Picture Modes in Olympus E-510

(and E-410)

My other articles related to the Olympus E-System cameras.

The Olympus E-510 and E-410 digital cameras allow the photographer to switch quickly between three "Picture Modes" — pre-packaged sets of parameters, determining how the raw sensor data is translated into the RGB image. These modes, referred to as Vivid, Natural, and Muted, define the contrast, sharpness (more exactly: sharpening performed in the conversion process), and color saturation. Each preset has a default combination of these three, more or less reflecting the preset name, and on top of this the parameters can be further adjusted to your liking; the adjustments are stored so that they are recalled every time the given Picture Mode is used.

There is a fourth parameter, called Gradation, which is best left alone at Normal in general shooting; if you are interested, feel free to experiment with it, but I've decided to leave it alone in this article.

There is also a fourth Picture Mode, to which Olympus stubbornly keeps referring as Monotone, but which really is monochrome. (Ironic: a poor, ignorant immigrant like myself fighting for the purity of a language he barely knows!) This is a separate subject, out of scope of this write-up.

The Picture Modes can be approached as different kinds of slide film you could load into your camera ten years ago: each produces images with a certain character. They do not affect the raw (.ORF) files; if you are using that format, the presets will be applied (and can still be changed) only in the process of raw-to-RGB conversion on your computer (if your conversion software supports this feature).

A more detailed discussion of Picture Mode settings can be found in another article; here I'm just going to show a few examples and offer some remarks.

Each subject was shot three times, once in each of the Picture Modes. These modes were adjusted as per my recommendations in the that article (adjustment values shown in captions). Images on the left are full frames, reduced in size and re-sharpened; those on the right are 1:1 pixel scale fragments without any postprocessing.

The camera used was the E-510; the results are fully applicable to the E-410 as well, as both cameras have the same sensor and identical image processing engines.

Ready to have a look? Let me start from a subject I'm very familiar with; lakeside houses in my neighborhood, shot in a somewhat diffused sunlight.

Vivid, all adjustments at 0
In absolute terms: Sharpness 0, Contrast 0, Saturation +1 (all on a -5..+5 scale)
Natural, all adjustments at 0
In absolute terms: Sharpness -1, Contrast -0, Saturation 0 (all on a -5..+5 scale)
Muted, all adjustments at 0
In absolute terms: Sharpness -2, Contrast -1, Saturation 0 (all on a -5..+5 scale)

All three pictures above: E-510, 14-42 mm F/3.5-5.6 ZD lens at 25 mm, aperture priority (-.3 EV): 1/320 s at F/5.6, ISO 100, WB at 5300°K (sunny). Tripod, remote.

Differences, although more subtle than before, are quite visible. Note how the grass changes towards yellow from Natural to Muted!

Now I'm going to throw a splash of pink into this quiet neighborhood:

Vivid, all adjustments at 0
In absolute terms: Sharpness 0, Contrast 0, Saturation +1 (all on a -5..+5 scale)
Natural, all adjustments at 0
In absolute terms: Sharpness -1, Contrast -0, Saturation 0 (all on a -5..+5 scale)
Muted, all adjustments at 0
In absolute terms: Sharpness -2, Contrast -1, Saturation 0 (all on a -5..+5 scale)

All three pictures above: E-510, 40-150 mm F/4.0-5.6 ZD lens at 98 mm, aperture priority (-.7 EV): 1/100 s at F/8, ISO 100, WB at 5300°K (sunny). Tripod, remote.

All right, same story, except that pink reacts more visibly to mode change. Also note the effect of contrast and sharpening on fence detail. (Still, I prefer to keep these parameters down, applying sharpening as needed in postprocessing, and moving the mid-tones down instead of increasing the contrast in many pictures.)

One more example, this time bright autumn colors under a partly cloudy sky.

Vivid, all adjustments at 0
In absolute terms: Sharpness 0, Contrast 0, Saturation +1 (all on a -5..+5 scale)
Natural, all adjustments at 0
In absolute terms: Sharpness -1, Contrast -0, Saturation 0 (all on a -5..+5 scale)
Muted, all adjustments at 0
In absolute terms: Sharpness -2, Contrast -1, Saturation 0 (all on a -5..+5 scale)

All three pictures above: E-510, 40-150 mm F/4.0-5.6 ZD lens at 61 mm, aperture priority (-.3 EV): 1/200 s at F/5.6, ISO 100, WB at 5300°K (sunny). Tripod, remote.

The differences in color, although visible, are not strong. A closer examination of full frames reveals that the contrast in the Vivid mode may be too strong for my taste; this can be seen in the woman's face: here is the full-frame Vivid sample.

Let me switch to something more extreme, a close-up with lots of saturated color; two setups of some Amish candy I bought especially for this purpose (I'm not sure I'm going to eat it).

Note that for these pictures I modified the Picture Modes to my liking, reducing sharpness and contrast.

Vivid, with Sharpness V-1, Contrast V-1, Saturation V±0
In absolute terms: Sharpness -1, Contrast -1, Saturation +1 (all on a -5..+5 scale)
Natural, with Sharpness N-2, Contrast N-2, Saturation N±0
In absolute terms: Sharpness -3, Contrast -2, Saturation 0 (all on a -5..+5 scale)
Here is the full-size, original file (for your personal enjoyment only!)
Muted, with Sharpness M-2, Contrast M-2, Saturation M-1
In absolute terms: Sharpness -4, Contrast -3, Saturation -1 (all on a -5..+5 scale)

All three pictures above: E-510, 50 mm F/2 Macro ZD lens, aperture priority (-.3 EV): 0.6 s at F/8, ISO 100, WB at 5300°K (sunny). Diffused window daylight, tripod, remote.

Holding the candy box in front of me as I am writing this, I would say the Muted results look most natural on my bright, contrasty, and well-adjusted LCD screen, although many people will prefer the Natural mode. Note that in all modes my contrast settings are below the Olympus default (which, I strongly believe, is too high). The Vivid setting is too strong, almost garish for my taste.

If you are reading this on an LCD monitor, the difference in vertical viewing angle may easily mask the actual differences between samples; try to scroll the page so that each sample is in the same position when you're looking at it. Of course, nothing beats flipping between samples in the full screen mode, using a decent image viewer (like ACDSee, FastStone and some others, certainly not the pathetic Fax and Image Viewer which came with your Windows). To do that, however, you would have to download these images (feel free to do that).

The second subject uses quite different colors; that's why I decided to include it here.

Vivid, with Sharpness V-1, Contrast V-1, Saturation V±0
In absolute terms: Sharpness -1, Contrast -1, Saturation +1 (all on a -5..+5 scale)
Natural, with Sharpness N-2, Contrast N-2, Saturation N±0
In absolute terms: Sharpness -3, Contrast -2, Saturation 0 (all on a -5..+5 scale)
Muted, with Sharpness M-2, Contrast M-2, Saturation M-1
In absolute terms: Sharpness -4, Contrast -3, Saturation -1 (all on a -5..+5 scale)

All three pictures above: E-510, 50 mm F/2 Macro ZD lens, aperture priority (-.3 EV): 3/4 s at F/8, ISO 100, WB at 5300°K (sunny). Diffused window daylight, tripod, remote.

Color-wise, the difference between Vivid and Natural looks here larger than for the previous subject, with my preference still being the latter. It also seems that higher degree of sharpening makes the detail look more crisp in the Vivid mode — but, again, if you are postprocessing your images, then my Natural setting will submit itself nicely to exactly as much sharpening as you decide at that stage; I prefer to keep it that way.

The pieces of candy were about 6 mm (1/4") across. At this magnification, the depth of field is very shallow, even at F/8 I've been using, and you can clearly see that in the full-scale fragment.


My other articles related to the Olympus E-System cameras.

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Posted 2007/11/01; last updated 2007/11/20 Copyright © 2007 by J. Andrzej Wrotniak