Olympus E-M1 Image Quality


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Realistic colors with good hue accuracy.

ISO Sensitivity
100
200
400
800
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 above to compare ISOs, and click to view a larger version.

Saturation. The Olympus E-M1 pushes reds by a fair amount and a few other colors by a small amount, but most colors are pretty close to accurate in terms of saturation. Default saturation at base ISO is 107.4% (7.4% oversaturated), which is just a bit lower than average but still brighter than actual. Saturation remains fairly stable across the ISO range, except at ISOs 12,800 and 25,600 where it falls off noticeably. Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than what's found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life.

Skin tones. The Olympus E-M1 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-M1 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 very good with a Delta-C color error after correction for saturation of 4.25 at base ISO, which is better than average, and hue accuracy remains better than average across the ISO sensitivity range. Hue is "what color" the color is.

Saturation Adjustment
The Olympus E-M1 lets you adjust the image saturation, contrast, and sharpness in five steps each. As can be seen below, the saturation adjustment is effective, covers a useful 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
-2 0 +2

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

Sensor

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. Average exposure compensation required.

Auto White Balance
+0.3 EV
Incandescent White Balance
+0.3 EV
Manual White Balance
+0.3 EV
2,600 Kelvin
+0.3 EV

Indoors, under normal incandescent lighting, color balance is very warm with the Auto white balance setting, with a strong orange cast. Results with the Incandescent setting are 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 a nearly neutral color balance that is just slightly on the cool side. The Olympus E-M1 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.)

Outdoors, daylight
Natural looking colors overall, with good exposure.

Manual White Balance,
+0.7 EV
Auto White Balance,
Auto Exposure

Outdoors, the Olympus E-M1 performed very well, with pleasing 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 a touch warm. The Olympus E-M1 required an average amount of positive exposure compensation (+0.7 EV) to keep facial tones reasonably bright. Default contrast is a bit high, but despite the bright appearance there are very few blown highlights in the mannequin's shirt and flowers, which is much better than average. The Far-field shot has good exposure at default settings and almost no blown highlights, though there are some deep shadows. Noise in all but the deepest shadows is however very low for a Micro Four Thirds camera. (Note that these shots were taken at ISO 200 as ISO 100 is an extended setting with inferior dynamic range.)

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Resolution
Very high resolution, ~2,300 to ~2,400 lines of strong detail in JPEGs, about the same from processed RAW files.

Strong detail to
~2,400 lines horizontal
Camera JPEG
Strong detail to
~2,300 lines vertical
Camera JPEG
Strong detail to
~2,400 lines horizontal
ACR processed ORF
Strong detail to
~2,300 lines vertical
ACR processed ORF

In-camera JPEGs of our laboratory resolution chart reveals sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 2,400 lines per picture height in the horizontal direction, and a little less at 2,300 lines in the vertical direction before aliasing artifacts start to interfere with the pattern. Complete extinction of the pattern doesn't occur until about 3,000 to 3,200 lines, though. Adobe Camera Raw wasn't able to extract 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.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

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
sharpening artifacts.
Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur
detail in areas of subtle contrast.

Sharpness. The Olympus OM-D E-M1 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-M1 does however seem to apply slightly less aggressive default sharpening than its predecessor, the E-M5, but it also features adaptive sharpening which takes into account the lens and aperture used, so sharpening behavior will vary. 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 some 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, the result of the E-M1's lack of a low pass filter. 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-M1 produces sharp, detailed in-camera JPEGs, though with some visible sharpening artifacts at default settings. As is almost always the case, though, additional detail can be obtained from carefully processing RAW files than can be seen in the in-camera JPEGs, with fewer sharpening artifacts. Take a look below, to see what we mean:

In the table above, mousing over a link at the bottom will load the corresponding crops, and clicking on the link will load the full resolution image. The Super Fine camera JPEG and Olympus Viewer 3 conversion used default settings, while Adobe Camera Raw 8.2 conversion was sharpened in Photoshop using unsharp mask of 400% with a radius of 0.3. (Note that at time of writing, ACR's support for the E-M1 was still preliminary.)

As you can see, the Olympus Viewer conversion resulted in an image similar to the in-camera JPEG in terms of color and contrast, though detail is slightly better. The Adobe Camera Raw (version 8.2) conversion however contains fine detail superior to the camera's Super Fine JPEG and the Olympus software conversion at default settings, especially in the red-leaf swatch where where much the thread pattern is resolved, though it does leave behind more noise at default noise reduction settings. Still, the E-M1's JPEG engine does a very good job capturing most of the detail offered by its 16-megapixel sensor. (And its 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-M1's high ISO performance is nearly identical to the well-regarded E-M5's, with the added bonus of an extended ISO of 100 offering even less noise (at the cost of reduced dynamic range). 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 matches the best we've seen from a Micro Four Thirds model thus far, and competes well with most 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. Good low-light performance as well.

+0.3 EV +0.7 EV +1.0 EV

Sunlight. The Olympus E-M1 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 was well above average.

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.)

Dynamic Range Analysis
This section coming soon! (Initial indications are that the E-M1's dynamic range is at least as good as the E-M5, if not better.)

Contrast Adjustment
The camera's contrast adjustment was some help in handling the harsh lighting in our "Sunlit" Portrait and Far-field shots.

Minimum Contrast
Contrast set to lowest,
+0.7 EV
Contrast set to lowest,
Auto Exposure

At its lowest contrast setting, the Olympus E-M1 did a better 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
-2 0 +2

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-M1's contrast setting is effective on both highlights and shadows, and didn't impact saturation much, which is a good thing.


Outdoor Portrait Gradation Comparison
Gradation


Normal
(Default)



Low Key


Auto


High Key

Gradation
Similar to dynamic range optimization systems from other manufacturers, the Olympus E-M1'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), Low Key, Auto, and High Key settings applied to our "Sunlit" Portrait shot with +0.7 EV 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 toning down highlights while boosting shadows and darker midtones without making the image too flat-looking or washed-out.


Face Detection
Off at 0 EV
Aperture priority, f/8
On at 0 EV
Aperture priority, f/8
Full Auto
f/2

Face Detection
Like most cameras these days, the Olympus E-M1 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.

The E-M1's new HDR feature (other current Olympus Micro Four Thirds models only offer the HDR bracketing feature which the E-M1 also retains) 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).

Dynamic Range Expansion: Far-field
Dynamic Range:
Off

HDR.
Here, you can see the E-M1'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 visible noise. C.A. suppression also doesn't appear to work quite as well.

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. 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.

Dynamic Range Analysis (RAW mode)
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 E-M1's dynamic range to its predecessor the E-M5, as well as to Panasonic's top model, the GH3. As you can see from the above graph (click for a larger image), the E-M1's dynamic range is about 1/3 to 1/2 EV better than its predecessor almost across the board, ranging from a maximum of 12.7 EV at base ISO to a minimum of 6.8 EV at maximum ISO. Dynamic range performance compared to the GH3 is similar, also with a slight advantage across the board. These are great results for a Micro Four Thirds model, but some APS-C mirrorless cameras continue to offer slightly better dynamic range. Click here to visit the DxOMark page for the Olympus E-M1 for more of their test results and additional comparisons.

  1 fc
11 lux
1/2 fc
5.5 lux
1/4 fc
2.7 lux
1/8 fc
1.3 lux
1/16 fc
0.67 lux
1/16fc
No NR
ISO
100

2 s
f2.8

4 s
f2.8

8 s
f2.8

15 s
f2.8

30 s
f2.8

30 s
f2.8
ISO
200

1 s
f2.8

2 s
f2.8

4 s
f2.8

8 s
f2.8

15 s
f2.8

15 s
f2.8
ISO
400

0.5 s
f2.8

1 s
f2.8

2 s
f2.8

4 s
f2.8

8 s
f2.8

8 s
f2.8
ISO
800

1/4 s
f2.8

0.5 s
f2.8

1 s
f2.8

2 s
f2.8

4 s
f2.8

4 s
f2.8
ISO
1600

1/8 s
f2.8

1/4 s
f2.8

0.5 s
f2.8

1 s
f2.8

2 s
f2.8

2 s
f2.8
ISO
3200

1/15 s
f2.8

1/8 s
f2.8

1/4 s
f2.8

0.5 s
f2.8

1 s
f2.8

1 s
f2.8
ISO
6400

1/30 s
f2.8

1/15 s
f2.8

1/8 s
f2.8

1/4 s
f2.8

0.5 s
f2.8

0.5 s
f2.8
ISO
12800

1/60 s
f2.8

1/30 s
f2.8

1/15 s
f2.8

1/8 s
f2.8

1/4 s
f2.8

1/4 s
f2.8
ISO
25600

1/125 s
f2.8

1/60 s
f2.8

1/30 s
f2.8

1/15 s
f2.8

1/8 s
f2.8

1/8 s
f2.8

Low Light. The Olympus E-M1 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-M1 uses contrast-detect autofocus (when using Micro Four Thirds lenses), 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-M1'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.)

Output Quality

Print Quality

Excellent 30 x 40 inch prints at ISO 100/200; a good 16 x 20 at ISO 1600; a nice 8 x 10 at ISO 6400; and a good 5 x 7 at ISO 12,800.

ISO 100/200 produces excellent 30 x 40 inch prints, with sharp detail and vibrant colors, and wall display prints possible at 36 x 48 inches.

ISO 400 prints look nice and crisp at 20 x 30 inches, with good wall display prints possible up to 30 x 40 inches.

ISO 800 yields a nice 16 x 20 inch print, with only mild softening in the red channel and minor luminance noise in some flatter areas. The 20 x 30 inch prints here are fine to use for less critical applications.

ISO 1,600 shots look amazingly good at 16 x 20 inches, a large size indeed for this ISO.

ISO 3,200 prints well up to 11 x 14 inches. All contrast is now lost in our target red swatch, and there is minor noise in shadowy areas, but still a nice print.

ISO 6,400 images have good color and nice detail at 8 x 10 inches, with only minor issues similar to the 11 x 14 at ISO 3200.

ISO 12,800 has become our new benchmark for image quality at high ISOs if the camera can yield a good 5 x 7 here, and the E-M1 joins this small club with a nice print.

ISO 25,600 prints at 4 x 6 are really not too bad, with nice colors throughout. They're a bit too muted overall to receive our "good" seal, but can certainly work in a pinch for family photos or less critical applications.

With their latest offering the OM-D E-M1, Olympus has followed in the hallowed footsteps of the E-M5 and taken the quality yet a step further. Prints from the E-M1 are a joy to look at, and can yield sizes ranging from quite large at and near base ISO all the way to a good 5 x 7 at ISO 12,800. A very solid performance from a very respected offering. Again, please note that default JPEG sharpening in the E-M1 is considerably less aggressive than in the E-M5, but the images are quite similar in RAW comparisons, so take that into consideration when doing your own comparisons of the in-camera JPEGs.

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-M1 Photo Gallery .

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-M1 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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