Revenge of the EM5

The Lake District. Olympus EM5 with 12-40 lens, 0.6 ND Grad filter.
The Lake District. Olympus EM5 with 12-40 lens, 0.6 ND Grad filter.

Over the last few months I have been noticing an increase in the image noise from my EM5. Some areas which you would expect to be free from noise, such as clouds and blue sky, are starting to display faint traces of noise. These then become quite exaggerated when processed hard with Nik filters. In addition, I was beginning to feel that the greens and blues in the EM5 images just weren’t quite right, but it was difficult to put my finger on the problem.

It’s hard to say when this started but it may be that I was becoming increasingly fussy about quality as the Sony A7r was generally producing much cleaner images. A further factor may be that where I had begun to process old RAW files from the Canon 300D I was also seeing a very clean image, surprisingly so. All these factors started to suggest to me that it might be time to upgrade the EM5 or perhaps even switch to another camera manufacturer.

My intention had been to hold out and get the new EM1 when Olympus gets around to launching but I don’t know what the timeline is. In any case, I didn’t feel that happy with the Olympus colour handling and it certainly wasn’t as good as the Sony. These perceived problems together with my impatience lead to me trying a Fuji X-T1. The Fuji line up would also give me a great ultra-wide angle lens in the 10-24mm that would also accept filters. This was a failing of the Micro 43 ultra wides with only the Olympus 9-18mm taking filters but which suffers from edge distortion at 9mm (at least that’s what I was telling myself).

Hopefully this gives you an idea why last week I purchased a used Fuji X-T1 together with 2 lenses. Now the EM5 has taken revenge by making me regret this decision.

At the weekend I collected the new camera from the post office and headed off to the Peak District to try it out (between the heavy showers). Later with the images on my computer, what I saw shocked me. I called my wife in to get her opinion of the images and the first words out of her mouth was that the Fuji image “looked like a watercolour painting”, and that’s without zooming in on the detail. You can see this image below.

Fuji Sample
Fuji Sample

When you zoom in to the detail you don’t see much at all other than blur. Take a look at this 100% crop from the point of focus. You may need to click the image below to appreciate it fully.

Section of Fuji at 100%
Section of Fuji at 100% – click the image to enlarge

Now let’s compare this with an image shot on the EM5 from a couple of weeks earlier.

Olympus EM5 sample
Olympus EM5 sample

And again, here is a 100% crop from the point of focus.

EM5 section at 100% - click to enlarge image
EM5 section at 100% – click to enlarge image

Both images have been sharpened only slightly in Lightroom as part of the conversion from RAW. I found I couldn’t sharpen the Fuji very much without causing artefacts. Both images have noise reduction turned off. Both sections are from the point of focus.

I can also tell you that this effect has occurred on all the Fuji images using both lenses and across different apertures. Fine details just vanish and become smudged.

I find this unusual as a friend who has the same Fuji shared a RAW file with me before I bought the camera so I could check the image quality and it was much better than I seem to be able to achieve. Another friend has also just shared a link with me which confirms the “watercolour” effect is a known problem with the Fuji XTrans sensor when using Adobe RAW converters.

I will need to investigate this further but if I can’t find an easy solution the camera will need to go back. This would be a shame as it’s a really great camera to use. Perhaps I should have waited for the EM1 MKII after all.



37 thoughts on “Revenge of the EM5

  1. Quick message to say you’ve a typo. Form should read ‘from’.Over the last few months I have been noticing an increase in the image noise form my EM5

    Pleasure reading as always.

    Best wishes MelvinMelvin Nicholson PhotographyPreston, Lancashire Mobile: 07813 950378

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  2. Check your camera settings for sharpening, shadow detail and highlight detail. The camera might be set up in a portrait type of way. I haven’t had an issue with sharpness or contrast from my Fuji lenses. In fact I find them to be astoundingly sharp from the expensive primes right up to the non-pro zooms. Colors from the Fuji brand have a different look to them. Some love it and some hate it. This may have been in a film simulation mode having less saturation or contrast. Velvia mode gives intense saturation, almost too much. All modes can be adjusted individually. Don’t give up on the camera just yet. Put it through its paces.

  3. The effect you’re seeing is a widely discussed issue with Adobe’s handling of RAF files. The most satisfactory solution I’ve found is doing my raw conversions in Iridient Developer before importing into Lightroom for cataloging.

    If you’re wanting to use a 100% Lightroom workflow, RAF files require a different approach to sharpening than raw files from other manufacturers. While not as clean as the Iridient conversions, these settings from Pete Bridgwood produce acceptable results for many people.


    1. Thanks. I am looking into different RAW converters at the moment. There are some interesting options but Lightroom is definitely poor. I do like the site you recommend though. Very good. Thanks for sharing.

  4. You should try to proccess your raw file with Capture One Pro before you return your camera.

  5. I was having similar issues with the X100s. The worst problem I had with the XTrans sensor was where red areas were up against blue, causing strange fringing (think Golden Gate Bridge against blue sky). It happened in out-of-camera jpegs too, so it wasn’t my workflow. Anyway, I’ve since sold it in favor of my OM-D E-M5 II. The Fuji lenses are excellent, but I wish I could say the same about their sensors.

  6. Want to try something new?
    D750 with the 1.8 primes
    20,35,85 or 24,50,85
    Lightweight, the sensor is incredible, 1000 shots per battery, optical viewfinder, outstanding AF
    Not mirrorless tho …..(!)

    1. Thanks. I had a flirtation with a D800 a couple of years back. Image quality and RAW files were lovely but I couldn’t get used to the camera. Much heavier than the EM5 for carrying up hills and mountains as well.

  7. I have the fuji x pro and use light room 4 and cs3 and the images are beautiful. the fuji will not take a lot of heavy processing but I don’t find I ever need it.

    1. Before I bought the XT1 a friend sent me some of his RAW files and they processed through Lightroom great, much better than what I am now seeing. I checked them again just the other day and I still don’t see the problem I see now.

  8. Welcome to the world of Fuji which Adobe PS & LR maynot have heard of.yet.
    Have a look at the work of Thomas Fitzgerald. His Processing XTrans in LR may be a little out of date – with updated LR & ACR, but he offers much sound advice and food for thought.
    Also, take heart from Pete Bridgwood’s monthly columns in Outdoor Photography.
    Above all, please don’t give up on your X-T1 and your many readers who use Fujis and need your ability to explore issues and offer advice written in plain English.

  9. I hope you have now sorted the Problem Robin, I thought it would create a good Friday Blog, and looks like a good response from others with Fuji Camera’s. As you know I have had no issues with any of my Fuji lenses or camera. All the Best.

  10. I had the same experience, despite much trial & error to try & sort out the watercolour effect I was not happy with the results. I could not live with this camera for landscape work & sold it after a couple of months.

  11. You should try to proccess your raw file with Capture One Pro before you return your camera.

  12. These are my default sharpening settings for X-Trans:
    Amount 35
    Radius: 1.4
    Detail: 100
    Masking: 30

    Noise red. is set to 0 for both color and luminance.

    Capture one handles aggressive sharpening a lot better. My usual settings:
    Amount: around 400
    Radius: 0.8
    Threshold: 0

    Be sure to turn of noise red.

    However, I do think m43 + FF is the perfect combo.

  13. Ive no hands on Fuji experience but have had an ear to the ground regarding the the XT series system. I think most gear heads are always on the look out. However ive read enough to satisfy myself that I made the right choice to go m4/3 Oly all the way. I have both the 7-14 f2.8 and the old 4/3 9-18mm with adapter to fit my E-M1 Ive tested them both at 9mm and see no real world difference regarding sharpness or distortion. I was actually gutted to find the 7-14mm was no sharper in the corners. Fact is, they are both excellent lenses. I dont use filters, but exposure bracket then merge in photomatix.

    1. Your experience with M43 sounds very much like mine. Over the past few years the kit has performed great but despite this, I found I wanted something more. I want better greens and blues and I wanted cleaner images. I’m not done with M43 yet though.

  14. Lots of good advice here. The Adobe world dances to the tune of the Canikon majority. A third party raw developer is a must even for Olympus and Panasonic users and essential for Fuji XTrans. Iridient Developer and Capture One both get high marks from wonks for their handling of minority sensor raw files. ID at $99 is a full featured develop only module, while Capture One at $299 gives you top notch development plus more of what a program like Lightroom provides in terms of image management and global adjustments.

    Fuji have been sensor mavericks from the get go.

    Fujj and Kodak ruled the digital world initially with their CCD sensors. Those sensors had the advantage of being analog (originally developed for video cams) and thus had a much larger color space. They are still used in almost all medium format cameras, and the 16 and 18 bit color they produce is visibly superior to even the best cMOS based sensors. Unfortunately, they guzzled energy, which meant small batteries were quickly drained, sensor heat created noise at high ISOs, and analog to digital translation meant slow burst modes and no live view. Fuji persisted until their pro digital camera line declined, and Nikon, their biggest customer, finally went cMOS. The adoption of a Fuji sensor by the first (and only) Contax DSLR essentially put that nameplate out of business.

    Their next sensor gambit was an attempt to save CCD through another oddball strategy, using a hexagonal array instead of the standard rectilinear Bayer. This EXR array offered two theoretical pluses – since there would be equal numbers of red, blue and green sites, one could lower the pixel density by 25% by eliminating the redundant extra green sites, and thus mitigate the heat, noise and power usage. Moire would disappear, so the anti-aliasing filter could go. Unfortunately, monitors, printers, and software all use rectilinear arrays of pixels, so any advantages gained by the new strategy were soon forfeited by the complexity of the de-mosaicing .

    Fuji has finally accepted the cMOS advantages, but can’t help fiddling with the sensor, this time by making the color pattern of pixel sites repeat every block of 9 sites instead of the 4 on the standard Bayer array. This xTrans causes a tradeoff of proportionally more green sites (5 in 9 vs 2 in 4) but the de-mosaicing over the larger block also creates less chroma noise. If developed properly, XTrans files produce a slightly less accurate color rendition but a more consistent one. Advocates almost universally use the word “pleasing,” but those who heavily process their images complain of lost sharpness and strange effects. When the files are properly processed, they are lauded for a filmic look. When munged by Camera Raw or Lightroom, results can be disappointing.

    It’s not terribly unlike the situation with the earlier EXR sensor (which ironically had the opposite approach), except that nowadays, we have third party software that can handle the conversions.

  15. You might try Serif’s Affinity for photos. It’s easy to use with lots of tutorials and works well on a Mac, plus it’s inexpensive.

  16. Personally, I would never pick a Fuji X-Trans camera for landscape use. As far as RAW demosaicing options go, it seems as if you either end up with softer, cleaner files, or sharp files that don’t have any advantage over Bayer sensors in terms of noise. It seems like a lot of additional work for a dubious advantage of your existing kit.

    I can see Fuji’s the appeal if shooting JPEGs, or if you are primarily a portrait shooter, but in this circumstance it looks like a strictly sideways move from your E-M5.

    1. Possibly but there are other advantages of the Fuji in terms of colour handling, cleaner files at higher ISO, more flexibility in the RAW files and an amazing 10-24 lens. Having said all this, I still can’t make my mind up if it’s worth the extra work required in switching. My plan was to pick up the XT2 after it launched but I’m now quite uncertain what the best course is.

  17. The watercolour effect on foliage (greens) has been known when the Fuji X series camera have been launched, Adobe Lr and Camera Raw been the most affected.
    The latest versions of Adobe software brought a huge improvement.

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