Wednesday, 9 September 2015

The Olympus Grainy Art Filter

The 'Art' filters in the Olympus cameras are a bit like oysters (bare with me). You either love them or hate them (there you go). There's plenty to choose from (14 in the OM-D EM-5 Mk2) - ranging from pop art, pinhole, sepia, cross process and tilt shift type effects. 

To be honest, I'm in the 'hate them' camp on the whole. But there is one - just one - art filter that I have a slight affection for; the Grainy B&W filter.

Art Filter '5' - Grainy Black and White
Let's be honest, who doesn't like a good grainy black and white image? And the 'Grainy' art filter does produce a great grainy black and white image - with the option of a cool grungy border. Bonus.

Fortunately, Olympus also makes using the art filters worthwhile for the more 'serious' photographer. They don't hamstring the filters by making them only work in the automatic modes. Even while you are in aperture or shutter priority, the art filters are available as an option through the picture mode function. So you get complete creative control while using them - which is exactly as it should be.

And it gets better. You can use most of them when shooting video as well. And it gets even better still! Although the file output of an art filter shot is only a jpeg, if you are shooting in RAW, the camera will take an art filter shot in jpeg as well as the unedited RAW image, for the best of both worlds. As long as you are set to RAW, you'll automatically get two files. Very cool.

Struggle Street. 1/500th @ f5.6 ISO 200 (RAW)

I recently decided to go out and take a couple of images that I'd been meaning to take for a while - that I knew would look great in grainy black and white. I shot my OM-D E-M5 Mk2 in aperture priority, in RAW, with the 12-50mm on f5.6.

Of course with its EVF, the other great thing about choosing to shoot in an art mode is that you get to see the effect immediately through the viewfinder. So you can decide there and then whether the effect you've chosen suits the subject or not.

One thing I did notice with the Grain Art filter had to do with exposure control. It was a fairly overcast day, so exposure shouldn't have been a problem. But Grain Art boosts both the shadows and highlights to increase contrast, blowing out both in the process. I ended up taking the middle ground and blew out both the shadow and highlight ends of the histogram equally.

I knew I would have the RAW files to fall back on, but in actual fact, even the jpegs had decent leeway for pulling back detail in the both the shadows and the highlights once I got them into Lightroom.

Grainy Art Filter Mode 1.
Within the Art Filter's themselves, there are also various options (this is Olympus after all). You can choose Grainy Mode 1 or Mode 2, add a border or not, add a vignette or not, and add colored filter effects (orange, yellow, red, green, blue) or not. Above is Mode 1, with the grunge border effect added. Mode 1 is the higher contrast setting which really ramps up the effect to 11!

Grainy Art Filter Mode 2
Mode 1 is a little too much for my taste. I tend to go with Mode 2, which while still punchy, is a little more reserved than Mode 1. It's also worth noting that in all the examples shown here, I have still tweaked them a bit in Lightroom, and then taken them in to Photoshop for a final round of curves adjustment and sharpening. So even with the 'out of camera' art filter effects, I'm doing some post-processing to get the effect exactly how I want it.

Front Yard Bus. 1/320th @ f5.6 ISO 200
Above is the RAW file, converted to Black and White in Lightroom, and then tweaked in Photoshop to my taste. Looking at them all, I would say that I like both two and three - with a preference for the RAW file converted to b&w in Lightroom.

DXO Film Simulation conversion - Kodak TMAX 3200
Just for a laugh, I also placed a color jpeg of the RAW file straight into DXO's Film Conversion pack and chose the 3200 Kodak TMAX preset. I then jumped on the internet and downloaded a free grunge border and plonked it over the top - flattening the image to the final jpeg. Took about 5 minutes, and looks remarkably similar to the Olympus Grainy Art Filter in Mode 2.

So what, if anything does this prove? That there's more than one way to skin a cat? That the Grainy Art Filter is great? That the Grainy Art Filter is dumb? All of the above?

I suppose for me, it reconfirmed what I kind of knew already. Yes, the Grainy B&W Art filter is fun, and yes, it can produce some good results (in Mode 2). But even so, I'm still going to end up tweaking the final result in Lightroom and Photoshop - so why don't I just do my own conversions in the first place (which ultimately I preferred anyway).

Yet having said all that - if you are someone who wants to use the results of the Grainy Art filter straight out of camera, without going anywhere near Lightroom or Photoshop, then have at it! You'll get some fantastic results. And in true Olympus style, you get heaps of various options within the filters themselves so you can tweak 'in-camera' to your hearts content.

Go ahed and try the Art Filters. They can be a lot of fun, and really suit particular subjects. Me - I think I'll stick to Lightroom for my black and white conversions. Guess I'm just too much of a control freak?

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