Three reasons to get excited about the future of m4/3 - No. 1. The Olympus High-Res Mode

The above diagram shows just how big the files produced from raw in the High-Res mode from the Olympus OM-D E-M5 II are. Easily the largest file size available from a non medium format camera. At present only available for non-moving, still-life type subjects because of the time it takes to move the sensor eight times and combine those captures. However, even with these limitations I know a few photographers, including a food photographer, who have gone for this in a big way. The sheer size of the files and the resulting 'cropability' and quality implications when the files are reproduced smaller (as they almost inevitably will be) has proved very useful for creating images that impress clients simply because of their pixel count. The aforementioned food photographer has dispensed with her medium format gear as the Olympus is easier to work with and also provides her with a greater depth of field than her large sensor gear. She told me that clients are perfectly happy with the quality of the results and she has already had several published at A3 size in magazines and for an advertising campaign. 

So limited use only? Well there is a rumour that Olympus may be on the verge of releasing a firmware update that may speed up the process. As Andrea at 43rumors indicates, this could involve either each movement taking 1/80th. sec. or the whole process taking 1/80th. sec. If so this may (may????) mean that high-res mode is either hand-holdable or capable of of a much faster capture meaning that images with movement within that 1/80th. sec. timeframe are free of the movement artefacts which currently restrict the use of the mode. Now whether this appears or not, Olympus have made it clear that they are committed to improve the speed and operation of this 'sensor shifting' technology. I have also read that both Sony and Apple are working on this as well, so it seems a hand holdable version is coming at some point in the future.

The implications for m4/3 (and indeed a lot of of other small sensor cameras) are enormous. While many professional photographers are impressed by what Olympus and Panasonic offer, there is the issue of the size of the files that many clients require. Sure, files can be upsized, but there is a limit to this. However, a faster implementation of this technology would make any m4/3 or other camera that has it a serious option for lots of photographic work. Remember a lot of high-end pro work takes place in a studio and / or under very controlled conditions. This high-res technology isn't going to be useful for 'street photography' or Formula 1 anytime soon, but for those photographers, including myself, who shoot lots of landscape and architecture (a particularly good use for this) it could be an incredibly helful addition to what we have available.

There are a couple of additional discoveries I've made concerning the current state of this mode that I also would mention. Firstly after reading Mirrorlessons excellent review of the OM-D E-M5 II, I downloaded and started using the Olympus High-Res Photoshop plugin. As indicated in the article it does give slightly better results than processing via Adobe Camera Raw. Dynamic range is certainly better and it's possible to bulk process a selection of images. It's a bit slow, but then these are huge files. 

Secondly there is a way round the f/8 limit that Olympus impose on files shot with m4/3 native lenses. By using 3rd. party manual lenses via an adapter, any aperture can be selected. For the samples below I used my Nikon 20mm f/1.8 G lens and an adapter that changes the f-stop. The first is shot wide open at f/1.8 and the second fully closed down at f/16, the lenses minimum aperture. 

Now there are issues with using lenses fully stopped down, with a lack of sharpness due to diffraction. However, with a bit of sharpening this can be overcome. Obviously very useful for those wanting maximum DOF. A high quality lens would minimise the effects of this anyway. I've passed on this tip to my food photographer friend who will be trying it soon and who seemed very excited at the prospect. I'm doing an article on the new Metabones 0.64X Speed Booster, which I have on order, soon and the thought of what I can achieve with my that plus my Nikon lenses and the high-res mode is making me impatient for it to arrive.

For me, this is an exciting technology and one which I think is capable of changing notions of what cameras we can use for various purposes. The possibility to use the light(er) small(er) m4/3 cameras and lenses for top of the range pro work has already become a reality for still life / studio product photographers. For example, I also know a photographer who specialises in photographing peoples car collections. This usually involves the cars lovingly lit and photographed under very controlled (and therefore non-moving conditions) He is often working in museums, garages and places where everything is static, so this would be ideal for his work. I'm going to lend him my Olympus for a shoot so he can compare results from that and his current Canon gear. 

The big breakthrough however will come when the whole 8-shot capture process is quicker. At the moment the requirement to eliminate all movement is restrictive and means the Olympus OM-D E-M5 II is useful for a limited amount of photographic work. However even a slight increase in the speed at which it works (1/80th. sec would be VERY useful for me) opens up all sorts of possibilities. I doubt that Olympus will be the pixel size champs for much longer, because it seems inevitable that other companies will develop this technology too, but m4/3 will always have a smaller footprint than APS-C or 'full frame' and when we get truly hand holdable mobile high res technology, virtually all the disadvantages of m4/3 will disappear.

Interesting times.