Olympus E-M10 Review -- Image Quality Comparison

Below are crops comparing the Olympus E-M10 with itself at base and extended low ISO, and then with the Olympus E-M5, Canon 70D, Fuji X-Pro1, Nikon D7100, and Panasonic GH3. Readers familiar with our review of the Olympus E-M1 will find many of the comments below quite familiar, as the E-M10 behaves very similarly, especially at low ISOs. This is doubtless because the two models share the same advanced processor, so noise-reduction algorithms are likely very similar.

NOTE: These images are best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction. All cameras in this comparison were shot with our very sharp reference lenses.

Olympus E-M10: ISO Low (approx. ISO 100) vs ISO 200

Olympus E-M10 at ISO 100
Olympus E-M10 at ISO 200

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 often come at the cost of reduced dynamic range. However, like the E-M1 before it, the Olympus E-M10 is a different story. The E-M10 offers an expanded LOW ISO, which is stated as "approximately ISO 100." As you can see above, it shows significantly more detail compared to the lowest standard ISO of 200, especially in our fabric crop. (This was also the case with the E-M1's LOW ISO setting.) Dynamic range is usually more limited in extended-low ISO settings, but if you have a well-lit and modest-contrast subject, you may want to use the E-M10's extended low-ISO setting, for maximum detail.

Olympus E-M10 versus Olympus E-M5 at base ISO

Olympus E-M10 at ISO 200
Olympus E-M5 at ISO 200

The Olympus E-M10 and E-M5 seem pretty evenly matched at ISO 200, with sharp, crisp details, though the E-M5 appears to use just slightly lower default noise reduction and somewhat higher default sharpening.

Olympus E-M10 versus Canon 70D at base ISO

Olympus E-M10 at ISO 200
Canon 70D at ISO 100
Despite having a smaller, lower-resolution sensor than the 70D with its 20-megapixel APS-C imager, the E-M10's JPEG looks better in almost every aspect in these three comparisons. The Olympus produces sharper details, most noticeably in the mosaic and the fabrics, although the 70D does a bit better with the red fabric swatch.

Olympus E-M10 versus Fuji X-Pro1 at base ISO

Olympus E-M10 at ISO 200
Fuji X-Pro1 at ISO 200

Both the Olympus and Fuji do very well at base ISO, as you'd expect. The E-M10 produces slightly crisper detail while the X-Pro1 yields more refined-looking images with lower noise and fewer sharpening artifacts, though the Fuji does suffer from some minor demosaicing errors in other areas of the image. The fabric crop is interesting, as the Olympus does better with the pink fabric, while the Fuji pulls more detail from the red leaf swatch.

Olympus E-M10 versus Nikon D7100 at base ISO

Olympus E-M10 at ISO 200
Nikon D7100 at ISO 100

The bottle crops looks similar in terms of the detail and sharpness, though the Nikon leaves a little more of the wall texture intact, which the Olympus E-M10 smooths out. In the mosaic crops, the D7100 offers a bit better detail but its more conservative approach to sharpening results in an image that isn't quite as crisp. As usual, the Nikon does much better with the red leaf fabric, a particular strong point of Nikon cameras.

Olympus E-M10 versus Panasonic GH3 at base ISO

Olympus E-M10 at ISO 200
Panasonic GH3 at ISO 200
These two 16-megapixel Micro Four Thirds cameras perform similarly at ISO 200 as you may expect, though the E-M10's images are a touch crisper with a slightly more processed look. The GH3 leaves behind a little more chroma noise, but does much better in the red leaf pattern.

Most digital SLRs and CSCs will produce an excellent base ISO shot, so we like to push them and see what they can do compared to other cameras at ISO 1600, 3200, and 6400. Recent advances in sensor technology have made ISO 1600 look a lot more like ISO 100, but there are still cameras whose quality starts to fall apart at this setting. We also choose 1600 because we like to be able to shoot at least at this level when indoors and at night.

Olympus E-M10 versus Olympus E-M5 at ISO 1600

Olympus E-M10 at ISO 1600
Olympus E-M5 at ISO 1600

At ISO 1600, the E-M10 and E-M5 are again very closely matched, although the E-M5 appears to have a slight edge. Both have fairly low noise while still producing a lot of fine detail in the mosaic, and both cameras have issues rendering subtle detail in the red fabrics, although the E-M5 does slightly better.

Olympus E-M10 versus Canon 70D at ISO 1600

Olympus E-M10 at ISO 1600
Canon 70D at ISO 1600

We can see in the shadows of the bottle crop that default noise reduction is a little stronger in the E-M10. Both cameras do well with the mosaic at ISO 1600, with the E-M10 perhaps holding a slight edge, while in the fabric swatch, the Canon 70D does just a bit better in the red leaf pattern and the Olympus does better with the pink.

Olympus E-M10 versus Fuji X-Pro1 at ISO 1600

Olympus E-M10 at ISO 1600
Fuji X-Pro1 at ISO 1600

Here, the Fuji does better than the E-M10 in all three comparisons. Noise is lower in the first crop, the fine detail in the mosaic is more even and less mottled-looking due to noise reduction, and the Fuji produces a better leaf pattern in the red fabric.

Olympus E-M10 versus Nikon D7100 at ISO 1600

Olympus E-M10 at ISO 1600
Nikon D7100 at ISO 1600

The default noise reduction of the Nikon is weaker than the E-M10 here, as can be see by the strong luminance noise in the bottle crop. In the mosaic crop, we can see the Olympus works hard to produce a crisper, cleaner-looking image while Nikon's rendering is more detailed and natural-looking, but it's a bit soft in comparison. The D7100 does better with the red-leaf swatch, as Nikons usually do.

Olympus E-M10 versus Panasonic GH3 at ISO 1600

Olympus E-M10 at ISO 1600
Panasonic GH3 at ISO 1600

Both cameras here show the effects of noise reduction, but the E-M10 produces a slightly better result in the shadows and crisper detail the bottle. The mosaic pattern looks a bit more even but less well-defined from the GH3, and the Panasonic also handles the fabric swatch a little better.

These days, ISO 3200 is a very viable shooting option for most good cameras, so let's take a look at some comparisons there.

Olympus E-M10 versus Olympus E-M5 at ISO 3200

Olympus E-M10 at ISO 3200
Olympus E-M5 at ISO 3200

The results between the two Olympus cameras here are very similar to the comparison between them at ISO 200. Noise is well-controlled for this ISO, and detail is still pretty good in the mosaic. Both cameras have difficulty with the fabrics at this ISO level. The earlier (and considerably more expensive) E-M5 again maintains a slight edge over the E-M10 pretty much across the board.

Olympus E-M10 versus Canon 70D at ISO 3200

Olympus E-M10 at ISO 3200
Canon 70D at ISO 3200
Compared to the 70D, the E-M10 shows less noise in the bottle crop comparison, and somewhat greater detail in the mosaic. The 70D does better with the red fabrics in this comparison, though.

Olympus E-M10 versus Fuji X-Pro1 at ISO 3200

Olympus E-M10 at ISO 3200
Fuji X-Pro1 at ISO 3200

At ISO 3200, the E-M10 is sharper than the X-Pro1 in the bottle crop, but the Fuji maintains much better fine detail in the mosaic and the red fabric swatch.

Olympus E-M10 versus Nikon D7100 at ISO 3200

Olympus E-M10 at ISO 3200
Nikon D7100 at ISO 3200

Here, the E-M10 has a lot less noise in the bottle crop image, and its mosaic generally looks crisper, thanks to higher default sharpening, but the D7100 preserves more subtle detail in the background of the mosaic. As usual, there's a good bit more detail to be found in the Nikon's red fabric swatch, albeit with much more obtrusive luminance noise.

Olympus E-M10 versus Panasonic GH3 at ISO 3200

Olympus E-M10 at ISO 3200
Panasonic GH3 at ISO 3200
The GH3's favorable mix of noise reduction and sharpening makes a clear difference here, both on the bottle's surface and on the pink fabric. The mosaic pattern is a bit of a toss-up, with the E-M10 looking more crisp, but the GH3 retaining a good bit more subtle detail. Both cameras have a hard time holding onto any detail in the red fabric swatch.


Detail: Olympus E-M10 versus Olympus E-M5, Canon 70D, Fuji X-Pro1, Nikon D7100, and Panasonic GH3.


ISO 200
ISO 3200
ISO 6400

ISO 200
ISO 3200
ISO 6400

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. The Olympus E-M5 remains the king in these high-contrast detail crop comparisons, but the E-M10 comes very close indeed, and also has that extended-low ISO mode for even better detail. The other four cameras look just a little softer than the two Olys at base ISO, but not by much. As ISO rises to 3200, the three Micro Four Thirds cameras hold up surprisingly well, to the point that they surpass some of the APS-C models. At ISO 6400, the E-M5 still manages to beat the E-M10, albeit by just a little bit, resolving most of the horizontal lines within the letters, while the E-M10 blurs some of them. The GH3 also does well, though it struggles a bit with chroma blotching and sharpening artifacts. The APS-C models look a bit softer at ISO 6400, but they still perform very well, with the Nikon's resolution advantage becoming more apparent.


Olympus E-M10 Review -- Print Quality

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).

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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