Olympus OMD-EM10 monochrome conversion

The Olympus OMD-EM10 (mark 1) has a built-in monochrome preset called “monotone”. If you select this preset (menu -> Shooting Menu 1 -> Picture Mode -> monotone ) then you get a monochrome view in the rear screen and the EVF. This is really nice, you can visualise exactly what you’ll get in black and white. This is true both for raw and JPEG.

I really like the monochrome conversion built into the camera. I’d be quite happy to use it without further processing but being paranoid I generally shoot in raw format. If I were fool enough to use the Olympus raw conversion software that came with the camera (Olympus Viewer version 3) this would have the advantage of giving a workflow that’s in monochrome from start to end. I’m sensible though so I use Lightroom. The problem is that Lightroom ignores the monochrome conversion done by the camera to the embedded preview in the raw file and just shows me the raw file in colour. Additionally, I don’t get access to the camera’s nice conversion (did I say I liked it?)

So I’ve tried various simple conversions in Lightroom to see how they compare to the camera’s version.

WARNING – the differences between the different versions are quite subtle. You may not see any difference (or a spurious difference) unless you’re using a well set-up monitor. If you’re really interested, email me and I’ll send you full size versions.

The Conversions

The first picture shows the file as converted by the camera:

Olympus out-of-camera monotone rendering
Olympus out-of-camera monotone rendering

The next version is the raw file imported into Lightroom and then desaturated (Saturation slider set to -100). No other adjustments.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Lightroom conversion – desaturated only

It’s close to the in-camera version but slightly lacking in contrast.

The second version is the first with the addition of increasing Contrast to +20 and adding some sharpening. I used my own standard sharpening settings of:

  • Amount 60
  • Radius 0.5
  • Detail 40
  • Masking 30
Lightroom desaturated, Contrast +20 with sharpening
Lightroom desaturated, Contrast +20 with sharpening

This time it has slightly more contrast than the in-camera conversion but that’s not all. It has a slightly different look to it. I conclude that the Olympus conversion uses a very mild contrast curve but with some extra “look” to it that I can figure out myself. Possibly it’s some difference in the mixing of the colours.

Next version is the raw file converted to monochrome using Lightroom’s “B&W” panel in the Develop module. From the “HSL / Color / B&W” panel I clicked B&W and didn’t do any further adjustments to the colour channels, nor did I do any other adjustments.

Lightroom B+W panel conversion
Lightroom B+W panel conversion

Next, I converted from raw in Lightroom using one of Lightroom’s B+W presets – “B+W Look 4”. This is my favourite Lightroom B+W look, low contrast, dark and gritty with significant vignetting. This is obviously quite different from the Olympus version.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Lightroom conversion – Lightroom B+W Preset 4

Finally, I found it very interesting to look at 100% crops. The sharpening and noise reduction applied by the camera are not nearly so nice as Lightroom when you look close up. These two crops show the out-of-camera version and then the Lightroom version using my standard sharpening settings (Oly first, then LR)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
100% crop Olympus rendering
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
100% crop Lightroom conversion

I much prefer the detail in the Lightroom version but I don’t know how this will show on a large print. In normal on-screen viewing I don’t think it is noticeable.

Conclusions

I haven’t decided yet. I like the Olympus rendering and it would be good to have a totally monochrome workflow but I don’t want to use the Olympus Viewer software. I think I really have two choices:

  • Shoot in JPEG and accept what comes out of the camera with no adjustments.
  • Shoot raw and convert in Lightroom using B+W Preset 4

I think for the kind of B+W work I do it might be quite healthy to use the first option.

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6 thoughts on “Olympus OMD-EM10 monochrome conversion

  1. Well Anthony,

    having OV3 and *not* using it might be a mistake – I found that even the in-camera colours are hard to get with other raw converters, and OV3 is in my standard workflow since the E-520 (ok; OV2 around then), the E-PL1, the E-PL5, and now with the E-M10.

    You can output to a 16 bit .tif file – that’s what I do – and then still fine-tune to your heart’s delight in any 3rd party raw converter (I’m on Linux, so I’m using RawTherapee). Try it, it might give your photos a look which cannot be gotten with using LR only (or with lots of work until you arrive at something similar).

    As for b&w conversions, de-saturating is about the worst you can do – see more about that, and why this is so, in an article of one of the Gimp developers. The in-camera Olympus method is very close to RawTherapee’s “Luminance Equalizer” (don’t know how this is called in LR), but the most control you can get is with using the Channel Mixer. If you *really* want to get closer to a film look try the GEGL C2G methos which Pat also describes in his article. Try the parameters he suggests (radius 1500, samples 8, iterations 20) for a first impression.

    All that said, and being a bit jealous on the Fuji “Acros” in-camera simulation, when I want nice black & white and a film look, I’ll simply use film. See my article from today about why.

    Anyway, you have nice photos here. And it’s always good to read others’ articles about the camera I’m also using.

    Cheers,
    Wolfgang

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  2. Thanks Wolfgang, I’m sure you’re right about the desaturation method. I think with monochrome I’m a lot happier to accept someone else’s look by adopting either an in-camera baked conversion or a lightroom preset, whereas with colour I’ll always want to use my own processing.

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    1. Sure. Just put a comparison digital black & white into my latest film article (see http://wolfgang.lonien.de/2016/04/agfa-apx-100/), and I converted this one using both OV3, and then RawTherapee (where I only added a bit contrast, and Exif infos).

      You’re using Lightroom, so you could try the now free Nik collection – their Silver Efex Pro is surely one of the best (if not *the* best) black & white conversion tools.

      Cheers again, Wolfgang

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  4. Hi Anthony,
    I have the EM-10 and have tried to follow every instruction on the planet to access the Monochrome function, but its just not there. Oly told me it can’t not be there and I’ve also emailed them screenshots, but had no reply. I’ve gone through Menu – Picture Mode – and there I have just three options: Natural, Portrait or Pop Art. Do you have any suggestions?
    Thanks so much in advance.
    Melanie

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    1. Hi Melanie,
      What is your mode dial set to? With the mode dial set to P, A, or S, hit the Menu button. In the first menu, choose Picture Mode. Monotone is inside there.
      If your mode dial is set to iAuto, you don’t get this option.
      Anthony

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