GF1 settings for better JPEGs - I'm getting closer...

Started Apr 24, 2010 | Discussions thread
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Sam Bennett
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GF1 settings for better JPEGs - I'm getting closer...
Apr 24, 2010

As some of you may have followed, I had an E-PL1 and GF1 together for about a week, and while I returned the E-PL1 for various reasons I definitely recognized that the E-PL1 did seem to produce JPEG files out of the camera. I noticed as well that it tended to produce RAW files whose White Balance settings in AWB mode that matched more closely what I would tend to chose were I to WB by hand. While I have doubt I'll remain a RAW shooter due to the flexibility it gives me, this experience did spur me to dig a bit deeper into the GF1's capabilities to see if I could improve the JPEG output through a combination of Film Mode and White Balance tweaks.

White Balance Adjust

What I've concluded so far is that one of the main differences between the E-PL1 and the GF1 is with Auto White Balance. I would say that, in general, the E-PL1's AWB is more accurate. But the bigger difference seems to be that the GF1 tends to WB towards the cool side, the E-PL1 on the warm side. Since I tend to err on the warm side, the E-PL1 meshed better with my tastes. Many GF1 users work around this by setting WB manually, which works fine. However, I prefer to use AWB (on a camera that has reliable WB) and so I've started tweaking the GF1's White Balance adjust to get it to have more of a warm bias. There's two axes within this section - G (Green) to M (Magenta) and A (Amber) to B (Blue). If you're used to a RAW processor like ACR, G to M maps to the "tint" slider within the "Basic" section and A to B maps to the Temp slider.

The A to B WB adjustment is the real key here, since while it doesn't allow you the full control that the WB K Set will, it does allow you about a - + 1K adjustment on top of the WB K setting that the camera comes up with either based on a preset, a manual settings or the Auto White Balance value/. By moving towards the A end of the axes, you can warm up all Auto White Balance settings. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell the "stops" on the axes do not map conveniently to 100K increments exactly, and seem to vary according to where you're starting from (the increments are a bit different if you're fine tuning Tungsten vs. AWB, for instance). But I've found that dialing in about 7-9 steps towards A gives me much more pleasing AWB values. I also dial in a little bit of Magenta bias.

Here's some examples from today. Note that these were all done under cloudy conditions, which are typically not as challenging as say broad daylight, but my experience has been that this works well no matter what kind of light you're under, with maybe the exception of Tungsten. The "RAW" image was the image as I adjusted within Lightroom without looking at the JPEG, to get it to the point where I liked it - this includes WB tweaks (although usually very minimal) and tone tweaks. The JPEG is the JPEG straight out of the camera, no modifications.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/sambennett/4548515309/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/sambennett/4549147790/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/sambennett/4549147636/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/sambennett/4548514061/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/sambennett/4548513877/

RAW vs. JPEG Differences

One of the annoying things I've found with this technique is that while using WB Adjust can result in better JPEGs, it will also cause your RAWs to get thrown off a bit. The values do not map over exactly, and I've noticed that the amount of Magenta bias you have to dial in to counter a green cast in the JPEG output will results in RAW output that's too Magenta. Easy enough to take care of in RAW later.

Tone Curve

After the first few weeks with the GF1, one of the things I noticed is that the exposures I was seeing in review appeared to be significantly different than what I was seeing in RAW. With a bit of experimentation I noted that using the "Smooth" Film Mode gave me highlight warnings in review that matched the highlight warnings in Lightroom much more closely. Since then, I've sort of just kept it on the Smooth setting. After getting the E-PL1 and noting how much different the GF1's looked, I started scrutinizing the JPEG output from the GF1 a bit more closely and noticed that the skintones I was getting were really pretty sucky. This week I've spent time experimenting with the different Film Modes, and I've settled on using the "Vibrant" mode. This mode out of the box is a bit aggressive - oversaturated and too contrasty. So, I've started dialing in -1 Contrast and -1 Saturation which I feel gives me a more "natural" looking curve overall. These are the settings used in the samples above.

Anyway... this experiment isn't done. I will continue using these settings in the coming weeks and see how well they generalize over a lot of different photography. My primary concern really is skintones, and sometimes that can lead you to settings that are not ideal for shooting other things.

As for whether this makes the GF1 better or even on par with the Olympus JPEGs? My gut says no, but I definitely feel it brings them closer. I have a feeling that Olympus' tone curves are more similar to my personal approach in Lightroom, with accentuating the black levels for a "deeper" tone curve. There's no way to really "fix" that with the GF1, since the Contrast slider effects both shadows and highlights. Hopefully someday manufacturers will wise up to the fact that some of us are savvy enough to want to control these values separately.

Please feel free to try these settings out and let everyone know what your experience is.

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