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Thursday, 26 February 2009


So what you're saying is this camera with a 20mm 1.7 would potentially make you buy?

Like you, I don't want the camera wasting its time providing me inferior and harder to control versions of what I can do later; it also doesn't fit my workflow (I need to be concentrating on the next shot, not messing with editing the previous one). (Such features, unless they mess up the user interface, can be ignored easily, so they do me little harm.)

But I have an investment in image manipulation software that exceeds a lot of amateur's investments in cameras and lenses (let's see; Photoshop, Corel Draw, Bibble Pro, Thumbs Plus, Photo Mechanic, Noise Ninja, Focus Magic, Color Mechanic, Spyder Express, that I remember at the moment).

If you don't have some of that stuff, and aren't comfortable working with post-processing in any software, then if you're interested in some look, you'll appreciate a filter in the camera to produce it. Most photographers don't think of themselves as "artists", they think they're having fun playing around with images, using various degrees of realism to taste.

I suspect one of the divides that will appear is "serious" cameras that assume that post-processing will be done outside the camera, vs. others that assume you'll use the image straight from camera for whatever the end purpose is.

"I'd be super-tempted to use the Olympus system myself if it only offered the lens I need. I love the look of the files."

Mike, earlier in this article you implied that you shoot RAW. Is there a "look" to RAW files?

I have the E30 and have used the filters. I like the Pinhole filter, which to me is more Holga than pinhole (I use both of those too). Most of my E30 pinhole filter images have been converted to B&W and tweaked in Lightroom. I also like the black and white filter, but have far less luck with getting it right. Higher contrast scenes tend to cause it to blow out the lights more than I like. Put another way, the contrast needs to be toned down a bit on this filter. The other filters don't interest me.

It's like any other tool - an experienced user can make it work to their advantage.

The thing I wish they would change in an update is adding the ability to tweak the filter settings, much like Panasonic allows you to tweak their film settings/filters.

No doubt filters are here to stay as the masses fall in love with them. And why not, they're fun!

Mike: Completely agree... Like the comment you made about fishing. A friend of mine says "That's why they call it fishing, not catching". Now we just need a similar phrase for photography.

"So what you're saying is this camera with a 20mm 1.7 would potentially make you buy?"

Actually, probably so. Depends on a few other things too, and I'd have to try it, but...probably.


If I knew how to take a good photograph, I’d do it every time.

That was Robert Doisneau, as far as I know.

"Is there a 'look' to RAW files?"

Not per se, although I suppose there's a "look" to the output of specific cameras. I generally like the work I see coming out of Olympus cameras, is all.


"the entire charm of particular processes lies in the fact that the process makes the picture look the way it does."
I stood there, open mouthed, as my son showed me the photo made with his Iphone and the Holga filter...

From Olympus (http://asia.olympus-imaging.com/products/dslr/e30/feature/01/) *1 ART FILTERS are not applied to RAW images. If the record mode is set to [RAW] and Art Filter is applied, the record mode is automatically set to [JPEG + RAW]. So yes, it seems you'd have a nice RAW file and an arty JPEG.

... and yes, that comment on Olympus goes for the E-620 as well (http://asia.olympus-imaging.com/products/dslr/e620/feature/03/).

I think this camera is aimed at people who want something a little more sophisticated that they can use to take pictures of birthday parties, trips to the beach, etc., and maybe get a little more quality than they'd get from a P&S. Many won't do any post-processing at all -- they'll take the memory card down to Target and get one or two copies of everything, just like they did with film, or use their 4x6 Canon home printer with card slots.

I would only object to the art filters if providing for them actually took up room in the camera -- but if it's all the same stuff, with a bit more memory being used somewhere, then I don't care. From that standpoint, it's just another menu item among many that I never use. I have the same attitude toward SLR video -- if it adds size or weight, I don't want it. Otherwise, I don't care.


Mike, or anyone else:

Do you know when the 20/1.7 is due out? That, in combination with the 50/2 might be a very good two-lens combo with either the E-620 or E-30.

The only 20/1.7 I've seen announced is a Micro 4/3 lens. It won't be usable with existing Olympus SLRs.


Mike wrote:
"I generally like the work I see coming out of Olympus cameras, is all."

Ahem, it's the photographer, not the camera. :)

I have two thoughts about the "Art Filters":

1. They are optional and only apply to the JPEGs. No harm, no foul if a person is serious, they're also writing RAW files in-camera. Furthermore, and I haven't confirmed this for the E-620, but the E-system cameras allow you to manually select RAW files and apply "current settings" to them and write an all new JPEG file with those new settings. All in-camera. This means that you can shoot a RAW image and then go back and apply an "art filter" to it later and write a JPEG. Again, not confirmed, but this is the way all previous models worked.

2. Curmudgeons repeat history: I don't need no stinkin art filters; I don't need no stinkin digital cameras; I don't need no stinkin auto-focus; I don't need no stinkin PROGRAM MODE; I don't need no stinking Auto Exposure; I don't need no built-in meter; I don't need no SLR. Sorry to say this, but history repeats itself--curmudgeons have a hard time accepting something that is foreign to their own way of working or thinking.


There is one element of "art" filters that you are missing - they are not just jpeg processing parameters. If a filter is selected, the exposure at capture is adjusted to benefit the final outcome (at least I believe this to be the case). This changes the process in as much as the photographer is specifically trying to photograph with a final effect in mind. So instead of throwing a line with bait and hook just to see what might bite, there is a specific fish that one is trying to catch.

The opposite aproach, which you seem to advocate (correct me if I am wrong), is to spray the landscape with with bracketed raw frames then sit at the computer to see if by chance you caught a fish or just seaweed. Of course you may object to automation element of "art filters" and argue that everything should be done manually, but that is a different argument altogether.

On a different note, other brands have "art" filters in their cameras, except they call them "film" modes. If you think about it, Olympus is just imitating the competition here, except they were not silly enough to call their feature "film" filters, featuring a "velvia 50 filter" or a "Tri-X filter", since it is a DIGITAL camera. No, they were even sillier, and came up with the term "art filter".

There's something about those "art filters" that I'm not sure has been said.

Sometimes, art is about giving up *some* control. This is the reason d'etre of Holgas, pinhole cameras, and in general, any camera that doesn't produce a high quality image. Yes, you can achieve the same effect as a post process. But I am not sure if that's what you want. Maybe we want some things (the vignetting, the point where the plastic lens sweet spot falls, etc) to fall where they might, and *then* edit our images.

I suspect the trick is in knowing how much control to give up, at what time, etc. But my point is, there are perfectly valid reasons to use those modes. The universe of possible images is too big, and using tools like these to constrain it a bit is something an artist might want to do.

"The opposite aproach, which you seem to advocate (correct me if I am wrong), is to spray the landscape with with bracketed raw frames then sit at the computer to see if by chance you caught a fish or just seaweed."

...Block that metaphor.

But no, that is not what I'm advocating.


Mike, you say you'd like a 20/1.7 lens for Olympus DSLRs.
Isn't the fabulous Leica D Summilux 25mm f/1.4 ASPH close enough in specs?


Ah, yes. Of course. In a moment of blind hope I forgot the 20/1.7 was only Micro 4/3. Thanks for bursting my bubble!

A friend of mine and I were discussing the Olympus E-620 last night. We concluded it is a no go because of the lack of glass and the cost of same. You have hit the nail on the head as to why you should NEVER shoot .jpg. I have been burned every time that I have done so.

When I've been bored or when I've had too much time on my hands (time that I should have spent shooting) I've been seduced by filters and the like. Curiosity more then anything. But I'm always saved by Robert Adams fine words

"A photographer can describe a better world only by better seeing the world as it is in front of him"

Maybe the biggest issue is in calling them Art Filters. If they called them Effects Filters people might not get so twitchy about it all.

I'm all for experimentation and some of my favorite photographers were rather engaged in the practice. It's hard enough to define what Art is in the first place, and this just seems to reduce the importance and significance to flipping a switch.

It reminds me of when people post an image on photo forums and pose the question to the whole world, Art or not Art? The image is usually very different from what they usually would post and is more often than not out of focus or rather abstract.

It all makes me want to start knitting.

Lack of glass?

I thought the reason many photographers (moi aussi) turn to Olympus is FOR the glass. I like my Zuiko zooms. I'm covering 28-400mm (equiv.) quite nicely with two lenses.

If one is wedded to primes, it's not as if the other manufacturers were diligent in providing a complete lineup of primes (say 24,28,35,50,85 or 90, 135 equiv.) for their reduced-sensor cameras.

I wanted to finish with an ice-fishing vs. deep sea trawling metaphorical fluorish, but it didn't come together.


Warning: Non-photog's comment.

1. To add to Ken - white balance. Remember when they first came out? Aren't they the same as filters?

2. I remember when the Nikon D70 first came out with the pre-programmed settings ex. sports, portrait etc. - the screams of protests from my my "advanced" amateur photog friends who felt that it "lessened" the camera.

3. Never shoot JPEG? Here is Malaysia, with event & wedding photographers, the emphasis in the classes is to try to shoot once as there is no workflow that can be good enough to keep up with the volume requirements and the need to crank out the results to the anxious customers. Hmmm... harried working professionals vs. professional artists vs. advanced hobbyists... horses for courses.

But I think in the end whatever it is that gets people out there clicking and experimenting is great...

Juan Buhler caught my feelings. I really think, Mike, that you'd enjoy an iPhone with OldCamera or ToyCamera on it. These apps turn the iPhone camera's weaknesses (fixed focus, 2MP, small sensor, noise) into strengths and give you little choice about the process. The system's stable and predictable properties mean you end up shooting to suit them. The Oly's art filters might work the same way. In-camera black and white JPEGs work like that for me, shot alongside raw. After the fifth or tenth shot, I end up seeing and framing monochrome pictures and nine times out of ten, choose to process the raw file to look pretty similar to the JPEG or just using the JPEG, if the quality is decent enough.

I know you're making a separate point about the choice of filters–I certainly won't argue with that.

Miserere wrote: "That was Robert Doisneau, as far as I know."
That's what I thought too, but I could be wrong. I often am.

Just curious - a couple have people have mentioned a lack of glass - what exactly are you missing? Really the only glass that is missing from the system are a few fast primes and a supertelephoto zoom. Everything else seems to be covered pretty well ..?

Dear Eolake,

I read your question a bit differently from Mike; I think you're asking if RAW files from different cameras have distinctive looks. My limited experience says definitely yes. RAW files from different cameras look distinctly different, even when they're processed the same way. Much as different black-and-white films looked distinctly different even when they're given the same industry-standard development. (And, of course, you can mess around with the development, and that changes the look of the "film" too.) For an example of this, reread the first part of my review of the Fuji S100fs,


and pay particular attention to the portion where I'm discussing the comparison photographs with the Nikon D200 of the dining room cupboard and window. Some of the differences in "look" are quantifiable and easy to understand. Others are downright mysterious. But there are clearly differences!

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

I've always used moderate wide primes. Standard in the film era, not always as easy to find in the digital era. I'll give Olympus credit for the 25/2.8, but it's not exactly what I need. I wouldn't buy into a system *knowing* that it doesn't have the lens I need.

Olympus has some very fine lenses, for sure, some of the best.


Ever considered the Olympus 11-22mm that they are sending into space? Sound right up your street - all the moderately wide primes ;) you could want, up to normal, in one lens. Just a question of is f2.8-3.5 enough?

To further respond to Eolake's question about diffent RAW files having distinct looks. What you're effectively asking here is 'do different sensors from different manufacturers have a different look at the world'. The answer to that is a simply, a resounding YES. The RAW sensor files have a distinctive look. Different technologies simply gather light in a different way. At different efficiencies at different frequencies.

However, the tricky bit is the RAW processing software also goes to quite extraordinary lengths to squash out most of the differences. Which is good, because a lot of those differences would be perceived as bad colour calibration.

But I have to agree with Mike. I love the look of the Olympus RAW files. I cannot really put my finger on what you'd call the property, except maybe for the 'vibrancy' slider in Aperture turned up a bit. But that's not quite it either, because it is also more subtle than that. At least when comparing my regular Canon 30D files to Olympus E-1 files. I took out the E-1 on a trip and the difference is quite clear.

Mind you, this is what you get by default. With a bit of tweaking of my Canon files, I get to see pretty much the same thing as the Olympus files. And that must simply be down to the processing latitude we get by shooting raw.

Dear Mike,

I'm really surprised you chose a lead illo with such appallingly bad boke!

pax / Ctein

re: lack of glass

Fast, SMALL, prime. The 25/1.4 supposedly is nice, but not small. OTOH, this may be the (worst) limitation we pay with the the 4/3 sensors because of the need to use retrofocus wide angle design. Look at the size of the latest Leica 21, and 24 Summilux, even they aren't that small.

This is an old, old bugbear of mine that I've thrashed to death for years--I'm picky about lenses to a counterproductive extent, and seldom happy with what's on offer. Looking at it from the other side, though--from the "leveler" side vs. the "sharpener" side if you remember that post--Olympus makes any number of lenses I could quite happily get by with. Maybe half a dozen.

Realistically, I could be happy with the E-620 by using an old strategy that I once recommended with the old Contax SLR system...I'd probably buy a 25/2.8 and either a 14-54 or 12-60 zoom. The small lens would be the carry-around, everyday lens, and the larger one would be the lens I'd use for more concerted shooting. I'd get by just fine.

To really embrace the system, though, I'd need there to be a "high grade" or "super high grade" 18mm f/2 or 20mm f/2. And I'd even be pickier than that (told you it was counterproductive)--the lens would need to be reasonably small and light--let's say the size of the Pentax 35mm DA Macro.

I tend to pick cameras based on the lenses available for them. I don't start with bodies I like and then look around for a lens that will do. But that doesn't mean this is pertinent to anybody else's photography...it's really just my personal taste (and, to a significant degree, habit).

However, if anything, my recent experience shooting the Sony A900, Nikon D3 and D700, and Canon 5D Mark II has hardened my opinion about this. On three of those four cameras I was able to shoot with 35mm f/2 lenses (I also had available a 35/1.4 on the Canon), and it impressed upon me again how that focal length just matches the way I've learned to see. It was really a pleasure to get back to my "natural" lens choice on these cameras. Again, this might be nothing more than just habit. Still, if so, then it's a pretty well-ingrained habit, and it's mine, so I'm stuck with it....


Apologies for the comment about "spraying the landscape with bracketed raw frames", I misinterpreted your post and commented too quickly. It must drive you crazy being misunderstood all the time - I guess that is inevitable running a blog like this.

Figuring Olympus simply doesn't know that many people would like a 18 or 20mm f/2 I'm chiming in, hoping they're reading your weblog.
Best, Nick

There's one oddity about the Olympus E-1's RAW files: it has two slightly different types of green pixels. That is, half the green pixels have a different spectral response than the other half. Why they do that is a mystery to me. It tends to give RAW converters trouble if special provisions are not made.

I'd love an excuse to go back to Olympus, and the "aspect ratio" feature had me excited as I'm a square image nut: the prospect of a full 12 Mpixels rearranged into a 3464x3464 pixel square was enticing. But reading the User Manual (at http://olympusamerica.com/filesE-620_Instruction_Manual_EN.pdf) has deflated things. Unlike the Panasonic LX3, which does rearrange all 10 Mpixels into a new shape, this looks like a mere crop -- another thing you'd be foolish to do in camera (esp. as the aspect frame seems not to be shown in the optical viewfinder). Shame. Fewer gimmicks, please, Olympus!

The E-Systems group at flickr have a few suggestions for filters that could be added in the future.

"Why toss that away by letting the camera do the processing?"

Because speed is sometimes more important than quality. With any newer nikon, I can produce a RAW, a color jpg, and a bw jpg, all in one shot. On ingest, I can upload BW and Color at the same time to a web gallery, giving me precious time for other work, time I would have otherwise spent waiting for a batch process. If the customer really likes the web gallery, and wants prints, I can always go back to the RAW when the time permits.

It'd be a lot nicer (and possible for me) if the oly F2 zooms wereabout half price, if they were I might have a little 520 now.... and I would also like a 20mm 1.7. I doubt they could make it very small though.


I'm one of those "odd" people that will look at what other people are doing and do the opposite. Like when I bought a 1989 Peugeot 405 :-) I appreciate that you are able to see a camera for what it is, which is one of the reasons that keep me coming back to your site. Olympus reminds me of that Peugeot. Once you get a reputation for something, it's hard to shake. There are those that are able to see through the stereotypes and see the true value in something. Those that can do this will find a gem of a camera in the e-620

Mimicry? But then, isn't the whole digital photography mimicry, especially vignetted high contrast monochrome versions of raw-files? Arent't we (at least here on top, but on several other places too) always looking for the film-look? Some Fujis, Leicas and Panasonics have film presets. This would also be mimicry.

However, basically I am with you Mike, those filters are plain stupid in my opinion, but just to be controversial...

As for the lenses for FT: have you ever used the 14-54? As much as I like primes, this is the lens that I really, really do miss since I have sold my Oly gear. And i can imagine that this lens is a very nice match for the 620. I would be quite intersted in your opinion on this combo. And maybe it would change your mind.

However, in principle you are right again, Oly should make some decent primes for FT, at least a 20 2.0. Are you listening, Oly? If not to me then to our TOP team!!!

For the record: I only sold my Oly gear because I needed an affordable all-around kit with wideangle and a 70-200ey 2.8 tele. And no, the 50-200 was no option, 50 (100 equiv. being to long). So I went Pentax. But I never had more fun with any camera than with the E-1 + 14-54 combo, i promise.

All this silliness about 'art' filters reminds me of an embarrassing moment I had many years ago. Just about the time digital cameras were first becoming known and used, a colleague at the school where I taught photography handed me a leaflet for a revolutionary new camera that was programmed to recognize great masterpieces of art, based on famous paintings, frescoes, etc.
For example, if you were wandering down the street and aimed your camera at a group of construction workers having lunch on the curb, and their configuration exactly matched that of da Vinci's Last Supper, a green light would appear in the viewfinder letting you know this image was great art.
The embarrassing part is that I took the joke for real and became the laughing stock of the lab. Of course, the idea is not so far-fetched these days with multiple face recognition and so on.
It might be worth a try on a camera that offers "raw+stupid."

I shoots jpegs all the time with my Canon Mark 11n and my Kodak P880/P712 cameras and I am happy with the image quality. The photographers who read your blog are too compulsive about the raw vs jpeg issue. Absolute top image quality in my mind takes a second fiddle to content. A good discussion on raw by a top Kodak engineer can be read at http://pluggedin.kodak.com/search/default.asp?item=665417

Thank god it takes more than Art filters in a camera to be able to produce Art.... however we will obviously become confronted with lots of "Art" pics on the internet.... sincerely hope it doesn't catch on.

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