2736 – Wall Of Glass

This weekend someone on the Olympus forum on Photo.net complained about high ISO on Olympus MFT still being behind APS-C and “full frame”. Well, surprise, surprise, he’s right! And, shockingly, this will not change. Never, ever.

The reason is that nobody has exclusive access to superior technology. Canon for some time had an edge in sensor technology. This was at the time when I bought my Nikon D200, a camera that was almost a full stop behind Canon’s 20D, but was superior in every other respect. We know what happened then. Nikon caught up with the D300 and got ahead in the professional range with the D3. In the end I got into the Nikon system at probably the worst time. Did I survive? Seems as if.

Really, there’s no reason to think that any sensor advantage could be kept exclusively to one camera maker for any longer period of time. Thus it is safe to assume that, on average, all sensors of the same generation are of equal quality. Quality improves, but it does so for everyone and it does so at more or less the same rate.

Now, all other things equal, the sensitivity and dynamic range of a bigger sensor will always be superior to that of a smaller sensor. At the same pixel count the bigger sensor’s bigger pixels will receive more light, and at the same pixel size you will be able to make bigger prints for the same noise characteristics. That’s ok.

Therefore, the decision to use Micro Four Thirds can’t be based on sensor quality or the hope that MFT will ever catch up. It won’t and it can’t. Instead you have to look at it from another point of view:

At some time sensor technology crosses the threshold of what is needed for your type of photography. Once that point is reached, image quality ceases to be the deciding factor.

For me this has happened with the D300. While I found the D200 lacking, the D300 was good enough. So was everything that came considerably later.

I’d say the Olympus cameras before the E-M5 were not good enough. I had an E-P2 for some months and although I liked it a lot, it was a step back, compared to the D300. The E-M5 was good enough again. So is the E-M1.

When I bought my D200, I did it because I could not afford the one camera that I would have bought, had money not been a consideration. That camera was the Canon 1Ds MkII. If I look at it today, the 1Ds MkII has a DxO-Mark of 74 and the OM-D E-M1 is rated at 73. The Canon has an edge at high ISO, the Olympus at dynamic range, and if I look at the noise displayed at ISO 3200 in dpreview’s test of the Canon, it may measurably be less than that of the E-M1 (though it certainly does not look like that), but the noise does not look particularly pleasant. Less so than that of the E-M1, I’d say.

OK, you may agree with me or not, but if you do, we have demonstrated that the E-M1 is equivalent to a nine year old full frame camera. So what?

The point is, the 1Ds MkII was the pinnacle of camera technology. It had a whopping 16 megapixels (as incidentally has the E-M1) and it was what the most professional of professionals used to create mind-blowing magazine covers. In other words: it was certainly good enough. So is the E-M1 🙂

By the way, weight of the Canon’s body was 1.2 kg, and I don’t know if that includes the battery weight of 335 g. It does not make much of a difference though, in terms of size and weight the comparison is ridiculous anyway.

The Song of the Day is “Wall Of Glass” by Don Ross. Hear it on YouTube.