The Olympus PEN-F has a "Black and White" dial setting. Is this just a gimmick, or will it give images that are not possible using color settings?

In other words, obviously a color image can be converted to black and white in Photoshop or other image-processing software. Does the B&W setting on the PEN-F offer some special benefit that is not (easily) reproducible using software?

  • Related: What should I focus on when converting photos to black and white? The processing steps in the answer can usually only be done off camera in postprocessing. A raw convertor such as Lightroom is generally better for this than Photoshop.
    – Michael C
    Jul 21 '17 at 21:14
  • Can the camera in question save images in a raw image file format? Or jpeg only?
    – Michael C
    Jul 21 '17 at 21:19
  • 1
    @MichaelClark It's an enthusiast-level camera and the flagship of the PEN line. It supports (12-bit) RAW and also RAW+JPEG.
    – mattdm
    Jul 21 '17 at 21:34
  • @mattdm The PEN-F is a pro quality camera. If you compare it to the Leica SL, it has a bunch of advantages: an 80MP mode, HDR, and superb image stabilization none of which the Leica has. Also, it has amazing lenses like the Zuiko 300mm f4 and 40-150mm 2.8 that are stabilized and less than half the size of anything available for the Leica. Jul 22 '17 at 4:27
  • @TylerDurden I don't mean to imply in any way that it is not a great camera with many great features and wonderful lenses. And, of course any camera can be of use to working professionals — the people who do school photos at my kids' elementary school use D5100s and they're certainly getting paid for their work. But generally, the "pro" label applies to high-end full-frame cameras like the Nikon D5, Canon 1D X Mark II, or Sony a9.
    – mattdm
    Jul 22 '17 at 10:41

I wouldn't say its a gimmick, there is a pretty big advantage when shooting b&w in-camera on a mirrorless camera: you will see your image in b&w when looking through the viewfinder. This will help you compose and "see" good images that you might have missed in color. That being said, it is usually better to take a jpeg+raw in such a case and later use an editing program on the raw file to get the most out of your image when converting to b&w.


The setting applies to the in-camera conversion from raw to JPEG. This means it is at an advantage vs. saving as a full-color JPEG, loading that in Photoshop, and adjusting. That's because the color choices like white balance and other tone curves will limit what you can do in conversion — maybe not hugely, but I think still worth considering. Additionally, you'll have to re-save after editing, which can introduce further compression artifacts.

If you shoot raw, the file may get a B&W conversion attached as information, but the color channels will be untouched. Some raw converters may take that as a starting point.

There is one other difference, though — many in-camera B&W modes are carefully tuned to provide a nice tone curve. This is like using someone's fancy B&W preset in a raw converter; in this case Olympus's preset. That's less flexible, but a lot of research and care by experts has gone into making these modes generally quite nice. So, maybe you'll get results you like with little effort — a quick search will find many blog reviews like this one where the reviewer is taken with the results from the Pen-F in specific.

And, actually, Olympus has gone to some lengths to make this tunable to your preferences. You can adjust a "shading effect" from -5 to +5, choose color filters in three strengths from across the spectrum, add film-grain simulation of various amounts (or not), and adjust shadow/highlight preferences too. So, you can create different "black and white films" that match your personal preference. This is far less flexible on a per-image basis than at-the-computer conversion, but it has its own appeal and advantages.

You can even shoot RAW+JPEG with one of these presets, so you then have the straight-out-of-camera image plus the raw data to play with if you get an image you want to tinker with. (There's really no wrong way to do this, but that's my personal recommendation.)

Chris Novak's point in another answer is also important: if you use this mode, you can actually have the EVF display in black and white, so you can see what you're going to get as you are shooting.


The camera setting irreversible. You will have more control using post-processing software. The choice is yours!

  • You can shoot RAW+JPEG to get the in-camera B&W, and then do whatever you like with the raw file.
    – janm
    Jul 24 '17 at 6:08

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