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High Resolution Mode with S5

High Resolution Mode with S5

The Lumix S series brought a few changes to the Lumix High Resolution mode, and the Lumix S5 takes them even further

Here I’ve used f/14, sacrificing a little bit of absolute image quality for the sake of the depth-of-field. The compromise was worth it. ISO 100

Anyone familiar with the Lumix system will be aware that the G9 and the S series cameras have a High Resolution mode that can create pictures with four times the resolution of the camera’s sensor. I won’t go into detail about how this works in this article, but in short the image stabilisation system shifts the sensor by half a pixel in four directions as the camera shoots eight frames to record the information that would usually fall between the pixels on the sensor. These eight images are then combined in-camera to create a very detailed high resolution final image. You can read all the finer details, and see diagrams, in the article I wrote about High Resolution mode when the Lumix G9 was launched.

High Resolution Mode with S5

I’m revisiting the High Resolution mode now because the Lumix S series, and the S5 in particular, brings a few significant changes to the way the mode works that open new avenues for High Resolution shooters.

Longer shutters

The key element the Lumix S5 brings to the High Resolution mode that none of the other Lumix models have is a shutter speed longer than one second. As High Resolution mode uses the electronic shutter to avoid shutter vibrations disturbing the detail-gathering power of the function, the longest shutter speed available is usually restricted to the longest duration allowed in electronic shutter mode – 1 sec. However, the Lumix S5 now allows us to use shutter speeds as long as eight seconds. This is useful for any situation in which a 1 second exposure just isn’t long enough, and will mean that there will be more occasions on which this mode can be used in low light without the ISO having to be shifted up a few gears.

High Resolution Mode with S5

8 seconds at f/8, and ISO 100

New applications might include night landscapes, cityscapes, still life as well as dark atmospheric interiors. So long as you remember that you don’t HAVE to use the full 8sec max shutter speed there’s an application for night sky shooting too.

One of the great benefits of this is that we also get long exposure noise reduction too in the form of a dark frame recorded at the end of the eight-shot sequence and before the images are combined in-camera. As with all dark-frame subtraction, the noise recorded during an exposure of the same length as the main exposure is noted and then subtracted from the actual shot, so these images are extra clean. And no, the dark frame subtraction exposure isn’t the same length as the total exposure, only that of each of the individual frames – so a max of eight seconds.

High Resolution Mode with S5

The High Resolution sub-menu has returned to provide the options that we saw in the Lumix G9

When you are picking your shutter speed keep in mind that whatever speed you chose the total time over which your picture will be take will be eight times that – so an 8sec shutter speed will lead to a total exposure time of 8×8=64 seconds plus an 8-second dark frame. Some things will move quite a lot or a long way in that time and the Mode 2 motion compensation feature may not be able to fully make up for it.

Resolution choices

While the Lumix G9 offers users a choice of 80MP or 40MP images from its High Resolution mode, the S cameras offer only the largest possible resolution, and the file type created depends on the file-type selection in the main menu for general shooting. This means if you usually shoot Raw-only the High Resolution mode will only record a RAW file. To make it record Raw+JPEG you have to address the image quality settings in the main camera menu.

High Resolution Mode with S5

This shows a normal resolution image (left) next to a High Resolution image (right) taken at the same time. The normal image is shown at 100% and the High Resolution file scaled down to 50% so the subjects are matched in size. Even with these low-resolution screen grabs you can see that the High Resolution image has a lot more detail

In the S5 however the image quality and resolution choices come back to the High Resolution mode’s sub-menu, which most will find more convenient. A new option here is Combined Mode which simply adopts the file type choice made in the main menu, but we still have Raw, Raw+JPEG, and JPEG options in the same place.

High Resolution Mode with S5

The highest resolution option in the Lumix S5’s High Resolution mode is 96MP which, as glorious as it is, might be too much on some occasions. Like the G9 though we now have the chance to select a lower resolution, and in the case of the S5 that’s 48MP.

High Resolution Mode with S5
High Resolution Mode with S5

Resolution choices in the Lumix S5 in 3:2 aspect ratio

High Resolution Mode with S5

Count down

High Resolution Mode with S5

There’s a count down timer on the left for each exposure of the sequence, while on the right we can see that we are exposing frame 2 of the 8 frames the sequence needs

A handy new feature in the Lumix S5 is the count-down display that keeps us up to date with how far through the process we are. Each shutter opening is counted down in seconds – so long as it is longer than a second – and a second counter indicates how many exposures have yet to be made before the sequence is complete. This doesn’t make the High Resolution mode function any quicker, but it does give you something to watch and it lets you know how long it will be before you can take the next one.

Wide ISO range

All of the Lumix S cameras have a wider range of ISO options than the Lumix G9, and this is reflected in the ISO settings available in High Resolution mode. The G9 allows ISO 200-1600 but the S series cameras have a High Resolution mode ISO range of 100-3200. As the S1H and S5 both have Dual Native ISO sensors you might think they would be able to go a step beyond the S1 and S1R, but that isn’t just quite the case. The improved low-light performance of these sensors though will undoubtedly offer a cleaner finished image.

Selectable aspect ratios

Do don’t have to stick with the aspect ratio of your sensor when using High Resolution mode either. The S models allow the native 3:2 of the full frame sensor, but also the 4:3 of Micro Four Thirds, 16:9 for the movie-still look and 1:1 for all the squares. These are the same aspect ratio options we have in the G9 too.

High Resolution Mode with S5

The shot I took of these tree trunks I’d imagined in the 65:24 CinemaScope/XPan format, but that isn’t available in High Resolution mode. So I framed it up using the 65:24 aspect ratio and then switched to High Resolution mode to shoot it, and cropped it afterwards in software.

And the best aperture is…

…the one in the middle of the range. As always, you will get the best resolution from your lens when you use the middle aperture settings, so f/5.6-f/8 will provide the best level of detail for your sensor to collect and record.

High Resolution Mode with S5
High Resolution Mode with S5

A High Resolution image compared to a normal file of the same scene, both shown at 100% so you can see how much bigger the subject is in the High Resolution picture. These were shot at f/5.6 using an 8 sec shutter speed and ISO 1600, and are crops from the image shown at the start of this section

Apertures of f/11 will also be very good, but as you go beyond this you gain no more detail from the lens for the sensor to pick up, so while you will still have a 98MP image it will only have as much information as one shot at f/8-11. The High Resolution mode in the S series will allow apertures as small as f/16, and f/11 in the G9, but these smaller apertures gain us only depth-of-field rather than additional texture or detail. For the best absolute sharpness stick to the middle apertures of your lens.

Heavens above

The longer shutter speeds, as well as the ISO 3200 of the S series, means that High Resolution mode can add sometime to the tool box of Lumix astro photographers too. The longer exposures allow the light from distance stars to burn-in and make the night sky come to life.

High Resolution Mode with S5

These are 100% enlargements of a section of sky from the image in the previous section. The section on the left is from a High Resolution file and shows the effect of eight second exposures on the rendering of the stars. The frame on the right shows the same section but with a single eight second exposure. The focal length of the lens was set to 50mm, so a 10-second exposure could be tolerated before we’d expect to see the points of the stars turn into trails. Obviously, the High Resolution shot took 64 seconds to complete – hence the trail.

We need to exercise some caution though as when the 8sec shutter speed is set our total exposure time will be over a minute, and the stars move across the sky surprisingly quickly. The shutter openings between 1sec and 4sec might be more useful than the 8sec option, but much depends on the focal length you are using. The critical element here is not so much the speed at which the Earth is turning but how quickly a single point moves across the frame of your camera. A wide lens will allow longer shutter speeds without noticeable trails than a long focal length.

Length of exposure before stars appear as trails

High Resolution Mode with S5

You might want star trails of course, so a long lens and a long shutter will be the order of the day, but as you will be operating with multiple exposures rather than one long exposure don’t expect those trail lines to be quite as smooth when you inspect them close up. If you shoot with 96MP with the expectation of using the image at the size you would a 48MP you’ll get very nice results.

Notes on high ISO settings

When you use the higher ISO settings with the Lumix S5 you can expect nice clean images as the dark frame subtraction long exposure noise reduction is really very effective indeed. To make the most of this we need to make sure we get our exposures right in-camera and not rely on dramatically lifting shadows post-capture. I tried some under-exposed images and found they do recover very well indeed, but the best quality comes when you get it right at the time of capture rather than when you have to stretch tones with a software fix.

High Resolution Mode with S5

You might want star trails of course, so a long lens and a long shutter will be the order of the day, but as you will be operating with multiple exposures rather than one long exposure don’t expect those trail lines to be quite as smooth when you inspect them close up. If you shoot with 96MP with the expectation of using the image at the size you would a 48MP you’ll get very nice results.

Notes on high ISO settings

When you use the higher ISO settings with the Lumix S5 you can expect nice clean images as the dark frame subtraction long exposure noise reduction is really very effective indeed. To make the most of this we need to make sure we get our exposures right in-camera and not rely on dramatically lifting shadows post-capture. I tried some under-exposed images and found they do recover very well indeed, but the best quality comes when you get it right at the time of capture rather than when you have to stretch tones with a software fix.

High Resolution Mode with S5

Of course you won’t always have to shoot with the highest possible ISO settings, so noise performance can be improved further. This was shot at ISO 800, with a shutter speed of 4 seconds.

I found in images shot at ISO 3200 I could lift exposures by about two stops and still get excellent results with low noise and lots of details. Of course with the potential dimensions of prints from these massive images we have the flexibility to not use them at their largest size which helps to conceal any extra noise created by software manipulations. A 98MP image shot in 3:2 will print to 40x27in/102x68cm at the strict 300ppi photographic print standard. Prints smaller than this will help to hide corrected exposure mistakes.

High Resolution Mode with S5
High Resolution Mode with S5

This is a 100% crop of a 1920×1080 pixel section of the image above it. It was taken at ISO 3200 with a shutter speed of 4 seconds

And the verdict?

All these extra features add flexibility to the High Resolution mode, and that allows us to use it in a much wider range of circumstances. Although lots of people want to talk about astrophotography shutter speeds of longer than 1sec are useful for more than looking at the stars. These speeds allow us to shoot more easily with ambient lighting and with continuous lights without having to use wide apertures and higher ISO settings, so top quality is now much easier to achieve in a wider range of situations. That the longer exposures also have long-exposure noise reduction is massive bonus as it works very well with the S5’s Dual Native ISO sensor to produce images with remarkably low levels of interference.

High Resolution Mode with S5

Shot with the Laowa 9mm f/5.6 Zero D lens, at f/8 and an exposure of 8 seconds with ISO 800

Having this multi-shot High Resolution mode isn’t the same as having a 98MP sensor that can record all that detail in a single frame, but there are so many occasions on which it can be used to create images with an amazing amount of detail. I know from speaking to G9 users that few think to use this mode at all, but it is worth giving it a try as it really does bring great benefits with it. It isn’t just a gimmick or a trick that produces artificial and fake-looking results, it is a genuinely useful feature that uses astonishing technology to offer us a chance to create images that contain a stunning amount of detail.

Learn more about the Panasonic Lumix S5 by reading Lumix S5 features explained.

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