Olympus PEN Mini / E-PM1 Review
In addition to its art filters, the PEN Mini also includes Olympus's familiar picture modes. These six creative options impart different color renderings to your JPEG image. Most of them are named in such a way that makes clear their intended impact on the image. Portrait mode, in addition to slightly altering the color of flesh tones, also brightens the image which, given its intended use is reasonable enough.
The brightening effect is rather conservative (less than .5 EV) and tapers off nicely at the highlight end of the tonal range, which minimizes highlight clipping. The i-Enhance mode attempts to dynamically adjust colors based on analysis of the scene. The rollover below shows you the effects of each picture mode. 'Natural' is the camera's default mode. The picture modes available in the E-PM1 are identical to those offered in the E-PL3 (the examples below were shot with the E-PL3)
In some instances (especially those with bright blue skies) colors can become over-saturated and appear somewhat unnatural. This is of particular consequence when shooting in iAuto mode as it is the only picture mode available. So if you don't like the default punchiness of the JPEGs you will need to shoot in another mode.
Raw data edits (in-camera)
Like its Olympus forbears, the PEN Mini offers the ability to make raw file data edits. Or more specifically, the ability to re-process a raw file in-camera and produce a JPEG file with the new settings. What can you change about an image after the shot is taken? Simply put, you can adjust any of the image processing parameters that the camera uses when creating JPEG images from raw files.
While the act itself of re-processing a JPEG from the raw file is straightforward, the process of selecting precisely which parameters to apply is a bit roundabout. Once you've decided to edit a raw file you must first make all desired changes to the image processing parameters, such as Gradation, Picture Mode, White Balance, even aspect ratio. This may involve a trip to the onscreen control panel, Custom menu or both.
Once you have things set the way you like, you then need to access the image you wish to alter in the Playback menu, press the OK button on the 4-way controller and select the raw data edit option. A new JPEG file is generated with all of the camera's current processing settings applied.
Perhaps the biggest drawback, however, is that you now have to remember to revisit all of the image processing parameters you have just changed, or else they will be applied to any image you capture from here on out. One workaround here is to save all of your current settings to a 'Myset' before you start, which allows easy recall. The process would be much simpler, though, you could just change the processing settings for the raw file, leaving the image-capture parameters untouched.
Like previous PENs, the E-PM1 has a choice of four 'Gradation' settings for controlling the tonality of its images. Aside from Normal there's High Key and Low Key, which essentially make your images brighter or darker than usual. While these are nice to have for specific occasions, we suspect most users will simply choose to achieve these effects via the rather more-accessible exposure compensation control (although the results aren't quite identical).
Auto Gradation is a different kettle of fish, though, as it works adaptively on different areas of the image in an attempt to selectively increase shadow detail without losing the highlights. In bright, contrasty situations this works pretty well, but it does come with the risk of increased shadow noise.
|1/400sec, F6.3, ISO 200||1/500sec, F6.3, ISO 200|
100% crop, highlights
100% crop, shadows
The two handheld examples above were shot in aperture-priority mode. You can see the shadows have been lifted, and while this brings about an increase in shadow noise, it's far from excessive here. While gradation control is also available when converting raw files using Olympus Viewer 2, at that stage you obviously can't adjust the camera's exposure to protect highlights, so you'll need to look after this yourself.
Overall the Auto Gradation tool can be quite effective. It works best when you're shooting in bright contrasty situations at relatively low ISO sensitivity settings, but with its inevitable increase in shadow noise it's probably best to turn it off when using higher ISOs.
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