src="http://www.mirrorlessons.com/wp-content/themes/mirrorlessons Olympus Pen F vs. Panasonic GX8 – Comparing the 20MP sensors - MirrorLessons
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Date: 02/05/2016 | By: Heather

Comparing the 20MP sensors of the Olympus Pen F and Panasonic GX8

olympus pen f vs panasonic gx8

Comparing the 20MP sensors of the Olympus Pen F and Panasonic GX8

The very first Micro Four Thirds camera to have a 20MP sensor was the Panasonic Lumix GX8. Announced back in July 2015, we knew it was only a matter of time before Olympus released a 20MP sensor camera of its own.

Instead of choosing to debut the new sensor on one of the high-end OM-D cameras, Olympus opted to give it the Pen F, the latest model in the Pen line-up. We highly suspect that it is the same Sony 20MP MFT sensor used inside the GX8, although pigs will fly before rival companies openly admit to using the same technology!

In this article, we’re going to take a look at the image quality produced by the 20MP sensors inside the GX8 and Pen F to see if there are any noticeable differences. To do this, we took a series of images with the same shutter speed, aperture, white balance, ISO, picture profile and lenses in various conditions.

Let’s have a look at the results below!

pen f vs gx8
GX8, 1/640, f/8, ISO 200 – M.Zuiko 9-18mm – RAW file exported from Lightroom
Pen F, 1/640, f/8, ISO 200 – M.Zuiko 9-18mm – RAW file exported from Lightroom

What will immediately catch your eye is the difference in white balance, even though the Kelvin value is identical. The Panasonic camera produces a noticeably  cooler rendering than the Olympus. This is something we noticed while comparing the sensors of the GX8 and E-M1 as well, so it wasn’t a surprise.

This is where the differences in the RAW files of the two cameras begins and ends, as the sharpness, dynamic range and ISO performance are all extremely similar. These similarities definitely support the theory that the GX8 and Pen F use the same 20MP Sony sensor.

pen f vs gx8
GX8, 1/2000, f/8, ISO 200 – M.Zuiko 9-18mm – RAW file exported from Lightroom
Olympus Pen F vs Panasonic GX8
Pen F, 1/2000, f/8, ISO 200 – M.Zuiko 9-18mm – RAW file exported from Lightroom
gx8 vs pen f
GX8, 1/250, f/8, ISO 200 – M.Zuiko 9-18mm – RAW file exported from Lightroom
pen f vs gx8
Pen F, 1/250, f/8, ISO 200 – M.Zuiko 9-18mm – RAW file exported from Lightroom
gx8 vs pen f
GX8 – Shadows and highlights recovered (100%) – RAW file exported from Lightroom
Pen F – Shadows and highlights recovered (100%) – RAW file exported from Lightroom
GX8, 1/6, f/5.6, ISO 6400 – M.Zuiko 45mm – Click to see a high res version
Pen F, 1/6s, f/5.6, ISO 6400 – M.Zuiko 45mm – Click to see a high res version

The JPGs tell a slightly different story, although once again there aren’t any surprises. The Olympus JPG engine tends to apply much more sharpening and slightly punchier colours to the JPGs, and once again, the white balance tends towards warmer colours on the Olympus and cooler colours on the Panasonic.

gx8 vs pen f
GX8, 1/500, f/5.6, ISO 200 – M.Zuiko 17mm – OOC JPG
gx8 vs pen f
Pen F, 1/500, f/5.6, ISO 200 – M.Zuiko 17mm – OOC JPG

We have to say that personally we prefer, and always have preferred, the rendering of the Olympus JPGs due to their natural and true-to-life colour palette.



High Res Shot

A unique feature of the Pen F that first appeared on the OM-D E-M5 II is High Res Shot. What this function does is shift the sensor in half-pixel steps and capture 8 images over the period of 1 second, which the camera then combines into one high resolution image. Since the Pen F has a 20MP sensor, the final JPG has a resolution of 50MP while the RAW file is a whopping 80MP.

Of course, as with many great features, there is a caveat; the camera must be stabilised on a sturdy tripod and pointed at a static subject for it to work effectively. This is because any movement caused by either camera shake or moving subjects within the composition will result in the appearance of artefacts where the camera failed to merge the images properly.

Unfortunately, this means High Res Shot has limited use. It is perfect for still life, architecture and static landscapes but cannot be applied to street, portrait, astrophotography or any other genre where movement is a possibility.

Below you’ll find a comparison between two JPGs, one taken with the GX8 and its 20MP of resolution and the other with Pen F’s High Res Shot mode (50MP). As you can see, the Pen F resolves much more detail than the GX8 (right down to the dust covering my dad’s steam engine!).

pen f vs gx8
GX8, 5s, f/8, ISO 200 – Click to see a high res version
pen f high res shot
Pen F, 5s, f/8, ISO 200 – High Res Shot – Click to see a high res version

Is there a big difference between 16MP and 20MP?

As we discovered in a previous comparison between the GX8 and E-M1, the differences between the 16MP and 20MP Micro Four Thirds sensor are verging on non-existent. Yes, that extra boost in resolution may make a small difference if you print your images on a large scale but it can’t be called a game-changer.

If you are thinking of investing in a Micro Four Thirds camera, rest assured that you need not be afraid of choosing the 16MP sensor, as the benefits of the 20MP sensor are minute in comparison.


Conclusion

The Panasonic GX8 and Olympus Pen F were the first to house a 20MP Micro Four Thirds sensor, but they won’t be the last. We’ll surely see the same sensor used on the successors to the E-M1 and the GH4, as well as future MFT cameras for at least a couple of years to come.

Now, the question everyone one everyone’s minds is:  just what is the pixel limit of the Micro Four Thirds sensor?

It is hard to say for sure, as today’s conventional camera technology could dramatically change between now and five or ten years into the future. Indeed, were you to turn back the clocks and chat with someone in the ’80s about instantaneous digital images, they would look at you as if you were completely insane!

All things being equal, I believe that the sensor still has lots of room left to grow, a sentiment shared by many in the business. As CTein of The Online Photographer states in his article on the topic:

We’ve got a way to go in terms of pixel counts before we are forced into unpleasant tradeoffs. Understand, the engineering and technology has to advance to allow this, but there’s nothing in the laws of physics that prevents that. It’s just steady progress.

And even if Micro Four Thirds cannot keep pace with the sensor resolution race, there are many other ways that Olympus and Panasonic can improve the image quality of their cameras.

Sony, for example, has begun using Stacked / BSI (back-illuminated) technology on its most recent sensors, whose novel arrangement of imaging elements improves low-light performance. While it hasn’t been used on a MFT sensor yet, there is no reason we shouldn’t see it employed in the near future.

And then there is the possibility of using High Res Shot for hand-held photography. As Setsuya Kataoka (General Manager of Olympus’ product and marketing planning division) stated in an interview with DPReview:

… future OM-D cameras will be able to create multi-shot high resolution images in such a short time that photographers will be able to use the feature handheld.

In short, I believe that there is a long and fruitful life ahead for Micro Four Thirds sensors, and that the progression from 16MP to 20MP is only the tip of the iceberg.

What are your thoughts about the future of the Micro Four Thirds sensor? Share your thoughts below!



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About the author: Heather Broster

Heather Broster was born in Canada, has lived in Japan and Italy but currently calls Wales home. She is a full-time gear tester at MirrorLessons. You can follow her on Google+, Twitter or Facebook!

  • Lucas Guitink

    Yes, the pixel race is a funny illusion… It reminds me often of the ridiculous focus on Watts with the specification of loudspeakers. That was a totally superfluous specification because it was really no indication at all for quality and endurement since it could only be considered within a complex system of other variables. The same seems to apply with the pixel race. I just came accross your own review of the new Sony megazoom for the fullframe A7 series. The A7rII has a wonderfully high pixel rate, but that lense reduces it to a mere MPs, so the result is a lower effective resolution than a 16 MP M43 sensor with a good lens! Photography is about a complex interwoven system of variables, but for marketing the pixelrace does make sense.

  • Mahesh

    Looking at these pics, I’m doubting my intention of buying a gx80. Olympus colours do look good.

  • Bob B.

    Did a quick test..Just on the RAW files with “warming” on and “warming” off….I can see no change in the Raw file color so it must only effect jpegs. Anyones thoughts are appreciated.

  • Bob B.

    Heather, with the PEN did you have the “Keep Warm Color” turned on or off? I love Olympus colors, and I keep my warming turned “off”, but find the color still to be on the warm side ( in a good way). Also..do you know if the “Keep Warm Color” effects RAW or only JPEG? (Guess I could test that easily enough! LOL.)
    Good comparison…pretty much what we would expect. Both cameras have a lot to offer in a small package.

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com/ Heather Broster

    Yes, and it’s too bad that the new GX80 doesn’t have one!

  • Turbofrog

    As crazy as it sounds, at least 40MP should be easily possible from an M4/3 sensor. No one complains about the excellent dynamic range and low-light performance of the 20MP Sony 1″ BSI sensor, and a 4/3 sensor is twice as large as that. Using present technology a BSI M4/3 sensor could easily accommodate 24MP or 28MP with headroom to spare and still achieve better dynamic range and ISO performance than it does now.

    …it’s no surprise that such a sensor doesn’t exist, though. It would likely not only be expensive, but I don’t imagine Sony would have much incentive to step on its own toes by delivering such a sensor to its competitors.

  • whensly

    what I love about the panasonic is the flip up EVF…once I got used to that every time I pick up any camera I miss it terribly.

  • Henrik Fessler

    I like to use the mFT with 16MP. The only downside i see is to have less potential for cropping of images, that’s where the 20MP migh come useful (I have lots more potential wirh Sony APSC and 24MP to do crops of images).

    On the physics side, the 20MP MFT in comparison to other sensors is the most challenging when it comes to diffraction effects. Purely from a calcualtion view, optimum aperture is at F5 for 20MP but compared to the 16MP with F5,5 it isn’t too far away from it … it would be interesting to prove by images whether diffraction differences are really to be seen with 16MP vs. 20MP.

    Apart from that: I am out of the Megapixel race by now … just being happy shooting with 16MP (or in most cases with 14,4MP shooting in 3:2 … ) or 24MP APSC and cropping …
    ———————————————-
    PS some technical notes:
    Below is a comparison of Pixel Pitch / Optimum Aperture to the other sensor sizes (I wrote up a small XLS spreadsheet to do the calculations: http://www.mopswerk.de/photography-math-formula-spreadsheet-calculation/ ) : The 24MP APSC pixel size is comparable to the 16MP MFT, whereas even a whopping 42MP on Full Frame still puts in a bit more size per pixel than a 24MP APSC counter part:
    Pixel Pitch(*)
    20MP MFT > 3,35 micrometer > Optimum Aperture F4,9 (**)
    16MP MFT > 3,75 micrometer > Optimum Aperture F5,5 (**)
    24MP APSC > 3,92 micrometer > Optimum Aperture F5,8 (**)
    42MP Full Frame > 4,54 micrometer > Optimum Aperture F6,7 (**)
    (*) Pixel Pitch: Length/Height of a Sensor Pixel
    (**) Optimum Aperture: Circle Of Confusion at optimum aperture fits into area corresoponding to square with sides of pixelpitch length

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