*Lumix G3 vs Canon 5Dmk II

I know that on paper this is a crazy comparison.  It’s also not fair in that we have two very different sensors, one, a 21 mega pixel full frame at the end of it’s 3+ year life cycle and the other about a quarter of the size and which is not even 10 months into its own.  Well, these are the two cameras that I have and use on a regular basis.  As I’m contemplating leaving one home for an upcoming trip, I wanted to see just what I was going to be getting.  This is purely a fun/bored post, but one that I thought might be at least somewhat interesting to a few of us out there.  How does the new 16mp G3/GX1 sensor stack up?

Using the Lumix 20mm f/1.7 (40mm equivalent fov) on the G3 and my comparable Voigtlander Ultron 40mm f/2 pancake on the 5DII, I wanted to see just how these two compared.  I have heard quite a few folks on the interweb of late waxing lyrical about how they shoot with camera X, Y or Z and no one can tell the difference between their full frame shots and their APS-C, 4/3 or even compact sensor shots.  While I do know that there are many, many factors when viewing a picture, be that on a computer screen or printed, I feel that while under certain exposure situations, there is most certainly a visible difference.  These were of course met with a comment akin to “come to my gallery/studio/home and tell me then, which I shot with X, Y or Z!” which I found to be funny and I’m sure I would in fact have a hard time.  That doesn’t quite mean that a smaller sensor is equal to a larger sensor, at least not in all situations right?

To me, at base ISO, in good light and with a good lens, most any current digital camera can produce a very quality image file.  If you’re shooting in these well lit conditions with a lens stopped down to f/22 (let’s ignore diffraction for this hypothetical) yes, I agree that most anyone would have a hard time distinguishing a 10×15″ or even some larger sized print from two different cameras (maybe even larger depending on the viewing distance…but that is yet another variable that we’ll ignore).  To me, I rarely shoot in well lit conditions (on account of normally being holed away working during the daylight hours) so high ISO/noise performance is a very crucial piece of this argument for me.  Assuming all this prior hypothetical equivalence, I wanted to see how these two looked at high ISO in low light.

Here are a few shots from ISO 800 – 6400 shot @ f/8 under identical conditions and at identical exposure values from a tripod.  Shot in RAW with the 5DII’s 5616×3744 pixel files resizedto match the 3:2 4576×3056 pixel RAW files from the G3 and then all were exported as compressed jpegs.  Click on any of the crops to see them at 100% magnification.

Now, something that rarely makes it into the conversation when talking about noise is how, when pixels are resized to match a different file size, the noise is also resized, meaning if the file is smaller (lower mpx) and it’s up-resed, then so is the noise grain, and conversely for a larger file size.  Also, there is relative pixel size to take into account.  A 16mp 4/3 sensor is going to have much smaller pixels than a 21mp full frame sensor.  So, when you view your file at 100%, or 200%, etc, it may not be the same as a larger (or smaller) file at the same magnification, and too often I’ve seen noise comparisons where the image is just cropped into to “match” the same view, which isn’t exactly telling the truth.

That said, I am very impressed with the G3 files when seeing them side by side.  Noisier, yes, but they do a good job at retaining definition and color.  With a fast lens in low light, I feel like I can certainly get a good, workable ISO 3200 file if the conditions require pushing it that far which helps me feel okay with leaving the 5D travel kit home next week.  It’s more psychological than anything at this point making the decision to finally travel without the big boy, but I’m sure my neck will thank me.

If you missed the GF1 vs G3 battle, that post is HERE and really that is what led me to even thinking about trying this, so… (It’s really crappy outside, and I’ve been wanting to get out and shoot so this will have to do)

Thanks for the read and I hope everyone is having a good winter (or summer for you lucky suckers in the southern hemisphere).

Happy shooting,


23 thoughts on “*Lumix G3 vs Canon 5Dmk II

  1. I recently found your blog off of 43rumors. I appreciate your perspective on these comparisons lately. I myself question similar thoughs, and with your firsthand opinion, these posts have been quite imsightful.


    • I’m not sure as I’ve not used a GH2 before. I’d imagine that it has similar native noise to the G3 though. The sensors are different so I can’t say for sure, but I can’t see even the GH2 besting the 5DII, two different animals in this regard I think. After doing this little test though, it has given me even more confidence with the G3. I’m very familiar with the 5DII and know when and where I can push it, so to see them directly stacked up against each other, I have a good idea as to where I’m able to push the G3.


  2. Agree with nomilknocry on the brownish tint to the G3’s output and with T on G3 and 5D2 being roughly equal up to ISO 3200.

    But the G1 would be falling off by ISO 800 w/r/t the 5D2?

    Parenthetically recent tests with the 45mm PanaLeica showed me the value of having a couple more stops to play with in nature photos, esp. in winter.


    • I wouldn’t say equal Terry, but it did well all things considered. The 5DII is still a monster, even considering that it’s a little long in the tooth by digital standards and rumored to be one of, if not the next canon camera to be refreshed. At low ISO’s in decent light, I think that the files from the current micro 4/3 bunch would be nearly indistinguishable to most any APS-C or full frame file at relative exposure settings and viewed at 100%. That has never really been the challenge for smaller sensors though and in low light, it’s where larger sensors really start to separate themselves as is evidenced above as you can see the grain become much more pronounced in the G3 files.

      Where I’m really impressed though, is in the detail retention and color replication which, noise aside, is still very clean and that is impressive to me. The other factor in low light though, which I’ve yet to really test, is the ability for a contrast based AF system to lock focus compared to a phase detection AF system. With large aperture lenses, I’m sure both systems would do admirably, but I’d guess the PD would still do better.

      Thanks as always for the continuing conversation Terry!



  3. Thanks for making your frozen rainy day informative for us. I own both these cameras and a GX1 (same sensor as G3) so this comparison is VERY interesting to me. I want to first compliment you on your attention to detail with the framing, sizing and choice of lenses. Meticulous, Tyson. Good work.
    That attention gives this comparison more meaning.
    What really strikes me is the shadow detail similarity in the Hasselblad lens cap that is present in the G3 images with the 5D. (I know you are using flat lighting..so that helps here) but THAT is very interesting. Amazing actually. With all the hype of the EP3 it is refreshing to find someone who made the same choices that I did and this comparison reinforces my intuitive choices in equipment. Thank you for that. My experiences with both cameras would also tell me that the G3 would not fair so well on a sunny day against the 5DMarkII as the DR on the latter would snuff the G3 …but perhaps if you have an idle sunny day (in Oregon..yeah right) you could enlighten us!!!! LOL!
    Funny…I also have the Hasselblad and am thinking up putting that equipment up on ebay this weekend as I just do not use it any more. There is just som much time in a day. Seems we have a lot in common.
    Nice job and thanks for this well-presented information!


    • Thanks Bob,

      I really hope to see DR as the next spec that everyone fights over. Megapixels and good high ISO performance are plenty capable, but I want to see an affordable digital sensor capable of a 16 stop range. I think that the m4/3 lot need to offer a 14bit RAW file (the jump from 12-14 that happened from the 5D > 5DII was, in my opinion, the unsung hero which kind of flew under the radar) as it would immediately benefit the system even without any other changes. I’m noticing a bit of banding in the tonal transitions from blown highlights which, while somewhat normal, are much more pronounced in a 12 bit file vs a 14 bit’er. I notice this with the old 5D as well. A completely usable challenge, but one that, with deeper bit depth can smooth some of those transitions tonally.

      Thanks again for taking the time to read through and comment. I just got back from a work trip so I wasn’t able to check in, but it’s awesome that Ale picked this one up as well, and I’m sure your support from the previous articles helped, so thank you 🙂

      Hope you’ve had a great weekend.




  4. Thanks for your efforts. I’m a newbie and have just bought a G3. I agonised long and hard before and after the purchase, so hearing from people who know their stuff helps me settle down and start using the camera, without worrying about what might have been.


    • Hey Stephen,

      Thanks for reading through and I’m happy to (hopefully) help. I will say this, while I, and many others like to delve into the performance of these cameras, even the G3 is a more capable camera than I am a photographer. Modern technology is such that so rarely do any of us bump into the limitations of the gear, but rather our own limitations as photographers and understanding. I certainly can see where technology will help make my work easier, but current gear is beyond what anyone “needs” to make a good picture which has really helped me understand that it comes down to understanding and technique. It is all too easy to look at one of my crappy shots and say that it was due to the highlights not being retained, or the dynamic range being too great disabling my ability to capture what I wanted in the scene, but every bad frame I’ve ever taken has been down to user error if I’m being truly honest 🙂

      Rest assured that the G3 is a very good camera. There are certainly other cameras out there that do certain things better, and no shortage of bloggers willing to point that type of stuff out (myself included) but know that as long as your eye and technique are up to it, so too is this little camera. On that note, more than cameras, it’s really lenses that will immediately alter the way you capture any given frame. Cameras are very dated technology in most respects. 3 years in digital camera terms is a lifetime while lenses are built to essentially last many of these cameras lifetimes. There is no perfect camera for every situation and certainly no perfect lens, but playing around with photography will help you start to really sharpen your skill and understand which of these tools will help you get what you want to out of shooting.

      I’m happy to try and help with anything, and enjoy conversation, so fire away.



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  6. Hey T great info. I own the 5DMark2 and have acquired the Lumix G3 thanks to you I feel I haven’t lost my brains on it. I am looking to find a remote shutter release for it for long exposures can’t seem to find anything except from UK that has digital programming on it? You know of any? Second quick question do you know if PocketWizard Plus II has an adaptor that I could use on lumix G3? I am trying to make use of my bits and bits here. Thanks



    • Hi Terra,

      Thanks for the comment! I’m not familiar with any remote triggers for the Lumix system, but I’m sure that Panasonic offers one. I use my PW Plus2’s as wireless triggers on my canon cams, they just necessitate a pre-trigger cord from PW which attaches between a hotshoe mounted PW on camera and the camera’s PC sync port, and I’ve not researched to find out if there is something similar from PW for the micro 4/3 lot as they don’t offer a PC sync port. As for the PW Plus 2’s, you don’t need any adapter to use it with the G3, just throw it on the hotshoe and it will work just as it does with the 5D2, et al. One thing to keep in mind though is that the G3 only has a max sync speed of 1/160sec (which I find bizarre with an electronic shutter) so you’d have to keep the shutter speed at or below that.



      • Thanks for the input. I shall see if I can play with the PW plus 2s — great tip on the speed of the G3 I never would haven known that 🙂 Having fun using Nikon and Canon Adaptors with the G3.

        Thanks again,



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