Can Pixel Shift Give You the Best High Resolution Images?

Olympus cameras, though micro four thirds, have a pixel shift mode seen in several other manufacturer's cameras, and it allows to take higher resolution images despite a smaller and lower resolution sensor. But can it compete with genuinely high resolution sensors?

I've shot with all three cameras being compared here, but particularly with the GFX 100 and the E-M1 Mark III, as I was on press trips for the launch of both. The GFX 100 blew my mind when it came to resolution. I took a shot of the city from the highest building in Tokyo and then when I got back to my computer, zoomed in 100% or more; the detail was staggering. In real world applications, I'm not certain where it would be most useful, but it's highly impressive nonetheless.

The E-M1 Mark III is a vastly different camera, pitched at a completely different demographic. There'd ordinarily be little point in comparing them (there may not even be here, really) but for Olympus' Pixel Shift mode which allows you to take high resolution images on a pretty low resolution (20.4 megapixel) micro four thirds sensor. So, in this video, The Slanted Lens test to see how it fares against the GFX 100 and the Sony a7R IV to gauge the power of pixel shift.

The most interesting discussion to me is comparing the E-M1 III with the GFX 100 as the latter is nearly 5x the resolution of the former. Unsurprisingly, the results are softer from the Olympus with Pixel Shift and contain less detail. They are of course also longer to capture and slightly more difficult. What I would highlight, however, is nobody should be buying the E-M1 III for resolution; that's not its demographic. So the fact that it can produce high resolution images that aren't utterly horrible, is just a large boon with little to no downside.

Do you use Pixel Shift mode? What do you think?

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Heath McKinley's picture

Don't shoot Pixel Shift images for landscapes. You will get artifacting in anything that moves like clouds, grass trees etc

SPEE DING's picture

Only if your shutter speed is too low...which will blur things that move on ANY camera. Recent implementations will compensate for motion.

Indy Thomas's picture

“ In real world applications, I'm not certain where it would be most useful“
That is the real point here. At 50 MP and above you are delusional if you think a client will notice. Moreover, the usual claims of mad cropping are noise when it comes to a commercial application. If your composition needs that much crop for a paying client you have failed in your shot.
If you are a hobbyist then it doesn’t matter. The range of acceptable quality seems to be infinite in that category.

Bernard Wolf's picture

I'm surprised the Panasonic s1r, 47 megapixel full frame mirrorless camera wasn't mentioned. It has a high res mode that combines 8 pixel shift images in camera and outputs a 187 megapixel raw file. Pretty hard to beat. It is 55" on the long side at 300dpi. Can easily be upsized to 110" for huge prints.

SPEE DING's picture

“The results are soft from the Olympus pixel shift”...tell me you’re not using ACR to demosaic pixel shift!? Open it in Olympus Workspace or better yet compare 80MP JPG to 100MP GFX JPG. The difference is closer than one would expect from a camera that costs 6x less. S1 pixel shift has more DR than the GFX for 1/4 the price.

Ben Coyte's picture

I rarely use pixel shift on my Olympus. If I needed it that much, I bought the wrong camera. The point of the video however, was to address what some thought was an unfair comparison of sensor sizes from a previous video. The conclusion was that even with pixel shift, the smaller sensor does not compete. I don't think that is surprising. To try and further define the comparison in terms of file types recorded, cameras used or the conditions under which the shoot is done, may yield a comparable result, but it would be like saying you can catch up when running downhill in a hurricane. Ultimately it is not how people shoot.