Olympus PEN-F Image Quality Comparison

Below are crops from our laboratory Still Life target comparing Olympus PEN-F image quality to its OM-D E-M5 II sibling, as well as against several premium mirrorless models at similar price points or in similar categories: the Fuji X-Pro2, Panasonic GX8 and Sony A7. We've also decided to include the Nikon J5 here which may seem a little odd, but we wanted to include an interchangeable lens camera with a smaller sensor for comparison purposes, and the J5 uses the latest generation 1"-type sensor we've tested in an ILC thus far.

NOTE: These images are from best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction 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 PEN-F, Olympus E-M5 II, Fuji X-Pro2, Nikon J5, Panasonic GX8, and Sony A7 -- 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 PEN-F to any camera we've ever tested!

Olympus PEN-F vs Olympus E-M5 II at Base ISO

Olympus PEN-F at ISO 200
Olympus E-M5 II at ISO 200

The resolution advantage of the 20-megapixel PEN-F is apparent compared to the 16-megapixel E-M5 II by virtue of the larger scale on the left, but the PEN-F also resolves a bit more fine detail while producing similar noise levels. In other respects, both cameras offer very similar image quality at base ISO.

Olympus PEN-F vs Fujifilm X-Pro2 at Base ISO

Olympus PEN-F at ISO 200
Fujifilm X-Pro2 at ISO 200

The 24-megapixel Fuji X-Pro2 has a slight resolution advantage in terms of pixel count, but because of its unique X-Trans sensor, it isn't able to resolve significantly more detail in most areas, and even struggles with reproducing small text as accurately as the PEN-F in our Pure Brewed label. Although overall contrast is lower, the Fuji does however reproduce better fine detail in our tricky red-leaf swatch, and colors are generally a little warmer as well.

Olympus PEN-F vs Nikon J5 at Base ISO

Olympus PEN-F at ISO 200
Nikon J5 at ISO 160

Here we compare the PEN-F with its 4/3"-type sensor to a camera sporting a 1"-type sensor with roughly the same 20-megapixel pixel count, the Nikon J5. At base ISO, both cameras do well overall, but there are notable differences. Looking very closely, it's clear the PEN-F's larger sensor produces lower noise levels and thus retains a bit more detail, and the PEN-F's image is also crisper. The Nikon on the other hand does a slightly better job with our tricky red-leaf fabric, retaining more detail while producing a smoother rendering.

Olympus PEN-F vs Panasonic GX8 at Base ISO

Olympus PEN-F at ISO 200
Panasonic GX8 at ISO 200

The Panasonic GX8 and Olympus PEN-F share very similar if not identical sensors, so the differences we see are mostly down to different approaches in processing. The Olympus image is crisper, cleaner, and brighter, and also has better color. The Panasonic on the other hand retains more detail in many areas, preserves more of the coloration caused by offset printing in the mosaic label, and produces fewer sharpening halos around high-contrast edges. However, the GX8 is noisier in flatter areas, its area-specific noise reduction does produce some minor artifacts along boundaries between areas of changing detail, and its overall color is not as pleasing.

Olympus PEN-F vs Sony A7 at Base ISO

Olympus PEN-F at ISO 200
Sony A7 at ISO 100

Here, we decided to compare the PEN-F to the 24-megapixel full-frame Sony A7 mirrorless camera, because they are currently selling for about the same price. At base ISO, the Sony A7 produces a crisper, more contrasty and more detailed image with fewer sharpening artifacts, however moiré patterns are much more visible in the red-leaf swatch. The Sony also exaggerates the offset printing coloration in the mosaic label which the Olympus attenuates, perhaps treating it as chroma noise.

Olympus PEN-F vs Olympus E-M5 II at ISO 1600

Olympus PEN-F at ISO 1600
Olympus E-M5 II at ISO 1600

At ISO 1600, the PEN-F actually produces a slightly cleaner image than the E-M5 II, but that's thanks to slightly stronger default noise reduction, as the E-M5 II manages to retain a touch more detail in most areas of the target. Still, fairly similar performance here at ISO 1600, despite the smaller pixels.

Olympus PEN-F vs Fujifilm X-Pro2 at ISO 1600

Olympus PEN-F at ISO 1600
Fujifilm X-Pro2 at ISO 1600

The Fuji X-Pro2's image is noisier, but it also displays more detail with fewer noise reduction artifacts. Contrast has fallen in the red-leaf swatch, but the X-Pro2 still outperforms the PEN-F in the fabrics in terms of fine detail.

Olympus PEN-F vs Nikon J5 at ISO 1600

Olympus PEN-F at ISO 1600
Nikon J5 at ISO 1600

Here at ISO 1600, the PEN-F clearly has the advantage in terms of detail and lower noise. The J5's image is much softer and noisier than the PEN-F's, though the Nikon still manages to reproduce fine detail in the red-leaf swatch better than the Olympus.

Olympus PEN-F vs Panasonic GX8 at ISO 1600

Olympus PEN-F 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 noisier with noticeable artifacts from its area-specific noise reduction.

Olympus PEN-F vs Sony A7 at ISO 1600

Olympus PEN-F at ISO 1600
Sony A7 at ISO 1600

The full-frame Sony A7 easily bests the Micro Four Thirds Olympus PEN-F at ISO 1600, with much better detail and lower noise levels, nicely demonstrating the advantage of using a much larger full-frame sensor.

Olympus PEN-F vs Olympus E-M5 II at ISO 3200

Olympus PEN-F at ISO 3200
Olympus E-M5 II at ISO 3200

Similar to what we saw at ISO 1600, the PEN-F has to work a little harder to keep noise in check at ISO 3200, which limits the advantage of its slightly higher-resolution sensor at this sensitivity.

Olympus PEN-F vs Fujifilm X-Pro2 at ISO 3200

Olympus PEN-F at ISO 3200
Fujifilm X-Pro2 at ISO 3200

Noise levels are a little higher from the X-Pro2 at ISO 3200, but it retains better detail than the PEN-F in the mosaic and red-leaf fabric crops.

Olympus PEN-F vs Nikon J5 at ISO 3200

Olympus PEN-F at ISO 3200
Nikon J5 at ISO 3200

The Nikon J5 produces a noisier image at ISO 3200, and tries to compensate with stronger noise reduction, but at the expense of fine detail and sharpness. It does still manage to produce slightly better fine detail in the red-leaf fabric, but both cameras blur most of it away at this sensitivity.

Olympus PEN-F vs Panasonic GX8 at ISO 3200

Olympus PEN-F at ISO 3200
Panasonic GX8 at ISO 3200

Similar to what we saw at ISO 1600 only amplified, the GX8 holds on to more fine detail than the PEN-F, however noise in flatter areas is more apparent, as are area-specific noise reduction artifacts. The PEN-F meanwhile continues to produce a smoother image with brighter, more accurate colors, but fine detail suffers more at the hands of strong noise reduction.

Olympus PEN-F vs Sony A7 at ISO 3200

Olympus PEN-F at ISO 3200
Sony A7 at ISO 3200

No contest here at ISO 3200, with the Sony A7 easily out-performing the Olympus PEN-F, however Sony's aggressive processing is starting to distort fine detail.

Olympus PEN-F vs. Olympus E-M5 II, Fujifilm X-Pro2, Nikon J5, Panasonic GX8, Sony A7

ISO 200
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
ISO 200
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
ISO 200
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
ISO 160
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
ISO 200
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
ISO 100
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 full-frame Sony A7 comes out ahead in this comparison, with the best detail and contrast, and with very little decline in image quality as sensitivity rises to ISO 6400. The PEN-F performs quite well at base ISO, but contrast and detail fall off more quickly as ISO climbs than its lower-resolution sibling, the E-M5 II. The Nikon J5 does quite well at base ISO, however image quality drops off quite quickly as sensitivity is increased. The Panasonic GX8 and Fuji X-Pro2 trail the pack in terms of contrast, but do a little better with fine detail as ISO rises.


Olympus PEN-F Print Quality

High-quality prints up to 30 x 40 inches at ISO 80; Nice 8 x 10 inch prints all the way up to ISO 6400; and usable 4 x 6 inch prints at ISO 12,800.

ISO 80 prints display fantastic detail all the way up to an impressive 30 x 40 inches. At this expanded low ISO, fine detail is clean and crisp, colors are vibrant and noise is practically nonexistent. There's very subtle pixelation if you look closely, but from a normal viewing distance for a print of this size, it's not an issue.

ISO 200 images look excellent up to 24 x 36 inches. There's still a lot of detail, but we see a subtle yet noticeable increase in noise that degrades some very fine detail, particularly in a number of fabric swatches of our Still Life scene. Noise is mainly seen in the shadows, but it's quite low overall given the ISO level.

ISO 400 prints show a lot of fine detail and well-controlled shadow noise up to 20 x 30 inch prints. Shadow noise does become a bit more visible at larger print sizes, so it's more a personal taste whether or not you're okay with bumping the print size here to 24 x 36 -- we'd be okay with it for less critical applications, though.

ISO 800 images look great up to 16 x 20 inches. At this print size, noise is very well controlled and barely an issue; any larger, and its effects become apparent. Despite the slight increase in noise, we'd be okay with a 20 x 30 inch print here for less critical applications.

ISO 1600 prints show more noise than the previous ISO sensitivity, and it's starting to impact fine detail in more places now, such as in the mosaic tile pattern of our test image. Shadow noise has increased some as well, so to our eyes, a 13 x 19 inch print is the maximum size for this ISO.

ISO 3200 images top-out at 11 x 14 inches. Prints at this size look quite nice with a good amount of detail, though noise is beginning to soften things up a bit if you look closely. Colors are still bright and pleasing at this ISO level.

ISO 6400 prints show increased softening due to noise, but the PEN-F still manages a nice 8 x 10 at this ISO sensitivity. Visible noise is more apparent, which isn't surprising.

ISO 12,800 images are fairly noisy and soft at larger print sizes, but we still managed to find nice performance with a 5 x 7 inch print. Shadow noise is still visible at this print size, but not to an excessive degree.

ISO 25,600 prints, however, appear too noisy and lacking in fine detail to consider usable to our eyes. A 4 x 6 inch print might be acceptable for less critical applications, but we'd recommended avoiding this ISO for making prints if possible.

Sporting the highest resolution Four-Thirds sensor yet for an Olympus camera, the PEN-F's new 20-megapixel chip allows it to perform rather nicely in the printing department. We see very large, highly detailed prints at the expanded low ISO of 80, with up to 30 x 40 inch prints. There is a hint of pixelation at this print size, so we're pushing the resolving power of the sensor, but from a normal viewing distance for such a large print, it's all rather impressive. We observed a fairly steady decrease in maximum print size as ISO sensitivity increases, but overall the Olympus PEN-F does very well. At ISO 1600, for example, the Olympus PEN-F is capable of a nice 13 x 19 inch print, a pleasing 8 x 10 at ISO 6400, and it even manages a usable 5 x 7 inch print all the way up to ISO 12,800. The camera's maximum ISO of 25,600, however, is best avoided for prints.

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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