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Saturday, May 5, 2018

How does creative photographers "see" the world? - Part 1

Olympus PEN F

While researching the Olympus Pen-F, I watched many YouTube videos and read several reviews and articles. It's fascinating design, complimented by its creative color control concept impressed me as I discovered the Olympus PEN-F. Amongst the many previous Olympus "technological intro's" the Pen-F as a whole probably takes the lead.

This article is not a review. If you looking for a review I prefer to point you to the many reviews available on the web and on YouTube. This article is an introduction to the Pen-F unique functions and will be the first of 5 articles.

The challenge is, the Pen-F has been on the market for more than two years and reviewers and photographers developed and expressed strong positions on the camera. In fact the thought crossed my mind that the real significance of the Pen-F "creative" design concept might only become valued once the Pen-F moves into the secondhand camera market.

My concern is Olympus might conclude that the photographic community did not embrace the Pen-F "creative color experiment" and they might decide to walk away from the color concepts introduced with the Olympus PEN-F.

Gold Award

Most reviewers conclude rewarding the PEN-F with summaries like Gold Award Product, Great Product, Editors Choice, Remarkable, Great Design and phrases like Retro Design. Almost 98% of all reviews focus on traditional topics like, sensor size, noise, dynamic range, display, EVF, the menu and finally video recording specs and for example the "must have" mic input.

In fact some reviews are so un-inspiring that it was difficult to advance to the conclusion. What I found most troubling was that reviewers did not realize the important Creative Marker set by the Olympus Pen-F. One reason could be Olympus did not give enough information on the Creative Dial Concept. Another reason could be modern photographers are strangled with accepted "digital" photography rules and technical concepts.

Digital photography surrounded by technically advanced features and post processing editing integration distanced itself from old fashioned in-camera creativity to the degree that in-camera creativity became only a distant concept.

Olympus PEN F Creative Dial

The focus moved so much towards technology that photographers migrate more frequent from one brand to another. Reasons given for this trend are sensor size, new functions, video recording, new technologies, and public opinion. Olympus was always recognized for its capable JPG Engine producing great colors. Canon for its silky smooth images. Nikon for example as the "photographers choice". Sony for its high R&D budget and short product life cycles.

A wave of new mirrorless Sony and Fuji cameras with high media acceptance and positive reviews resulted in strong public acceptance. I believe this pulled photographers to migrate more frequently to Sony full frame system cameras or the recent Fuji "X-Trans CMOS" sensor technology.

Challenged with all these major technical and brand migration trends Olympus decided to introduce a new creative idea to the Olympus photographic community. If you recall, it was Olympus that first took IBIS and really did something with it, Olympus was the first with Hi-Ress Imaging as with Live View. Great functions like Live Comp and Live Time extended exposure photography are probably one of the most significant photography secrets today. Another such and hugely significant development by Olympus were the Creative Dial found on the Olympus PEN-F.

Many react saying...Please NO!!... my friend what are you talking about? Many photographers say, I see no value in the strange Olympus Art Filters included in many Olympus "high end" cameras. Many tried the new Creative Dial and quickly concluded that the dial is incorrectly placed and only a gimmick and of absolutely NO value. Others say they prefer to edit their images in Photoshop or Lightroom. Others say they like to re-assign other in-camera functions to the creative dial.

Creative People love to work in Colors

You need to take a little time to think about the above statement. If you really want to appreciate the significance of the Olympus PEN-F you need to allow yourselves to ignore things like sensor size, sensor technology, dynamic range, noise, ISO and all the other technical aspects we have been conditioned to work with. Yes it is true that framing and so many other photographic rules are vitally important and I do not dispute that.

The truth is digital photographers were never really given the chance to work with and to be creative with respect to color. Color based functionality has never been pushed as part of the digital camera. To date color was basically defined by white balance settings and basic in-camera tone and saturation adjustments.

I think you will agree that Black and White photography are as color dependent as color photography and it will for example help to have access to in-camera color filters.

How does the digital camera record the digital image?

Very few photographers know that the sensor records a "black & white" image and not a color image.  The image path can be described as follows:
  1. The "analogue color image" pass through the lens towards the sensor.
  2. Placed in-between the sensor and the lens is a RGB filter. 
  3. In fact the RBG filter is placed on top of the digital image sensor.
  4. The RGB filter removes all color information from the analogue color image.
  5. What is recorded on the sensor is a digital "black & white" image
  6. The image color reference "info" is recorded and saved into the white balance setting
  7. The RGB filter characteristics plus image White Balance is included into the digital image

Digital Camera Sensor and RGB Filter

What happens between the sensor and the memory card? In essence the "black & white" digital image recorded on the sensor is converted to a "digital" color image and saved on the camera memory card. How does this happen:
  1. The RGB filter characteristics becomes part of the B&W digital image data "package"
  2. The image White Balance is also part of the B&W digital image data
  3. The JPEG Engine takes this sensor image data and creates a digital color image from that
  4. Think about it, when we have all the data we can back calculate to the original color image
  5. The "calculated" color digital image is saved on the camera memory card as a JPEG file
If you think about it, we just defined the basic RAW file. The basic RAW file consist of the recorded sensor B&W image data, the RGB filter characteristics and the image white balance. The camera JPEG Engine is the process of recording the image to the sensor and calculating the digital color image data to produce a JPEG image.

Probably one of the most important imbedded brand secrets are the specific brand, "JPEG Engines" build into each different camera brand. This is where the magic takes place when recreating what Olympus owners refers to as typical Olympus Colors.

Knowing this, it is even more impressive that Olympus had the confidence in their JPEG Engine to place the "Creative Dial" exactly into this Color Image creation path. In other words the creative dial becomes part of the in-camera RAW development process. THIS is the radically new design concept I referred to in my opening paragraphs. Just imagine what the future can hold if photographers accept this and work with Olympus to take this to the next level....

To really appreciate and accept this amazing new concept it is critical that digital photographers go back and discover pioneering B&W photography and the early days of color photography. We need to do a 180 and walk away from what became a technical dominated photography world.

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

Olympus inserted the Color and Monochrome Profiles adjustments ability into the internal camera RAW process. This potentially has a huge impact on how photographers evaluate a scene and plan their images. Other build-in image or photographic tools like the Color Wheel, ART Filters, how we use the multiple exposure function, Curves and regular image parameters like sharpness, saturation and contrast all enable creative photographers.

The PEN-F color and monochrome profiling tools are also build into Olympus Viewer 3, the Olympus image editing software solution. This is really great because it gives photographers the ability to develop, test and fine tune profiles on the computer screen. Those who tried doing this on the camera screen will appreciate Viewer 3. Photographers can now also save and share color and monochrome profiles.

Taken with the PEN F at island Mainau, Bodensee

To improve your creative instincts with the Olympus PEN-F it is important to make the mental shift to the Olympus Creative Color Space. It is also important to go back to basics. When working with the Olympus Creative Color Space, photographers typically develop a good understanding for color. This includes a basic understanding of the "Artists" 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 during your lunch hour. Reason is, light quality is better in the morning. Seasoned photographers have a good sense for light and light quality and how to work with light, hence concepts like natural light photography. In a similar way photographers will develop a good sense for color when using the Olympus PEN-F.

We as photographers therefore needs to adapt and practice how to work with color. Color differ from what painting artist do on paper. These and many more fascinating aspects of working in the Creative Color Space will be explored and discussed in my follow-up articles. 

You will find lots of great videos on YouTube talking about the basics of the "painting artist" Color Wheel. Please familiarize yourself with the Color Wheel and how to use the Color Wheel to impact the mood of a scene. Focus on the CYM color wheel.

In this article, we only touched the surface. It also does not require a university degree to use the extraordinary color and creative tools Olympus build into the Olympus PEN-F.

One final thought. I have been developing my own video skills over the past 2 years. In the process I learned that videographers have a much higher color awareness when compared to the typical stills photographers. I like to invite Olympus PEN-F owners to become part of this Creative Color Space journey, I look forward to your input and comments.

I included an interesting video from a well known Photographer on how to think color....have fun!!


  1. Hello there
    Great posting !
    I love everything about our Pen F including
    the color wheel, its a great camera !
    However, I hope Olympus stays in the game, as
    the newest camera I believe has lost its way [ design wise ] .
    Napa Valley

  2. Hello Ken
    Thank you for your feedback
    I also enjoy my Pen-F a lot, its one of Olympus best to date.
    The Pen-F forced me to get to know color better, in fact a completely new view on art....
    I am OK with the EM1X, I can see why Olympus did it even though its not for me either...
    My wish is that Olympus will continue with the Pen-F concept, especially the color concepts....
    Thanks again


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