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NEW: I updated my 6 part Color Basics Series - See the "What's News" Page for details...

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Color Basics: Comparing different Camera Brands - Part 2

Cape Town (2013) - Original OMD EM-5 with 12mm f2.0 Lens 

Last update: 21 December 2019

Olympus has been hanging way out the window with the PEN-F..... or are they in the lead? To answer this question we need to look at the creative control other camera manufacturers offer photographers? How does the Olympus Pen-F compare to other cameras? You will agree these answer are not straight forward. First one need a good basic knowledge of each manufacturer and secondly one need to physically evaluate and compare these different cameras.

Let's take a closer look at these questions with this article. Before I kick-off, I need to confess that I have good experience with Olympus and Panasonic. I am new to Fuji and only recently bought a X-T10/20. In the past I used the Canon 40D, Powershot compacts and prior to that the 350D. I have no experience with Nikon and are also new to Sony. Fortunately my son used Canon full frame bodies professionally and from 2016 onwards he switched to Sony.

To compare different manufacturers I selected the Nikon D500, the Canon 80D, the Sony A7II and the Fuji X-T10. I used my Olympus PEN-F and the Panasonic GX8 for this discussion. I am not an expert on Sony and Nikon and realize I could misinterpret these cameras. You welcome to let me know if you think I missed important points or if I mis-represented information.

Reading several articles and watching product videos I was surprised at the differences between these manufacturers cameras. Especially on how to adjust and how to set-up advanced in-camera features. At the same time basic settings like white balance and white balance shift are similar between the different cameras. It was also inspiring to see the great results photographers and videographers achieve with minimum and small in-camera adjustments only. In addition it is also important to recognize photographers emotional attachment to color, especially when talking about how cameras interpret color.

My goal was not to determine the best camera, absolutely not! 

My goal was to compare in-camera creative functions. To illustrate this point have a look at the video below. Carefully listen to these three guys and spot the influence personal brand loyalty has on each of these guys. In fact its fun watching them "objectively" analyze and discuss these two cameras.

Comparing the Canon 5D IV and the Sony 7RIII

The importance White Balance plays and the impact it has on color is well illustrated in the above video. I would go as far as to say that before we can start any discussion on creative color, it is critical to take a little time to talk about White Balance

The camera use White Balance to interpret Color

From the previous article you will recall that we looked at how the camera recreates digital color from a black and white recorded image. We also saw the importance an accurate white balance has when reconstructing the color image. To spot an incorrect white balance photographers will look for a Color Cast. The question is, is a "flat" image also indicative of a faulty white balance settings? Spotting and identifying color casts is one of the first techniques digital photographers learn to master. Question, does the intro panorama image have a color cast? 

I will go as far as to say, if you have not mastered identifying a Color Casts and how to correct that in the camera, you probably will also have little success working creatively with color

Let's talk about image editing. Is it correct to say, not all photographers are familiar with Adobe Photoshop. Is it also fair to say Photoshop opens up endless creative possibilities? That said, the old school image of the camera changed when manufacturers started adding high end video capabilities to "normal" cameras. 

Example:- In-camera video functions resulted in a completely new demand for in camera color options. In fact I think we only at the start of what we will see in the future. Look at the progress made from the Panasonic GH1 to the GH5. See the video below for an interesting story on how young creative videographers used basic in-camera settings to create some of the first color profiles.



One important take away from the above video is that commercial photographers develop their own unique signature and style. The reason is simple, customers like to know what they can expect from photographers. If you change your style too often, it will be confusing and clients will not be able to build a trust in your photographic deliverables or style.


Photographers need to differentiate between in-camera color control and computer editing or color grading (color editing). It is important to also develop your in-camera color skills separately from your computer editing or color grading skills. While searching for information on Canon I saw this interesting video below. It is a great example and demonstrates how photographers set up digital cameras by using traditional color controls.



White balance is not only critical when you need a perfect image color balance, photographers also use white balance to create special or intentional color casts. The first steps in mastering color is practicing how to adjust the white balance using the WB Kelvin settings manually. I like to challenge readers to train how to "see" color and how to see the correct white balance or Kelvin setting when entering a room or when evaluating a potential image. Practice and experiment how to "see" and apply white balance in different environments, the in-camera white balance and in camera WB fine tune adjustments. 

White balance only impacts the JPEG file. Using white balance and white balance shift creatively, has no impact on the RAW file. Photographers can simply correct white balance in the RAW editor.

I prepared a quick comparison chart so you can compare the creative functions between the above selected group cameras. Keeping it simple I grouped the in-camera adjustments into groups. Starting at the top of the chart you will see standard adjustment and listed towards the bottom of the chart you will see more unique and specialized functions. Right at the bottom of the chart I compare camera PC software packages. Click on the image to see a clearer view of the image.


It's true that one can add much more information and detail to each of these cameras. That was not my goal, I wanted to see how the Olympus PEN-F compare to other brands. It is clear to me that brands like Canon and Sony also offer powerful creative color tools. Nikon and Fuji are more conservative with in-camera control and offer less. That said Nikon does have powerful color options in their PC software suite. Panasonic does offer curves and ART filters, that said it does seems like Panasonic encourage photographers to express their creativity with Photoshop.

I also found Fuji interesting. I always thought color is a Fuji strength and the old look Fuji film filters is something photographers crave for. Fuji filters are good and I can appreciate photographers using them. The draw back is these filters are always the same and its difficult to create your own individual style or look from these standard filters. Fuji offers very little flexibility other than white balance and standard image adjustments.

Finally a few comments on the PEN-F. The new 20MP sensor is great and Olympus knows how to extract excellent image quality from these sensors. Olympus ART filters are also unique and it allows the photographer a lot of creative freedom when creating on the spot result. The additional creative color control is new to photographers and it takes time and effort to master. When you look at the complete package I think the PEN-F is more than unique and it will become a powerful photographic tool. I also think that integrating different image and video creative tools, are interesting and will provide creative photographers with tremendous freedom. Comparing to the other brands I do not think Olympus are way out with the Pen-F, in fact I do think Olympus has stepped into a leading role with the Pen-F.

I cannot help to think that the Olympus Pen-F should become an instant hit with Vlogger's, its small, has awesome image stabilization, is hugely creative and always ready to transfer results when on the go or on-location. Add to that in-camera editing, both on stills and video. Some might complain, but the Pen F auto focus is not on par. Try the 12mm f2 with these settings, MF set to 1.2m, f5.6 to 6.3, 1/50 shutter speed and an ISO as needed. On sunny days use a ND8 filter.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Color Basics: Color with the Olympus PEN and OMD - Part 1


Olympus PEN F

Last update: 23 December 2019

Watching YouTube videos and studying different reviews it was interesting to see how reviewers reacted to the new Olympus Pen F. The general reaction was, wow see the new Creative Dial. It was only a handful reviewers that looked outside the official news release to discover the Pen F new Creative Color Concepts and how that would benefit digital photographers.

With this "Color Basics" series, I focus on photography and color using Olympus OMD and PEN cameras. To help us discover the new Olympus Creative Color concepts we will focus on the Pen F.  It is important for OMD owners to know that they will also benefit from reading these articles.

The interesting challenge however is, the Pen-F has been on the market for more than two years and reviewers and photographers already took a strong stand on the Pen F. I cannot help to ask, will these new creative color concepts reach its full potential as the Pen F moves over to the secondhand camera market? Will there be a Pen F mark II?

My concern is Olympus might conclude, the photographic community was not ready and did not accept the Pen-F "creative color concept" to walk away from this concept.

The Pen-F Received many "Gold Awards"


Most reviewers concluded and praised the PEN-F with summaries like "Gold Award Product, Great Product, Editors Choice, Remarkable, Great Design" or "Retro Design". Almost 98% of all reviews focussed on the traditional "must have" features like, sensor size, noise, dynamic range, display, EVF, the menu, video recording and the absolutely "must have" MIC input.

One could say, Olympus did not promote the new Creative Dial and new Creative Color Concepts hard enough.


Has the digital camera evolved to become a technical "FEATURES" beast partnered with post processing editing software and distancing itself from old fashioned photographic creativity 
to the degree that photographic creativity became only a forgotten idea or concept?




Olympus PEN F Creative Dial


The focus has moved so much to the camera and technical specifications that photographers are now changing brands far more frequent than seen before. Reasons given for this trend are sensor size, new functions, video recording, new technologies, and public opinion. Olympus was always recognized for its unique image jpeg color, Canon for its silky smooth images and Nikon for the D4 and the D850. Sony became known for its aggressive R&D, short product life cycles and its small full frame mirrorless cameras.

A new wave of mirrorless cameras introduced from 2014/15 onwards and offering FF and APC sized sensors excited the media and received quick praise and market acceptance. The result, photographers migrated more frequently than before to brands like the Sony or Fuji in search of the perfect camera and perfect image quality.

In this same period Olympus decided to introduce a new Creative Color Concept. If you recall, it was Olympus that took IBIS and did something exciting with it, Olympus was the first to introduce Hi-Ress Imaging and a workable version of Live View.

Many forum participants reacted with...Please NO!!... my friend what are you talking about? They would say, I see no value in Olympus strange Art Filters. Many tried the new Creative Dial thingy to conclude, the dial was placed incorrectly and it's only a gimmick with absolutely NO value. Others said they prefer to edit their images in Lightroom. Others say they would prefer to re-assign different functions to the creative dial and on and on the reactions.....

All while the Pen F gained such a reputation that it has become one of the most sought after cameras on the secondhand market. Also interesting to note is how many of these same photographers use LUT's and color profiles when editing in LR or editing video....

Creative People love working with Color


Take a little time to think about the above statement. If you want to appreciate the significance of the Olympus PEN-F, allow yourself to scale down the importance of things like sensor size, dynamic range, noise, ISO and all the other technical jargon we have been conditioned to work with. Yes it is correct that framing, exposure and other rules are vitally important and I do not dispute that.

I think you will agree color is as important when doing Black and White photography as when doing color photography. That is the reason why the Color Creator available on OMD and Pen F cameras are so exciting. To qualify this we need to study the next question.

How does the sensor record a digital image?

Very few photographers know that the sensor records a "black & white" image only and not a color image. To explain this lets take a closer look at the image path from the subject to the sensor:
  1. The "analogue color image" will enter the lens and pass through towards the sensor.
  2. The image signal will reach the RGB filter first, which is placed on-top of the sensor. 
  3. The RGB filter removes all color information from the analogue or the color image.
  4. What is then recorded on the sensor is only the analog "black & white" image
  5. The camera WB and RGB filter "color information" is all part of the final RAW image


Digital Camera Sensor and RGB Filter

What happens between the sensor and the memory card? In essence the recorded "black & white" image will be converted back to a "digital" color image and is saved as a jpeg file on the memory card. How does this happen:
  1. The WB and RGB filter color info is part of the B&W digital image data "package"
  2. The JPEG Engine adds the BW image data to the WB & RGB info to create a jpeg image
  3. When we have all the data, we can back calculate to the original color image, right?
If you think about it, we just defined the basic RAW file. The basic RAW file consist of the recorded B&W image data, the RGB filter color info and the camera WB. The camera JPEG Engine controls the process of recording the image to the sensor, calculating the digital color image data and saving it as a JPEG file on the memory card.

Probably one of the most important industry secrets are those Color Recipes build into each camera "JPEG Engine". This is where the magic happens, the camera JPEG Engine process the RAW file to what Olympus owners refers to as unique Olympus Colors.


Knowing this, it is even more interesting to see that Olympus had the confidence to add the "Creative Dial" to the Pen F. The Pen F now allows the photographer to create his 
or hers own "secret color recipe" and effectively add their own "signature" 
to each image saved on the memory card. Is this not unique?


To really appreciate and accept this amazing concept it is necessary that digital photographers go back and re-discover B&W photography and the early days of color photography. We need to do a 180 and walk away from what basically became a specification world of photography.

The future will be truly creative again the moment photographers learn to 
embrace color and traditional creative photography concepts.

Olympus added the Color and Monochrome Creator to the camera image processing. This has a huge impact on how photographers evaluate and plan their images. Tools like the Color Profile, ART Filters, Multiple exposures, Curves and existing image parameters like sharpness, saturation, contrast all enables creative photographers.

The OMD and PEN-F color and monochrome tools are now also part of Viewer 3 and WorkSpace. This is really great because it gives photographers the ability to develop, test and fine tune profiles on the computer instead of doing that on a small camera screen. Photographers can now save and share color or monochrome profiles.


Taken with the PEN F at island Mainau, Bodensee

To improve your creative know how working with Olympus cameras you need to make the mental shift to include Creative thinking and Color as part of your thinking process. It is important to go back to basics. When working with Color, photographers also develop a good understanding of how colors interact with each other. The first step is understanding the Color Wheel and how artists use and apply the Color Wheel.

Photographers are familiar with the concept commonly referred to as "light quality". Photographing landscapes in the early morning hours delivers better results than photographing at your lunch hour. The reason is, light quality is better in the morning. Seasoned photographers have a good sense of the light quality and working with light, hence photography styles like natural light photography.

We as photographers therefore needs to adapt and practice how to work with color. 
Photography differ from that which an artist will do on paper. 

You will find videos on YouTube about the Color Wheel. Familiarize yourself with it and how it is used. We only touched the surface. It is important to know that working with color does not require a university degree, practice makes perfect......

See this interesting video on color from a well known Photographer....have fun!!


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