HHHR Increases Dynamic Range

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.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/5, 1/320, ISO-1250, subject distance 245 mm, Handheld Hi Res mode (HHHR)

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.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/8, 1/400, ISO-6400, Handheld Hi Res Mode (HHHR), subject distance 270 mm

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

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/8, 1/250, ISO-6400, subject distance 260 mm, Handheld Hi Res Mode (HHHR)

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.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/8, 1/250, ISO-6400, subject distance 300 mm, Handheld Hi Res Mode (HHHR)

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.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/6.3, 1/320, ISO-3200, Handheld Hi Res Mode (HHHR), subject distance 245 mm

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.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/5.6, 1/250, ISO-6400, subject distance 260 mm, Handheld Hi Res mode (HHHR)

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.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/8, 1/320, ISO-6400, subject distance 245 mm, Handheld Hi Res Mode (HHHR)

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.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 12-40mm f/2.8 @ 12, efov 24mm, f/4, 4 seconds handheld, ISO-200

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.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/6.3, 1/320, ISO-3200, Handheld Hi Res Mode (HHHR), subject distance 210 mm

Technical Note:

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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Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/8, 1/250, ISO-6400, Handheld Hi Res Mode (HHHR), subject distance 355 mm

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10 thoughts on “HHHR Increases Dynamic Range”

  1. Sorry for resurecting an old thread/post, but I just read this. And I’m curious about something. The Olympus HR and Pentax Pixelshift are basically the same thing (some minor details such as the number of shots that get taken and format saved in) .

    Have you considered evaluating the dynamic range of the Oly against the Pentak K-1 mk ii using the Pentax Pixelshift vs the HR/HHHR?

    I’m asking since I own a Pentax K1 (original) and an Oly EM5 mkii, and the comparison interests me.

    1. Hi Craig,

      Thanks for adding to the discussion.

      The simple answer to your question is no… I haven’t considered evaluating the dynamic range between the two cameras mentioned in your comment. You may be able to find the information you seek on photonstophotos.com.

      From its inception this website has been focused on celebrating the joy of photography, and sharing my images and photographic experiences with my readers. I have never had any interest in doing gear reviews of equipment that I don’t personally own and use. There are plenty of other websites out there that have that type of information as their main focus. Websites like Mirrorless Comparisons would potentially be much better sources of that information.


  2. Hi Tom – I have some questions about the resulting High-Res image files, if I may …

    I see (from the M1 mkiii manual) that a JPEG+RAW combination can be saved – and I understand that the hand-held version results in 50MB files. The manual also mentions that a .ORI file is saved – but, the manual is not very clear about the distinctions between these various files (tho, I have read elsewhere that a .ORI file can be simply renamed as .ORF and it’s then treated by RAW processing software as a standard Olympus RAW file).

    Could you please elaborate a little on the differences you have found, and whether there are any RAW processing considerations at play in the various options.

    John – TKA

    1. Hi John,

      The ORF and ORI files are both RAW files. The ORF version is the Hi Res file. The ORI version is a standard resolution RAW file of the first frame captured by the camera when using HHHR. Either one can be processed in post. I would seldom want to use the ORI file other than for comparison purposes. When I do process both versions I need to be careful and change the file name slightly or the latest processing will overwrite the previous work done on the other version of the RAW file. This may be an issue with DxO PhotoLab 2… I’m not sure.

      I always shoot in RAW + Jpeg Fine so I get all three files whenever I use HHHR.


  3. Very interesting analysis, Tom.

    I’m super impressed with the technical qualities of my OM-D E-M1 Mark II, with which I’ve been primarily experimenting in the HH Focus Stacking mode, for both macro and general shooting. I just received my 46-52 Macro Coupler, so now I can get in REALLY close.


    1. Hi Bill,

      Until photographers actually experience the various technical abilities of Olympus cameras like the E-M1 Mark II it is hard to fully appreciate what these cameras can do.

      It will be interesting to hear how your experimentation goes with your macro coupler. I’ve never used this approach before as I’ve always been hesitant to expose the lens mount and internal glass element of one of my lenses in this type of set-up.


    2. Experimentation over the weekend with the Oly 60 Macro and a Nikon 50 connected face to face revealed the following:
      1. Handheld focus stacking was nearly impossible. I got one stacked image in 11 attempts. A tripod is a must with this procedure.
      2. DOF was only about 3mm with this particular combo, but stacking with tripod was almost always successful. I’ll try some different “filter” lenses to see about increasing DOF. Stacked images were only so-so, but I was somewhat constrained by subject matter. However, stacking was MUCH better with the Oly 60 or Oly 12-100 Pro alone.
      3. I also plan to experiment with reversed lenses, but I assume that in-camera stacking won’t be possible with that procedure.

      1. Hi Bill,

        Interesting stuff! I’ll likely just stick with my M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro for most of my HHHR macro work… possibly using up to f/11. I may play around by adding my extension tubes.


  4. Fascinating, Tom.

    I’m on my way towards an OM-D E-M1 mkii – – I sold one of my full-frame lenses today … now just gotta off-load my 2ndary FF body and I’ll be there!

    PS. Yes, I know the mkii doesn’t do HDR in hand-held mode … but I reckon it will meet my general requirements very well.

    Interestingly, tho, I see from the photonstophotos.net page (that you reference above) that the M1 mkii outperforms the M1x … albeit, probably not significantly.

    John TKA

    1. Hi John,

      From what I have heard from owners of the OM-D E-M1 Mark II it a great camera that people enjoy using. Each of us should buy whatever best meets our needs. I know from an interview done by Imaging Resource that Olympus is planning on keeping the E-M1 Mark II in the line-up as the camera is well suited to a lot of photographers.


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