A Look at the Soft Focus Art Filter in the Olympus E-30 DSLR

Imagine a high quality softening filter that's available for every lens you mount on your camera. And the best part is, you never have to clean it -- that is if you're shooting with the recently announced Olympus E-30 12.3 MP DSLR. One of its unique features is a selection of Art Filters built right in to the camera, with my favorite of the bunch being the Soft Focus effect.

The processing power for the Art Filters are made possible with the new TruePic III+ digital processing engine built-in to the E-30. According to an Olympus:

"When an Art Filter is enabled, not only does the camera process the conventional attributes such as brightness, contrast, white balance, hue, and sharpness, it also controls a whole subset of attributes such as shading, softening, composite and distortion. This is like taking a picture through an optical glass filter. Because the exposure and filter effects are calculated and applied during the image capture stage, the integrity of the final image is maintained."

Since the camera is actually processing the image when it's in Art Filter mode, the output is a Jpeg. But if you're shooting Raw+Jpeg, you also get the original unaltered image as a Raw file (so you get a softened Jpeg and an unaltered Raw). Let's take a look at how this works. Here's the original Raw file from an outdoor portrait:

Original Raw File with no effects applied.

Standard portrait taken with fill-flash and a 105mm lens. Now here's the same frame, but this time you'll see the Jpeg that was produced in Art Filter mode using Soft Focus. I haven't done any image editing to either the original or the Art Filter version. This is what came out of the camera.

Soft Focus Art Filter produced in-camera with the E-30

Even though the file you're looking at is unaltered, I did open a number of these images up in Photoshop to see what was going on. Olympus has applied a number of clever image adjustments to produce this effect, including moving the black point to the right of the histogram to downplay contrast.

When you capture via an Art Filter, you use the E-30's Live View function, so you can see the effect on the LCD while you compose. You can also see the final product on the LCD in playback mode.

One of the benefits of of the Soft Focus Art Filter is that it saves you Photoshop time in post production. What you see on the camera's LCD is what you get. No image editing required. But if you don't mind a little post production, you can work on the Raw file to produce a third version of the shot.

I have a technique that I include in the recipe chapter of my The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers that uses the Gaussian Blur filter on a separate layer to soften the skin (p. 120). Here's that same shot using that post production approach.

Gaussian Blur applied in Photoshop

Each image has its own look. The Gaussian Blur technique is more subtle, but requires post production. The Soft Focus Art Filter is a bit more pronounced, but well executed. Plus, it's applied in-camera. No post production required!

Other Art Filters included with the E-30 are: Pop Art, Pale and Light Color, Light Tone, Grainy Film, and Pin Hole Camera. They are all fun, and they definitely get the creative juices flowing. I have more unique features of the Olympus E-30 12.3 MP DSLR that I'll cover in upcoming blog posts. Stay tuned.

Photos by Derrick Story. Captured with the Olympus E-30 DSLR with the 14mm-54mm f/2.8-3.5 Olympus Digital zoom lens.

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I say Bah! to on camera editing. The PC is the best tool for post production. You Can not beat the power of adobe photoshop ^_^

Try the free plugins from optik Verve Labs - Virtual photographer. Some of those old film (glass?) filters can be replicated using the plugins. - And no I don't work from them, I use their product and think its good.


Just a few thoughts based on iLighter's comments.

First, I would not rule out in-camera editing and effects. Not everyone loves Photoshop. And some folks want to center their photography experience around the camera itself.

Second, the Photoshop plugins iLighter mentions are for Windows only.

And finally, if you're going to use Photoshop for post production, you can apply a lot of the effects yourself with simple recipes, as I mentioned in the article.

Just wanted to give you a shout from the valley of the sun, great information. Much appreciated.

Hello I came across your website a week or two ago and have got through all the info steadily. I decided I should make my firstcomment. Unsure of what to comment but here goes. Cool site. Will visit in a bit to hear more of what you have to offer.