Grainy Black and White Challenge: XZ-1, LX5, S95, P300

I’m not usually a big fan of the “creative fun filters” that are included as in-camera processing options for many of the current dSLR and compact point-and-shoot cameras.  I prefer to do my processing in Photoshop, where I can see the full quality version of the image, and have more control over the editing.  However, I was playing around with the “Grainy Film” mode of the new Olympus XZ-1, and I was quite impressed with how cool, fun, and easy it is.  Perhaps I should reevaluate their usefulness!

Olympus XZ-1 grainy film black and white
Olympus XZ-1 – Grainy Film

So I decided to have a look at some of the other cameras’ black and white grainy film options and see how they all compare.  This is a pretty informal comparison without too much strict effort put into the “test” other than putting the subject camera in about the same place, zooming in all the way and using the maximum aperture if possible, and loosely trying to frame the images all about the same.

Since the Olympus XZ-1 inspired this experiment, I will cover that one first.  The Olympus XZ-1 is a new competitor to the high end compact point-and-shoot class of cameras which includes the Canon S95 and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 – as well as the upcoming newly released Nikon P300.  They are all roughly about the same size, and have excellent image quality and low light performance.  Their features and maximum apertures vary, and there are other site, such as DPReview, that do full reviews of these models if you are more interested in learning about them.

For the Olympus XZ-1, you turn the Mode Dial to “Art.”  How cool is that?!  All you have to do is turn the dial and you can make art!  Other cameras merely have “Scene Modes,” while the Olympus offers “Art!”  In Art Mode choose Art 3, which is Grainy Film. While in Art Mode, as in most of its other modes, you can easily change the exposure compensation by pressing up on the rear dial and dialing in a (+) or (-) compensation amount, and immediately see what you will get.  I kept it at 0 for this test.

The image from the Olympus, seen at the top of this post, is nice and contrasty.  It has a bit of grain, but actually isn’t really very grainy.  The large aperture does blur out the background nicely.  Have a look at the larger version on Flickr to see it better.

Next up is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5, another one of the high end point-and-shoots.  For this camera you go into the My Color Mode and choose Film Grain.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 film grain black and white
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 – Film Grain

Compared to the Olympus, it appears to have created more of a dark monochrome image, without the high amount of dramatic contrast.  There is a bit of grain, perhaps a little more than the Olympus, but I really wouldn’t call it grainy.  The background blurring isn’t nearly as dramatic as the Olympus.   See larger image on Flickr.

The Canon S95 is quite a popular camera for those seeking great image quality in a compact point-and-shoot.  After David Pogue wrote an ode to it in the New York Times, they really started to move off the shelves.  For the S95, you use one of the Scene Modes called the Nostalgic Mode.  You have a few degrees of  exposure to choose from as you turn the front lens dial, which first start to affect image color, then go to sepia, and then to contrasty black and white.  I choose the highest setting to get the grainy black and white look.

Canon S95 Nostalgic Scene mode black and white
Canon S95 – Nostalgic Scene Mode

The contrast of the S95 image is between the other two – more than the Panasonic but less that the highly contrasty Olympus.  The background really shows the grain, but is not very dramatically blurred out.  Have a look at the larger version on Flickr to see it better.

Here is the entry from the Nikon P300. To get to this setting, you set the mode dial to Scene Mode, go to Special Effects, and set it for High-Contrast Monochrome.

Nikon P300 High Contrast Monochrome black and white
Nikon P300 – High-Contrast Monochrome

Like the Panasonic, the contrast isn’t actually that dramatic.  And I did not find any way to adjust the aperture setting while in this mode so as to take advantage of its fast lens (including the inability to change the ISO in this mode), so it used f/5.5 and thus the background blurring really isn’t very dramatic either.  And this setting does not introduce any grain into the image.  Have a look at a larger version of the image on Flickr.

The final camera is the Canon 60D, used here with its 18-135mm kit lens.  This is a digital SLR, not a compact point-and-shoot like the others, but I knew it offers a grainy black and white option in its Creative Filters, so I added it to the mix.  To use this feature, you take an image in color, then access the Creative Filters to apply the affect, and then save the new copy along with the original image.  You can quickly access the Creative Filters during playback by pressing the Q Button.  This one is called Grainy B/W, and is offered in three levels of contrast: Low, Standard, and Strong.  I chose Standard to demonstrate the middle ground.  Standard appears to be pretty contrasty, and is closer to the highly contrasty Strong setting than it is to the not-as-contrasty Low setting.

Canon 60D Grainy B/W creative filter
Canon 60D – Grainy B/W Creative Filter

As you can see, even on the Standard level of contrast it is quite contrasty.  And you can definitely see the grain in the background of this image, which is nicely out of focus because I was able to use a long lens and a wide aperture.  The Strong setting increases the contrast to a level very similar to the Olympus.  See larger image on Flickr.

With the compact cameras, you can see on the rear LCD screen what you are going to get in advance, while with the Canon 60D, you can see how your original color image will be affected by the different levels of contrast.

So there you have it – the grainy black and white in-camera processing of these camera.  Of the compacts, my favorite is the very dramatic look of the Olympus XZ-1, due to both its contrast and its more out-of-focus background.  Thanks to my patient subject, the classic Nikon F3 with the stunning 50mm f/1.2 lens.  Have a look at some real black and white grain on some of my earliest SLR photos from Rome, 1991.

Canon 60D Introduced

The Canon 60D was just introduced!

Canon 60D

image of 60D from Canon website

As it had been widely rumored, the 60D has the articulating LCD screen. Although it doesn’t exactly replace the 50D in the sense that it doesn’t add upon the advancement of the 20D, 30D, 40D, 50D progression, it now takes that position between the 550D and the 7D. If you thought it was difficult to choose between a Canon 550D, 50D, and 7D, the choice just became infinitely more difficult, as all three of these cameras now share so many features. And because they share an image sensor that is very similar, and all with 18 MP, the image quality of these three cameras will be nearly identical. The Canon consumer/ pro-sumer lineup has never been so similar as it now becomes. So as I like to profess, you need to choose which camera is best for you based on the advanced features and customization options that are important to you and the way you work. See this post for what I mean.

Before I get into it, I want to mention that I will be selling a Canon 60D eBook tutorial, which covers ALL the Menu settings and Custom Function settings of the 60D (except movie menus), with recommended settings, PLUS in-depth descriptions of how and and why to use its settings and features in everyday use – Your World 60D – The Still Photographer’s Guide to Operation and Image Creation. Learn more about it here:

Strangely, the 60D takes a step back from the 50D in continuous shooting speed, in construction, and in use of an SD memory card, and lack of AF Microadjustment capability. They must have determined the smaller size and weight was an important consideration for the target consumer. But basically it is a Canon 550D/ T2i with a larger, more rugged body, advanced buttons and controls, and more advanced menu and customization options (or is it a stripped down 7D?!) One of the only functional differences between the 60D and the 550D is the faster continuous shooting speed. The elimination of the 50D’s thumb joystick and moving that control to inside the large control dial on the back is an interesting decision. While I think I prefer the location of the 50D thumb button, the new controller on the 60D may be easier to control on the diagonals, which I still struggle with on the 50D. In reality, it may just be a matter of getting used to the new control (although dpreview isn’t very pleased with it in actual use). The new 60D uses the same battery as the 7D and 5D, the LP-E6 – an unusual choice considering it is bigger than the 50D battery, but a good choice. Another great feature that Canon incorporated is the locking Mode dial, so that the top mode dial doesn’t accidentally move from, for example, Av mode to Landscape mode, which happens occasionally with my cameras as I take them in and out of their bags or as they lay against my leg hanging from the R-Strap.

Canon has added a lot of in-camera processing abilities which may prove to be useful and time saving to those who shoot a lot of photos and need fast turn-around. Most importantly, this includes the in-camera RAW processing, turning your RAW files into JPGS with the settings you desire, without opening them up and making the changes in Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop or Lightroom. This also includes in-camera image resizing, while maintaining the original file. According to Canon,

“In-camera RAW image processing features include Picture Style, White Balance (WB), Color Space, High-ISO Noise Reduction, Peripheral Illumination Correction, linear distortion correction and chromatic aberration correction. These powerful in-camera editing tools will allow photographers in the field to produce optimized images on the spot and generate JPEG files at various resolution and compression settings for immediate sharing, without affecting the original RAW data.”

“Another great new feature for photographers-on-the-go is Canon’s new image resizing function. After capturing full resolution or smaller JPEG images, the camera can generate lower-resolution copies using menu commands. New lower-resolution settings include 1920×1280 for optimal display on HD televisions, or 720×480, ideal for immediate uploading to social networking and other photo sharing web sites. The original high resolution files remain unaffected by the image resizing function.”

And also, they’ve included some new fun filters, including the unexpected “toy camera” and tilt-shift-like “miniature” filters:

  • The Soft Focus effect filter helps dramatize an image and smooth over shiny reflections.
  • The Grainy Black and White filter can give a different nostalgic perspective to any shot.
  • Canon’s “Toy Camera” filter deliberately adds vignetting and color shift for a creative option when shooting a colorful scene.
  • Users can also make a scene appear like a small-scale model, simulating the look from a tilt-shift lens, with Canon’s Miniature Effect filter, great when shooting any scene from a high vantage point.

These kinds of inclusions, along with the size and weight reduction, indicate that the 60D is moving down the pro/pro-sumer/consumer scale towards the consumer end, with the Canon 7D now being the pro-sumer camera. (However, I still profess that any of these cameras, from the 550D on up, can give you professional quality images). Unfortunately the new 60D is a camera designed with product positioning (to fill a spot and a price point between the 7D and 550D and its position in relation to Nikon) and marketing (to appeal to a certain target of customers) as a priority more than with technology, innovation, and advancement in mind, which is disappointing to Canon photographers accustomed to the xxD progression of improvements.

Is it more accurately the 60D vs. 7D? Or the 60D vs. 550D / T2i? Here was my analysis and speculation from this previous post, three months ago (I know it is silly and pointless to make these predictions, but I’m pretty proud of my earlier assessment):

“It seems that it [the 60D] will sit at a new position that will no longer be a bridge between pro and consumer cameras (pro-sumer) as the 7D now fills that role (as the 50D once did), but will now be considered a very advanced consumer level camera.”

As dpreview now states,

“With the 60D Canon has unashamedly moved the X0D range out of the ‘semi pro’ bracket and instead focused on the enthusiast photographer looking to upgrade from their Rebel. As a result, it’s not the obvious continuation of the 30D – 40D – 50D pattern that its naming might suggest. Rather than being a direct upgrade replacement for the 50D, it’s perhaps better understood as a ‘Super Rebel.”

And later they call it,

“…essentially a new tier of EOS SLR, perhaps best described as a ‘high end Rebel.”

Let’s see how the actual 60D specs line up with my predictions!

Canon 60D

  • 18 MP APS-C CMOS sensor
  • Vari-angle 7.7cm (3.0”) 3:2 ratio LCD
  • Full HD movies with manual control
  • DIGIC 4
  • 5.3fps shooting for up to 58 JPEGs
  • 9-point cross type AF System
  • iFCL metering with 63-zone Dual-layer Sensor
  • Integrated Speedlite transmitter
  • Estimate Retail Price $1,099
  • 96% Viewfinder
  • ISO 100-6400, H:12800
  • SD memory cards

My Predictions from this previous post

  • 18MP 1.6x sensor – same!
  • 3″ 3:2 LCD – articulating – same!
  • HD video – same!
  • single Digic processor- same!
  • 6 or so FPS at high speedclose but the 60D is a little slower than expected
  • 9 or so point autofocus system, less advanced than 7D – same!
  • 63 zone metering – same!
  • (I didn’t know what to predict for the wireless flash – glad to see they included it!)
  • cost: $1,100-$1,300 – same! B+H is listing it for $1,100. The kit is with the EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens for $1,399.
  • 98%+ viewfinder – I was off with this one. It is disappointing the 60D doesn’t have a viewfinder quite as big and bright as the 7D, but it is close. It also uses interchangeable focusing screens but it looks like it doesn’t have the nice light up grid option as in the 7D.
  • all other features of 50D (construction, custom functions, AF microadjustment, live view, etc.)- same for the most part. Slightly smaller and lighter. This is due in part to the unfortunate use of a “polycarbonate resin with glass fibre on aluminum chassis” body rather than the more rugged magnesium allow of the 50D and 7D. The 60D also eliminates the thumb joystick for choosing focus points and locates it within the large control dial on back. Again, a strange choice. The 60D does not have AF Microadjustment capability, so again this makes it closer to the 550D than the 7D. The 60D also does not have a PC terminal for connecting external flashes via a cable.
  • Doesn’t use CF memory cards – strange. Seems like a backwards step, but I suppose it contributes to the slightly smaller size.

Lack of AF Microadjustment: Since the Canon 60D does not have Auto Focus Calibration, AF Microadjustment, see the bottom of this previous post for how to deal with that. Canon is hearing from those disappointed that the 60D does not have AF Microadjustment and they may decide to update the firmware and include it in the 60D when it actually goes on sale. However, I still don’t understand why many are so adamant about AF Microadjustment. Have you ever tried to calibrate a zoom lens? Not just with the center point at one focal length, but rather to calibrate it for real life circumstances? At various focal lengths and with different focus points? It is an infuriating, possibly impossible task. AF Microadjustment is a built in admission of lack of quality control of cameras and lenses, and not a positive, much less deal-breaking, feature. I would love to hear from people who disagree because they have had positive and beneficial experiences with calibrating their lenses.

So, who is the Canon 60D for? Canon says,

“For the hobbyist looking for their first “professional-style” camera, or the enthusiast aiming to take their photography to the next level, the EOS 60D makes a sensible choice…For travelling photographers, the high resolution APS-C sensor will capture all the details while at the same time keeping the body and lenses small and light enough to avoid weighing you down.”

Fair enough, I would have to agree with that. See this other post to help you decide between a Canon 7D vs. 60D vs. 550D.

Here is a great quote from to sum it all up:

“You can look at the EOS 60D as a Rebel T2i but with a better viewfinder, better AF, higher frame rate, a tilt and swivel LCD, an electronic level, a rear QCD, a larger capacity battery and overall better ergonomics. Alternative you can look at the 60D as an EOS 7D, but with a less advanced AF system, less weather sealing, a slower frame rate, no vertical electronic level, a smaller JPEG buffer and using an SD(HC) card rather than CF. The unique feature of the EOS 60D is the tilt and swivel LCD screen.”

See their hands-on preview here.

more info here:

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