Art Filters

One of the E-30's headline features - and the one most heavily pushed in the marketing material - is its 'Art Filters'; six built-in special effects that are applied at the point of capture. The ability to apply image effects in-camera is by no means a new one, though this is the first time such radical effects have been offered in a digital SLR.

The Art Filters are accessed via their own mode on the main mode dial and they are all full program modes (you can't combine them with any other exposure mode), though you do still get full control of ISO, white balance, exposure compensation and so on. The effects are only applied to JPEG images (you can shoot in RAW+JPEG mode, in which case the RAW file will be unaffected by the filter).

The six filters offered are:

  • Pop art
  • Soft Focus
  • Pale & Light Color
  • Light Tone
  • Grainy Film
  • Pin Hole

Three of the six filters (Pop Art, Pale & Light Color and Light Tone) are purely tonal, affecting only the color and contrast of the shot, with the remainder (Soft focus, Pinhole and Grainy B&W) having a more dramatic effect that goes down to a pixel level. These three also come with quite a serious performance hit, as the effects take between 5 and 12 seconds to apply, during which time the camera cannot be used.

Below are samples of (roughly) the same shot using each of the six Art Filters (plus the same scene shot in normal program mode).

Pop Art Soft Focus Light Tone
Pale & Light Color Pinhole Grainy Black & White
Normal (no art filter)

Art Filters: creative boost or block?

As digital SLRs get more and more difficult to differentiate on the basis of image quality or specification it is perhaps inevitable that features such as this will become more common, and it comes as no surprise that it is Olympus, no stranger to innovation, that tried it first.

Initial reactions to the Art Filters concept have been rather muted, due in part I suspect to the fact that they made their debut on what is a pretty high-end enthusiast camera, one designed to be used by the sort of people who prefer to apply effects in post processing.

I was initially skeptical about the value of the E-30's Art Filters, and to be honest I struggled to summon up a strong opinion on them either way; sure they're a bit of fun, but they're hardly a reason to buy one camera over another. Having played with the filters for a couple of months now I'm still not sure how much they actually bring to the creative process.

On the plus side they're definitely fun and the six effects chosen are pretty cool. Olympus has obviously done some research into current trends as a couple of them are very contemporary (the slightly retro 'Pinhole' effect is particularly popular at the moment), and they do allow the Photoshop-challenged to recreate image effects seen in trendy magazines at the touch of a button. I often shoot pictures of unpromising subjects knowing exactly what I'm going to do to improve them later in Photoshop (this is one of the defining differences between the analog and digital shooting process), but if you're not au fait enough with post processing to be able to previsualize the end results then the Art Filters - especially in live view mode - make it easy as pie.

Less impressive is the fact that you can't tweak the effects at all - you're stuck with the six baked-in effects, and in truth there's only a couple that I liked enough to actually use on a regular basis (Pinhole and Grainy B&W), which means that the novelty starts to wane fairly quickly (either that or your pictures are doomed forever to all look exactly the same, and you start to mistake a cool effect for a good photo).

Ultimately Filters that I can't tweak, and that take up to 12 seconds to apply, simply don't suit my style of photography. I tend to shoot several minor variations of the same scene in fairly rapid succession, which makes the processing delay frustrating, to say the least. Personally, I'm also a big post-processing nut, and I prefer to fine-tune any effect I'm applying to the picture I'm working on - it's something I enjoy doing, and - for me - it's at least half the creative process. I also crop my images in post-processing very regularly (something you can't do if you want to preserve the vignetting effect applied by the Pin Hole filter). All the Art Filters are easy to recreate in Photoshop if you know what you're doing (and involve no effort if you save them as Actions) - and even if you're not a post-processing expert you can easily pick up free or cheap software that will give you a considerably larger palette of effects to play with.

And so, whilst I applaud Olympus for adding a fun feature that actually produces pretty cool results - and gives novices access to professional looking effects - I can't get that excited about the first implementation of Art Filters. My complaints are simple:

  • There's no control over the effects
  • The limited number of filters means you soon tire of them
  • A couple of the filters (Pop Art and Pale Tone) seem to be little more than saturation changes
  • You can't use them in manual exposure modes
  • You can't flip between them in live view to compare the effects (you have to choose from a menu)
  • They can't be applied to raw files in-camera
  • They can't be applied to raw files in Studio or Master
  • The good ones take far too long to apply
  • There's no way to add new filters - they're baked into the hardware

My feeling is that Olympus is onto a good thing here, and if they can work out a way to allow the filters to be tweaked, to create your own filters (or to get new ones from Olympus for upload to the camera from your PC) and to speed up the process they will have a powerful creative tool for people who aren't interested in fiddling around with post-processing to get cool effects. As it stands the Art Filters are - for us - something of a novelty feature that you'll find yourself using a lot in the first few weeks until you get sick of seeing the same effect on everything, at which point you'll probably never touch them again.

Art Filter samples gallery

Below is a small gallery of E-30 JPEGs shot with various Art Filters (mostly Pin Hole, Grainy B&W and Pop Art as they're the most useful for non-portrait photography).

There are 19 images in this sample galleries. Please do not reproduce any of these images on a website or any newsletter / magazine without prior permission (see our copyright page). We make the originals available for private users to download to their own machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review), we do so in good faith, please don't abuse it.

A reduced size image (within 1024 x 1024 bounds) is provided to be more easily viewed in your browser. As always the original untouched image is available by clicking on this reduced image.

Olympus E-30 Art Filter Samples Gallery