Astounding resolution from High Res Shot Mode

by Mike Tomkins

In early 2015, Olympus debuted a brand-new feature in its enthusiast-grade E-M5 Mark II. Dubbed High Res Shot Mode, this was the cause of much excitement because it allowed a pretty impressive step forward in resolution, a significant reduction in noise levels, and an impressive resistance to moiré artifacts. All of this was achieved thanks to a technique known as oversampling.

In effect, what the E-M5 II did was to capture eight images in quick succession using an electronic shutter to avoid resolution-robbing vibrations. Between each frame's capture, the camera made very subtle adjustments to the positioning of its sensor-shift image stabilization system. These sub-pixel sized adjustments let the sensor gather more information about its subject, resulting in the advantages mentioned above.

The technology itself isn't actually new; it dates back at least as far as the late 1980s to the ProgRes 3000-series cameras from Kontron. And over the years, we've seen a handful of fixed-lens consumer cameras such as the Ricoh RDC-7, JVC QX3 HD and JVC QX5 HD use a similar approach. (There are likely others which have done the same, but if so they escape our memory right now.)

Image shot with the Olympus PEN-F at ISO 200 using High Res Shot Mode

What made the Olympus E-M5 II so exciting was that it brought oversampling to an affordable, interchangeable-lens camera which already had reasonably high resolution, bringing the potential for extremely high-res imagery to the masses. Shortly after Olympus launched its first High Res Shot Mode-equipped model, rival Ricoh brought a similar function to its Pentax K-3 II DSLR -- albeit with some differences in the implementation -- and the game was truly on!

And now, Olympus' High Res Shot Mode arrives for the first time in a PEN-series camera. That makes it all the more exciting, in no small part because it allows resolution akin to what you'd expect from a medium-format camera, but in a body that's even more compact than that of the E-M5 II. And as an added bonus, the higher resolution of the Olympus PEN-F's new image sensor means that there's more data than ever for this new camera to work with.

Where the E-M5 II was limited to a 40-megapixel JPEG or a 64-megapixel raw file in High Res Shot Mode -- and where the Pentax K-3 II still records at its native sensor resolution of 24 megapixels -- the Olympus PEN-F will be able to provide a whopping JPEG resolution of 50 megapixels in High Res Shot Mode. Switch to raw format, and you'll be able to capture imagery at an astounding resolution of 80 megapixels!

To reach these lofty heights, though, you'll need to process your raw files on your computer. Adobe Camera Raw 9.5 and Lightroom CC 2015.5 / Lightroom 6.5 now natively support PEN-F High Res raw files, as does a free Photoshop CS5 or higher High Res Shot plug-in from Olympus. Or you can use the newly-upgraded Olympus Viewer 3, which now supports processing of High Res Shot Mode raws. You'll need to be using at least a reasonably recent computer, as the plug-in and Viewer 3 need a 64-bit processor / operating system and 4GB of memory, but if you've made an upgrade in the last few years it's very likely your computer will meet the grade. (And if not, you can still shoot 50-megapixel JPEGs in-camera, or process your High Res Shot Mode raws in-camera to obtain a 50-megapixel JPEG after the fact. You just won't quite reach the 80-megapixel limit without processing your images on a computer.)

100% crop from the High Res Shot Mode image above. As you can see, moving subjects like the flags aren't rendered properly; both camera and subject should be static for the best results.

Of course, there are some gotchas when shooting at such high resolutions. For one thing, you're going to want to be using reasonably high-quality lenses to get the best results. If your glass isn't up to the job, no amount of technical wizardry is going to improve your results.

You'll also need to be shooting with the camera mounted on a tripod and with a subject that's pretty much static, because any subject or camera motion during capture of the eight frames used to make a High Res Shot Mode image will prevent the technique from working. That rules out use of the function for sports, nature, family photos and the like, but if you're shooting landscapes, architecture, still lifes, product photography and the like, you should be just fine.

You'll be limited to a sensitivity of ISO 1600-equivalent or below, although this makes a lot of sense when one considers that your subjects must be static, and that increasing the sensitivity would also raise noise levels (and thereby rob detail courtesy of noise reduction.)

But enough of the theory: What about the real world? How does the Olympus PEN-F's High Res Shot Mode compare to that of the E-M5 II, or the similar Pixel Shift Resolution mode of the Pentax K-3 II? And how does it compete with what's possible from a camera which offers really high-res imagery captured in a single shot? That's what we wanted to know, so we got the PEN-F into our lab to answer the question just as quickly as possible.

Read on to see how the PEN-F performed. We don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that the results are absolutely stunning!

NOTE: The Olympus PEN-F images below are 100% crops from High Res Shot Mode JPEGs at the 50-megapixel resolution provided in-camera. We're comparing these to 100% crops of 40-megapixel High Res Shot Mode JPEGs from the Olympus E-M5 II, 24.35-megapixel Pixel Shift Resolution JPEGs from the Pentax K-3 II, and 50.6-megapixel JPEGs from the Canon EOS 5DS R. All crops link to full-resolution images straight out of their respective cameras. Since we're most interested in resolution and noise levels in this analysis, we're comparing images shot at the lowest noise reduction level offered by each camera.

100% crop from the Olympus PEN-F at ISO 200 using High Res Shot Mode
100% crop from the Olympus E-M5 II at ISO 200 using High Res Shot Mode
100% crop from the Pentax K-3 II at ISO 200 using Pixel Shift Resolution function
100% crop from the Canon EOS 5DS R at ISO 200, captured as a single-frame exposure

At base sensitivity, things are looking mighty promising for the Olympus PEN-F's High Res Shot Mode function. Bearing in mind the resolution differences between cameras, the PEN-F is clearly capturing a fair bit more detail than the lower-resolution E-M5 II managed using the same mode. The Pentax K-3 II likewise trails the PEN-F, as you'd expect with just half the output resolution when oversampling. Perhaps most interesting is the comparison against the Canon EOS 5DS R, however: If anything we'd have to give the PEN-F a slight edge in the detail department. That's pretty impressive when one considers that we're comparing a 20-megapixel Four Thirds-sensored camera against one with a 50.6-megapixel full-frame image sensor!


100% crop from the Olympus PEN-F at ISO 200 using High Res Shot Mode
100% crop from the Olympus E-M5 II at ISO 200 using High Res Shot Mode
100% crop from the Pentax K-3 II at ISO 200 using Pixel Shift Resolution function
100% crop from the Canon EOS 5DS R at ISO 200, captured as a single-frame exposure

Looking at the bottle labels, results are similar. Again, the PEN-F turns in a very impressive result, matching or perhaps just slightly besting the Canon EOS 5DS R for resolution. And for bonus points, it also manages to avoid the unsightly moiré visible in the green portion of the Samuel Smith label, which is a result of the fine halftone pattern used in printing the label. The Olympus E-M5 II holds its own pretty well, but to our eye there's just a little less detail, which is most noticeable in the mosaic label of the Hellas bottle. And again, Pentax's approach -- while it yields a very crisp image indeed -- holds onto the least detail of the group.


100% crop from the Olympus PEN-F at ISO 400 using High Res Shot Mode
100% crop from the Olympus E-M5 II at ISO 400 using High Res Shot Mode
100% crop from the Pentax K-3 II at ISO 400 using Pixel Shift Resolution function
100% crop from the Canon EOS 5DS R at ISO 400, captured as a single-frame exposure

Bumping the sensitivity up to ISO 400, the difference between the Olympus PEN-F and E-M5 II in High Res Shot Mode becomes even more noticeable. There's quite a bit more detail in the smaller camera's rendering of the finer thread patterns, especially in the red fabric swatch. Compared to the Canon EOS 5DS R, the PEN-F is running neck and neck in the detail department, but it does manage a little better with the red swatch. And once again, the Pentax K-3 II brings up the rear, with less detail as one would expect given the difference in output resolution -- but of course its file sizes are also barely more than half those of the PEN-F and 5DS R.


100% crop from the Olympus PEN-F at ISO 400 using High Res Shot Mode
100% crop from the Olympus E-M5 II at ISO 400 using High Res Shot Mode
100% crop from the Pentax K-3 II at ISO 400 using Pixel Shift Resolution function
100% crop from the Canon EOS 5DS R at ISO 400, captured as a single-frame exposure

Returning to the bottles, once again the PEN-F matches the Canon 5DS R for resolution while avoiding that camera's moiré patterning in the Samuel Smith label. Look closely, though, and Canon's image is rather cleaner; you can see a bit more noise from the PEN-F's High Res Shot Mode in the shadows between the two labels, and in the flatter areas of the labels themselves. The E-M5 II trails its new sibling in terms of detail, but its image is also just slightly less noisy. And finally, the Pentax K-3 II offers up a pretty clean result, but with less detail than its rivals.


100% crop from the Olympus PEN-F at ISO 800 using High Res Shot Mode
100% crop from the Olympus E-M5 II at ISO 800 using High Res Shot Mode
100% crop from the Pentax K-3 II at ISO 800 using Pixel Shift Resolution function
100% crop from the Canon EOS 5DS R at ISO 800, captured as a single-frame exposure

Moving another notch up the sensitivity scale, the Olympus PEN-F continues to impress at ISO 800. The E-M5 II has fallen even further behind in the detail department, and only the Canon EOS 5DS R with its much larger, higher-res sensor can keep up. Particularly in the red swatch, the E-M5 II and Pentax K-3 II have now lost much of the finer thread detail.


100% crop from the Olympus PEN-F at ISO 800 using High Res Shot Mode
100% crop from the Olympus E-M5 II at ISO 800 using High Res Shot Mode
100% crop from the Pentax K-3 II at ISO 800 using Pixel Shift Resolution function
100% crop from the Canon EOS 5DS R at ISO 800, captured as a single-frame exposure

Moving back to the bottles once more, the Olympus PEN-F's High Res Shot Mode turns in a noticeably noisier result than that from the E-M5 II, but also holds onto more detail. And again, the comparison is very close indeed with the Canon 5DS R.


100% crop from the Olympus PEN-F at ISO 1600 using High Res Shot Mode
100% crop from the Olympus E-M5 II at ISO 1600 using High Res Shot Mode
100% crop from the Pentax K-3 II at ISO 1600 using Pixel Shift Resolution function
100% crop from the Canon EOS 5DS R at ISO 1600, captured as a single-frame exposure

And finally, we arrive at the ISO 1600 upper sensitivity limit for High Res Shot Mode on both the Olympus PEN-F and E-M5 II. The PEN-F still manages to hold its own against the Canon EOS 5DS R, and its edge over the E-M5 II increases significantly, with much more detail in the thread patterns. The Pentax K-3 II trails by quite some way, having lost almost all of the finer detail.


100% crop from the Olympus PEN-F at ISO 1600 using High Res Shot Mode
100% crop from the Olympus E-M5 II at ISO 1600 using High Res Shot Mode
100% crop from the Pentax K-3 II at ISO 1600 using Pixel Shift Resolution function
100% crop from the Canon EOS 5DS R at ISO 1600, captured as a single-frame exposure

And finally, we return to the bottles at ISO 1600-equivalent. Here, the Canon EOS 5DS R bests the PEN-F in terms of noise, but the Olympus still better manages to avoid moiré. The pair are head and shoulders above both the E-M5 II and Pentax K-3 II. The earlier Olympus camera does, however, have quite a bit less noise than does the new model, even if it can't come close on resolution.


Below are a couple of comparisons of 80-megapixel raw conversions from the Olympus PEN-F against 64-megapixel raw conversions from the Olympus E-M5 II using Olympus Viewer 3 with default settings at ISO 200 and 1600. As noted previously, these maximum resolutions cannot be attained in-camera.

100% crop from the Olympus PEN-F at ISO 200 using High Res Shot Mode raw conversion using Olympus Viewer 3 at default settings
100% crop from the Olympus E-M5 II at ISO 200 using High Res Shot Mode raw conversion using Olympus Viewer 3 at default settings
100% crop from the Olympus PEN-F at ISO 200 using High Res Shot Mode raw conversion using Olympus Viewer 3 at default settings
100% crop from the Olympus E-M5 II at ISO 200 using High Res Shot Mode raw conversion using Olympus Viewer 3 at default settings

The 80-megapixel PEN-F raw conversion does resolve more detail than the 64-megapixel E-M5 II conversion, however perhaps not quite as much as you'd expect from the relative pixel counts. Both still manage to avoid the unsightly moiré in the green portion of the Samuel Smith label.


100% crop from the Olympus PEN-F at ISO 1600 using High Res Shot Mode raw conversion using Olympus Viewer 3 at default settings
100% crop from the Olympus E-M5 II at ISO 1600 using High Res Shot Mode raw conversion using Olympus Viewer 3 at default settings
100% crop from the Olympus PEN-F at ISO 1600 using High Res Shot Mode raw conversion using Olympus Viewer 3 at default settings
100% crop from the Olympus E-M5 II at ISO 1600 using High Res Shot Mode raw conversion using Olympus Viewer 3 at default settings

It's a similar story at ISO 1600, the highest resolution supported in High Res Shot Mode, with the PEN-F resolving modestly more detail than the E-M5 II, while noise levels are roughly equal, and much lower than native resolution files.

You can view the intermediate ISO conversions using the following links (clicking on the crops above provide access to ISO 200 and 1600 files):
ISO 400: PEN-F E-M5 II
ISO 800: PEN-F E-M5 II

 



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