Fix It Before Post! A Guide to In-Camera Effects


When many people think of special effects, they think of dimly lit rooms, expensive computers, and complicated software. While this may be an accurate picture if you are editing a blockbuster action movie, digital still photographers can do a lot to their images even before transferring files off their camera. The following guide covers some of the more popular in-camera effects on the market to consider when purchasing a new camera or for better understanding the camera you already own.

Film Simulation and Color Profiles

In recent years, FUJIFILM's film-simulation modes have grown both in scope and popularity among photographers eager to apply distinct looks to their photographs. Their latest cameras now offer well over a dozen choices, including fan favorites like Provia, Velvia, and Acros films. Additionally, monochrome options offer the ability to simulate the effect of color filters for green, red, or yellow light. FUJIFILM also has a "Grain Effect Mode" for replicating the grain of an analog image to complete the effect.

The effect of FUJIFILM’s Velvia film-simulation mode. Photo by Todd Vorenkamp

While FUJIFILM has the most hyped in-camera color profiles, many manufacturers offer their own bag of tricks in the form of color profiles—usually geared toward specific subjects. These will automatically apply to jpegs produced when selected in-camera, but you can also add them to raw files in Adobe Camera Raw by clicking the "Profile" dropdown, selecting "Browse," and then looking for the "Camera Matching" options. Alternatively, you can simply click on the four little squares next to the dropdown and then look for the "Camera Matching" options.

Picture profiles can be applied to raw images in Camera Raw via the “Profile” menu.

You will need to check your camera's manual for specific details about each setting, but below is an overview and the manufacturer verbiage surrounding these features to get started:

Canon: Picture Style (Auto, Standard, Portrait, Landscape, Fine Detail, Neutral, Faithful, Monochrome, User Defined)

FUJIFILM: Film Simulation (ASTIA, CLASSIC CHROME, ETERNA/Cinema, Pro Neg Hi, Pro Neg Std, PROVIA/Std, Sepia, Velvia/Vivid, ACROS, ACROS+G, ACROS+R, ACROS+Ye, Monochrome, Monochrome+G, Monochrome+R, Monochrome+Ye)

Leica: Film Style (Standard, Vivid, Natural, BW Natural, BW HC)

Nikon: Picture Control (Auto, Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait, Landscape, Flat)

Olympus: Picture Modes (i-Enhance, Vivid, Natural, Muted, Portrait, Monochrome, Custom, e-Portrait, Underwater, Color Creator)

Panasonic: Photo Style Modes (Standard, Vivid, Natural, Monochrome, L. Monochrome, Scenery, Portrait, Custom, Cinelike D, and Cinelike V)

Pentax: Image Finishing Tone (Auto, Bright, Natural, Portrait, Landscape, Vibrant, Radiant, Muted, Flat, Bleach Bypass, Reversal Film, Monochrome, Cross Processing)

Sigma: Color Mode (Standard, Vivid, Neutral, Portrait, Landscape, Cinema, Sunset Red, Forest Green, FOV Classic Blue, FOV Classic Yellow, Monochrome, Teal & Orange*)

*Available on Sigma fp Mirrorless Digital Camera

Sony: Creative Style (Standard, Vivid, Neutral, Clear, Deep, Light, Portrait, Landscape, Sunset, Night, Autumn, B/W, Sepia)

Special Effects Modes

If color profiles are too subtle for your taste, more extreme effects can be achieved through special effects filters. Note that, unlike profiles, these will usually only apply to jpeg images and may prohibit raw capture in order to use.

Canon: Creative Filters (Grainy B/W, Soft Focus, Fish-Eye, Art Bold, Water Painting, Toy Camera, Miniature)

FUJIFILM: Advanced Filters (Toy Camera, Miniature, Pop Color, High-Key, Low-Key, Dynamic Tone, Soft Focus, Partial Color (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, or Purple))

Nikon: Special Effects Modes (Night Vision, Super Vivid, Pop, Photo Illustration, Toy Camera Effect, Miniature Effect, Selective Color, Silhouette, High Key, Low Key)

Olympus: Art Filters (Pop Art, Soft Focus, Pale & Light Color, Light Tone, Grainy Film, Pinhole, Diorama, Cross Process, Gentle Sepia, Dramatic Tone, Key Line, Watercolor, Vintage, Partial Color, Bleach Bypass, and Instant Film)

Panasonic: Creative Control Modes (Expressive, Retro, Old Days, High Key, Low Key, Sepia, Monochrome, Dynamic Monochrome, Rough Monochrome, Silky Monochrome, Impressive Art, High Dynamic, Cross Process, Toy Effect, Toy Pop, Bleach Bypass, Miniature Effect, Soft Focus, Fantasy, Star Filter, One Point Color, Sunshine)

Pentax: Digital Filters (Base Parameter Adj, Extract Color, Replace Color, Toy Camera, Retro, High Contrast, Shading, Invert Color, Unicolor Bold, Bold Monochrome, Tone Expansion, Sketch, Water Color, Pastel, Posterization, Miniature, Soft, Starburst, Fish-Eye, Slim, Monochrome)

Sony: Picture Effect (Toy Camera, Pop Color, Posterization, Retro Photo, Soft High-Key, Partial Color, High Contrast Mono, Soft Focus, HDR Painting, Rich-Tone Mono, Miniature, Watercolor, Illustration)

Pixel-Shift Technologies

First appearing as limited-application functions in specialized models, pixel shift has evolved into an increasingly common and robust feature present in a variety of cameras. Although the exact process varies by model, the general idea behind the technology is to move a camera's sensor during capture in order to record more data and produce more accurate images.

San Bernardino Mountains captured using Sony's Pixel Shift Multi Shooting Mode.
San Bernardino Mountains captured using Sony's Pixel Shift Multi Shooting Mode.Cory Rice

To learn more about the process and compare side-by-side images from some of the earlier cameras to offer this feature check out this article. The chart below covers the manufacturers pioneering this technology.

Manufacturer* Name Number of Shots Effective Resolution
Hasselblad Multi-Shot Technology** 6 400MP
Olympus Tripod High Res Shot Mode 8 80MP
Olympus Handheld High Res Shot Mode 16 50MP
Pentax Pixel-Shift Resolution II 4 42MP
Panasonic High Resolution Mode 8 80MP
Sony Pixel-Shift Mode*** 16 240MP

*Check your camera model to see if this feature is available.

**Requires Hasselblad's Phocus App in order to combine images (not completely in-camera).

***Requires Sony's Imaging Edge software in order to combine images (not completely in-camera).

Focus Stacking

Focus stacking is similar to pixel shift in that multiple images are taken sequentially and combined. However, the types of images taken and combined differentiates their results and applications. Pixel-shift technologies improve the accuracy of a single exposure by varying the position of the camera's sensor; the result is a more faithful rendering of a single exposure. Focus stacking combines images of the same subject taken with different focal points. This extends sharp focus across an entire subject—think product photographs or macro subjects. Unlike pixel shift, focus stacking can be accomplished manually with the proper equipment and software. However, Olympus, Panasonic, and Nikon include in-camera features to simplify this process.

B&H's video team shows you how to use Nikon's Focus Stacking mode.

Panasonic's Post Focus mode captures a burst of images in 6K or 4K resolution, each with a different focal point. This can be used in two ways: to focus stack or to retroactively select what part of an image you would like to be in focus.

Olympus offers in-camera focus stacking wherein eight images are recorded and composited into a single image. You can also record between 3 and 999 frames of varying focus for use with post-processing software.

While not technically in-camera entirely, Nikon and Hasselblad both have modes that help automate capturing images that can be later combined in post. Nikon's Focus Shift Mode captures up to 300 images with the camera handling focus automatically. To see this feature in action, check out Shawn Steiner's article and this video from B&H. Similarly, Hasselblad's Focus Bracketing Mode can capture between 2 and 1,000 images for stacking later.

High Dynamic Range

Another type of capture that requires multiple images is high dynamic range (HDR) photography. The process involves combining multiple bracketed exposures into a single image with a wider dynamic range than would be possible in a single capture. Variations of this technique in-camera can be found in Canon, Leica, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, Pentax, Sigma, and Sony cameras.

Multiple Exposure

Digital photography has added a degree of control to creating multiple exposure images that either makes the process more or less exciting depending on who you talk to. While editing software will allow you to combine as many photos as you want in post, you can retain some of the chance and excitement from the pre-digital era by using multiple exposure modes in-camera. Unlike some of the more specialized features above, multiple exposure modes are fairly common and can be found in Canon, FUJIFILM, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, Pentax, and Sony cameras.

B&H's video team shows you how to create multiple exposure images in-camera.


Stitching together panoramas from multiple images used to be an exercise in patience in post. Today, many cameras are capable of doing this job for you. For best results, you will want to use a tripod when panning your camera during capture. Versions of in-camera panorama stitching are available in select Canon, FUJIFILM, Leica, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, Pentax, and Sony cameras.

Skin Effects

At a time when the filters of image-sharing apps have practically replaced makeup, it is no surprise that many cameras include skin-smoothing features. They can be found in Canon (Smooth Skin), FUJIFILM (Smooth Skin), Nikon (Skin Softening), Olympus (ePortrait Mode), Panasonic (Soft Skin), Pentax (Skin Tone Correction), and Sony (Soft Skin) cameras.

Live ND and Live Composite Modes (Olympus)

Olympus has introduced Live ND Mode, which simulates the effect of a neutral density filter when shooting. This allows you to capture long exposures of moving subjects without overexposing. Five strengths are available: ND2, ND4, ND8, ND16, and ND32. Similarly, Live Composite Mode allows you to build up a long exposure without overexposing bright areas. This feature is particularly useful for astrophotography or high-contrast situations involving bright lights.

Live ND Mode on the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III Mirrorless CameraJason Tables

Active-D Lighting (Nikon)

Active-D Lighting is a feature in Nikon cameras that automatically compensates for underexposure in images with strong backlighting.

Keystone and Fish-Eye Compensation (Olympus)

When working with compatible lenses, select Olympus cameras allow you to correct for convergence using Keystone Compensation or turn the M.Zuiko Digital ED 8mm f/1.8 Fisheye PRO lens into a rectilinear wide-angle lens.

Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 8mm f/1.8 Fisheye PRO Lens

Cinemagraph (Sigma fp)

The Sigma fp offers the ability to create "cinemagraphs," animated GIFs in-camera.

Director's Viewfinder (Sigma fp)

While this feature is geared toward filmmakers, it is worth noting as a unique feature in the still camera world. The Sigma fp can simulate different angles of view as well as the look of a variety of cinema cameras, making it an excellent and compact pre-production camera for location scouts, DPs, and directors.

The list above is far from comprehensive, as the number of in-camera effects available seems to grow with each new camera on the market. Are you an in-camera editor? Let us know your favorite effects in the Comments section, below.

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