Olympus Monochrome Profile Control

So I finally had some time to sit around and have a closer look at the new Olympus added features into the PEN-F: Monochrome and Color Profile.

I fully understand that many do not see these new features as anything significant. Same was said about the Art Filters, which was first introduced in a Four Thirds DSLR, Olympus E-30 in 2009. Similar feedback was given back then from the general online photography community: photographers do not need Art Filters, they would rather shoot RAW and do extensive post- later in their computers, which provided a lot more control over how the final image will look. Part of me did agree with that, and honestly I was not exactly a fan of Art Filters either.

However, many, many years later, can you honestly tell me of a camera model from any manufacturer, from their entry level to semi-pro level DSLR or mirrorless camera, that does not have any kind of "Art Filters"-like feature? If the Art Filters was a bad idea in the first place, if it was not successful, why did almost everyone else out there copy this idea? And bear in mind this all happened even before Instagram became mainstream and took over the world of smartphone photography.

Yes, we can see similar pattern repeating itself: so Olympus dared to include more "creative options" features in their new camera, PEN-F, that were purely based on in camera processing.

Here are my thoughts.

I do not need those features. In fact, I always rely on Olympus' superb color reproduction, straight out of camera, and I rarely did modify the original color balance. The Olympus colors are already so good that I almost feel it is a crime in itself to do any excessive alteration. For black and white images, I am fairly comfortable with my own way of processing my images to achieve a certain look.

The interesting thing about these new Color and Monochrome Profile is that: these features are fully customizable. They are completely the opposite of the Art Filters: with the Art Filters you have no choice, you are stuck with whatever the one click setting does to your images.

These Color and Monochrome Profiles Control are not Art Filters, I see them as an EXTENSION of in-camera customization of how you want your images to look and feel. 

In this blog entry, I shall explore the Monochrome Profile only, and share how I find it useful to my black and white photography.

By default, you have 3 options, Monochrome Profile 1, 2 and 3. Monochrome Profile 2 simulates classic black and white film, and I was told it was customized to look and feel like Kodak Tri-X. How close the final outcome looks like Kodak Tri-X, I am not the best person to tell you with my zero experience in film photography. Monochrome Profile 3 simulates Infrared Red Film. Monochrome Profile 1 was at neutral default, and you can do your own customization. You can override any of the settings in any profiles and save as your own preset.

All profiles are fully customizable, and you can control the following settings:
1) Highlight & Shadow Control
2) Film Grain (off, low, med, high)
3) Vignetting (corner shading)
4) Color filters with intensity control (eg. red filter to create deeper, darker skies)

These are my own settings:

1) +3 Highlight, -4 Shadow, +1 Midtone
I generally want my images to look high in contrast. I am ok with slight overblown highlights and black shadows. Nonetheless I still want my images to look balanced, and properly exposed. The default Profile 2 has +6 highlights and -6 Shadows, which is too high in contrast for my own taste. I toned down the high contrast look a little.

2) Film Grain OFF
If you love the look of film grain then you are free to add as much grain as you like. These are actual grains scanned from real film, and overlaid onto the final image. I have never understood the fascination for film grains and I am sure modern photographers hate the look of high ISO noise. I'd rather turn them off.

3) Vignetting OFF
Vignetting, if done correctly, can enhance an image. However, I have seen to many poorly vignetted images that it has become repulsive at one point, I decided not to add vignetting to my own images ever again. This is purely personal and if you find it benefits your style, go for it. You can control the intensity of the vignetting too.

4) Color filter and intensity applied variably from scene to scene. 
Now this is actually the most powerful and versatile part of Monochrome profile, you can change the tone and contrast of the image, and add plenty of drama by using the right filter in the right decision. If you want deeper and darker tones, use the opposite color filter: red filter will create darker skies, green filter will create deeper skin tone. Likewise, use similar color filter to brighten the color tones: yellow and orange to lighten the skin tone. In addition to that, if a certain filter applied looks too excessive, the effect of the filter can be toned down, if needed (3 level adjustment). 

Blue filter, +2 intensity, to counter the brown leather strap, creating deeper color and emphasizing on the texture of the strap. For some reasons, I have left the Film Grain setting to HIGH for this image. 

Original image on the right, with no filter

Green Filter, +1

Same image as previous, with no filter. 

Blue Filter, +2

Same image as previous, with no filter

Red Filter, +3

I believe Olympus recognizes that we have our own different preferences on how our images look. Why not use the new Monochrome Profile control to get the black and white images to as close as what we want, straight out of camera? The customization options available is plenty, and I acknowledge that it is not for everyone, and not all photographers will use them, but if you have found a way to integrate the controls into your photographs (using presets), I do think this can be an excellent tool. 

I have not spoken much about the Color Profile, because, I do not usually modify the original color balance of my images. Color Profile control will require a lot more time for me to digest, and found a proper use for.

What are your thoughts on Monochrome & Color Profile Control?

Olympus PEN-F is available from B&H (click here). 


  1. Robin,
    first, thanks for this, and beautiful images like always.

    And I think that the mono profile 2 indeed looks a bit like film, especially if you add the grain. You cannot tell much from web-displayed images, so a proper test for yourself would be to print them on at least 30x40cm papers, hang them beside each other, and view them as images should be viewed - from a proper distance. I think that (original or maybe even digitally overlaid) grain can even *add* to the perceived sharpness of a picture when viewed this way. Been there, done that, with real film.

    And yes, the simulated colour filters are useful as well. Like you, I tend to use them afterwards, in Olympus Viewer 3 (got the 2.0 version as a free update a week ago or so, but I don't have a Pen-F). Never used a blue filter, but it surely adds to the portrait of the gentleman you showed us here. And red for skies is of course extreme - try a circular polarizer and a yellow or orange one as well.

    Thanks again. Love the idea of that camera, maybe it will become a classic one day.

    1. I think the key advantage of this new feature is the customization options, and you can adjust the settings to make the image look how you want it to be. And it takes time to experiment and find out what works and what do not. Surely, there is no right and wrong, that is the beauty in photography, and having more controls can be a good thing.

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  3. OMG. A watch? I had to look twice to check whether I was on MT's blog. :)

    I love the concept of Mono and Color profiles. Olympus evolves the "Studio in the Field" concept to a new milestone.

    This is one of my fav images

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  5. An important difference between digital and film is that as soon as you are noticing the structure, digital is getting useless. Terrible to look at. But the grain structure of real film can have its charm. It has a nice silky structure. I never was a fan of Tri X either, but the digital simulation of grain structure on my computer screen looks worse.

    1. Now this is where you missed the important point. Film grain is scanned from actual film. If you do not like the structure, it means you do not like the film grain. The charm is probably more of the mind playing tricks. You can blame your computer monitor screen. I have seen these sper large prints taken with PEN-F monochrome profile control and from my friends who shoot film enthusiastically, they said the film grain they see on the prints are as what they have seen from shooting film.

    2. As a graphic designer I sometimes had similar issues using certain graphic screens combined with Tri X photos for print in newspapers or magazines.
      Maybe the photographic prints of the PEN-F Tri X simulation are fine, but on my computer I see a digital structure. Little squares instead of the amoeba like forms you get with film. Here are some examples of what I mean at the end of this ArtBlart article. With film structure for a photographic print you can enlarge endlessly and it still looks interesting. With digital the enlargements you are lost as soon as you notice the structure. That's why some of my photographer friends who make their living selling very large photographic prints to galleries and museums still use film.


  6. But these color filters for black and white are great of course!

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  8. Thanks for your writing about the PEN-F, Robin. I shall very probably buy this camera in spite of its price.
    I am a jpeg shooter. When I shoot raw I can alter the white balance in post production but I am not sure that the photo reflects the real light of the moment. Also, I don't like post production very much. But I understand that this is just a personal choice.
    My feeling is that, for a jpeg shooter, the new film simulation dial:
    1) will facilitate the use of C1 to C4 presets. This is sensible, but not a game changer.
    2) will finally allow me to easy and quickly choose presets and film effects independently. And this is a game changer (I just speak for myself)

  9. I like what they've done. They obviously know that FujiFilm has been very popular with long-time film camera users.

    I have a post processing equivalent in Capture one and also in Silkypix. I normally don't go for these kinds of things, but when they're delicate and honor the film characteristics, they're okay. I've even experimented with some Mac-only creative effects software.

    This camera seems all about nostalgia, even for people who have never touched film.

  10. Hi Robin, many thanks for that info about Monochrome and colour profile from the PEN-F! Yes, indeed it is a hugh improvement and I will buy the PEN-F only for that purposel. It gives us a new way to improve Black-White shooting with JPEG-OOC (out of the cam). And with the 20MP sensor, it gives awesome images to be print, without using RAW-file!
    So, for all only JPEG-shooter the PEN-F gives much more possibility to take the images as I saw it on the location! Great, indeed.
    And, your images are outstandig!

  11. I love your images too and find this another great post. I love how your images demonstrate the features helping to get a great image...

    I am fascinated as to how this relates to the customisation ine can do in the mono modes on the M1 (because I have one :-).
    Are these adjustments also doable on the M1 and the Pen-f just makes them easier, or is it another ball game altogether?

    If the second, can it be fixed with a firmware upgrade?

    1. Nope, for now these options (monochrome and color profile control) are only available for the PEN-F. These are unique features!

  12. We were lucky enough to get our hands on the PEN-F during the VIP event at Clifton Cameras in Dursley. I fell in love with the camera and now would love to own one. I like the front dial with the monochrome options so reading your excellent Blog has just added to the temptation. Great images.

    Interestingly, the front knob was no problem for my hands, but my husband found he agreed with your comments in the PEN-F part one review, that it was sharp and in the way of his fingers. It's a fantastic camera!

  13. Hi Robin,
    slightly or rather..... completely off topic...
    I am about to get into the world of micro three fourths, more specifically the EM5 mk.2, have crawled the net extensively on both you tube and all other mediums,the reviews that have been written by you are, for me, now the Gospel truth as far as Oly. is concerned. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with such clarity and HUMILITY.
    I am going for a combination of the 12-40mm f2.8 and 40-150 f2.8 along with the EM5 mk.2 as starters. do you feel its the right approach to an extensive experience?

  14. I am working on a project with ScanDigital to have my family photos scanned in high res before I start my own blog.

  15. Robin, have you ever tried to simulated the monochrome profile on the omd em5 mark ii's setting? I know, it's not the same, but maybe close to the result of Pen F monochrome setting

  16. Hey Robin, ist it normal that when you change the recording quality in these presets (for example, from the default RAW+LF to RAW+LSF) it does not remember that setting?

    Everytime I switch the dial to the monochrome preset, I have to manually adjust the recording quality. What's worse, when I switch back to normal recording mode (dial to null position) ,the normal mode takes over the recording quality I set in mono mode. So I have to switch back to RAW there every time too.