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).