Olympus E-M10 Mark III High ISO Supplement

ISO rising in the real world

By Dave Pardue | Posted: 08/28/2018

Studio images are terrific gauges of ISO prowess and comparisons against the competition, but shots from the real world are the best chance to see what a product can really deliver as the ISO sensitivity rises. In this piece I'll take a closer look at how the Olympus E-M10 III fares in the most commonly-used, real-world ISO settings.

Cranking the ISO is often a necessary evil, because while natural light is a wonderful thing, it is something we can rarely if ever control. Once we have our aperture where we want it, whether to increase depth of field or to make it shallow and create subject-to-background separation, we then need to ensure our shutter speed is fast enough for our particular shooting situation.

...Bring on the gain!

1/640s / f/4 / ISO 400 / M.Zuiko 12-100mm f/4 lens

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(Images have been resized to fit this page, cropped and/or altered in post-production, primarily to balance shadows and highlights as needed. Clicking any image will take you to a carrier page with access to the original, full-resolution image as delivered by the E-M10 III. For additional images and EXIF data please see our Olympus E-M10 III Gallery page.)

To help you decide if an Olympus E-M10 III is right for you, below are more real world images at many of the popular ISO settings above base ISO, as well as a few 1:1 crops to help you see exactly what you are getting.

Turning up the ISO is similar to cranking the volume on a portable audio speaker. In that scenario, if you have a larger speaker, you can usually crank the volume up pretty high without it distorting or sounding too poorly, but with smaller speakers you're often compromised if you turn it up too loud. This is also the case with ISO, which effectively "turns up" the light level, and if your sensor isn't large enough you will more easily introduce noise as you shift to higher ISO settings.

The Four Thirds sensor sits above the popular 1-inch-type sensors from cameras like the Sony RX100 VI in size, sporting roughly twice the surface area of those models. And it sits below APS-C sensors, such as the one found in the Nikon D500, which allows for about 50% more surface area than Four Thirds sensors. Of course, full frame and medium format sensors are even larger still.

What does this mean to you and me? Primarily, it imposes natural limits on how high you can go and still tolerate the noise!

1/250s / f/4 / ISO 640 / M.Zuiko 12-100mm f/4 lens

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[1:1 crop below]
Details: ISO 640 doesn't strain the E-M10 III to a noticeable degree from a normal viewing distance in the first image up above, and not much more even in the above 1:1 crop which is much closer than most will ever come to an image. There is a trace of noise, but still plenty of fine detail throughout the various textures from the sunflower and the feeding bee, even this magnified.

Having had the privilege of Field Testing the E-M10 Mark II in the summer of 2015, I already had confidence in this line for having solid higher ISO chops, and also the knowledge that it handily beats the 1-inch-sensored cameras as ISO climbs as I found out during a direct comparison in this second Field Test. Sporting the same sensor size and resolution, I wasn't expecting monumental improvements with this latest model, but I was still pleased to find that the line continues to shine in this important area. It doesn't rival full frame cameras as you begin to shoot at the higher gain settings, but handily bests the smaller-sensored cameras while still maintaining a svelte feel in the hands, and that's a nice balancing act.

1/2000s / f/4.5 / ISO 640 / M.Zuiko 12-100mm f/4 lens

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1/1250s / f/6.3 / ISO 800 / M.Zuiko 12-100mm f/4 lens

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1/250s / f/4 / ISO 1250 / M.Zuiko 12-100mm f/4 lens

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[1:1 crop below]
ISO 1250: The depth of field is fairly shallow here given the longer focal length, which can sometimes shine a better light on how well fine detail is rendered as noise processing increases. At ISO 1250, we certainly see some trade-offs occurring while viewing at this increased magnification, but once again it is certainly not severe by any means.

 

1/30s / f/4 / ISO 1600 / M.Zuiko 12-100mm f/4 lens

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Moving up: ISO 1600 begins to separate cameras like the E-M10 III from smaller-sensored cameras like the RX100 VI and especially smartphones. Those models tend to start to show their limitations at this gain setting, while the E-M10 III handles it in stride with no noticeable noise nor artifacts unless you zoom way in.

 

1/25s / f/4 / ISO 3200 / M.Zuiko 12-100mm f/4 lens

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[1:1 crop below]
Higher still: ISO 3200 usually begins to show its teeth for Four Thirds sensors while viewing up close and personal, and you can see evidence of noise in the background, too. But it's still well-controlled compared to the amount of detail still present in the texture of the headphones, and isn't at all noticeable at the normal viewing distance up above.

 

1/320s / f/10 / ISO 5000 / M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 lens

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1/125s / f/2.8 / ISO 8000 / M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 lens

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Heading up: Here at the super-lofty ISO 8000, the image really isn't bad considering you're really pushing the limits of Micro Four Thirds here. At this viewing distance there's plenty of detail without much noise unless you look closely at the background. Click the photo to see it at full resolution and analyze the details.

 

So there's a more detailed look at the Olympus E-M10 Mark III's ISO chops in the more common shooting settings. We have additional examples in our E-M10 III Gallery Page, including a wide variety of gain settings, and you can access the full resolution originals and the RAW files as well for your own analysis. Having shot with this series across multiple versions over many years, I continue to be impressed with the image quality as ISO rises.

1/640s / f/5 / ISO 2000 / M.Zuiko 12-100mm f/4 lens

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Olympus E-M10 III GalleryField Test

 



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