RBG HHHR Macro

HHHR macro (handheld high resolution) photography is quickly becoming one of my favourite pastimes. It is a great example of how advances in camera technology can challenge our existing beliefs about photography. In this case, handheld high resolution macro images. This article shares a selection of HHHR macro images captured at the RBG (Royal Botanical Gardens) in Burlington Ontario.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/8, 1/400, ISO-500, subject distance 240 mm, Handheld Hi Res Mode

To establish a frame of reference, the above image illustrates the approximate degree of magnification used in many of the images in this HHHR macro article. The index finger of my left hand is seen in the photograph. This image was captured while holding an Olympus OM-D E-M1X with only my right hand.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/8, 1/400, ISO-6400, subject distance 200 mm, Handheld Hi Res Mode

I recently spent about 2.25 hours at the Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) shooting HHHR macro images of various flowers and plants in the main building. During this brief period at the RBG I was able to capture a total of 75 ‘keeper’ images. I thought this was a very productive and enjoyable use of my time.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/8, 1/400, ISO-3200, subject distance 255 mm, Handheld Hi Res Mode

When using the E-M1X’s Handheld Hi Res Mode (HHHR) I always find it helpful to start with some simple practice photographs. So, when I first arrived I created some typical macro compositions featuring flower details as you can see in the image above.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/5.6, 1/400, ISO-2000, subject distance 210 mm, Handheld Hi Res Mode

One of the many things that I love about the Olympus OM-D E-M1X is the camera’s outstanding IBIS (in body image stabilization) performance. It allows me to place a single auto focus point precisely in a composition and hold it there rock steady. In the case of the photograph above, my auto focus point was placed directly on the flower’s stigma.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/8, 1/200, ISO-6400, subject distance 290 mm, Handheld Hi Res Mode

Being able to hold a single AF point steady on a small detail in a composition is extremely helpful when capturing handheld macro images. Shooting them in Handheld Hi Res Mode makes it even more challenging as the E-M1X captures 16 separate images then combines them in camera when using this feature. The result is a 50 MP RAW file. The E-M1X handles this challenge without issue.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/8, 1/320, ISO-1250, subject distance 215 mm, Handheld Hi Res Mode

I captured a few more practice images, then began to look for more interesting subjects and lighting.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/8, 1/400, ISO-3200, subject distance 215 mm, Handheld Hi Res Mode

The collection of cacti at the RBG yielded a number of interesting and varied compositions.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/8, 1/400, ISO-6400, subject distance 260 mm, Handheld Hi Res Mode
Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/8, 1/400, ISO-5000, subject distance 260 mm, Handheld Hi Res Mode
Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/8, 1/400, ISO-5000, subject distance 250 mm, Handheld Hi Res Mode
Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/8, 1/400, ISO-6400, subject distance 230 mm, Handheld Hi Res Mode
Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/8, 1/400, ISO-6400, subject distance 225 mm, Handheld Hi Res Mode

As is the case with all photography, lighting is an important factor with macro images. Scouring the various plants and bushes, I looked for small details that offered both interesting light and a favourable shooting angle.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/8, 1/250, ISO-3200, subject distance 245 mm, Handheld Hi Res Mode

The Olympus OM-D E-M1X has gotten a lot of criticism because of its size and weight compared to other M4/3 camera bodies. Unless you have used this camera you likely will not understand how confident it feels to hold this camera at very unusual and difficult shooting angles. I feel its size, shape and dual grips are significant benefits, especially for this type of handheld photography.

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

The E-M1X’s fully articulating screen allowed me to compose and capture handheld images that would have not been possible with DSLRs I’ve owned in the past. Many of the images in this article would have been impossible even when using my Nikon 1 kit.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/8, 1/320, ISO-1000, subject distance 240 mm, Handheld Hi Res Mode

There is a wonderful quote from the great hockey player Wayne Gretzky, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” I often think about this quote when I use my Olympus OM-D E-M1X. This camera continually enables me to capture images that would have been impossible with other cameras that I’ve owned.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/8, 1/250, ISO-5000, subject distance 235 mm, Handheld Hi Res Mode

No doubt, owning a camera with a larger sensor can be helpful in specific situations. For example when photographing moving subjects in low light. For me this is an acceptable trade-off to make in order to get the overall capability of the E-M1X.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/8, 1/400, ISO-6400, subject distance 265 mm, Handheld Hi Res Mode

As you look at the EXIF data for the HHHR macro images in this article you’ll notice that many of the photographs were captured at ISO-6400. The Handheld Hi Res Mode of the E-M1X helps reduce high ISO concerns.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/8, 1/250, ISO-6400, subject distance 265 mm, Handheld Hi Res Mode

Now that I am completely comfortable using the HHHR mode to capture macro photographs, I very seldom use standard resolution for this genre of photography. The only exception is when I use my STF-8 Twin Macro Flash as it allows me to shoot handheld at base ISO under very challenging lighting.

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

I brought my Kenko DG Extension Tube Set with me, using the 16 mm ring for a number of HHHR macro images.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/6.3 1/400, ISO-1250, subject distance 250 mm, Handheld Hi Res Mode, 16 mm extension tube used

This added to the fun!

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/8, 1/400, ISO-6400, subject distance 220 mm, Handheld Hi Res Mode, 16 mm extension tube used

I know many people pigeon-hole the Olympus OM-D E-M1X as a ‘sports and wildlife’ camera. This does not do the camera justice. It is a great stills camera for a wide variety of subject matter and is simply awesome creating HHHR macro images!

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/6.3, 1/400, ISO-1600, subject distance 230 mm, Handheld Hi Res Mode, 16 mm extension tube used

As I’ve stated in many previous articles, every photographer should buy camera gear that best meets their individual needs. Just because the Olympus OM-D E-M1X meets my needs, doesn’t mean it will be the best camera for you.

Technical Note:
Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. All images were produced from RAW files using my standard process.

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

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14 thoughts on “RBG HHHR Macro”

  1. Great article, really appreciated reading about how hand held high resolution works for macro photography.

    However I did keep getting distracted by reading RGB many many times over, when it should have been RBG.

    1. Hi Isaac,

      There is no question that shooting with my Olympus macro set-up is a completely different experience than using the Nikon 1 J5 with 1 Nikkor 30-110 mm and extension tubes. True 1:1 macro can be achieved with the Olympus gear. I also have the option to shoot Handheld Hi Res macro. This gives me 50MP RAW files with simply incredible macro detail. The E-M1X also gives me in-camera focus stacking even when shooting macro. I also own the Olympus STF-8 Twin Macro Flash which opens up an entirely new way to capture handheld macro photography. Extension tubes also work well with my Olympus set-up for macro photography, giving me more than 1:1 magnification. The incredible IBIS performance of my E-M1X also extends handheld macro photography potential by allowing slower shutter speeds when shooting handheld macro. In my experience, my Olympus set-up is also far superior to using full frame Nikon gear and the Nikkor 105 mm f/2.8 macro that I used to own. All of this takes some investment in camera gear of course. In Canada the E-M1X lists for $3,900 and the M.Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 macro lens lists for $670 and the STF-8 Twin Macro Flash lists for $650. Not everyone would want to put that much investment into camera gear.

      My Nikon 1 J5 with the 1 Nikkor 30-110 with extension tubes does not offer all of the options and performance of my Olympus kit, but it is still a heck of a lot of fun. It is also light and easy-to-use and I imagine that used equipment can be found on a cost affordable basis.

      Tom

    1. Hi Steve,

      I do not own the M.Zuiko 300mm f/4 so I can’t comment on that lens.

      I did do a quick test today for you with my M.Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8 @ 150 mm. I was able to get HHHR mode to work without any issue as long as I used a fast enough shutter speed. Keep in mind that the camera captures a total of 16 images then compiles them in camera, so you need to use a fast enough shutter speed to allow for your handheld movements. I started my outdoor test at 1/640 shutter with the lens fully extended to 150mm (efov 300mm), then 1/320 and 1/250. I had no problem with any of these shutter speeds. I went as slow as 1/60 with the lens fully extended and the E-M1X worked fine without any issue. I did brace myself against a post at 1/60th.

      Tom

  2. Tom,

    Exquisite images (as always). I agree with your observation that macro lenses mostly sit in the drybox or cabinet most of the time. I have a Nikon 60mm macro and while sharp, it’s really meant to be well-supported or used in tandem with a tripod to bring out its best attributes. Amazing how technology like Olympus’ IBIS implementation is challenging that thinking on macro lenses.
    While I can be diligent with bringing a tripod, it can be unwieldy in garden settings and oftentimes, not really allowed at all.

    I especially liked the red flower against the blurry dark grey background — the red really pops against the grey. Also the white drooping flower against the blurry green background; wow even the fine hairs are sharp and visible.

    Oggie
    http://www.lagalog.com

    1. Thanks for the positive comment Oggie!

      The thinking that macro lenses are best used with a tripod is widespread. For many camera systems I think this a practical reality in many cases. The macro lens/tripod belief is also present with some Olympus owners. I’ve even met a couple of E-M1X owners who have never tried to shoot macro photography handheld with their cameras because of this belief.

      I find it interesting that you mentioned two specific flower images. Both happened to be a bit tricky to photograph. The image of the red flower with the grey background (image 19) was all about finding the right focal plane for the photograph to get as many small hairs in focus, and to have the right shooting angle to incorporate the monochromatic grey background. After choosing my shooting angle I placed a single auto focus point at the intersection of the two white filaments on the left hand side of the grouping of strands. The IBIS on my E-M1X had to hold it there as the camera took 16 images in rapid succession.

      The drooping white flower (image 14) was positioned very low in the flower bed. I had to extend my E-M1X into the flower bed with the articulating screen flipped out to the side of the camera (I was shooting using a portrait orientation). While supporting the E-M1X predominantly with my right hand, I needed to adjust its shooting angle as well as simultaneously adjusting the angle of my rear screen with my left hand to maintain visibility of the subject flower. I used my thumb on one of the dual joystick AF controls to place a single auto focus point on the red/white dotted petal. While I was down on one knee to capture the image, my E-M1X had to hold the flower steady while its HHHR mode captured the 16 image series. As I mentioned in the article, some of the photographs (like this one), would not have been possible with other cameras that I’ve owned in the past.

      Tom

  3. Great images Tom. Not sure if all of these were taken the day that I was with you but if they were – I saw how easy it was for you to use the camera and lens combination hand held. Anyone contemplating this combination can be assured that it works like a charm. Simple and fast.

  4. Great macro shots. I was just discussing macro with a friend recently and told him that I probably will not buy a macro lens for my E-M1X because the lens always ends up sitting in my camera bag or left at home. This kind of output might make me change my mind.

    1. Thanks for your comment Joel… I’m glad you enjoyed the images!

      I can relate to your comment about previously owning macro lenses and not using them very much. That was exactly my situation when I used to own a Nikkor 105 mm f/2.8 macro lens. I found it large, heavy and cumbersome. The auto focusing was hit or miss with it. As a result I was never able to use it effectively when shooting handheld. I think it was designed to be used on a tripod with manual focusing. Since that’s not how I like shooting, it basically sat around collecting dust. I sold it along with the rest of my full frame gear back in July 2015.

      The M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 is a really terrific macro lens. It is quite small compared to an E-M1X, but I’ve found this actually helps the functionality of the lens. The IBIS in the E-M1X really makes the 60 mm f/2.8 macro very easy to use handheld. The M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 also has weatherproofing which extends its functionality and the AF is fast and accurate.

      Tom

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