Olympus E-M1 II Image Quality Comparison

Below are crops from our laboratory Still Life target comparing Olympus E-M1 Mark II image quality to its predecessor, the E-M1, as well as against several high-performance interchangeable lens cameras at similar resolutions: the Canon 7D Mark II, Fuji X-T2, Nikon D500 and Panasonic GX8.

NOTE: These images are from best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction ("noise filter" in Olympus parlance) and using the camera's actual base ISO (not extended ISO settings). All cameras in this comparison were shot with our very sharp reference lenses. Clicking any crop will take you to a carrier page where you can click once again to access the full resolution image as delivered straight from the camera. For those interested in working with the RAW files involved, click these links to visit each camera's respective sample image thumbnail page: Olympus E-M1 Mark II, Olympus E-M1, Canon 7D Mark II, Fuji X-T2, Nikon D500 and Panasonic GX8, -- links to the RAW files appear beneath those for the JPEG images, wherever we have them. And remember, you can always go to our world-renowned Comparometer to compare the Olympus E-M1 Mark II to any camera we've ever tested!

Olympus E-M1 II: ISO Low (approx. ISO 64) vs Base ISO

Olympus E-M1 II at ISO 64
Olympus E-M1 II at ISO 200
First, let's compare the Olympus E-M1 II to itself at the lowest two selectable ISOs. The E-M1 II offers an extended low ISO setting of approximately ISO 64 equivalent, lower than all previous OM-D models. We usually avoid expanded low ISO settings for our image quality comparisons as we don't normally see much improvement in image quality, and they almost always come at the cost of reduced dynamic range. However, like prior Olympus Micro Four Thirds models, the E-M1 II produces significantly better detail in its extended low ISO JPEGs compared to the lowest standard ISO of 200, especially in our red-leaf fabric crop as shown above. Dynamic range is definitely lower with the extended-low ISO setting, but if your subject and lighting suits, you may want to use the E-M1 II's extended low ISO setting for maximum detail in JPEGs.

Olympus E-M1 II vs Olympus E-M1 at Base ISO

Olympus E-M1 Mark II at ISO 200
Olympus E-M1 at ISO 200
The resolution advantage of the 20-megapixel E-M1 Mark II is apparent here compared to its 16-megapixel predecessor by virtue of the larger scale of the images on the left, but the E-M1 II also resolves more fine detail while showing similar if not slightly lower noise levels. Detail in our tricky red-leaf fabric pattern is less defined from the E-M1 II, though, due to what looks to be stronger noise reduction, however another reason is the increased resolution renders more of fine thread pattern which tends to break up the leaf pattern a bit more. The E-M1 II also appears to apply slightly stronger default sharpening, as well as slightly higher contrast and saturation than the E-M1, but in other respects, both cameras offer very similar image quality at base ISO.

Olympus E-M1 II vs Canon 7D Mark II at Base ISO

Olympus E-M1 Mark II at ISO 200
Canon 7D Mark II at ISO 100
The Olympus E-M1 II produces a brighter, crisper image than Canon's fastest APS-C DSLR, the 20-megapixel Canon 7D Mark II. Although the Olympus has a very slight effective pixel count advantage (20.2 megapixels vs 20.0 for the Canon), the 4/3" sensor's taller aspect ratio gives the Olympus more of an advantage here as we frame this shot vertically, making the scale of the E-M1 II's image larger. But the E-M1 II's lack of an optical low-pass filter also results in better per-pixel sharpness, which helps resolve more detail in most areas, though both cameras produce obvious sharpening halos. Noise levels are a little lower from the Canon but keep in mind its lower base ISO, and it does much better with our troublesome red-leaf swatch. Overall colors are a little more reserved and accurate from the 7D Mark II as well.

Olympus E-M1 II vs Fujifilm X-T2 at Base ISO

Olympus E-M1 Mark II at ISO 200
Fujifilm X-T2 at ISO 200
Here we compare the E-M1 II to Fuji's most recent and highest-performing mirrorless model, the 24-megapixel APS-C X-T2. Once again we're comparing different aspect ratio images with the higher-resolution 3:2 aspect Fuji X-T2 image appearing only slightly larger than the 4:3 aspect ratio E-M1 II image here. Both cameras resolve similar levels of high-contrast detail, however the Olympus image is a little crisper with higher levels of sharpening and contrast applied, producing more conspicuous sharpening halos. Luma noise levels are somewhat higher from the Fuji, however the noise "grain" appears more consistent and film-like while chroma noise is very low, as we've come to expect from Fuji. We also see much better low-contrast detail in our tricky red-leaf swatch as well as fewer aliasing artifacts elsewhere (such as in the proportional scale) from the X-T2. Colors are also a little more pleasing from the Fuji.

Olympus E-M1 II vs Nikon D500 at Base ISO

Olympus E-M1 Mark II at ISO 200
Nikon D500 at ISO 100
Once again the 4:3 Olympus E-M1 II image appears larger in scale than the 3:2 Nikon D500 image despite the Nikon's slightly higher pixel count of about 20.7 megapixels. Both cameras however resolve very similar levels of detail here in most areas, as both don't include an optical low-pass filter, and both apply generous amounts of sharpening yielding crisp images with visible sharpening halos around high-contrast elements. The Nikon however does noticeably better with our red-leaf swatch, and produces somewhat higher contrast, but overall colors are a little more accurate from the Olympus. Noise levels appear a little lower from the Nikon, though that's no surprise given its larger sensor and lower base ISO.

Olympus E-M1 II vs Panasonic GX8 at Base ISO

Olympus E-M1 Mark II at ISO 200
Panasonic GX8 at ISO 200
The Panasonic GX8 isn't as fast as the GH4, Panasonic's highest performing ILC to date, however the GH4 is getting a little long in the tooth now and uses a lower-resolution 16-megapixel sensor, so we decided to compare the E-M1 II to the GX8. The Panasonic GX8 also features a 20-megapixel Four Thirds sensor, though not the same one as the E-M1 II's. The Olympus image is crisper, cleaner, and brighter, and also has better color. The Panasonic on the other hand retains more detail in some areas, particularly in our tricky red-leaf swatch, and produces fewer sharpening halos around high-contrast edges. However, the GX8 is a bit noisier in flatter areas and its area-specific noise reduction does produce some minor artifacts along boundaries between areas of changing detail.

Olympus E-M1 II vs Olympus E-M1 at ISO 1600

Olympus E-M1 Mark II at ISO 1600
Olympus E-M1 at ISO 1600
Here at ISO 1600, the E-M1 II continues to resolve a little more detail than the E-M1 in most areas, but it struggles a lot more with our problematic red-leaf swatch, blurring away much more of the subtle, low-contrast detail. Both begin to show noise reduction artifacts in the mosaic crop, but noise is lower, finer-grained and more consistent from the E-M1 II in flatter areas, with a more film-like character.

Olympus E-M1 II vs Canon 7D Mark II at ISO 1600

Olympus E-M1 Mark II at ISO 1600
Canon 7D Mark II at ISO 1600
The Olympus E-M1 II manages to resolve fine detail a little better than the Canon 7D Mark II in most areas here at ISO 1600, however the Canon does much better in the difficult red-leaf swatch. Noise is generally lower and finer-grained from the Olympus, however it has a larger chroma component to it than the Canon. The Olympus continues to produce a slightly brighter and punchier image overall, however its default noise reduction generates more unwanted artifacts and distortion than Canon's.

Olympus E-M1 II vs Fujifilm X-T2 at ISO 1600

Olympus E-M1 Mark II at ISO 1600
Fujifilm X-T2 at ISO 1600
The Fuji X-T2 shows noticeably higher luma noise levels than the E-M1 II at ISO 1600, however chroma noise which is often much more objectionable is almost nonexistent. That's not to say chroma noise isn't well-controlled from the E-M1 II, however it is visible in the shadow areas. The Fuji X-T2 manages to out-resolve the E-M1 II, delivering much better fine detail in our mosaic and red-leaf swatch crops, fewer noise reduction artifacts, and more pleasing colors overall.

Olympus E-M1 II vs Nikon D500 at ISO 1600

Olympus E-M1 Mark II at ISO 1600
Nikon D500 at ISO 1600
The Nikon D500 shows somewhat higher levels of luminance noise as you can see in flatter areas, however it's obvious the E-M1 II is working harder to reduce noise, as can be seen by the detail loss and stronger noise reduction artifacts in the mosaic crop. The Nikon also does quite a bit better at retaining detail in our tricky red-leaf swatch, and also does better at keeping chrominance noise in check.

Olympus E-M1 II vs Panasonic GX8 at ISO 1600

Olympus E-M1 Mark II at ISO 1600
Panasonic GX8 at ISO 1600
Similar to what we saw at base ISO, the Olympus image is cleaner and brighter with better color at ISO 1600, but fine detail is more distorted by stronger noise reduction. The Panasonic retains finer details, but is a little noisier with noticeable artifacts from its area-specific noise reduction. The noise "grain" from the Panasonic also has a more rectilinear character to it, making it appear less natural upon close inspection.

Olympus E-M1 II vs Olympus E-M1 at ISO 3200

Olympus E-M1 Mark II at ISO 3200
Olympus E-M1 at ISO 3200
The EM II retains much better fine detail than the E-M1 here at ISO 3200 in most areas, however luma noise appears a little higher, though noise "grain" is a little tighter and more natural-looking from the Mark II. And once again, the E-M1 does a bit better in our difficult red-leaf swatch, though both cameras blur it pretty heavily at this sensitivity.

Olympus E-M1 II vs Canon 7D Mark II at ISO 3200

Olympus E-M1 Mark II at ISO 3200
Canon 7D Mark II at ISO 3200
Except for the red-leaf fabric, the Olympus E-M1 II bests the Canon 7D II in this comparison at ISO 3200, with lower noise, better detail, brighter colors and crisper results.

Olympus E-M1 II vs Fujifilm X-T2 at ISO 3200

Olympus E-M1 Mark II at ISO 3200
Fujifilm X-T2 at ISO 3200
This comparison is closer than expected, but overall we'd say the Fuji X-T2 has the edge here at ISO 3200. Luma noise is a bit higher and coarser from the Fuji, but it still has more of a film-like quality to it, and chroma noise remains practically absent. Fine detail is also much better from the Fuji in our mosaic crop, and while the red-leaf fabric has lost a lot of contrast from both cameras, the Fuji retains much more of the subtle detail. The Olympus does a bit better with detail in the pink fabric, though, and some high-contrast edges are smoother as can be seen in the top crop.

Olympus E-M1 II vs Nikon D500 at ISO 3200

Olympus E-M1 Mark II at ISO 3200
Nikon D500 at ISO 3200
The D500 produces a coarser noise "grain" pattern in flatter areas than the E-M1 II here at ISO 3200, as well as slightly less detail in some areas (mainly due to its aspect-ratio disadvantage in how we frame this shot). But Nikon's default noise reduction does a better job at reducing noise in detailed areas without generating quite as many artifacts as the Olympus, as can be seen in the mosaic crop. The Nikon also produces higher contrast and does better with the red-leaf fabric.

Olympus E-M1 II vs Panasonic GX8 at ISO 3200

Olympus E-M1 Mark II at ISO 3200
Panasonic GX8 at ISO 3200
Both cameras work hard to keep noise in check here at ISO 3200, with the Olympus doing a better overall job at controlling chroma noise while producing fewer noise reduction artifacts. The Panasonic's area-specific noise reduction leaves behind less noise in flatter areas (though with the rectilinear character mentioned previously), but areas with fine detail can appear noisier, and transitions between areas can look a little rough. The Olympus also produces better color and contrast, making the Panasonic image look a bit drab and flat in comparison. Interestingly, the Olympus does a bit better in our red-leaf fabric here, though both blur it heavily.

Olympus E-M1 II vs. Olympus E-M1, Canon 7D Mark II, Fujifilm X-T2, Nikon D500, Panasonic GX8

E-M1 Mark II
ISO 200
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
ISO 200
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
7D Mark II
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
ISO 200
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
ISO 200
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Detail comparison. High-contrast detail is also important, pushing the camera in different ways, so we like to look at it, too. Unsurprisingly, the APS-C Nikon D500 comes out ahead in this comparison, with the highest contrast, and with very little decline in image quality as sensitivity rises to ISO 6400, however sharpening halos are the most obvious. The E-M1 II performs quite well at base ISO, but contrasts falls off more quickly as ISO climbs than its lower-resolution predecessor. The E-M1 II definitely holds on to more detail as sensitivity rises, though. The Fuji X-T2 and especially Panasonic GX8 trail the pack in terms of contrast, but do a little better with fine detail as ISO rises. The Canon 7D Mark II does well at base ISO, but the Olympus E-M1 II actually does better as ISO rises, with better detail, similar contrast and fewer false colors.


Olympus E-M1 II High Res Shot Mode

The E-M1 Mark II also supports Olympus' High Res Shot mode which captures eight images in quick succession while making subtle adjustments to the positioning of its sensor-shift image stabilization system between frames to essentially oversample the image. The multiple frames are then processed together to generate a much higher resolution image with lower noise and fewer aliasing artifacts.

Like the 20-megapixel Olympus PEN-F, the E-M1 II's High Res Shot mode produces a 50-megapixel JPEG in camera, and an 80-megapixel image is possible when converting from raw data on a computer. Although a tripod is still required and a mostly static subject is recommended, the E-M1 II can now compensate for small amounts of motion within the frame, though we don't know yet how well that works. Another feature new to the E-M1 II is the ability to generate a smaller 25-megapixel High Res JPEG. We'll explore these new features in our next E-M1 II Field Test installment.

Below we compare the 50-megapixel JPEG output from the E-M1 II's High Res Shot mode to that from the PEN-F at the lowest noise reduction setting ("noise filter" in Olympus parlance):

100% crop from the Olympus E-M1 II at ISO 200 using High Res Shot Mode (Lowest NR)
100% crop from the Olympus PEN-F at ISO 200 using High Res Shot Mode (Lowest NR)
100% crop from the Olympus E-M1 II at ISO 200 using High Res Shot Mode (Lowest NR)
100% crop from the Olympus PEN-F at ISO 200 using High Res Shot Mode (Lowest NR)
As you can see, the E-M1 II's High Res Shot mode produces astonishing detail very similar to the PEN-F, which features the same resolution. The only other Olympus model with this feature as of this writing is the E-M5 II, but because of its lower-resolution 16MP sensor, its output is 40 megapixels.

For a more detailed look at Olympus' High Res Shot mode including comparisons to other cameras and at various ISOs, see the Astounding resolution from High Res Shot Mode page in our PEN-F review.


Olympus E-M1 II Print Quality Analysis (native resolution)

A terrific 30 x 40 inch print at ISO 64/200, a good 16 x 20 inch print at ISO 800, and a nice 5 x 7 at ISO 12,800.

ISO 64 prints look absolutely superb at 30 x 40 inches (except for reduced dynamic range), with super-sharp detail, excellent color renditioning and an amazing amount of three dimensional "pop" to them. These are simply superb prints in every regard.

ISO 200 images also look quite good at 30 x 40 inches. They're not quite as super-crisp as the prints at ISO 64, but still offer an amazing amount of fine detail for this size, with rich colors as well.

ISO 400 yields outstanding prints up to 20 x 30 inches, with terrific detail and only a mild softening in our tricky red-leaf swatch. The 24 x 36 inch prints here are certainly usable as well for wall display purposes and less critical applications, anything but the most critical of printing needs.

ISO 800 shots at 20 x 30 inches come oh-so-close to passing our "good" grade, as there is still a very good degree of fine detail available, but mild softening in the red channel and some apparent noise in flatter areas of our target prevent us from officially calling these "good". You'll be fine for less critical applications, but for your more critical prints we advise a reduction in size to 16 x 20 inches here, which is still a nice size and offers virtually no apparent noise nor artifacts from noise reduction processing.

ISO 1600 prints at 16 x 20 just pass our good seal of approval and offer plenty in the way of fine detail. There is a mild amount of noise in flatter areas and minor issues with softening in a few areas, but it still makes a good overall print. For absolute critical prints here we recommend the 13 x 19's.

ISO 3200 images printed to 11 x 14 inches do pass our good mark, but there is now just a bit more noise apparent in some flatter areas than before such as in the shadows behind the bottles of our Still Life target. These will work for general purpose printing, but for absolutely critical purposes the 8 x 10's are a better option here.

ISO 6400 begins to show signs of noise reduction strain, as is typical for most all cameras below full-frame sensor sizes. Remaining at 8 x 10 inches and below here is a wise call, as larger print sizes simply introduce too much noise and NR artifacts into the equation.

ISO 12,800 delivers a very respectable 5 x 7 inch print for this sensitivity. There is still plenty of fine detail and full color reproduction on hand, and it's a nice size for this ISO and sensor size.

ISO 25,600 prints are just a bit too muted to pass our good grade, but may be fine for less critical applications.

The Olympus E-M1 II delivers solid performance in the print quality department. Expanded ISO 64 and base ISO 200 offer superb results with an incredible amount of detail and pop at 30 x 40 inches. You can expect large print sizes up to a 16 x 20 at ISO 1600, after which the sizes trail off in typical fashion for this sensor size. And it's nice to know that you can even achieve a good 5 x 7 at ISO 12,800, which allows you some ISO freedom for when larger prints are not needed. We recommend avoiding ISO 25,600, as the prints just aren't quite good enough for most purposes, but otherwise the camera does a nice job overall for print quality.

About our print-quality testing: Our "Reference Printer"

Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell 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 routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer, which we named our "Printer of the Year" in our 2015 COTY awards.

The Canon PRO-1000 has a lot of characteristics that make it a natural to use for our "reference printer." When it comes to judging how well a camera's photos print, resolution and precise rendering are paramount. The PRO-1000's more than 18,000 individual nozzles combine with an air feeding system that provides exceptional droplet-placement accuracy. Its 11-color LUCIA PRO ink system delivers a wide color gamut and dense blacks, giving us a true sense of the cameras' image quality. To best see fine details, we've always printed on glossy paper, so the PRO-1000's "Chroma Optimizer" overcoat that minimizes "bronzing" or gloss differential is important to us. (Prior to the PRO-1000, we've always used dye-based printers, in part to avoid the bronzing problems with pigment-based inks.) Finally, we just don't have time to deal with clogged inkjet heads, and the PRO-1000 does better in that respect than any printer we've ever used. If you don't run them every day or two, inkjet printers tend to clog. Canon's thermal-inkjet technology is inherently less clog-prone than other approaches, but the PRO-1000 takes this a step further, with sensors that monitor every inkjet nozzle. If one clogs, it will assign another to take over its duties. In exchange for a tiny amount of print speed, this lets you defer cleaning cycles, which translates into significant ink savings. In our normal workflow, we'll often crank out a hundred or more letter-size prints in a session, but then leave the printer to sit for anywhere from days to weeks before the next camera comes along. In over a year of use, we've never had to run a nozzle-cleaning cycle on our PRO-1000.

See our Canon PRO-1000 review for a full overview of the printer from the viewpoint of a fine-art photographer.

*Disclosure: Canon provided us with the PRO-1000 and a supply of ink to use in our testing, and we receive advertising consideration for including this mention when we talk about camera print quality. Our decision to use the PRO-1000 was driven by the printer itself, though, prior to any discussion with Canon on the topic. (We'd actually been using an old Pixma PRO 9500II dye-based printer for years previously, and paying for our own ink, until we decided that the PRO-1000 was the next-generation printer we'd been waiting for.)


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