A Short Comparison between Olympus E-PL1 and Canon G12 in Low Light


Since I own the Olympus E-PL1 and the Canon PowerShot G12 I wanted to know how good these cameras are in low light. At base ISO both cameras perform very well with an advantage in dynamic range for the G12. The noise of both cameras can be seen, but is much too low in order to be a problem. If ISO increases, one will expect, that the E-PL1 has a big advantage concerning noise because of its much larger sensor. But is this really the case?

My test scenario is no scientific one, but the results might still be interesting. I took a photograph of the same subject in low light (incandescent light bulbs). I set the ISO to 3200, which is the maximum of both cameras. On the E-PL1 I mounted a Canon FD 2.8/24mm and set the aperture to 2.8 and used automatic exposure and automatic white balance. On my G12 I set a focal length which is about the equivalent focal length of 24mm on a E-PL1. All other settings were the same: automatic exposure and automatic white balance. I shot in raw and developed the files in Lightroom 3.3 RC.

Let's see the original files without any adjustments. First the whole pictures:


Olympus E-PL1, 24mm @ f/2.8, 1/90, ISO 3200


Canon PowerShot G12, 9.8mm @ f/3.2, 1/40, ISO 3200

100% crop (E-PL1):


100% crop (G12):


No noise reduction was applied (apart from 25 chromatic noise reduction, which Lightroom sets as default). One can see immediately, that the exposure is about one full stop apart. The Olympus is too dark, but the Canon is a little bit too light, but not much. If one shoots raw, one will do well by exposing to the right in order to improve the signal/noise ratio. So the G12 did the exposure just right.

The white balance differs, too (temperature / tint):

E-PL1: 3350 / -14
G12: 2750 / +4

Obviously, the G12 got the white balance right, while the E-PL1 needs correction, but this won't be any problem besides one further step in post processing, at least if one shoots raw. The big difference in exposure would be a big surprise, if there were a bigger difference concerning noise.

Concerning noise this is no fair test, since I would have to fix the exposure and increasing the exposure setting makes noise worse and decreasing the exposure setting improves noise. Thus I took some more pictures:


Olympus E-PL1, 24mm @ f/4, 1/60, ISO 3200


Canon PowerShot G12, 9.8mm @ f/4, 1/60, ISO 3200

100% crop (E-PL1):


100% crop (G12):


As you can see, the exposure is the same now. I set the white balance in camera to artificial light which resulted in the following settings (temperature / tint):

E-PL1: 2650 / +1
G12: 2650 / -1

In all cases I set the camera profile to "Adobe Standard" (usually I use "Camera Neutral" for the G12). All settings are equal and no noise reduction was applied besides of the default chromatic noise reduction. Both pictures still look very different concerning colors, brightness and contrast. But I still miss the big difference concerning noise, which is a surprise!

In real life I would apply noise reduction to these pictures. Thus I set luminance noise reduction to 50 for both photographs.

100% crop (E-PL1):


100% crop (G12):


This is no scientific test. It is only a quick and dirty test. I did not use my tripod and I shot only one single subject which is evenly lit. But the cause for this test is my subjective impression, that I am not able to get as much difference in image quality in bad light as I expected because of the difference in sensor sizes. To be honest, this is not even the case for lower ISO, either.

However, concerning the Canon G12, I do not get anywhere near to above quality with Canon's Digital Photo Professional. But since I am most interested in what I can get by following my own workflow, I don't care about what the same pictures would like, if I used different programs.

I hope, you liked my comparison!

Best wishes,


betwixt and between
Real Name
Christian, thank you very much for sharing your findings with us! I admire people such as yourself who are able to test out these different things. I feel completely out of my depth, that's for sure.


Los Angeles
Hi, thanks for taking the time to do the comparison. A suggestion- I would love to see this with a subject with more fine detail, so we can see detail:noise.

Amin did a similar comparison with Panasonic G1, S90, and GRD III awhile back-

In that comparison the M 4/3 sensor clearly performed better by retaining greater detail over the entire ISO range. Some post NR would make the images look similar in terms of noise, but further detail would be lost in the S90 and GRD III. So I am curious if your results with your cameras would be similar, or perhaps not...
The Olympus camera shows substantially more detail than the Canon G12 which is to be exepected. There really is no surprise here. The detail in the G12 has been obilerated to give the impression of low noise. In isolation, it looks reasonable enough but falls down in the comparision. I would consider ISO3200 in the Canon G12 a step too far.

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