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As a method to satisfy my decision and show others who may be facing a similar choice I decided to take both cameras out on a landscape jaunt and at the same time push them to their limits of their ISO settings. It's by no means a comprehensive test but should prove an interesting view for those looking at either camera choice.
Olympus OM-D E-M5 and Nikon D800 (photos to scale)
For the test I used the Olympus 9-18mm lens (equivalent to 18-36mm on a FX camera) and the Nikon 14-24mm.
The sun sets behind the Anvil stone on Baslow Edge so it was a good chance to see how both camera fared when shooting with the sun in the shot and a backlit subject. The exposure was 1/25 sec at f/8.0 and ISO 200. The Olympus lens was at 9mm and the Nikon at the comparable 18mm setting. Both did a grand job although the Nikon has the edge on flare handling, contrast and colour.
This tree is on the approach to Baslow Edge. I made an error not having identical settings, but it still gives you an idea of sharpness and each camera's handling of contrast. Olympus was at 1/100 sec | f/6.3 | 9.0 mm | ISO 200 and the Nikon at 1/40 sec | f/8.0 | 14.0 mm | ISO 200. Contrast is handled better on the Nikon, colour balance is also slightly more neutral.
Another potential problem in flare disaster. Heather with the sun in shot Olympus at 1/10 sec | f/8.0 | 9.0 mm | ISO 200 and Nikon at 1/20 sec | f/9.0 | 18.0 mm | ISO 200. The flare pattern on the Nikon is better controlled and impedes less of the photo, although the Olympus has delivered a slightly better auto exposure.
The first noise test was at ISO3200 and both cameras give remarkable good results. Olympus exposure was 1/20 sec | f/8.0 | 9.0 mm | ISO 3200 and the Nikon was 1/25 sec | f/8.0 | 18.0 mm | ISO 3200.
When racked up to ISO25600 the Nikon totally outshines the Olympus:
Olympus auto settings 1/80 sec | f/8.0 | 9.0 mm | ISO 25600 Nikon auto settings 1/50 sec | f/8.0 | 18.0 mm | ISO 25600. The D800 can be used comfortably at this setting whereas you'd really have to be pushed to consider using the Olympus at this ISO. That said in some occasions getting a shot of this quality may be better than not at all.
Finally here's what happens when shooting in the dark:
Both cameras on auto gave these settings - Olympus: 1/4 sec | f/5.0 | 9.0 mm | ISO 25600 and Nikon: 1/4 sec | f/8.0 | 16.0 mm | ISO 25600. Again the detail from the Nikon sensor is incredible. But here we also found the focusing gave up on the Olympus - it just couldn't cope, so manual was needed whereas the Nikon performed effortlessly.
So the verdict is... the Olympus gives a good run for the money and will satisfy in general terms... but it cannot compete with the mighty full-frame Nikon when pushed to the limits.
For full reviews of these cameras and our studio comparison noise photos go here:
Nikon D800 Full Review
Olympus OM-D E-M5 Full Review
|Nikon D800||Olympus OM-D E-M5|
|Effective Magnification||1x||No Data|
|CCD pixels||36.3Mp (Megapixels)||16.1Mp (Megapixels)|
|Sensor Type||CMOS||Live MOS Sensor|
|Sensor Size||Full Frame||Micro / Four Thirds|
|Sensor Size (width)||36.5mm||17.3mm|
|Sensor Size (height)||24mm||13mm|
|Screen resolution||910,000 dots||610k dots|
|Shutter speeds shortest||1/8000sec||1/4000sec|
|Shutter speeds longest||30sec||60sec|
|ISO sensitivity||50 - 25600||200 - 25600|
|Optical Zoom with Video||Yes||Yes|
|USB||USB 3||USB 2|
|Battery Type||AA, EN-EL15, EN-EL18 and EP-B5||Lithium Ion|
|Box Contents||EN-EL15 rechargeable Li-ion battery with terminal cover, MH-25 battery charger (AC wall adapter supplied only in countries or regions where required), Strap (AN-DC6 for D800, AN-DC6E for D800E), UC-E14 USB cable, USB cable clip, BF-1B body cap, BS-1 Captu||Body, Flash FL-LM2, Li-ion battery BLN-1, Li-ion battery charger BCN-1, USB/Video Multi cable, Shoulder strap, OLYMPUS Viewer 2/ib CD-ROM, Instruction manual, Warranty card|
|Viewfinder Resolution||No Data||1.44million dots|
|View Full Details||View Full Details|