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Daily FTU hints and tips: Take care with Auto Gradation mode

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No.1: Auto Gradation mode on Olympus E-System models can be useful but use with care, especially if you are shooting RAW.

Welcome to the first in a new daily series of concise hints and tips for Olympus and Panasonic Four Thirds (and Micro Four Thirds) camera users!

Today, I'm looking at the Auto Gradation picture mode that Olympus E-System cameras of recent years have featured. You can see the gradation mode on the camera's LCD screen settings matrix, denoted by an 'infinity' symbol.

Gradation refers to the way the camera reproduces the tones recorded by the camera. Normal Gradation mode tries to spread the tonality widely, resulting in a natural looking image as long as the light is normal.

There are also a High Key and a Low Key alternatives to Normal. High Key will concentrate the tonality towards the bright end of the tonal range, resulting in images that are dominated by lightness, and attenuating the density of dark areas of the image. It can result in very attractive images under certain conditions.

Low Key is the opposite of High Key, and results in images dominated by dark tones. This can be great for dark and moody images.

But what about Auto Gradation? This mode is for controlling excessive contrast in bright conditions where bright areas, or the highlights, of the scene may suffer burn-out, while shadows become blocked up and lacking in details. The camera will under expose in order to avoid highlights being over-exposed, and artificially boost the dark areas of the image to bring out shadow details.

Auto Gradation can be very useful, but there are some caveats:

  • The effects of gradation modes are only applied to JPEG images the camera produces. However, RAW files can be affected because the Auto and Low Key modes tend to under-expose.
  • Auto Gradation should be limited to the lowest ISO settings because as the shadows need to be boosted, there is a chance that the details lifted out of the shadows will also be accompanied by unwanted noise and this will be more probable at mid-high ISO settings.
  • I would recommend sticking with Normal mode, and only temporarily changing to any of the other modes when you need them. But do remember to switch back to Normal once you have finished!

Incidentally, Low Key mode will also under expose, and so will affect RAW files whether you want wanted to or not.

  • If you have any questions about today's Daily FTU hints and tips, don't hesitate to use the comment facility below (you will need to be logged in).
  • If you found this article useful, why not have a look at the Learn about photography blog section of our general digital photography site, Digital Photography Now (

Tomorrow: Details of how Olympus and Panasonic Lumix image file names and folders structured.

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  1. fluffy's Avatar
    I wonder where this will go. The Title bar came up blank which is not the way the forum works.

    Anyway, great first tip, Ian. I've seen that setting on the G-1 and had no real clue what happened when the various options were selected. So I've ignored it until now. But from the way you describe Auto, I think it might be useful for me in some of my orchid shots. I just need to remember exactly what is happening. Again thanks.

  2. Ian's Avatar
    Thanks Steve - there is no real obligation to include a title in blog comments This update was aimed at Oly users, but I will be covering similar topics for Panny users as well.
  3. Barr1e's Avatar
    Thanks Ian for tip Ian. I think this will be my first call when visiting the site.

    Regards. Barr1e
  4. diane margetts's Avatar
    Thanks Ian All of your tips--as well as those of others--are greatly appreciated!
  5. DerekW's Avatar
    Many thanks for the tip - I started following it and have noticed a significant improvement in Aperture created images from Raw files. I have much less work to do - thanks