Crazy Comparison! Sony NEX-3 vs Olympus E-P2 vs Leica X1 (JPEGS) Pt.1

It’s Saturday and I was a bit bored this morning so I wandered out back in my Pajamas for some fun camera comparisons. It’s been a while since I have done one of these and since I had all three cameras on hand I decided  to give this a whirl. This will be Part one of this comparison with low ISO and in daylight with the Sony NEX-3 w/16mm, Olympus E-P2 1/17mm and the Leica X1 w its built in 24mm.  I set each camera to its base ISO. For the NEX-3 that was ISO 200, for the Olympus E-P2 it was 200 and for the Leica X1 it was 100. I then set each lens to f/2.8 and tried to set the color to the same on each.

These are just for fun, nothing crazy scientific but I wanted to see how each camera would do with plain JPEG output. NO sharpening has been applied here. These are out of camera JPEGS, none are from RAW. NO Processing!

There is not really much RAW support for the Sony yet and only the Sony software and Silkypix will convert them at this time, and I have neither.

So here is ROUND 1: Daylight, low ISO

FIRST UP – SONY NEX-3 – f/2.8 – 16mm Lens = 24mm – ISO 200 (base ISO) – OOC JPEG


NEXT – OLYMPUS E-P2 – f/2.8 – 17mm lens = 36mm – ISO 200 (base ISO) – OOC JPEG


FINALLY…THE LEICA X1 – f/2.8 – 24mm lens = 36mm – ISO 100 (base ISO) – OOC JPEG


What I see here is the Sony appears different mainly due to the wider lens. I only had the 16mm available so the FOV is different than the other two. These are OOC JPEGS, at each cameras base ISO. I also see some speckled noise in the Sony full size shot, a little in the Oly shot and the X1 is the smoothest.

One more example with the same camera settings. This time I will provide a 100% crop of each…

and the crops

All three look good with the Sony lens giving the most distortion. IQ wise, at low ISO and in daylight, any of these cameras can provide great image quality. But what about in low light? I will be posting PART 2 of this test with low light/high ISO samples tomorrow, so be sure to check back! UPDATE, PART 2 IS NOW UP HERE.

BTW, Olympus just released the E-P2 in SILVER, and it shows in stock at B&H 🙂


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  1. Olympus seems a better choice because it has a better image quality and m4/3 is an open format so you can expect a lot more lens available, plus there are already Panasonic and Olympus making bodies. But besides all that, it seems to me Olympus images looks the best here. Just my 2 cents.
    I guess these cameras are aimed at those who currently use point and shot and want to upgrade, but are scared of SLR systems for some reasons. I’ve been there a while back, thinking at some camera to upgrade my P&S but there were no options back then so I picked an E-420 and I totally LOVE MIRRORS now :). So a DSLR is still better for reliability, especially as it takes less battery and you got more options, plus an E-420 or any SLR in that range is not that big anyway, so I quess that’s the market of these mirrorless systems; those who want an upgrade but are scared of SLR’s.

  2. Each camera’s price justifies it’s quality. Nevertheless, all cameras will perform excellent on broad daylight. I prefer to be using my time to shoot rather than cropping each of my images to see how of a quality freak i am.

  3. Curious Steve- the electronic viewfinder is an additional accessory for the Olympus and you use it in the comparison to evaluate the enjoyment factor. The Leica can be fitted with a Leica or Voigtländer optical viewfinder, equally extra to the electronic one with the Olympus, but you leave that out of the comparison. Both would have that viewfinder advantage over the Sony, and one would be an optical experience (which I believe you prefer based on your rangefinder praise) vs. the live view in the Olympus’s electronic one.

  4. I agree with above. If anyone has worked in a dark room, then you know a print is never a direct representation of a negative. You have to massage it with dodging and burning, determine the amount and type of contrast, and maybe even tone the print.

    Same thing is true in digital form as film… But, direct results or straight out of the camera results do reflect the amount of work that is required in post processing. If a file is closer to your preferences directly out of the camera, then perhaps you have to work less with the file.

    So maybe comments should be like this… I prefer this file more because I will have to work less on it in the future!

  5. I enjoy your reviews, but one thing bothers me. You, and many others, seem to take pride in not having touched the images produced by the cameras. It seems to me that only those least interested in photography would be served by that. The fallacy of that position is that every manufacturer provides processing that is different for each camera. Straight out the camera is not an even benchmark. It makes no sense to comment on the color balance, contrast or crispness of images from a camera when one manufacturer, for example, sharpens its images so that there are haloes around every high contrast object and while another maker does not. I would rather see the best image that you could get out of each camera with your best post processing skills, which is what someone with the camera who was interested in the best image would do. That would actually provide helpful information. Not meant as a criticism, just as something to think about.

  6. looking at those three images seperate from anything else id pick the oly combo, but i think the oly is ugly but thats a personal thing. The leica though is beautiful.

  7. Steve:

    Interesting comparison. But please note that the X1 lens is a 36mm equivalent lens.


  8. This is exactly why I asked Steve to look into the impact of different factors affecting the quality of the final image: lens, sensor (size), in-camera processing, etc.

    Maybe he misunderstood.

    • No misunderstanding. The Sony has TWO lenses. That is the SOny system right now. It can only perform as good as the lenses, and the only lenses are the 16 and kit zoom. Sure you will get better results with a lens that does not distort, or has better color/contrast and sharpness.

      As you may know, I am not a tech head freak and am not going to sit here and do scientific charts testing sensors. Thats NOT me, never was and never will be. I shoot the cameras with how they are meant to be shot. Meaning, Ill shoot the sony with the kit lens, the Oly with its kit lens and the X1 with its only lens! That is how MOST people will be shooting these cameras.

      Just showing results, that honestly, don’t say too much…YET. The high ISO shots will be the most revealing. 🙂

  9. The NEX really needs some decent lens as both the kit lens, pancake and zoom is pretty crappy. Will we see some premium Zeiss lens in the future?

      • Maybe crappy is too strong a word, but compared to the other lens available for other similar cameras, it does not do so well.

    • There will definitely be some Zeiss lenses in the future. They have already announced there would be lenses for the NEX system but we just don’t know what they’ll be and when they’ll be released.

  10. In terms of enjoyment, would you consider using an optical viewfinder on the X1? If so, would you get the Leica 36mm Brightline for the camera or the Voigtländer 35mm Brightline rounded metal viewfinder (in silver or black)?

    It’s a hotly contested issue since the Voigtländer is half the price, metal instead of plastic, and some say better optical quality. But it doesn’t stick out as far from the back of the camera and isn’t the exact same focal length equivalent. Thanks.

  11. You can’t blame Steve for posting boring comparisons… The X1 image does look a bit pinkish though…

  12. Dear Steve thank you for posting this.

    But: there’s definitely something wrong with the colorcast of the OOF ground parts. Take a good look at the colors in those parts. The leica is really pinkish the oly is somewhat pink and the sony is gray. What was the tru color of it? Be honest please.
    Also the exact focal points are NOT the same in the 3 pics. The entire zone of OOF is completely different for all three shots. Making this comparison a bit of a goose hunt. The framing and focus of the shots does nothing to reveal the tru IQ of the 3 cams. With this shots you can not compare the IQ of the cam or lenses connected. If its just for fun it’s oke, I think.

    If its only for crazy comparison points you win! However, many posters seem to take it serious.Am I missing something?

    • seriously though:
      the leica looks great,
      the sony pic doesn’t look natural to me,
      on the basis of the other two shots, I prefer the rendering of the Olly over the Leica – but maybe that’s down to the difference in focal length,

      but as the title says, it is a crazy comparison – and not to be taken seriously (?)

  13. If you are looking for a camera to mount a bootload of legacy lenses on, the winner is clear: SONY NEX. (Mounts virtually everything and has less crop factor than Micro Four Thirds).

    This is the main reason to get a mirrorless camera anyway. For everything else, any cheap DSLR is just fine.

  14. Is anyone going to talk about the fact that the NEX 16mm lens is a 24mm equivalent? I realise that as it’s the only prime available thus far for the system these tests are reasonable, but surely it must be qualified when critiquing ‘distortion’ that this lens sits at the beginning of ‘super-wide’ territory, where barrel distortion becomes a feature rather than a fault. From a small comparison suggestion I have read on another forum (looking at technical performance figures rather than real world use unfortunately) it seems that the NEX lens performs pretty well against even leica lenses of this feld of view. More testing please!

  15. Nice camparison Steve!

    I still can’t get over how good the X1 looks. I know it is “too expensive” but Leica can make such beautiful cameras that I am still considering buying one. (Yes, build and looks count too.) Too bad I just got married and bought a house so money is a bit tight.

    The worst part is that I now have a choice of saving up for an X1 or maybe an M6 classic. Never thought I would even consider shooting film, but learning about film M cameras on this site has opened my eyes to a different way of shooting that I am dying to try out. 🙂

    • An M6 is so classic and rewarding. Expensive shooting film (I had to slow down for a while otherwise I would be going broke) but the M6 is a camera you can keep forever and use every now and again when the film bug bites. It’s cheaper than an X1 as well 🙂

      With that said, the X1 is great for IQ but lacks in a few areas such as lightweight build, cheap battery door, fragile paint finish, and the famous slow AF. Even with these quirks, its a beautiful HIGHLY capable camera. Best I have used in a compact form but I hear good things on the Ricoh APS-C cam and Samsung NX10.

  16. Nice comparison. For high ISO, turn off DRO on Sony for high ISO. That introduces more shadow noise.

  17. This is a fun and typical ‘Steve comparison’. Great stuff. Tnx!

    These few images already show the different DOF from the lens/sensor combo’s too.

    I’m looking forward to the high(er) ISO comparison. I have a hunch which way that’ll be heading. Will there be a RAW comparison at some point too? With a JPEG comparison you’re looking almost as much at the JPEG processing engine as you are looking at the lens/sensor. The Oly is known for its great OOC JPEG output while this is not the strongest point of the X1. However, the cards turn significantly in RAW. I’ll be interesting to see how the Sony does too.

    (X1 🙂 )

    • GUess that makes it unfair, with the advantage to Sony. I set all cams to 2.8, but it is possible my thumb hit the wheel after that as it is easily moved on the back of the NEX.

      In any case, I’ll have a bunch more tomorrow, and I will triple check to make sure they are all the same. Thx


  18. It appears a hanging jury has returned it’s verdict on the Nex 3…

    You have to wonder what the thinking behind its design was. A p&s with a big sensor? What consumer target group is that?

    • That’s a great question. I really don’t see a PS crowd wanting to buy something like a Nex. Or even m4/3. IMO, mirrorless cameras are better targeted towards the SLR and enthusiasts who want something smaller to compliment their “bigger” gear. I think most PS users like the flexibility of a zoom lens in a small package. Stick a zoom less (even a collapsible one like the Oly 14-42) on a mirrorless camera, and it’s almost as big as any Rebel. Just my 2 cents.

      • Actually in an interview with the head of Sony’s alpha division, he said that the camera is marketed towards point and shoot users who want to step up to a camera like this. I think we’ll see a more advanced camera (nex 7 perhaps?) for photo enthusiasts sometime around when photokina arrives.

        • You don’t need a “more advanced” model, you need a better model. Would there be a market for a “big” sensored mirrorless small camera, interchangeable lenses of high quality, no frills, simple menu, don’t need all the childish options?

          That would be the X1 with interchangeable lenses and an optical viewer…

          • Well all opinions aside, it is selling very well in the market so I guess there is a market for this type of camera and I’m sure there would be people that this camera is perfectly suited for and I’m sure a “better model” will come out to suit other people’s (photographer enthusiasts) needs too.

      • Armanius said:
        “Stick a zoom less (even a collapsible one like the Oly 14-42) on a mirrorless camera, and it’s almost as big as any Rebel. Just my 2 cents.”

        Agee, my thinking too. And the m4/3 won’t match it on IQ, speed and versatility.

  19. I am now using a combination of the Oly EPL-1 and 2 lenses, the Panasonic 20/1.7 and a Voigtlander 40/1.4, and I couldn’t be happier. Makes a small kit with an equivalent of 40 and 80 lenses. I just started using the Voigtlander and to me it is a dream lens at a great price! Some day, after Steve pushes me to spend my hard earned money on a Leica, I will have a starter lens to use on the darned thing. For now, I love being able to use the M mount lenses on my Oly.

  20. I bought the NEX 5 a few days ago with the two lenses kit. I chose it over the GF1 mainly for the large sensor and some of its automations (I own an M8.2 and a a couple of film M’s, so I wanted a small camera for those times where I need to use autofocus, fast panoramas, full auto mode and a few minutes of video). I havent used a Leica X1 but I’ve used the GF1 with the 20mm f1.7 lens. I agree with your results, the Sony 16mm lens quality is below my expectations (the same goes for the 18-55), and there’s is some heavy distortion also. They cannot take advantage of the largest sensor, so I find the results to be inferior to the GF1 / 20mm lens combo. I also wait for the leica lenses adaptor to see how my Leica lenses will be on the Sony NEX. The menu is really annoying, I have improvised a couple of tricks to work faster but the lack of manual control of modes is frustrating. Finally, I hope that an electronic viewfinder will eventually appear, the LCD is wonderful even in bright sunlight but it’s not a viewfinder, I really think it was a mistake not to offer that choice from the start. As you’ve stated, its IQ is much better than a P&S but at least the pancake lens coud be better (also the 24mm equivalent is too wide for everyday use, a 35mm equivalent would be welcome).

  21. Sony’s OOF rendering is very unpleasant, almost giving me a headache.

  22. I see how soft it is now!
    Wonder how Nex performance with adaptor and Leica or other lens too.
    Hope to see in your review in the future.

  23. @Steve, apart from sensor size, pixel count and in-camera processing, the glass you’re using also has a big impact.

    The Elmarit is obviously a very good lens (it had better be ’cause you can’t choose another one).

    The 17mm Zuiko is certainly inferior to the 20mm Lumix I’m using on my E-P2.

    I’m not familiar with the glass Sony uses.

    I wonder if you could elaborate a little in your upcoming posts on the effect the lens quality has, in combination with the other factors mentioned, on the quality of the final (Jpeg) image.



    • Hey Michiel,

      This is three different camera systems. There is absolutely no way to use the same lens on all three bodies. What this is showing is how the Sony does with it’s only prime lens, which is a 16 2.8. The Oly with the Oly 17 Prime at 2.8, and the X1 with its built in prime, the 24 Elmarit which is indeed the best of the bunch as far as lenses go.

      The Sony lens is the worst of the lot as far as distortion goes, and the Sony zoom is worse from what I have heard and seen.

      Sure lenses will make a difference, but you can only shoot with what is available and right now, the Sony 16 is the best available for Sony, the 24 is the ONLY lens for the X1, and the 17 for the Oly is actually a superb lens which IMO gives a better rendering than the Panny 20 when used on the E-P2 or E-PL1. I sold my 20 to buy the 17 and never looked back, even though it is slower at 2.8. The lens really shines on the E-PL1 though and is as sharp as ANY lens I have shot with on m4/3 (when used on the E-PL1).

      So here is how I would rate the lenses here:

      X1 – Best of the lot and it should be for the cost.

      Oly 17 – Great lens, though not crazy sharp (which is what I like about it) it has a nice way of rendering. The Panny 20 is sharper but I find it a but “harder” in its rendering (On the Oly cams)

      Sony 16 – Not bad, but being a cheap prime, it acts like a cheap prime. Distortion is evident and it is probably due to there being no correction for this in the Sony camera.

      So if Sony comes out with in camera distortion correction and a nice 20-25 F2 prime, then we would be talking, but they would also need to have a better body with some kind of control for me to get into it.

      For me, with all three of these it is not mainly about who is the sharpest. I like to judge them by how much enjoyment I get from using them as well as IQ and I rate the E-P2 first, the X1 second and the NEX 3 last in this regard.

      The X1 will have the sharpest image and overall best IQ, but in use the E-P2 is so fun and with its EVF works very well. The EVF, no real controls, mainly just a point and shoot at this time, but with much better IQ than a P&S.

      I have a NEX 5 on the way which I will probably like a little better with its metal body and feel, but I still am not a fan of the menu system though many will not find it to be an issue at all 🙂 It’s all personal pref.

      Thanks for looking,


      • Thanks Steve for that exposé and insight into your reasoning for really liking, liking less or slightly disliking a camera! I only “handled” the X1, never really “used” it, but I couldn’t get myself to instantly like it. Undoubted quality but insubstantial feel. The E-P2 I instantly liked on picking it up from the shop counter.

        The evf for the E-P2 is a gem because it lets you handle the camera in a very natural way. It gives you a slightly unreal “illuminated” view of the world (it “looks” at the sensor, not through the lens), but it also gives you all the info you need to see. Unfortunately, as I experienced a few days ago, it also disengages from the camera a bit too easily and then you lose the d*mn thing.

        A Voigtlander 40mm viewfinder might be a nice addition.

  24. Great little comparison article and no need for techno babble, the pics do the talking. Looking forward to seeing some other shots to find the low light champion of the trio 😉 This could sway my decision for a smaller digi… thanks Steve

  25. I suspect the oly will lag by 1 stop noise-wise based on pixel pitch and sensor size. Could you post more photos comparing the size of the cameras: front, side, back, 3/4 front views? Thanks.

    • No problem! Part two with low light will be up tomorrow, then part three will be up on Monday showing “real” photos with each along with some thoughts on each camera, when shot side by side with each other.

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