The new Olympus OMD E-M5 MkII has an interesting trick up its sleeve – it can take super high resolution pictures. With a few caveats.

By utilising the in-body image stabilisation mechanism the camera can move the sensor in tiny [less than a pixel] increments. And when the camera is set to its high resolution mode it takes eight images, each very slightly different, and merges them into a single 40 megapixel very high resolution final image.

The caveats are that the camera must be tripod mounted, the subject must be absolutely still and the final merged file is in Large Superfine jpeg, not RAW, even if you have the camera set to RAW.

I took matching photos using the OMD E-M5 MkII and the OMD E-M1, the top Olympus micro four thirds camera, with the same lens on each. I shot RAW in the E-M1 to give it the best chance of matching the new camera. Then I opened both images side by side in Photoshop.

Side by side comparison is complicated by the fact that there is a vast difference in image size – 7296 x 5472 pixels for the E-M5 MkII and 4608 x 33456 pixels in the E-M1. Reducing the E-M5 image to the same dimensions as the E-M1 would give the new camera the unfair advantage of perceptual resolution improvement, and enlarging the E-M1 image would reduce the apparent resolution. 

So, what I have done is clip 1600 x 1600 crops from both images.

The difference in resolved detail is quite startling. If you look at the individual strands of hair or the weave of the doll’s face material the difference is obvious. The texture in the eye is sharper in the E-M5 image and when the entire picture is inspected the rendition of detail in the doll’s clothing is much better with the new camera.

Bottom line: the high resolution shooting mode is not a gimmick, it really does improve an image. And Olympus technicians are working on speeding up the capture part of the process to eliminate the need for tripod mounting.

This is the high resolution image from the Olympus OMD E-M5 MkII

This is the image from the Olympus OMD E-M1


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[REVIEW-SAMSUNG NX1 mirrorless camera]

Price: $1770 body only (street price)

This 28 megapixel APS sensor mirrorless interchangeable lens camera is the flagship in the Samsung range. It has the form of a DSLR even down to a body-top digital display. The construction quality is outstanding and the kit lens adds to the luxurious feeling. The electronic viewfinder is close to an optical finder and the high resolution swivelling touchscreen is of the same quality. The stand-out features are 4K video and three connectivity modes – WiFi, NFC and Bluetooth. Shooting burst mode is up to 15fps. The fast hybrid autofocus system consists of 205 phase and 209 contrast points. The software provided includes Adobe Lightroom 5.

LIKE:  Image quality is excellent, both in jpeg and RAW. Because the NX1 uses the H.265 video codec, not recognised by either Final Cup Pro or Adobe Premiere, we had to convert the files to H.264 for editing, but even downscaled the results are impressive. 

The NX1 is big and heavy, matching the bulk and mass of a solid DSLR. Why? Sony and Fujifilm can fit full frame and APS sensors in petite bodies. It can’t be that hard.

VERDICT: The NX1 is a top camera and earns a place alongside the best mirrorless cameras from Olympus, Panasonic, Sony and Fujifilm, but because of its size and shape it is going to be compared with the mid-range offerings from Nikon and Canon. Samsung doesn’t yet have a camera reputation to match the big two but that shouldn’t deter customers. Being a mirrorless camera it has the advantage of full time viewing on the LCD – no clunky “Live View” – making the swivelling screen truly useful. It also has one of the best WiFi smartphone control implementations. Not cheap, but very good.

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There we were, last week, a group of photo enthusiasts of varying talents talking about cameras, when one person popped up and wanted to know why young people are returning to chemical-based photography. Or at least so she had heard.

Our first response was that they must have more money than sense. Our recollection of the last days of the darkroom, thirteen years ago, was that a couple more films and a few prints would see us bankrupt. And the day we walked out of the darkroom and closed it for good, rescued for all time from toxic fumes, our lungs breathed a sigh of relief.

However, lurking beneath the question was the suspicion that perhaps film has some magic and ethereal quality that digital never will be able to emulate.

Let’s consider resolution – digital is now well and truly past the resolving power of any general purpose film. Nikon and Sony have 36 megapixel cameras that surpass the resolution of film and Canon has just announced a pair of full frame 50 megapixel cameras. According to computer scientist Brad Templeton (tinyurl.com/vj6t) 20 megapixels on a full frame sensor (35mm area) is enough to match film and beyond that the resolution will be greater than the resolving power of most lenses.

Resolution, as Brad points out, is not the whole story. One difference between film and digital is dynamic range, which is the ability to preserve detail in both shadows and highlights. Film, well exposed and developed, does better than digital in this respect. To compensate for the resricted dynamic range of digital sensors many cameras now have HDR (high dynamic range) functions built in to capture and blend a bracket of exposures, some under-exposed to keep highlight detail and some over-exposed to show what’s in the shadows. The several exposures are blended in the camera into a single wide dynamic range image. The same thing can be done by capturing a bracket of exposures and then loading them into an HDR processing application in the computer. It works but it is not elegant. Film wins.

Digital triumphs when it comes to low light photography, shooting at high sensitivity (ISO). Annie Leibovitz in her book At Work acknowledges the dynamic range issue with digital, but finds the high sensitivity of her digital cameras liberating. What’s more, she says: “…you are better able to capture what you really see in colour with digital. There is a distinctive intensity in a digital file. Digital gives a more honest view of how things actually look…”

Amen to that! And it costs less and smells better.

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[OLYMPUS m.Zuiko 40–150mm f2.8 Pro samples]

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