E-M10 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!
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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.