Thoughts on Processing Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II High Resolution Photos

Introduction

I’ve been using an Olympus E-M5 Mark II for several months and I’ve mentioned it once before (in this post about algorithmic and computational photography).  I very much like the camera and the photos I’ve made with it.  You can see some of these in this set on Flickr.

Today I’d like to talk more about its high res mode and some things I’ve learned so far while working with it.  I’ll use this recent image from the north bank of Haulover Canal in Merritt Island NWR for my example.  By the way, please click on the photo, you’ll be able to see a higher resolution version on Flickr.

Daybreak at Haulover CanalDaybreak at Haulover Canal

For those of you who aren’t interested in this particular camera or capability, here’s the tl;dr summary:  Your capture and processing tools, technique, and skill make a difference in the resulting photo.  But that’s true of every camera.  And you already knew that, didn’t you?

Okay, for those of you that are interested, here’s some hints on how to get the best out of this mode.

RAW Import

I’ve found that the software I use makes a big difference in the detail that shows up in the file.  I normally use Lightroom for all my photos, although I also have DxO Optics pro and I think it does a good job with higher ISO images.  But I noticed issues when using either of them with the Olympus high-resolution files.  Here are three 1:1 crops, processed in the three different software packages.  These are just after importing from the RAW file, with (mostly) default processing, although I did adjust sharpening on the first two to try to improve detail.

Lightroom Processed

Processed in Lightroom  CC Version 2015.1.1

DxO Processed

Processed in DxO Optics Pro 10 Version 10.4.2 

Olympus Processed

Processed in Olympus High Res Shot Raw File Photoshop Plug-In 

To my eye there’s no question:  the Olympus software does a better job processing the High Res Raw file.  The result is sharper, with more detail – so I’ve switched to using it instead of either Lightroom or DxO Optics Pro for initial input of the high res files.  There are limited adjustments available with it, so after importing the file I usually add an Adobe Camera Raw adjustment layer in Photoshop to help fine tune the highlights, shadows, etc.

Motion Artifacts

You can see artifacts on the water surface in the crops above.  These are from the way the high res files are created.  Each file is composed of 8 separate captures that the camera combines into the high res RAW output file.  So any motion during capture will result in strange-looking distractions.  If your camera is moving, the image will be unusable.  So I use a sturdy tripod, a cable release and / or a shutter delay.  If part of the scene is moving (like water, or wind-blown branches) you’ll see the distracting artifacts in that part of the frame.  For some subjects (e.g. still life) this isn’t a problem – nothing moves.  For landscapes, you’ll need a very calm day or you may want to remove the artifacts in post processing.

If they bother you, there are (at least) a couple of things you can try.  Olympus also saves the first of the 8 frames that it uses to create the RAW file.  You can open this, up-res it, and mask it into the high res version wherever there are artifacts you want to remove.  (Note that you’ll have to rename the normal res file – your software probably won’t recognize the .ORI extension).  And you’ll have carefully process the normal and high res files exactly the same up until the point where you do this so that any color or brightness difference doesn’t show.  And finally, you’ll have to recognize that wherever you do this, the resolution will suffer.

For water surfaces, you can also try applying a motion blur in Photoshop and masking it in to hide the artifacts.  That was easy to do in this photo, since it was a relatively long exposure (1/2 sec.) and the water surface was calm.  Here’s a before and after 1:1 comparison:

Motion Artifacts

Motion Artifacts – prior to removal

Motion Artifact removal

Motion Artifacts – masked out using a motion blur layer in Photoshop 

Other Artifacts?

Olympus outputs 64 Mega Pixel RAW files.  Olympus themselves say there’s not 64MP of information in the file.  It’s more like 40MP, so they downsize their JPG files to 40MP.  When using this mode keep that in mind.

There’s not too much else to worry about, although I have seen some things that look like “hot pixels” in the high res images (2 or less per file).  I’m not sure if that’s what they are and I also don’t see them in normal res files from the camera.  But they are pretty easy to remove with the Healing Brush in Lightroom.  By the way, If anyone else has seen these, I’d be interested in hearing from you.

Red Dot Artifact

High Res “Hot Pixel”

Conclusions

So, the E-M5 Mark II High Res mode:

  • Is most suitable for still life types of images when the camera is mounted on a tripod and nothing is moving.
  • Is best processed from RAW by the Olympus High Res Shot Raw File Photoshop Plug-In – at least with current (August 2015) versions of software.
  • Offers better resolution and improved color and noise characteristics than the normal mode images.
  • Can be used in other situations (e.g. landscapes), but unless the subject is still, you’ll need to deal with motion artifacts.
  • Provides the greatest benefit with better lenses.  Lower quality glass could compromise the output resolution of the system.

If you capture images in high res mode and the artifacts are too difficult to deal with, you can always drop back and use the normal resolution file.  The results will be almost as good for anything except large prints (or pixel peeping).

Have you used a capability like this?  What have you discovered?

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2015, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

About Ed Rosack

I live in Central Florida and enjoy exploring the area. I'm interested in nature and wildlife photography - and many other things. I'm the chief reporter, lead writer, managing editor, main photographer, and publisher of the Central Florida Photo Ops website hosted at www.edrosack.com. You can also see more of my photos on my Flickr stream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/edrosack/

4 thoughts on “Thoughts on Processing Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II High Resolution Photos

  1. Another interesting blog…Thank you! You have given me food for thought. I use Lightroom and Elements post processing. I thought they would be better than the canon processor but I might give my Canon processor program a shot now…

    1. Hi Dorothy. I used to use the Nikon software as the first step in my workflow for Nikon RAW images. But Lightroom got better and better until it was no longer worth the extra effort. I think Lightroom will eventually improve processing of the Olympus Hi Res images, but until they do I’ll use the Olympus software.

  2. Olympus Viewer is the “Olympus software” for RAW conversion, whereas the Olympus Plug-in for High Res RAW in Photoshop, Elements, and Lightroom is merely an import plug-in and Adobe takes over from there with RAW processing.

    I am hoping somebody will do a comparison of ALL the available RAW converter applications. What constitutes the “preferable” RAW conversion program may be elusive and can’t be concluded without trying other software such as Capture One, Iridient Developer, Photo Ninja, Olympus Viewer, SilkyPix, RAW Therapee, GIMP, etc. Some of these are compatible with Lightroom.

    How we use the software has a major effect on the results, and continuing new updates will change the outcome of comparisons.

    One point that may be important to some people, is that some RAW converters crop the edges of an image slightly from both dimensions, while others do not.

    Correcting the artifacts from movement in a scene is better done by making a new layer from a 16 MP image extracted from the capture and upsized, and patching-in or unmasking the affected segments, instead of using the Blur tool which can obscure detail that might exist in the standard-res capture. The new layer can then be sharpened suitably to best effect.

    Thank you for your efforts.

    1. Hi John.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

      I don’t have any experience with the software packages you mention. And I don’t think I’ve seen anything on the internet about using them with Olympus hi-res photos.

      I believe the cropping differences are related to how the software applies lens correction to the files. DxO crops less than Lightroom and Olympus.

      Any you’re right that the best way to correct motion artifacts is to use the 16MP file. I wanted to give people another idea to try. For motion artifacts in blurred water, using the blur filter may be quicker, especially if I’ve already done some processing on the hi-res file.

      Ed

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