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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!!


  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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