Today is going to be a little bit different. I’d like to focus on a special feature I touched on briefly in the episode above. The Hi-Res Mode of the Olympus OM-D cameras.
We’re going to get quite techie here, so please bear with me…
The Hi-Res Mode is a feature you will find in the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, E-M5 Mark II and the PEN-F. And it allows you to shoot an image of up to 80MP* with a much lower resolution sensor.
*different camera models have different resolutions in Hi-Res mode.
Short And Sweet
The camera captures multiple images by shifting the sensor and then combining these images into one large, high-resolution RAW (or JPG) file.
Long and Detailed
To understand how the high-resolution mode works, we first have to understand a little bit about how a camera sensor works.
The following is a simplified explanation. I’m not a camera engineer, nor do I develop or build cameras, so I’ll do my best to explain how things work, without getting into too much detail about the things even I don’t fully understand.
Before we go the full 100% nerd, there are a few words and terms you should better understand:
- Bayer Filter Mosaic – A Bayer filter mosaic is a colour filter array (CFA) for arranging RGB colour filters on a square grid of photosensors. Its particular arrangement of colour filters is used in most single-chip digital image sensors used in digital cameras, camcorders, and scanners to create a colour image — [Source: Wikipedia]
- Photosites = Pixels on a modern camera. This isn’t always true, but for reason of simplification, we’ll assume this. In fact, photosites are the actual, physically present entity on a sensor. Pixels are an abstract construct, saved in memory. A sensor is made up of Photosites, not Pixels.
- RGB – Red, Green, Blue – the 3 values that make up the final colour in a pixel.
- Pixel – PICture + ELement = Pixel. The squares of RGB information that make up an image. In digital imaging, a pixel is a physical point in a raster image, or the smallest addressable element in an all points addressable display device; so it is the smallest controllable element of a picture represented on the screen. [Source: Wikipedia]
As light travels through the lens it will hit the sensor. A sensor is covered with tiny ‘filters that break down the light into Reds Greens and Blues.
Behind each tiny filter are photosites.
Photosites are the physical units that will respond to the incoming, filtered light and generate one of these RGB values into an electronic signal.
In a Bayer matrix, the photosites are arranged into a repetitive pattern of 2×2 squares. Each includes one photosite for Red, one for Blue, and two for Green component (the human eye is more sensitive to shades of green, hence double the information of green on a sensor)
Finally, the pixels are mapped to the location of one photosite on the sensor. Resulting in:
1 Photosite = Area of 1 Pixel.
However, since a photosite only gathers either one Red, one Green OR one Blue value. In order to collect the other values the neighbouring R, G or B values are ‘borrowed’ (aka demosaicing) to make up the information needed to complete a pixel.
So yes, in fact, a pixel only has ONE true colour value from its actual position, and then gets the remaining 2 values from neighbouring photo sites to complete the full RGB values it needs.
FYI: The amount neighbouring values used to make up the missing data for each pixel depending on the camera and interpolation software used. In a RAW file, your RAW processor (i.e. Adobe Lightroom) will do this process. In a JPG, the camera will do this process is called demosaicing.
Regardless, the process of ‘borrowing’ can cause various issues like random noise & false colour, artefacts, soft edges etc.
We can summarise that in a normal photo each Pixel’s colour information is only 33% accurate. And in fact, your image is being ‘upscaled and a pixel really only represents the one Red, Green or Blue value of its photosite, since the remaining two values are ‘borrowed’ and averaged.
So, in fact, we can’t be 100% certain that the colour information is exactly correct for a pixel.
Unless we use…
Olympus makes use of the motors that are normally dedicated to stabilising the sensor and turns their movement into a ‘high frequency’ movements.
This allows the motors to move the sensor by exactly the amount needed to shift the photosites by one whole photosite unit.
The camera then only stores one RGB value, without borrowing the neighbour information and repeats this process until it has one Red, one Green and one Blue value per photosite location.
The result: The colour information now is 100% accurate for each Pixel. No ‘borrowing’ from neighbours needed. This makes the interpolation process redundant and the total amount of information has now been tripled*.
*to be accurate: it has been quadrupled, since the sensor has moved 3 times and it has read out 4 values (greens are doubled up and subsequently averaged) making up: 1xRed, 2xGreen/2, 1xBlue value.
BUT Olympus takes this feature one step further!
It now shifts the sensor diagonally by exactly half a photosite horizontally and half a photosite vertically. So we end up exactly at the intersection of 4 original photosites.
Then the camera repeats the 3 shifts (+1 to get back to the original spot) to create another image 100% accurate RGB values per photo site. We end with a total of 8 separate images, 4 in the first rotation + 4 in the second rotation (remember: the greens are doubled in each rotation).
Finally, the camera merges the two 100% colour accurate images into one RAW file and the result is an 80MP ORF (RAW) file (or a 50MP interpolated JPG file). Additionally, the camera stores the first image of the 8 shot sequence as an ORI file alongside the Hi-Res ORF file. This is simply the ‘normal’ RAW of the 20.4MP sensor. So in total, you end up with:
1x ORI file
1x ORF file
1x JPG file (if RAW + JPG is activated)
So, not only do we have a higher resolution image, we also get much better colour accuracy.
Ultimately the result is a much cleaner shot. Less random noise and a lot more detail!
The obvious advantage is the increase in resolution of course. But not only do we get more pixels, we also get more accurate pixels.
This becomes clearly visible when you start to push the files in Lightroom. There is much less noise and a lot more colour information.
Additionally, there’s almost zero visible fringing (false colour) in the Hi-Resolution shots.
Hi-Res mode LOVES sharpening too. The images really come to life once you add a little sharpening to them.
There are a few physical limitations to the Hi-Res shots.
- You can’t go above ISO 1600
- Minimum Aperture is f/8
You’ll need sharp glass for this mode. Since we’re effectively doubling the detail, we also need a lens that can resolve that kind of detail.
Luckily Olympus is amazing at making good glass. So you don’t have to look far. I’d recommend the Hi-Res Mode with the M.Zuiko 12-100mm f/4 IS PRO and at around f/5.6. That’s where you’ll end up getting the sharpest results.
I’ve also read that the Zuiko 50mm f/2 Macro lens is one of the sharpest lenses and that the Hi-Res mode will most likely work well with that lens too.
There are of course other limitations as well:
Since the camera uses the motors that usually do the sensor stabilising to create a Hi-Res shot, You don’t get any sensor stabilisation when you’re shooting in Hi-Res mode. The camera can’t move during the process of taking a Hi-Res shot. So you have to shoot these shots with a tripod. A solid one! If the camera moves as little as half a pixel the shot won’t be sharp.
Like every high-resolution camera, the higher the pixel count the easier it is to notice the difference between a slightly blurred shot and a sharp one. I always recommend taking a couple of shots to be sure to get at least one 100% sharp shot.
In addition to not moving the camera, there’s always the chance you will have movement in the scene (like leaves moving in the wind). Luckily Olympus have found a smart solution to cleaning this up in camera:
So the E-M1 Mark II captures a ‘regular’ 20MP shot and will ‘patch up’ the areas that have artefacts that occur during the process of creating the Hi-Res shot. It’s a pretty neat fix and works well most of the time.
You should understand that this feature is most likely still in its early stages. It’s a proof of concept and the limitations are things I’m sure Olympus is working on and I can’t wait to see how far they can take this feature in future cameras.
It’s exciting to think that, in the future, we could possibly be shooting ultra-high-resolution shots with cameras as small and versatile as the OM-D series.
In a studio environment it can truly be revolutionary. In the outdoors it really needs the right conditions and I highly recommend shooting multiple shots.
I love the feature and it’s one of the many reasons why I think Olympus make amazing cameras. It shows innovation and ‘outside-the-box’ thinking. It seems like more and more camera manufacturers are copying this feature too, which, to me, shows that Olympus is doing something right here. Either way, it’s very exciting to see where they will take this feature in the future!
http://www.wrotniak.net/photo/m43/em1.2-hires.html – I couldn’t have put it better. And his sequel to this article is just as interesting:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pixel – for some general information about Pixels
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image_sensor – for some general information about modern Imaging Sensors
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demosaicing – for some general information about Demosaicing
https://www.dpreview.com/reviews/olympus-om-d-e-m5-ii/4 – great read about the Hi-Res Mode by Richard Butler
https://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/olympus-e-m5-ii/olympus-e-m5-iiTECH2.HTM – great read full com comparison images with the Nikon D810 and PENTAX 645Z.
CCD: The heart of a digital camera (how a charge-coupled device works) – great explanation how sensors work.
Capturing Digital Images (The Bayer Filter) – Computerphile – how sensors the Bayer Matrix works.
The Science of Camera Sensors – probably the most factual, correct and best explanation on the web on how sensors work. worth watching.
Pretty amazing results, loved the explanation of it all too…now if only I could get my hands on an EM1 MK II!
Have you used it much for surfing shots? If so, how’s the focus tracking for this? With its size and build and how well it seemed to go in the Faroes, I’d love to have one for the wild windy winters down in Vic!
I have used it quite a bit for surf photography… In fact, I’m currently in Morocco shooting surf. So I might have a video up about all that not too long from now. Stay tuned 😉
This hi-res function can be used for moving subjects?
In general: no. As soon as you have moving objects you will see artefacts as the sensor captures multiple images and then merges them.
I’d really only recommend this feature for landscapes and long exposures.
Chris, I have tried this way to get hold of you as I wanted to ask you a question about the firmware update 3.1 for the Olympus EM1/II, have you tested it and what are your comments about it.
Regards, John Phillips, Melbourne, Australia
Thank you for the amazing article, very good read indeed.
I’m relatively new to photography and EM1 Mark ii high-res function.
I put it on tripod and normally use 2 seconds shutter delay to eliminate any possible camera shake during shutter button press.
However, when I enable hi-res mode, it disables the shuttle delay function, so I couldn’t use it.
I don’t have remote shutter release(Does Olympus make one for EM1 Mark ii?)
My questions are:
1. Is there any work around so that shutter release delay can be set when the camera in hi-res mode?
2. If not, what other alternatives do I have to release shutter without touching the camera? ( shutter release cable?, radio triggers?, Olympus OI share software via mobile phone? Etc)
Thanks in advance.
Thanks for leaving a comment! Always nice to hear when someone enjoys the content here 🙂
As to your questions:
1. Yes. Inside the camera menu. Go to ‘Shooting Menu 2’ and select ‘Hi Res Shot’. Then you can select a delay, all the way up to 30 seconds.
2. I usually use my phone if I have to remote trigger my camera. It works perfectly. There is always the option to use a shutter release cable too of course.
Hope that answers your questions 😉
Thanks for pointing out that High Res must be turn on in Shooting menu 2. The symbol is located in shooting menu 1, and I had clicked it on, but still couldn’t access it in my Control Panel.
Very informative, concise, and clear! Excellent article, Chris!
A question regarding the resolution of the RAW high-res image from the OM-D E-M1 mk ii. Can you confirm that the resolution of the resulting high-res RAW image is 80MP? According to Imaging Resource, the RAW image is 64MP.
Thank you for your efforts!
Yes, when shot in RAW the HiRes file is 80MP. (7776x10368px). The link you’re referencing is the E-M5 Mk II, this here is the E-M1 Mk II.
Hope that clarifies it for you.
50mm macro? You mean 60mm?
Actually, it’s the original 4/3 50mm macro. Not the micro 4/3.
Hello The Hi-Res Mod is ıt work studio light
Yes it does work with studio lights. I believe you can set a delay on the E-M1 II between the shots for Hi-Res mode so the flashes can recharge. I haven’t tried this myself yet though.
Does the E-M1 Mark II have exposure bracketing? If so, can you do exposure bracketing in hi-res mode?
Hi, Yes it does exposure bracketing. It can merge in inside the camera, or keep the RAW files for you to merge later.
It’s not possible to do this in Hi-Res Mode though. I can’t think of many subjects that would require this since they have to be very static to achieve one Hi-Res shot to begin with… stacking multiple exposures would need the subject to be dead still for an even longer period of time! The only scenario where this could work is studio or product work. And usually, you have full control over the light anyway in these environments, so exposure bracketing isn’t really needed.
I think even if it could be done it would probably fail most of the time due to the camera moving (we’re talking half a pixel here, remember!) or the subject moving…
Thank you for the great explanation of the hi-res function of the OMD-EM1,Mk.II. I have been an Olympus shooter since I went digital in 2004. I just moved from my E3 to the EMD1,MkII in January of this year. I will be shooting a large painting of a local artist on site tomorrow at his gallery. He has a lot of windows so I will have great natural light. I have not used the hi res feature yet, but I am looking forward to getting very good results. If I do well, this could be a regular gig.
Thanks for your great article about the HiRes with the EM1 MK2.
I tried it a few times and was really disappointed !
In fact something strange appeared !
The 25 Mp JPEG were perfect but the RAW was unusable ! Do you had that same issue ?
Tried the sharpening tool in Lightroom 6.14 and even with the Olympus Workspace software i got the same issue.
Thanks for your help.. if you can 😉
Thanks, Vladimir. Please check my reply to your other comment.
Love your work and wonderful explanation on this! I’d love to hear your thoughts on this: Does the lens stabilization with the 12-100mm f4 still work while doing High Res Mode on the EM-1ii, or does all image stabilization get switched off in this mode? Basically, are there scenarios where you could conceivably rely on the lens stabilization of the 12-100mm f4 rather than being required to use a tripod if you’re in a pinch?
Good Question. And I can’t answer this without checking with Olympus.
However, the Lens IS is automatically turned off when the E-M1 II detects that it’s on a tripod. And since you need to use a tripod to use High-Res mode on this camera I’d assume that the IS of the lens doesn’t work when shooting High-Res shots.
Nice review, thanks ! BUT unfortunately i got weird results : I shoot several High Res shots with the EM1 II, 25Mo JPEG & RAW.
The Jpg were perfect but the Raw were not sharp at all !
I tried to sharp them with LightRoom, with Olympus workspace…nothing goes right.
Do you get these kind of problems ? Are your raw as sharp as jpg ?
Many thanks for your answer;
That’s very strange. My RAW files are sharp and the additional sharpening in Lightroom only helps bring out even more detail.
What aperture are you shooting these at? Maybe do a test at different apertures and see when the lens has the best detail in the RAW file. Usually, I don’t recommend going far over f/7.1 for HiRes shots to avoid diffraction and the loss of detail.
Sorry for my late reply.
I’ve tried with the 12 40 Pro and the Pana Leica 8 18, both at f5.6 to 6.3 and the results were the same.
The 80 MP RAW file is not sharp at all and the 25MP jpeg is !
Olympus couldn’t give me a clear answer 🙂
P.S : maybe i should downsize the 80 MP to 50 MP ?
shows that there is no improve between 50 & 80 MP…
I don’t know, i’m a little disappointed !
Best Regards and Keep on Rockin’
Hello Vladimir & Chris, Sorry for the late reply, just to let you know, I did a few shots using my old Olympus 50mm and 28mm legacy lens and I was very surprised to see the results and how sharp both lenses were. Just like you Vladimir the jpeg was sharper !
Bonjour et merci pour ce superbe point.
Vous dites qu’il est possible de faire du HD en pause longue ? Par ex peut-on faire une image de voie lactée, soit une pause de 30s en HD (le capteur doit faire les 9 prises dans les 30s je pense) ?
Aussi : peut-on plus simplement faire un pause longue d’un paysage fixe (ou maritime) , soit 1mn par exemple ?
Et que dire du 12-40 F2.8 et du pana 8-18 f2.8-3.5 ?
Merci beaucoup (traduit du Fr avec Google …)
Hello and thank you for this great point.
You say that it is possible to make HD long break? For example, can we make a Milky Way image, a break of 30s in HD (the sensor must do the 9 shots in the 30s I think)?
Also: can we simply take a long break from a fixed landscape (or maritime), ie 1mn for example?
And what about 12-40 F2.8 and pana 8-18 f2.8-3.5?
Thank you very much (translated from Fr with Google …)
Hi Chris and congratulations on your excellent presentation of the hi-res feature of Olympus. I do have a question; is this feature available during time-lapse shooting? I’m exploring the possibilities of producing 8K time-lapse videos and the current options are far away from my budget (a7RIV, Z7, S1R D850). The time-lapses I’m interested in are on the night/star/galaxy themes with foregrounds of ancient Greek ruins and traditional river stone bridges. I was thinking of the 8mm Zuiko for the camera’s glass. Thank you in advance and happy traveling!
Unfortunately, Hi-Res can’t be combined with other shooting modes like time lapse
Thank you Chris. Couldn’t that be overcome with the use of an external intervalometer?
yes, theoretically that should work.
Have you managed to look at the new firmware 3.0 and 3.1 for the Olympus EM10/II ? If you have can you please give me your comments ? Thanks.
Sorry I meant to say EM1/II re 3.0 & 3.1 updates.
Hi. I’m really late to the party here. But I was wondering about this: You say the camera ‘will ‘patch up’ the areas that have artefacts..’ Is it in the JPG you will get these artefacts fixed? Or does it use the ORI to change the final ORF?
I read somewhere someone using Photoshop to import the ORI and ORF as layers and masking artifacts in the ORF by using some of the ORI image. But if Oly does this in-camera on the final ORF then that shouldn’t be necessary.
Thanks for a great article!
I will celebrate the day vloggers understand that they need to tone down the background music…. they crank it up to a level that is extremely distracting from the video…. for the most part I don’t need music at all… sometimes it works, but I can do without it. I’m here to get info and see what equipment does. I have Spotify when I want to listen to music. This was a good video, don’t get me wrong!!!
Hi Chris, great article and very helpful. Thank for that
Can you use hi-res mode with focus bracketing or stacking?
No Hi-Res mode can’t be combined with bracketing or stacking features.
Please take note: Olympus makes people think that camera IBIS and High Res mode work hand in hand, when in fact IBIS is disengaged to provide pixel shift movement ability to the sensor. . . so 3 years on the 12 – 100 IS is still the only general purpose lens option for Olympus to get IBIS while pixel-shifting ?!?
But nowhere do you say what the resolution is!
I am here right now trying to figure out why high res gave me duplicate file numbers on the high res photos the other day. One photo is obviously the high res, the other is not but seems to be taken at the same time. This presentation is all very interesting and good to know but why did I get duplicate file numbers? I’m sure it’s something I did that was screwy. But what?
The HiRes Mode always gives you the HiRes File which is the .ORF file and it also takes the first RAW image from the HiRes shots and creates an .ORI file. This file is the regular 20MP file. If you rename it to .ORF (and change it to have a different name than the HiRes .ORF file, then you can open it in Lightroom too and edit it. Hope this makes sense. – Chris
Thanks for sharing! I would think that the high-res mode will not work well when there is the motion, e.g.; leaves moving, water waves, etc. Have you tried this mode to captures ocean waves?
I have tried it. And it does sometimes work. But yes, it creates artefacts in the file and isn’t as pleasing as an original slow shutter effect.