Art Filters

Olympus was the first company to offer creative image processing options in a large-sensor camera when it added 'Art Filters' to its E-30 DSLR in 2008. Olympus has made the best of this head-start and continues to offer one of the most comprehensive selections of filters available. The E-M5 adds three options to the already-comprehensive selection - an all-new 'Key Line' filter (apparently inspired by the Japanese manga drawing style), a purple-tinged 'Cross Process II', and a monochrome version of the existing Dramatic Tone filter which can give striking results with an appropriate subject.

In the OM-D there are 11 basic filters, many of them with alternate versions and options to add frames or heavy, pin-hole-style vignetting. In all, there are 19 filters if you include the variants and 78 combinations if you add all the framing options. As you can imagine, this gives a pretty flexible set of options. We're not fans of all the frames or filters (we've yet to get anything attractive out of the new Key Line filter) but the sheer range means there's often an interesting option available to spice-up an otherwise underwhelming image.

The processing demands of providing a live preview of the filters means that the camera's displays can become very laggy with some filters (particularly Diorama). The tenth option in section D of the Custom menu provides the choice of a faster but less accurate preview, if this lag risks interrupting the shooting experience (though we can't notice a huge difference between the two options).

Although there are lots of different filter options, there is no option for configuration once you've selected a filter. For instance, you get no manual control over the size, orientation or positioning of the 'in-focus' region of the Diorama mode. Cleverly, the camera will center the in-focus region around your chosen AF point, so that your chosen subject is in-focus. However, it's not clever enough to change the orientation of the in-focus region if you shoot in the portrait format.

Pop Art
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Soft Focus
Pale + Light Color 1 (of 2)
Light Tone
Grainy Film
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Pin Hole
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Diorama
Cross Process
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Gentle Sepia
Dramatic Tone 2 (of 2)
Key Line
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Although we've demonstrated all the principle filters using the same image, you'd usually want to tailor your use of filters and framing to an individual image. This is helped to a massive degree by Olympus' in-camera Raw converter that allows you to go back and apply any of the art filters to any Raw files you've shot. This means it's possible to use the Art Filter mode to preview the effect when shooting but still go back and change your mind if you find you caught the right moment but with the wrong effect.

The Art Filters can be combined with tone curve adjustments, either at the time of shooting or when re-processing Raw files, but there's no option to adjust saturation or sharpening.

Cross Process Filter II, 16:9 aspect ratio with frame effect, processed from Raw

Art Filters can also be applied to movies. The processing lag in live view mode has an effect on the video shooting - it slows the rate that video can be captured at. There are two ways the camera copes with this - most of the filters are played back at reduced frame rates, so that they still match up with the audio they've recorded. However the diorama mode is more processor intensive, so the results would be too slow - instead no audio is recorded and the frames are played back at 30fps, giving a sped-up playback effect.

1920 x 1080 60i, H.264 .MOV file, 2 sec, 4.8 MB Click here to download original .MOV file

Live Bulb/Live Time

The camera's clever 'Live Bulb/Live Time' modes give a preview of how the image will look during long exposure photography. In these modes, the display on the back of the camera (not the EVF) is updated up to 24 times at pre-decided intervals (the number of available updates is ISO dependent). In Live Bulb mode, the screen will update however often you've specified (every 0.5 sec, for example), and the exposure will continue for as long as you hold down the shutter button. Live Time is much the same but with the exposure starting with one button press and stopping with a second (allowing use without a remote release), again with a preview of how the exposure is coming along.

There's also an option, in Live Time mode, to trigger an update by touching the rear screen or half-pressing the shutter. You'd want to be careful not to jog the camera, of course, but it does mean you have an option equivalent to opening the oven to see how your baking is coming along. For extreme low-light landscapes we found setting a 60 second interval between updates and occasionally pressing the screen gave us a good way of checking exposure progress without being too restricted by the maximum update limits. For photographing fireworks, a shorter, defined interval (such as 0.5 seconds), should be effective.

We'll be adding a video showing this feature in action very soon.