Some testing done by the folks at Photonstophotos shows that the E-M1X’s Handheld Hi Res mode HHHR increases dynamic range. And, not just by a fraction, but to a significant degree. If you have not visited Photonstophotos before I would encourage you to do so. This is a great website that provides a wealth of information.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
First, let’s have a look at the best dynamic range test scores for some of the top cameras tested by PhotonstoPhotos, as well as for the Olympus O-MD E-M1X. You should visit Photonstophotos if you would like to see the entire dynamic range curve for each camera mentioned. Data is based on manufacturer stated ISO values.
When shooting in standard resolution there is no surprise that the M4/3 sensor in the E-M1X does not have the same dynamic range performance when compared to larger sensor cameras.
Pentax 645Z (medium format): 11.77 EV
Panasonic DC S1 (full frame): 12.22 EV
Nikon D850 (full frame): 11.63 EV
Sony A7R IV (full frame): 11.62 EV
Nikon Z7 (full frame): 11.56 EV
Leica SL2 (full frame): 11.17 EV
Pentax K1 II (full frame): 11.6 EV
Olympus OM-D E-M1X (M4/3): 9.71
What happens to dynamic range when the E-M1X is shot using its Handheld Hi Res HHHR mode according to Photonstophotos test data?
Olympus OM-D E-M1X (M4/3)
Handheld Hi Res Mode HHHR: 11.54 EV
This is an incredible increase of 1.83 EV, putting the dynamic range of the Olympus OM-D E-M1X right up there with the best full frame cameras when its HHHR mode is used.
The ISO limit when using the HHHR mode with an Olympus OM-D E-M1X is ISO-6400. Let’s see what happens with the dynamic range test scores when all of these cameras are shot at this higher ISO level. As we all know, dynamic range decreases as ISO values are increased.
Pentax 645Z (medium format): 6.29 EV
Panasonic DC S1R (full frame): 6.17 EV
Nikon D850 (full frame): 5.9 EV
Sony A7R IV (full frame): 6.08 EV
Nikon Z7 (full frame): 5.9 EV
Leica SL2 (full frame): 5.13 EV
Pentax K1 II (full frame): 6.86 EV
Olympus OM-D E-M1X (M4/3): 5.2
Olympus OM-D E-M1X (M4/3) Handheld Hi Res Mode HHHR: 8.03
So, while the dynamic range of the E-M1X used in HHHR mode decreased, it did so to a significantly smaller degree. The result is that when shot in HHHR mode at ISO-6400, the E-M1X is more than competitive with full frame sensor cameras in terms of dynamic range performance.
Even if we made allowances for differences between manufacturer stated and measured ISO values, the E-M1X remains competitive with full frame cameras when HHHR is used at higher ISO values like ISO-6400.
Many photographers who are skewed to larger sensor cameras will question these independent test scores, or somehow try to rationalize them. It’s possible that some full frame landscape photographers will counter by saying that a landscape scene has to be perfectly still for HHHR to work. Funny thing is that many of those same landscape photographers prefer to shoot under ideal, perfectly still conditions, using a tripod, with their existing full frame cameras.
What these test scores show is that computational photography can be a game changing technology. They also seriously challenge the old belief that bigger sensors are always better. The sensor is only one part of a camera. What a camera can do with the processing of photographic data coming from its sensor is of significant importance.
As noted in some previous articles, there are some caveats when using the Handheld Hi Res HHHR mode with an Olympus OM-D E-M1X. It is important that there is little, if any, subject movement. Also, a shutter speed that is appropriate for the skill set of the photographer must be used.
Having said that, there are numerous opportunities to use the HHHR mode offered by the Olympus OM-D E-M1X. I’ve been using it primarily for my macro photography. You can be assured that I will be experimenting with using the HHHR mode in a wider variety of situations when the shooting conditions are favourable.
We also need to keep in mind that the IBIS performance of the E-M1X also comes into play when using the HHHR mode. Potentially it can allow a photographer to use a slower shutter speed, and a corresponding lower ISO value when shooting handheld. This potentially enhances the dynamic range advantages of using the E-M1X’s HHHR mode under low light conditions when compared to shooting handheld with larger sensor cameras.
I suspect that using ETTR (expose to the right) technique will help squeeze even more usable dynamic range performance out of my E-M1X when the HHHR mode is used. Something for future experimentation.
Knowing that HHHR increases dynamic range is another reason why owners of the E-M1X (and potentially the E-M1 Mark III) should be experimenting with this mode, and using it more frequently. We already know that the E-M1X’s HHHR mode does a very good job dealing with noise at high ISO values, even when an images is significantly underexposed.
Obviously there will still be specific situations when the dynamic range of a full frame camera will be better than the E-M1X. Photographing moving subjects in low light is one such scenario. What these test data from Photonstophotos help demonstrate is that the number of occasions when the dynamic range of a full frame camera is superior to the E-M1X, has now been reduced by HHHR technology.
Knowing that the E-M1X’s HHHR increases dynamic range, as well as helping to control noise at higher ISO values, gives a photographer more latitude when using this camera. Plus, they get a 50 MP Hi Res RAW file, a 20.4 MP standard resolution RAW file, as well as a jpeg if needed. All of this provides a photographer with more options in post. Plus, they can get the advantages of additional dynamic range with HHHR without having to mess around with HDR software and combining multiple images in post.
Due to IBIS performance, an Olympus OM-D E-M1X owner can shoot at extended shutter speeds handheld to get the most out of the camera’s dynamic range in standard resolution at base ISO-200. Under the right conditions, they can now use HHHR as a powerful tool when they need more dynamic range and higher resolution files in a number of other photographic situations.
Using HHHR when photographic conditions permit, is another way that the E-M1X can be used to create excellent results.
Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process.
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