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.
What are your thoughts on Monochrome & Color Profile Control?