The Olympus OM-D E-M5 sensor. Can you save an under exposed shot? YES!

The Olympus OM-D E-M5 sensor. Can you save an under exposed shot? YES!

I noticed a comment in a post I made earlier with the Crazy Comparison between the Nikon D800, Sony NEX-7 and Olympus OM-D about pulling out shadow detail with a micro 4/3 sensor. So, I decided to try it out because yesterday while shooting in Sedona I purposely under exposed some shots to catch the lighting I wanted. The question is, could I take an under exposed shot and bring out the details hidden in the shadows? After looking at the sample below you will see that the answer to that is YES.

The image below is the SAME shot. I took the RAW file as shot for the 1st one, and for the 2nd one I simply pulled out the shadow detail in the RAW conversion. So it appears this new sensor in the E-M5 is a nice improvement over past M 4/3 sensors. In fact, if I look at the images I shot between all three cameras I brought along, all resized to 1800 pixels wide, I have a hard time telling what camera took what image. That tells me that todays smaller cameras are REALLY good.

Take a look!

These are both the same exact shot/file. The 1st is out of camera from RAW and the 2nd is with the shadow details pulled out. Click them for larger versions. 


  1. After much struggle to decide between the OD-M and NEX 7, I have penned my name down on the reserve list for NEX 7 yesterday. But now… think I am back to the struggle again. Sigh…

          • Hmm. I just bought myself the NEX-7, CV 35mm f1.4 and CV 15mm f4.5. I am getting images like never before, but only complaint is no AF.

            Now you are telling me the OM-D has amazing lenses with AF. I should go jump off a cliff (try taking pictures of me doing that with MF).

            Hmm, should have done more research I guess. I didn’t know about the OM-D at all (I guess its new?) and the large sensor on the NEX + MF assist seemed like a godsend.

    • I used to work for Sony and could have got a NEX7 with a decent discount (I had a NEX-5n), I chose the OM-D with the PL1.4 too. The system is much better than the NEX system and the sensor matches it no problems too.

      Don’t think anyone has sold a OMD for a NEX yet…

      • Thanks for the responses! Sorry, I have more questions!

        Can Leica M mount lenses be used with the OM-D with an adapter?

        Also from what I have read, the OM-D has in-body image stabilization which seems a fabulous feature!

  2. Carry on Steve. Heavily influenced by your OM-D review and overall take on smaller camera systems, I eventually took ownership of my OM-D with grip,12,20 and 45mm primes yesterday afternoon. (It goes without saying that the horse-trading that went on prior to this purchase with my wife, ranks amongst my finest accomplishments). Nontheless I am like my kid when she gets her latest Barbie doll – only my glee has continued into the next day and am sure will continue for many more months. A brilliant camera and system and the primes are simply superb (what a difference to my old zooms). My point is, every article such as the one you penned (typed) above only adds to my conviction of what a fine purchase I made and dispells whatever buyers regret there may have been – there wasn’t to be honest. For any prospective buyers out there, the comments about the small buttons as the only negative.. answer, you quickly get used to them – and I have large hands and sausage like fingers (confirmed by jokes at my expense in the last case). Apologies for the mini-novel and deviation from the theme, but if you are in doubt, don’t be, just buy it – you will not regret the purchase.

  3. and on image quality, judging from the shots i’ve seen, I would say the OMD is pretty good cheeze!

  4. Except that when you need to travel with a camera it’s often the cheezy/plasticy ones that get put in your bag precisely BECAUSE they are lightweight! The heavyweight,meaty, metally ones get left at home and don’t get the shots 🙂

  5. I shot one of these last week while also shooting the D800, 5DMkIII, X100 and H4 Hasselblad.
    I can’t take the damnable TV screen viewer! Nice images but just can not live with that screen.
    Lightweight and felt cheezy/plasticy in hand. Best feel was the X100.

  6. Illya Krasnoschok: highlight recovery isn’t quite as good as shadow recovery.

    That was my experience with my E-P1, as well: highlights don’t recover all that great, but shadow detail can be recovered decently. With Olympus, “expose to the right” should be “expose to the right, but not so much.”

    • The same thing with me Ep1 too. I just thought OMD would be better

  7. Hi Steve

    Great to see you trying out these great experiments with all this new wonderful gear.

    To be honest, I’ve enjoyed great success pulling out the data in the shadows of under exposed shots on my previously owned Panasonic GF-1 and Olympus E-P1. So I don’t think its a solely new advantage with the new batch of M4/3rd sensors.

    I personally think M4/3rd sensors are a lot better than many review sites give them credit for.

    If I compare Raw data next to my Nikon D90 , there really isnt much difference in Dynamic Range.

    Just because they are smaller, does not always mean deminished quality.

    Keep up the good work buddy

    All the best

    Gav J

  8. I suspect B&H and Amazon got the camera with the kit lenses early. It would make sense that Olympus would want to rid their supplies of this older version lens with the new silver lens 45mm and other new lenses.. If I had ordered the camera with lens, I suspect I would have gotten one by now. I say this because both list the kit camera as
    temporary out of stock as opposed to Pre Order. Am I wrong?

  9. It’d de interesting to see if OMD can save OVER exposed shot

    • Most RAW images if reasonably correctly exposed, have about 1 stop of highlight headroom that can be recovered. But, once the pixel has become effectively saturated, that’s it, it can accept no more information. So with highlight detail there is less information to recover. This general “rule” holds for any sized sensor. With shadow detail far more information has been captured, just at a lower level of luminosity, therefore there is more detail that can be extracted.

      So the OMD will perform very much like any other camera when it comes to overexposure. Once you boil water at sea level, its temperature is 100C. Boiling it for longer doesn’t make it hotter!

    • Yep, saw it $1299. Should be good but I will skip at that price. Especially since I have the 12, 25, 45 and soon the new 75 1.8.

  10. Still waiting for my Om-D ordered in first week in February from B&H. No indication I will receive them anytime soon. So, good luck in ordering one. Still, I guess it will be worth the wait; unless, a newer model comes out before my order is filled. 🙂

    • Hey sorry to rub salt in the wound but I just moved to Japan, OMD’s are a dime a dozen in stores haha, well maybe that’s exaggerating but i’ve certainly used them in store, and the way they set them up is just inviting you to com and play with each camera, with the OMD, the NEX7 the Xpro1 and Pentax yadayada all next to each other out in the open fully operational.

      Got to love Japan and cameras, sorry for your wait, it makes me wonder.

  11. Brilliant! This shows the worth of a camera. I would guess for most of us we don’t mind a bit of post processing if we can get the right shot, would love to see some sort of standard comparisons like this in future reviews as the RAW image is the heart of a camera’s capabilities.

  12. The Olympus OM-D E-M5 looks realy good. Are you going to review the Leica X2 Steve? I’m going to buy of them. best Regards. Ulf Greger

  13. Playing with sliders and curves is one of the digital tools available to us. But, I’ve yet to see in any of my own images, even where they are not as significantly underexposed as here, that I actually like the result and somehow always looks slightly unnatural. And so it is here. The original is best left alone, IMHO. 🙂 quite a pleasing shot.

    • TerryB that is the art of PP, it takes many many hundreds of hours to develop the perfect skill level. All 1 thing I have learnt is that I adjust to my liking and then always dial it back a tinge, subtlety is your best friend in PP, but this example is purely for showing what Could be done, not what Should be done.

      Very impressive, never thought it would be able to do this, this is indeed a large improvement on my E-P2, which over the last couple of years I have become very competent in pushing and pulling within it’s limits. I want this camera but the sensible me says wait 6 months.

    • Also I should note, I usually give a good 2 hours of PPing to a shot I like, that might seem obsessive, however a couple of years ago when I was refining my technique through course work I happened to meet one individual who PP’d for his job, i.e. model and advertising shots (didn’t take the shots, just did the PP) Now he took on average 2 days for one shot, and it showed, he brought in befores and afters and in betweens and it was simply amazing, on another level, we all felt very humble haha.

      • Hunter (photographer) or chef (darkroom or software expert)? The two require different skills and talent. What’s your passion? I prefer shooting.

      • Will, there is undoubtedly a lot of skill that can be applied in post processing. But in this case if the guy takes two days pp’ing he could end up only producing 182 photos in a year, or about 5x 36 exposure 35mm films. LOL.

        I’m with retow on this one. 🙂

  14. Matt or Steve,
    is there evidence that Apple is working on EM-5 RAW support? Thanks.

  15. I’m sold. When are B&H going to have stock??? Also, a naieve question – when you say “I simply pulled out the shadow detail in the RAW conversion” – How? In PhotoShop? The Olympus Software?

    • Exactly, the 1st one is the shot I wanted. I just used it as an example of how you can indeed get that detail back. Not saying version 2 is better, just showing what can be done if you have a photo that needs it.

  16. Is this something that’s available in other raw files?

    The image does seem a bit flat, or lacking in contrast. That could probably be fixed in post-processing however.

  17. Thanks, Steve. I do reviews for Russian auditory and it’s first MFT camera I can use as primary! Great flexible RAWs. And I just fell in love with ergonomics! It’s so great to have EV compensation wheel under your finger =) Also amazing LCD screen, looks like Apple’s Retina =)
    Best regards

  18. Are you kidding, that is one clean detailed photo. You have now made my decision in my next camera purchase more difficult. Very difficult indeed. In your day to day use how is the Image Stability? I have seen a few things here and there saying that its not on par with other competitors including other MFT.

  19. Very impressive, and i don’t see much noise… can we get a 100% crop to see noise level? Also, how about a test of the opposite? How much can we recover out of blown highlights? Not expecting miracles but I’m curious:)

  20. So much better than the EP3 I had, which I sold because inferior DR in comparison to good aps-c sensors. This is impressive, indeed.

  21. I think you should compare the dynamic ranges for the OM-D and D800 together.

    • It’s such a fun camera to shoot with. Takes a couple of days to setup to your liking and get used to the tight controls, but then it’s just great.

      I love taking it just about everywhere, and unlike DLSRs, people notice the thing but they don’t look at you like the “big camera geek”. Had a guy tell me: ‘My dad had one exactly like that…” -then he saw the screen- “…oh, thats digital. Cool.”

      I’ve turned off NR completely like steve suggested and have been very pleased with the results. I capped ISO to 2500, and it works great with the IS and primes unless you need to stop action. But honestly 3200 was just fine too. Even 6400 is useable. Overall images have a rich look to them, with solid blacks and no weird banding or chunky noise.

      You’ll love it.

  22. I also remarked about the lacking shadows in the former comparison, but this is indeed pretty impressive. 🙂

  23. I am just amazed with my E-M5 image quality!… Yes, Shadows can recovered nicely, at a slight of contrast though. BUT, it’s doable. The 2nd photo is a little flat, but, an easy fix w/o dropping out the shadows. But, when recovering shadows, Contrast is always the sacrifice. Side Note on landscapes: I have found with E-M5, for landscape, that if I adjust the Amber setting (SCP “A” on the top row) to “A+2” wood and other earthy colors are less magenta.

    • Also on the second shot a little boost on the green saturation and with a little less cut in green luminosity and very careful + use of the black slide in lightroom will give a lift to depth.
      I will remember your amber adjustment.

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