This article discusses how you can estimate dynamic range differences between various cameras using published test data. This may help you evaluate various camera options in terms of brand, model and sensor size. In this article we have prepared overviews of Olympus OM-D E-M1X dynamic range test scores versus 20 different full frame and APS-C cameras from Canon, Nikon and Sony. This is a lengthy article so grab a coffee or make yourself some tea.
Assumptions and Generalities
I believe that relying on often quoted generalities and assumptions about dynamic range differences between camera formats is a risky endeavor. Many of us have heard or read general statements that full frame sensors have a “2 stop advantage over M4/3” and that APS-C sensors have a “1 stop advantage over M4/3”. These are examples of assumptions that have become accepted as fact by many folks. As you read this article you will discover that these dynamic range assumptions don’t stand up when test data is examined within the stated parameters of this article.
The Olympus OM-D E-M1X’s average dynamic range based on test data is higher than 5 of the other cameras noted in this article. It is identical to one other camera, and is just marginally behind 3 other cameras. These results may surprise some readers since all of the other 20 cameras noted in this article have larger full frame or APS-C sensors. The largest average dynamic range difference is between the E-M1X and a full frame camera… reaching 1.07EV.
Regardless of the camera you own, and other camera bodies that you may want to evaluate, taking time to personally compare dynamic range test data will prove far more beneficial to you than just using assumptions. It will provide you with a more accurate and objective assessment.
Obviously there are many factors that come into play when trying to get the most out of an individual camera’s dynamic range. This article only focuses on some published dynamic range sensor test data.
Similarities of OM-D Cameras
Before we get into individual camera match-ups I should mention that the dynamic range sensor test scores for the OM-D E-M1X, E-M5 Mark III and E-M1 Mark III are virtually identical on photonstophotos.com. So, if you own one of these cameras, or are thinking about purchasing one, the following commentary on the E-M1X can realistically be applied to the two other Olympus models noted above.
We should also point out that the test scores used for these comparisons were derived from data displayed as manufacturer stated ISOs, not measured ISOs. So, there could be some differences between individual camera models at specific ISO values.
Practical Shooting Considerations Were Not Considered
Other factors, such as IBIS performance, have not been considered. If one photographer owns a camera that can be handheld at a shutter speed 1 or 2 stops slower than another photographer’s camera under identical conditions… they would be able to use lower ISO values on a more frequent basis.
Obviously for static subjects for which a photographer may choose to use a tripod, the dynamic range of any camera can be maximized. The base ISO for the Olympus OM-D E-M1X is ISO-200. The other 20 cameras noted in this article would have a base ISO of ISO-100 or lower. If we looked at tripod-mounted photography the larger sensor cameras would have an additional advantage as their base ISOs are lower.
As we all know, shooting at lower ISO values gives a photographer more dynamic range in their images. During practical handheld use, differences in IBIS performance could help lessen the dynamic range differences between camera models, and cameras of differing sensor sizes.
Average ISO Values Used
Rather than splitting hairs and getting into all kinds of ‘what if’ scenarios, I have calculated the average dynamic range scores with each camera match-up. I also looked at differences in dynamic range test scores at various ISO levels. I did this to find out if there were any noteworthy differences in the slope of the dynamic range curves of various cameras in each match-up.
One of our objectives with this article is to provide readers with a general assessment of the dynamic range differences that could be reasonably expected between various camera models and the Olympus OM-D E-M1X. Our commentary covers the standard operating range of an Olympus OM-D E-M1X, i.e. ISO-200 through to ISO-25600.
The key point in this article is that you can construct this same type of analysis of dynamic range differences for yourself, using photonstophotos.com published data. So, regardless of the camera you own, or the cameras bodies in which you may have an interest, you can prepare your own dynamic range comparisons and assessments.
Olympus OM-D E-M1X Camera Matchups
Let’s look at our first group of E-M1X comparisons with three models from Sony.
E-M1X versus Sony A6600
The dynamic range curves for these two cameras are quite similar in slope. The overall dynamic range advantage for the Sony A6600 throughout the ISO-200 to ISO-25600 range is an average of 0.35EV.
E-M1X versus Sony Alpha A9II
The dynamic range curves for these two cameras are more divergent. The overall dynamic range advantage for the Sony Alpha A9II throughout the ISO-200 to ISO-25600 range is an average of 1.05EV.
E-M1X versus Sony Alpha A7RII
Dynamic range differences between these two cameras tend to be higher at the lower end of the ISO scale, then tend to flatten out as ISO values increase. The overall dynamic range advantage for the Sony Alpha A7RII throughout the ISO-200 to ISO-25600 range is an average of 1.05 EV.
Now, let’s move on to our evaluation of E-M1X with seven full frame and APS-C cameras from Nikon.
E-M1X versus Nikon Z50
The two dynamic range curves for these cameras are very similar with slight advantages bouncing back and forth between the two cameras at various ISO values. The overall dynamic range advantage for the Nikon Z50 throughout the ISO-200 to ISO-25600 range is an average of 0.13EV.
E-M1X versus Nikon D7500
The two dynamic range curves for these cameras are very similar. The overall dynamic range advantage for the Nikon D7500 throughout the ISO-200 to ISO-25600 range is an average of 0.15EV.
E-M1X versus Nikon D500
The two dynamic range curves for these cameras are very similar, There a slightly increased advantage for the D500 at ISO-400 through ISO-1600. At other ISO values the differences are negligible. The overall dynamic range advantage for the Nikon D500 throughout the ISO-200 to ISO-25600 range is an average of 0.15EV.
E-M1X versus Nikon D850
Overall there is a wider spread between the dynamic range curves of these two cameras with the Nikon D850 having an average advantage of 0.79 EV throughout the ISO-200 to ISO-25600 range. The D850’s advantage widens to about 1 stop in the ISO-400 to ISO-1600 range.
E-M1X versus Nikon Z7
Overall there is a wider spread between the dynamic range curves between of these two cameras with the Nikon Z7 having an average advantage of 0.76EV throughout the ISO-200 to ISO-25600 range. As seen with the D850, the Z7’s advantage widens to about 1 stop in the ISO-400 to ISO-1600 range.
E-M1X versus Nikon Z6
At ISO-200 and ISO-400 the Nikon Z6’s advantage is less than 0.7EV. At ISO values above this the Z6’s advantage widens to between 1 stop and approximately 1.4 stops. Throughout the ISO-200 to ISO-25600 range the Nikon Z6 has an average dynamic range advantage of 1EV.
E-M1X versus Nikon D5
This match up is an interesting one. At ISO-200 the Olympus E-M1X has a dynamic range advantage of 0.42EV. At subsequent ISO values the Nikon D5 develops a dynamic range advantage that steadily increases from 0.26EV to about 1.5EV at higher ISO values. Overall, throughout the ISO-200 to ISO-25600 range the Nikon D5 has an average dynamic range advantage of 0.94EV.
Our last set of E-M1X comparisons are with ten different Canon full frame and APS-C cameras.
E-M1X versus Canon EOS 1DX Mark III
The curves for these two cameras are fairly consistent in slope. The Canon EOS 1DX Mark III has an average dynamic range advantage of 1.07EV throughout the ISO-200 to ISO-25600 range.
E-M1X versus Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
The curves for these two cameras are fairly consistent in slope. The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV has an average dynamic range advantage of 0.96EV throughout the ISO-200 to ISO-25600 range.
E-M1X versus Canon EOS 7D Mark II
The curves for these two cameras are more variable in nature with the dynamic range advantage of the Olympus OM-D E-M1X shifting from a miniscule 0.01EV difference to a maximum of 0.98EV. Overall the Olympus OM-D E-M1X has an average dynamic range advantage of 0.34EV throughout the ISO-200 to ISO-25600 range.
E-M1X versus Canon EOS M6 MII
Similar to what we saw with the Nikon Z50 curves, the E-M1X and Canon EOS M6 MII dual back and forth with slight dynamic range advantages throughout the ISO-200 to ISO-25600 range. The overall dynamic range averages for these two cameras are identical.
E-M1X versus Canon EOS R
There some variations of the dynamic range curve of the Canon EOS R, resulting in differences ranging from 0.53EV to 1.04EV. The Canon EOS R has an average dynamic range advantage of 0.9EV throughout the ISO-200 to ISO-25600 range.
E-M1X versus Canon EOS RP
The dynamic range curve of the Canon EOS RP strengthens at higher ISO values. At ISO-200 and ISO-400 the Olympus OM-D E-M1X has an advantage of 0.98EV and O.22EV respectively. Overall, the Canon EOS RP has an average dynamic range advantage of 0.39EV when the entire ISO-200 to ISO-25600 range is considered.
E-M1X versus Canon EOS M5
The Olympus OM-D E-M1X has a fairly consistent dynamic range advantage over the Canon EOS M5, with an average dynamic range advantage of 0.59EV throughout the ISO-200 to ISO-25600 range.
E-M1X versus Canon EOS M6
The Olympus OM-D E-M1X has a dynamic range advantage throughout the ISO-200 to ISO-25600 range. It is fairly consistent although it does lessen slightly at the highest ISO values. Overall, the Olympus OM-D E-M1X has an average dynamic range advantage of 0.61EV.
E-M1X versus Canon EOS M3
The Olympus OM-D E-M1X has a dynamic range advantage all the way through the ISO-200 to ISO-25600 range. The advantage does reduce as higher ISOs are reached, going from 1.09EV at ISO-200 to 0.04EV at ISO-25600. The average dynamic range advantage is 0.53EV.
E-M1X versus Canon EOS M50
The two dynamic range curves of both cameras have similar slopes with the Olympus OM-D E-M1X maintaining a dynamic range advantage throughout the ISO-200 to ISO-25600 range. Overall the Olympus OM-D E-M1X has an average dynamic range advantage of 0.55EV.
How To Establish What Level of Dynamic Range Difference Is Noticeable/Acceptable
When using DxOMark data, the company suggests that a difference of 0.5EV is needed for a difference in dynamic range to start to become noticeable. I don’t know if this guideline applies to data from photonstophotos.com or not.
I think the best way for an individual photographer to establish their ‘noticeable level’ for differences in dynamic range is to do some tests with their current equipment.
Mount your camera on a tripod, then take some successive images of the same subject matter at increasing higher ISO levels. Obviously working with full stop jumps would not be advisable. Then, process all of those RAW files by doing your typical adjustments. View all of the finished images in a way that makes sense for you. Some folks may want to view them on a large computer monitor. Other people may want to make a good sized print of each image to compare. I would suggest maintaining a typical viewing distance rather than pixel peeping.
By examining all of your test images you should be able to assess when you begin to notice a difference in dynamic range. Only you will know if it is at 1/3 of a stop, a 1/2 stop, or perhaps more.
My Experience With Full Frame and M4/3 Gear
I used some excellent Nikon full frame cameras for a few years. At the time the Nikon D800 was one of the top rated cameras available and without any doubt it was capable of producing some wonderful images. I married that body up with some quality Nikkor glass… both primes and zooms. From memory I think I had 7-8 Nikkor lenses at the time.
When travelling, and during other typical uses, I quite often found that I would not use my full frame gear at base ISO values. I hate using tripods for still photography so that factor came into play frequently for me. I most often shot my full frame gear handheld in the ISO-200 to ISO-800 range.
More often than not I can shoot my Olympus OM-D E-M1X at base ISO-200, when I would have used a higher ISO value with my full frame gear because of the E-M1X’s outstanding IBIS performance. My ISO-200 Forest Challenge article is a good demonstration of that. Shooting handheld for multiple second exposures is a practical reality because of the E-M1X’s IBIS performance. These capabilities have changed the way I think about capturing my images.
Every photographer is different and has their own needs. The image quality from my Olympus M4/3 kit more than meets my specific needs. I have never once felt that I didn’t have enough dynamic range. Nor would I ever consider going back to full frame gear. But… that’s just me.
The point of this article is not to suggest that anyone should buy the same gear that I use. It was simply to provide folks with some examples of how they can use published dynamic range test data to replace assumptions about sensor performance with objective data. You can then make more informed decisions about your camera gear.
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