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Tone control for highlight control in the PM1

Discussion in 'Olympus Cameras' started by twmangrove, Aug 1, 2012.

  1. twmangrove

    twmangrove Mu-43 Regular

    110
    May 8, 2011
    The Shuswap, B.C.
    Isn't the E-PM1 supposed to be Oly's most consumer-friendly M4/3 camera?
    I've got to say that as a straight point and shoot, it's – well, it's not terrible, but as everyone seems to know here, you can do much better digging into the menus (learning the jargon first helps too).
    I've had the camera since the fall and I'm still learning new things about it.
    I finally learned how to get greater control on scene and art modes (something you have to do through the camera control settings). And, most recently, I've discovered the existence, purpose of tone control (if this camera came with a paper manual I would have kicked back with it long ago).
    I only really started playing around with tone control yesterday evening after shooting photos of my boy at the playground. The sun was bright and at an angle where shadows were abundant. And as my fellow users know, these little Olys aren't the best at DR, meaning there were some pics where the highlights, particularly on skin, were blown out. This was with matrix meter, and I-Enhance at its most conservative settings (contrast down to -2, etc.).
    Afterwards, I was playing around with tone control, which I discovered quite by accident. With tone and exposure control (in-camera curves adjusting) going I found I could get some interesting expansion of DR in camera.
    So I'm going to do some more experimenting in daylight to see if I can use this to curb the highlights a little better.
    I'm wondering if anyone else has taken the time to play extensively with this feature.
    If this turns out to be useful I'll be kind of happy, but also kind of irritated as it's just one more thing to adjust on this little camera to get the most out of it.
    It might be argued I should just start shooting RAW and fork over the money for Lightroom 4. But that just makes for more work, less play.

    As a side note, I've come across a reasonable deal on an NEX-5N (provided I can mentally get over the lens hump). Thinking of buying it to see of it offers a more simplified user experience, or if it also requires much finessing to get the most out of it.
     
  2. b_rubenstein

    b_rubenstein Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 20, 2012
    Melbourne, FL
    In hard / bright, contrasty light I usually use Auto Tone with my E-PL2 & OM-D. Even though I have no issue with shooting RAW, and I very often do so, Auto is handy.

    I truly believe that blown highlights are a result of people being obsessed with noise in their pictures and camera makers pushing the exposure to reduce it. My D7000, which is not known for a poor dynamic rage, does the same thing.
     
  3. David A

    David A Mu-43 All-Pro

    Sep 30, 2011
    Brisbane, Australia
    Try the following:

    - turn Live Boost off. Then you'll actually see changes in exposure compensation on the screen/in the viewfinder as you make them, helping you to judge highlights better.

    - use the highlights/shadows info display rather than the histogram. Blown highlights blink red.

    - set the highlight warning in the histogram levels to 245 rather than the default 255. The warning blinks sooner. I shoot RAW and with my E-P3 I found that if I adjusted the exposure compensation to the point where I got the first blinking indication for a blown highlight with the level set to 245, the highlight was recovered very easily in Aperture and may not be blown at all in Lightroom which seems to have a bit more room. Your JPEG settings may affect this a little, and so may your metering mode since it can affect how much the highlights contribute to the reading. You may find it best to pull back to the exposure compensation setting just before the highlight starts blinking.

    Warning: don't try to avoid all blown highlights. Specular highlights such as reflections off metal and glass, will always be blown no matter what you try to do. Ignore them. Only worry about the non-specular highlights you want to keep detail in and definitely avoid blowing them but I find that with some non-specular highlights such as a light source such as a light fitting, it's often best to let it blow but to avoid blowing the highlights just below that in luminance. At some point you will also get stuck with having to choose between underexposing the main subject and blowing highlights. If faced with that choice a lot depends on whether you're shooting RAW or JPEG and what you can do in processing. If you're shooting JPEG I'd blow the highlights in that situation and avoid underexposing the main subject.
     
  4. Even if you process in raw I think there is value in using these dynamic range expansion jpeg settings (assuming that you like to view and display images showing a higher DR). I set the jpeg engine on my cameras to give the maximum dynamic range which includes settings like using smooth or natural colour modes, setting contrast to a minimum, enabling Auto Gradation (Olympus), etc. This means that the live-view display will show the closest thing to the maximum that can be pulled out of a raw file that the camera can manage by itself. This made a huge difference to shooting with my GH1 in particular.

    The more "pleasing" looking jpeg settings that bump up saturation and contrast tend to compress the dynamic range quite substantially, so if I am trying to protect a highlight blowing using one of these modes, when I get to the raw file I'll find that I had a lot more in reserve and am likely to have under-exposed. When using the full scene metering modes I am mostly shooting at +0.3, 0.7, or 1.0 EV.
     
  5. twmangrove

    twmangrove Mu-43 Regular

    110
    May 8, 2011
    The Shuswap, B.C.
    Thank you for the comprehensive feedback.
    A quick question for b_rubenstein - where in the menu system is auto tone? I don't recall it offhand. Or is that auto gradation?

    I'm not sure what Live Boost is either, unless this is i-auto. I go between this and the natural setting. And I use auto gradation selectively depending on the scene (yes in daylight, no indoors or lowlight settings).
    I do think I prefer the highlight/shadow display over the histogram. I think it gives a more precise visual understanding of what's going on and what I can expect when I open in the image on my screen.

    Luckypenguin, I try to keep my jpeg settings similar to what you describe, though sometimes I do dig the I-enhance boost (with the lowest contrast setting and somewhat reduced saturation).

    I'm going to try experimenting tonight with these recommendations, as well as with the tone control setting, just to see what happens.
    As for highlights, there are some areas where it's fine, and where I expect there to be sacrifice, but not when shooting people. I aim to get a handle on this.
     
  6. sLorenzi

    sLorenzi Mu-43 Top Veteran

    586
    Sep 15, 2010
    Brazil
    Sidinei

    Hey Nic, that is a neat trick. As I always shoot raw, I never bother changing film modes and so on. Thanks.
     
  7. Although I no longer have the E-PM1, I found the methods described above to be very helpful. +1
     
  8. On my GH1 (which should have the same film modes as your G1) I use the smooth setting and set contrast to -2. I think that I actually have the saturation set to a positive value because this film mode has quite muted colours. This is the closest jpeg setting I can get to what the plain raw file will look like.
     
  9. b_rubenstein

    b_rubenstein Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 20, 2012
    Melbourne, FL
    Sorry - Auto Gradation.

    Keep in mind that the difference between Auto and Normal is 1/3 stop (less in auto) in base exposure and JPG processing.

    It's more useful in the most of the PEN cameras than the OM-D, because the OM-D has a dedicated exposure compensation control dial. This makes it very fast and direct to dial in compensation.