Olympus Pen

The Olympus PEN E-PL1 vs Nikon D3000 paradox

Petavoxel recently bemoaned the fact that the majority of sensors in recent micro four thirds EVIL cameras (or MILCs, if you prefer) perform poorly compared to contemporary APS-C sized sensors in digital SLRs. The only exception was the Panasonic GH1, which put up quite a respectable showing compared to its μ4/3 stablemates.

Yesterday dpreview posted their review of the E-PL1, and they were very happy with its high ISO performance. I quote:

Overall, the E-PL1′s images are the most natural and convincing here – avoiding the D3000′s overly contrasty, noisier images …  Most impressive is the E-PL1′s ability to produce results comparable with the EOS 500D and Pentax K-x, despite its smaller sensor.

But what does DXO Labs have to say? They disagree, showing that the big three leave the E-PL1 gasping for photons with a lowly 487  points in the low-light ISO stakes.

Hence, the paradox.

How do these two $500-ish cameras weigh up against each other?

How can this be? Is either DXO Labs or dpreview writing nonsense? The keen observer will notice that there are two significant differences in the way these two respected websites measure image quality:

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The rise and fall of the digital SLR

During the latter days of film photography, almost every photographer used 35mm film, and almost every serious photographer used a 35mm film SLR. In the early days of digital photography the SLR was almost forgotten, only to make a huge comeback since 2003. There are signs that this is again to change. Why? This blog post will try to sum it up.

SLR is an acronym for “single lens reflex”, and means that the photographer physically looks through the lens by means of a rather complex mirror and prism setup. In the film days this was the only way to accurately show a photographer how his picture was going to look, since his eye was physically seeing the same image that was going to be projected onto the film when the shutter was pressed.

The complex path that light travels in a (digital) SLR camera

Compact “point and shoot” cameras had separate optical viewfinders through which the user framed the picture, but suffered from parallax error (especially when looking at close subjects), and could not properly show focus, depth of field or exposure.

A 35mm point and shoot camera

All of this changed with the advent of digital photography.

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