Art Filters

Olympus was the first manufacturer to offer in-camera processing filters with the E-30 DSLR back in 2008. The idea of these is to offer a range of pre-baked 'artistic' effects which the users can apply directly to images as they shoot without having to mess around later on in Photoshop.

Like it's predecessor, the E-PL2, the PEN Lite offers six basic filters, several of which have multiple variants. These filters can also be combined with a range of 'effects' that have been expanded in the E-PL3 to include 'pin-hole', 'white edge' (similar to pin-hole, but with white rather than black vignetting) and 'starlight' which mimics the effect of a cross-screen filter. The rollover below shows how these look - click here to see the same image processed normally, using the default 'Natural' Picture Mode. In the bottom row we're illustrating the various Effects in combination with the Pop Art I filter. Needless to say, not every filter works well with every image.

Because the PEN Lite has identical image quality as the E-P3 and also shares the same processing algorithms for filters and effects common to both cameras, the rollover image comparison below is comprised of photographs shot with the E-P3.

Pop Art I Pop Art II Soft Focus Grainy Film I Grainy Film II
Pin Hole I Pin Hole II Pin Hole III Diorama Dramatic Tone
PA I + Soft Focus PA I + Pin Hole PA I + White Edge PA I + Frame PA I + Star Light

Variants and Effects

The full range of available variants and effects is detailed in the table below. Overall there's a huge array of options (by our reckoning, 53 in total), so even the most sceptical of owners is likely to find something here that they find appealing.

Art 1 - Pop Art I ( Lighter)
II ( Darker)
 • Soft Focus
 • Pin-Hole
 • White Edge
 • Frame
 • Star Light
Art 2 - Soft Focus n/a  • White Edge
 • Star Light
Art 3 - Grainy Film I (Higher Contrast)
II (Lower Contrast)
 • Pin-Hole
 • Frame
 • White Edge
Art 4 - Pin Hole I (Greenish)
II (Blueish)
III (Reddish)
 • Frame
Art 5 - Diorama n/a n/a
Art 6 - Dramatic Tone n/a  • Frame
 • Star Light
 • White Edge

Shooting with Art Filters

The PEN Lite offers two ways of shooting with Art Filters. The simpler is to switch the mode dial to the ART position - you can then select the filter you wish to use by pressing the OK button, with the 'right' key of the 4-way controller providing access to the variants and effects. The filter is previewed live in real time; you can select from two preview modes in the Custom menu, one of which prioritizes preview accuracy over frame rate, and the other vice versa.

In the ART position the E-PL3 essentially works in program exposure mode, allowing both exposure compensation and program shift via the control dials. You get full control over all of the camera's settings, and can record raw files if you choose (handy if you later decide that an image would look better with different processing).

Art Filters are also available in the PASM exposure modes, in this case under the guise of Picture Modes. They can be set very quickly using the Super Control Panel, but you can't tweak the settings from here - to change the effect you have to go through the menu system (Shooting Menu 1), which involves a lot more button pressing.

It's also possible to apply Art Filters to raw files, using either the in-camera raw processing, or the supplied Olympus [ib] software (Windows only). Olympus Viewer 2 is a cross-platform editing application available as a free download. One benefit of using one of Olympus' software options is that you gain access to four additional filters (Pale&Light Color, Light Tone, Gentle Sepia and Cross-Process) that are included in the filter menu of the E-P3, but not in that of the E-PL3. And unlike with the in-camera adjustments, you can combine multiple effects with a single filter.

While shot from an intersting perspective, the dull overcast sky robs this image of contrast and drama. Using Olympus Viewer 2, the raw file was reprocessed using Dramatic Tone in combination with the White Edge and Frame effects for a more surreal result.

Art Filters and Movie Mode

It's possible to record movies using art filters, but some limitations apply for those which require more extensive processing. Using the Soft Focus, Grainy Film, Pinhole or Dramatic Tone filters, movies are recorded at a reduced frame rate, and then played-back in real time in what can be a visibly jerky fashion. The precise frame rate varies between filters, ranging from 6fps for Soft Focus, Grainy Film, and Dramatic Tone, to just 2fps for Pinhole.

In Diorama mode, the camera records at about 2fps but without sound, and then plays back the movie back sped-up to 15fps. This is surprisingly effective, giving something resembling a stop-motion animation. But it really does demand the use of a tripod for best results, as speeding up the playback really accentuates the inevitable movement you get between frames when shooting hand-held.