Art Filters were first introduced in Olympus E-30, allowing users to instantly process their photographs into a selection of available creative effects, such as Pinhole and grainy film effects. While many professional photographers initially frowned upon such redundant installation of bells and whistles to a seemingly mid-level DSLR from Olympus, the Art Filters did win the hearts of many. the popularity of the Art Filter has grown, and been included in all Olympus newer cameras, DSLR system, PEN series and even the compact cameras (called magic filters). It was not so much of what the effects produced since they can be easily manipulated and reproduced by many other means through post-processing software. What really worked was the user experience while shooting in Art Filters, firstly you can instantly view the effect in real time as you compose the shots in live view before even making that shutter button click, and secondly, you can obtain the results straight out of camera.
On the Olympus E-5, there is a new art filter added, which is none other than the Dramatic Tone. I have blogged about what Dramatic Tone art filter is all about in my user-review write-ups for the Olympus E-5 not too long ago. The Dramatic Tone is simply an in-camera pseudo-HDR processing capability, to convert the ordinary looking image into a fake rendition of a HDR shot. In this entry, I will explore what I like about this Dramatic Tone Art Filter, when and where to use them effectively, at what situations that the art filter should be avoided and how it could have been improved further.
Dramatic Tone is a Pseudo HDR Processing.
If you have dabbled into the world of HDR (high dynamic range) photography, you would have realized that this Dramatic Tone Art Filter is no magic at all, it is simply a very quick processing to drastically lift up the details in the shadow region, while toning down significantly the brightness in the highlight region. Basically what the filter is trying to do is to balance up the dark and bright areas, but at a very extreme margin that the image will most likely turn out looking very unnatural. The lighting balance has been heavily manipulated, and the colour saturation has also been boosted, along with the overall contrast of the image. The overall outcome is a very punchy, strong, vividly surreal looking image.
Dramatic Tone works very well fighting a back-lit situation, such as this temple which I shot directly against the sun. The details in the sky was well maintained, with heavy and strong textures, while the overall frontal part of the temple facing was also looking well balanced.
When and Where to use Dramatic Tone?
I know most people, once they have obtained their Olympus E-5, they would get so hyped up and excited about the new Dramatic Tone Art filter that they would shoot anything they can find with the filter, cats, babies, carrots, and what nots. Since this Dramatic Tone is actually a pseudo HDR simulating process, it will also benefit you in areas where you require high dynamic range, or the situations when you would actually do HDR photography. I find Dramatic Tone to be useful in the following shooting conditions:
1) Areas with high contrast of shadow and light.
2) Backlit situation. Boy, you will be surprised by what the Dramatic Tone can do in backlit situation.
3) Heavy textures. The Dramatic Tone will put more emphasis on textured subjects, such as the cloud formation in the sky, the rough surface of a brick wall, or the mixture of pimply formation and blackheads of a human face.
4) Areas with flat lighting. If you want to change the flat looking image, the Dramatic Tone can open up a new dimension, and recreate the scene as if the lighting has been changed somehow.
Another example of a backlit situation shooting directly against the sun. Also notice how the Dramatic Tone improved the texture on the wall at the top right corner. I have lifted the overall brightness quite a bit, to bring up the details in the shadow region. Take note of the visible noise. Be careful not to underexpose your Dramatic Tone filter shots, to minimize noise issues.
Sorry for the excessive flare, I must start to clean my UV filters more often, especially before shooting sessions.
When to Avoid Dramatic Tone?
I must say this, this Dramatic Tone is not an Art Filter to be used in ALL shooting conditions, and should be adopted wisely. The following are the conditions that the Dramatic Tone should be avoided:
1) If you want a natural looking image. If the lighting already has a lot of impact, or producing a very pleasing outcome, you might want to stay away from Dramatic Tone and just stick with the natural, good lighting conditions. Dramatic Tone can either improve your shot, or completely ruin it.
2) People photography. Somehow... Dramatic Tone can be a disaster to any form of human photography. The skin tone will become uneven with heavy traces of shadows all over the skin, and the colours come out really odd and looks like plastic.
3) High ISO shooting. As highlighted earlier, the Dramatic Tone is a processing from the original image file into a pseudo-HDR image, and through my experimentations, I found even at ISO400, the noise level can be quite unacceptably visible and annoying, with heavy smudging and smearing of fine details. I suspect an additional noise-filtering has kicked in. Shoot the Dramatic Tone only at ISO100-200 for best results, obtaining minimal noise and maximum details/sharpness.
I like the painterly, surreal look that the Dramatic Tone induces. They look almost like a painting done with oil pastels.
Additional Tips on the Dramatic Tone
I personally would shoot my images in RAW, and apply the Dramatic Tone Art Filter later while I am home processing my images. I know this may not apply to many JPEG shooters. If you are shooting JPEG, you might want to experiment a few other things while shooting with the Dramatic Tone. The camera is fully customizable while you are engaging the Dramatic Tone:
1) The settings such as White Balance, Saturation, Contrast, Gradation and Sharpness can be fully tweaked and fine-tuned up to your hearts content, as if you are shooting a normal scene. Do take note that the White Balance setting affects the outcome of the Dramatic Tone significantly.
2) You can use B&W or Sepia with the Dramatic Tone, to create really wonderful looking images.
3) All the basic camera settings can be used with any Art Filters now, if you do not know yet, you can now use all the full PASM modes (Programme, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual) together hand in hand with Dramatic Tone. Having full control of Aperture and Shutter speed can create even more creative output, such as slow motion movement of the waterfall, or the fast moving panning shots.
4) If the original output of the Dramatic Tone comes out too harsh for your liking, you can always do a little brush up in your post-processing to tweak the image to your preference. I personally would tone down the saturation a notch or two, and reduce the heavy contrast by a little, while lifting up overall brightness.
Originally, this shot was a flat looking, dull and uninteresting building, under overcast sky. The Dramatic Tone injected life into it, by boosting up the contrast and textures.
What I Wish the Dramatic Tone Could Have Been?
As much as I loved the Dramatic Tone Art Filer, I must admit there are areas that this filter can be improved further. I would really like to have more control over the art filter, instead of just one touch function. I want customization of the levels of processing applied to the filter, such as mild, medium and strong, mild being less painterly looking, and strong producing bold, surreal, and fake results. Different lighting situations will command a different level of processing required. Also, adding another function to stitch panorama shots, such as the Sony sweep panorama, coupled with the Dramatic Tone capability would be darn sweet !!
I am still exploring what this Dramatic Tone can do for me. There are times it can give surprises, because the output can be quite unpredictable. No, it does not work all the time, in fact it is only applicable to limited shooting conditions. You have to know where and when to truly bring out its strengths, and when to avoid the areas where the Dramatic Tone wont shine. Nonetheless, I am sure this Art Filter will win the hearts of many. It sure did win mine. This is one Filter that has made many 5Dmk2, D700 and all sorts of other brands camera users I know dropped their jaws when they saw what the filter could do for the first time. I kid you not.
Stop guessing, NO Dramatic Tone applied in the above two images. The examples of when NOT to use Art Filter, and when natural light worked best.
Mark my words, soon, Sony, Nikon and most definitely Canon will
plagiarize copy this Art Filter into their whatever so-called "innovations" in their future camera models. And people will mysteriously forget that it originated from Olympus.
So to all E-5 users, or most of you who have seen what the Dramatic Tone is able to churn up, please share your thoughts and opinion !! I am sure many would benefit from your sharing, including myself.