Olympus EM5 Mk3 High-Resolution Mode Problem

by Oct 16, 2023Photography Blog

Robin Whalley Landscape Photographer

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Olympus EM5 Mk3 High-Resolution Mode Problem

Recently, I purchased a used EM5 Mk3 Micro Four Thirds camera. Although I already own and use a Panasonic G9, I prefer the colour rendering of the Olympus EM5 and the tiny body. It’s around half the size and weight of the Panasonic G9, making it an ideal travel camera. This small size also made me opt for the EM5 Mk3 over the larger and heavier EM1. While I also own two Olympus EM5 Mk1 bodies, the EM5 Mk3 has another feature I deem essential: the high-resolution mode.

The Olympus High-Resolution Mode

If you have never used or seen the results of the High-Resolution mode on a Micro four thirds camera, I can tell you it’s nothing short of amazing. The first time I used this feature on my Panasonic G9, I couldn’t believe the results. The images were sharper, more detailed than the original RAW file, and noise-free. At the time, I wrote this article which shares my early thoughts about the G9’s High-Resolution mode.

The High-Resolution mode shifts the camera sensor by a small amount whilst taking a series of images. It then merges the images into a RAW file much larger than the camera sensor pixel count. On the Olympus EM5 Mk3, the High-Resolution mode produces a RAW file that’s 10,368 x 7,776 pixels. That’s an impressive 80Mpixel image.

As exciting as this all is, when I used the High-Resolution mode of my new EM5, I felt deflated. Most of the images I shot with it were soft, and many were blurred and unusable. Below is a sample taken from the centre of one of the better examples.

Example of an image using the Olympus EM5 Mk3 High Resolution mode

On the right, you can see the central area of the frame magnified to 200%, whilst on the left is the image it’s taken from. Although this is an unprocessed RAW file, the image is much softer than my Panasonic G9 results using the same lens. As I was able to use the same Leica lens and filters on both cameras, I decided the problem must lie with the Olympus.

Incidentally, the Olympus also produces a regular RAW file when shooting in the High-Resolution mode, which was super sharp.

And in case you think the above example isn’t that bad, here’s a more typical one, this time from the edge of the frame but nearer to the camera.

Example 2 of an image using the Olympus EM5 Mk3 High Resolution mode showing the problem

Again, this is from a RAW file, but this time processed, and the area you see is magnified to 200%. It’s also not too far from my point of focus, and the camera was on a good tripod with the aperture at f/8.0, so depth of field isn’t an issue.

Researching My Olympus High-Resolution Mode Problem

Given my results, I decided to research the Olympus High-Resolution mode. First, I checked the manual, which confirmed I was doing everything I should. I then searched the internet to see if others had similar problems but found nothing. The only thing I could find were comments from people saying the Panasonic High-Resolution mode was better.

Even if it is better, I couldn’t believe the Olympus High Resolution images were so much worse.

After a lot of research and thinking, I decided the problem must be down to one of three things:

  1. The lens used.
  2. The camera and lens firmware.
  3. A problem with image stabilisation. This was quite possible as I was using a Panasonic Leica lens on an Olympus body, and the two might not work well together.

Given my thoughts, I checked my EM5 firmware and found it was seven versions out of date. That often seems to happen when I buy a low shutter count used camera. After updating the camera firmware, I also checked my lenses had the latest firmware.

I then set out to shoot some test shots with the EM5 using different lenses, including the Olympus 12-45 Pro lens. I did everything possible during this testing to stabilise the tripod and turn off the body and lens stabilisation. The results were the same, with a marginal improvement.

In case you’re wondering, I should also mention that sharpening the images didn’t seem to improve them, even when using the excellent Topaz Sharpen AI.

A Final High-Resolution Test for the Olympus

Frustrated by the lack of progress, I decided to take the camera out one final time to check my results; if it failed, it would be going back. I also took my Fuji XT5 to test alongside the EM5 Mk3 this time. I had been experiencing some unusually soft images with the XT5 and wondered if diffraction was playing a part. If you want to know how that went, you can read this article.

Given my concerns over the Fuji XT5 and diffraction, I also paid more attention to the aperture I used with the EM5. I had been in the habit of shooting at f/8.0 with the Panasonic G9, which seems suitable for most landscapes. I therefore decided to widen the aperture to f/6.3 and check more closely for depth of field issues. Here’s an example of one of the images I shot using the Panasonic Leica 8-18 lens.

Example 3 of an image using the Olympus EM5 Mk3 High Resolution mode showing the problem

As you can see, the sample section of the unprocessed RAW is sharp and packed with detail, even when magnified to 200%. And it was the same for most of the other images I shot that evening. My results were significantly improved by shooting at f/6.3 rather than f/8.0.

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Was Diffraction the Problem?

At this point, you might be thinking diffraction was the issue, but I can’t honestly conclude that. The same lens on my Panasonic G9 produces great High-Resolution images at f/8.0. I don’t understand why it would be so different on the EM5. It could be a combination of the other factors I adjusted, but I can’t prove it.

What I do know is that I will be shooting with the EM5 using f/6.3 and even f/5.6 in future. Yes, this means I need to take a little more care over where I place my focus point, but that’s no bad thing, and it even makes photography more enjoyable. As for my concerns over depth of field, I didn’t experience any problems. f/6.3 appears to capture more than enough depth of field for photographing landscapes.

If you want to learn more about shooting sharp photos in the landscape read my article How To Take Sharp Photos.

Update: 20th October 2023

Earlier this week, I headed to the Lake District with the Olympus EM5 Mark 3 and Panasonic G9. I wanted to test the two side by side and was particularly interested in the high-resolution mode.

Much of the day, when I was shooting in the high-resolution mode, I checked the results on the back of the camera. Zooming to 16 times magnification, the images looked fine. But towards the end of the day, I suddenly noticed the image would seem to jump on the camera display. This happened when the camera switched from the shot preview to displaying the live view. I’ve seen something similar with other cameras, and it’s usually related to image stabilisation.

When I zoomed into the high-resolution image, I could see the problem again. I repeated the shot, and sure enough, there was the problem. I then turned off the image stabilisation on the lens (there’s a switch on the side), and the images were perfect again.

Once I got the images on the computer at home, I could see evidence of “smearing” on many of them. Even the ones that looked good on the camera screen had soft areas. Because I had been using the Panasonic G9 alongside the EM5, I decided to check those images. The problem wasn’t as pronounced as on the EM5, but it was still present. However, once I had turned off the lens stabilisation, the results improved.

I’m now confident the lens stabilisation is the issue. Given that the G9 and EM5 have excellent in-body stabilisation, I will leave it turned off on my lenses.

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