The fundamentals of shooting in the Lumix G9’s high-res mode were sketched out when the camera was released in 2017. Likely you’ve already read Damien Demolder’s article; if you haven’t, that’s a good place to begin.
In 2019, MFT seems to be clinging to a rather precarious foothold supported by Panasonic’s critical mass in the video market, centred on its GH4/5, combined with a surprisingly stubborn Olympus-led market whose owners favour a specific flavour of compact, old-school excellence – and whom I assume drive vintage Lotuses that share the same high-performance/low-mass ethos.
The Micro 4/3 story is a non-linear narrative in uncertain times. Is the format dead? Or is APS-C dead? I’m pretty sure Four Thirds is dead. The SLR became a casualty (I think) of the ascendancy of mirrorless, but then again they still dominate in action photography. Although that traditionally has been the domain of APS-C. On the other hand, at the time of writing, the most advanced AF system commercially available is either on a ‘phone or a compact Sony. On the other other hand . . . sheesh, I give up.
The MTF lens canon is another curious tale. It begins with a handful of cheap, plasticky offerings that performed surprisingly well, and matures into a range of expensive lenses that perform surprisingly badly. However, the Speedbooster revolution accidentally posited the MFT mount as a new lingua franca for adapting just about anything – hence the Black Magic.
Wherever size is an issue, MFT (with its array of teeny lenses) steps forward: street shots, travel photography, compact gimbal work – MFT’s distance from rapidly evolving cameraphone tech secures its short-term future at least by virtue of its superior low-light performance and versatility. Size is the USP of MFT. A big MFT lens is almost an oxymoron; certainly it’s anathema.
All of which explains why the 80MP High-Resolution mode of the G9 has been widely ignored. Lumix owners have no use for it. 20MP is enough. IBIS – yes please. Cannibalising IBIS’ shiftiness to pixel-nudge lengthy, tripod-mounted multiple exposures of static subjects, resulting in 242MB RAW files . . . er, why?
But perhaps there is a niche audience who looked and read and thought – Ah! Astrophotographers, archivists, architectural shooters, AV guys . . . maybe even photographers further along the alphabet. Whatever the potential, there are some practical issues:
Lumix G9 is cheap.
80MP is a lot of information.
Pixel-shifting increases dynamic range.
No exposures longer than one second.
Secure tripod mounting is mandatory.
Multiple exposures amplify lens defects.
Post-production can be troublesome.
Intra-frame movement creates ugly artefacts.
Per-pixel sharpness is poor.
The same pros and cons apply to Lumix S1R and G9 models, and (to a lesser extent) to other cameras that offer pixel-shift modes. However, at the time of writing, only Panasonic offers such a drastically resolution-enhancing mode.
For resolution-critical stills photographers, a standard MFT camera isn’t on the agenda. Although, with its 3.3µm pixel pitch, a 20MP G9 body is cheap and effective enough to be considered a 2x teleconverter for your arsenal of full frame lenses. Therefore the potential of the G9’s high-res mode hasn’t generally been explored: too cheap to be effective for hardcore resolution pros, and outside the remit of a typical MFT user who is either shooting long-range on the cheap, wants to travel light, or is only interested in video.
We may be coming to the end of an era of rapid progress in lens design and manufacturing technology. Not only is the glass better, but it’s becoming increasingly unthinkable to shoot an in-camera JPEG, or process a RAW file, without using a lens profile. Most hi-res G9 samples you find online are JPEG: not all converters recognise and/or profile its 80MP captures, and the files are of course large – which isn’t a problem with typical modern desktops – although shooting a wedding in High-Res would double the time in post.
In the last six months we’ve switched our workflow from Capture One to PhotoLab. Among several benefits is its ability to handle G9 High-Res RW2 files with full profiling. The following tests lean heavily on PhotoLab’s ability to handle the slightly shonky per-pixel sharpness of the G9 in HR.
As a general point, we should also note that the little revved-up ISO200 MFT sensor is hugely noisier than the best FF sensors of 2019: you really need to light a scene, because the G9 doesn’t have the DR pros are used to. Shadows and transitions are pretty gritty even at base ISO when well exposed: you don’t want to push the captures much in post.
Having said all that, the interesting question is: does pixel-power win? The answer is: yes. The bottom line is that – for static scenes – despite the caveats – the G9’s 80MP captures deliver more detail than any sensor up to 50MP. And the S1R’s High-Res mode is on another level: besting the most expensive MF systems.
Let’s illustrate that with some samples . . .