Beautiful Colour Photography Straight Out Of Camera – Is It Possible?

For some years I’ve been looking for a digital camera that can deliver colour images that I love straight out of camera.

First, a quick recap of how this desire came about.

From around 2006 to 2011 I only used camera phones (mostly Sony) and didn’t think much about colour.

Back then post processing was completely unknown to me.

My processing consisted simply of plugging my phone into a computer to download the images, then keeping the ones I liked and deleting those I didn’t. These days I would call this “editing” rather than processing.

Late in 2011 I bought my first “proper” camera, a Nikon Coolpix P300, which I used almost exclusively on its High Contrast Monochrome mode, and shot 1000 photographs a month for seven or eight months.

In June 2012 I discovered film via a birthday present of a Holga 120N, then soon after 35mm film with a Smena 8M.

The world of SLRs soon opened up and around 2015 perhaps, after 100s of cameras and rolls of film, my favourite colour film became Fuji Superia 100.

Since that colour photography yardstick, I’ve used various settings and software with digital cameras, not exactly to directly emulate Superia 100, but to try to attain colours I liked as much in their own way.

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After never much liking the colours of my Sony NEX (cool, clinical, digital, bleurgh), in early 2017 finding and using a couple of old Pentax DSLRs with their CCD sensors and vintage M42 lenses was a breakthrough on the colour front.

But as lovely as their output was, I grew weary of their bulk, weight and fiddly metering, and started my drift (back) towards digital compacts.

My Panasonic GF1 micro four thirds body just about provides some pleasing colour with one of its custom modes, but I only have one native lens for it which I don’t especially like.

Using it with those same aforementioned M42 lenses, whilst it’s smaller and lighter than using a DSLR, it’s still vastly more cumbersome than a dedicated digital compact with a fixed lens, there’s really no comparison.

Since late 2017, various digital compacts I’ve tried have given me fantastic results in b/w (either directly in camera – Pentax Q, Lumix LX3 – or with a subtle tweak in Snapseed afterwards – Ricoh GX100 and GRD III, Sony DSC-L1), but none have shown me much I like on the colour front.

So since then I’ve found myself shooting almost entirely in b/w – partly because I love b/w anyway, and partly due to the lack of satisfaction on the colour front, and not wanting to spend time fiddling about in post processing with every image.

Then, at the very end of last year, a decade old Canon IXUS came into my life.

The Canon Digital IXUS 870 IS to give it its full name, or the PowerShot SD880 IS DIGITAL ELPH to those of you on the west side of the Atlantic.

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This, you might recall, is the camera I’ve chosen for the first month of my One Month One Camera (OMOC) project this year.

With some subtle tweaks of its Custom Colour mode to increase contrast and saturation, I can say that I’m very happy with the shots it’s delivering, straight out of camera.

Which is rather marvellous news.

I don’t know much of this is down to the CCD sensor, the lens, the software, or just the combination.

Other factors in my appreciation of the IXUS’s colour images might lie entirely with me and my perception.

It might be that because I’ve been so pleased with the camera in all other aspects, I am more enamoured with its colour output than I might be if I disliked using it.

Perhaps my taste in colour has changed over time. I would guess that I prefer more natural colours these days than perhaps a few years ago when film was giving me more warmly saturated tones much of the time.

It’s very possible that after not shooting any film for two years my eyes have been weaned off the look that lovely film like Fuji Superia 100 and Ferrania Solaris 200 used to give me, and I’ve become more welcoming to the look of digital images on the whole.

Whatever the reasoning, I’m very happy with what the little Canon IXUS 870 IS is producing.

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So this also means that my enjoyment of colour photography generally has been rejuvenated.

Rather than setting up the camera for b/w by default and looking for the best compositions to suit – as I’ve done with my other compacts for 15 months or so – I’m actively looking for colour photography compositions again.

Very timely too, with the first little heroes of spring starting to poke their heads up out of the ground.

I’m very curious now to see how other cameras I choose this year for the OMOC project fair in comparison (I expect at least one other will be a Canon of some kind…) with their colour output.

But for now I’m delighted to have found a camera that suits my shooting style (compact and lightweight, intuitive to use, good handling and controls, close focusing), along with producing colours I enjoy straight out of camera.

All photographs in this post were made with the Canon Digital IXUS 870 IS, on Custom Colour mode, Contrast +2, Saturation +1, and everything else zero.

How about you, how often do you shoot in colour compared with black and white? Are you happy with your images and colours straight out of camera? What are the influencing factors in why you like one camera/lens/film’s colour over another?

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for looking. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too. If you’re interested, this is what I’m into right now.

19 thoughts on “Beautiful Colour Photography Straight Out Of Camera – Is It Possible?”

      1. I think it can depend on what mood I am in and also what I am taking pictures of. Don’t know whether there is really a set reason sometimes.

        Cold, grey and icy day where I am today which inspired these photos:

        berrie.photography/2019/01/24/bw-iso-400/

  1. I like to shoot both monochrome and colour, depending on my mood and what i’m trying to convey. For more than ten years I have been using a number of Canon Powershot and Ixus compact cameras. As someone whose photography goes back to when I shot slide and print film, I really enjoy the natural colours coming out of these little cameras. Of course, their menus mean you can select more saturated colour (as well as sepia or monochrome), but being old fashioned I like my photographs to be as natural as possible. I guess this explains why I don’t use filters , even on my SLR. We’re all different in our tastes…

    1. Paul, thanks for your input.

      I think my tastes are tending back towards a more natural look too. When I shot film I liked the more vivid and saturated look, so for a few years tried to emulate this with digital and presets in LightRoom, and then Hipstamatic.

      But these days as I’ve said in this post, the IXUS 870 with a slight tweak to contrast and saturation is delivering colour I really enjoy – natural, but slightly amplified.

      I expect to use another IXUS/Powershot later in the year for the One Month One Camera project, so it will be interesting to see which other model(s) deliver straight our of camera too.

  2. I did a lot of black and white photography in my college years as did my own developing and we could only do black and white back then. since then I have done mostly color as I enjoy color. as you know I have been eager for your color photos as I like them so much and probably often more than the black and white as they are a nice change with the photos you share. strangely I would like to pursue some black and white photography on my digital camera. I don’t even know how to do that with the camera. How to change from color to black and white. i think you explained to me once before how to do it, Dan

    1. Susan I didn’t realise you had such a photographic history!

      Remind me what make and model your camera is and I’ll try and find out.

      Most digital cameras have a b/w setting somewhere, though I tend to use that, then use Snapseed afterwards as most digital cameras also lack any kind of contrast on the b/w and end up looking too washed out and grey for my liking.

      1. Dan, because I bothered you before with how to do B & W on my camera I got the book out and for some reason easily found it. The buttons are the ones for viewing text so I have no idea how I came across it. I have already taken some black and white shots. It is 44 degrees here so I am having a play day at home. The batteries gone flat so I will do some more shooting later. thanks for your offer of help

  3. Another really interesting article Dan, I’m having to catch up on a lot of your posts because I’ve not been around for a while – I have to say I was surprised by your change to digital – I thought you were a film man through and through. No matter, I’ve always enjoyed both formats (hell I even shoot APS) and I think the consistency of your work from film to digital shows how similar the formats can be.
    I’ve always been a fan of Canon digital cameras. Although I’ve shot with Nikon and Olympus as well I’ve always thought that Canon’s colours were superb. Like you I up the contrast and colour settings by default, and I also tend to drop the exp. comp. by 2/3s as well – I find they tend to over-expose somewhat. I’ve always liked ‘warm’ colours in my shots for some reason (a throwback to Kodak maybe?) so I tend to set the W/B to cloudy or shade by default too – it gives them a nice hue.
    Again – keep up the great work (apologies for the ramble).
    Cheers
    Stuart.

    1. Thanks Stuart, and don’t worry, you’re not ramble, feel free to chat!

      Yes I was surprised at first at my drift from film, as yes I loved it for some time. But I always shot digital to come extent alongside, and the evolution was pretty steady and natural in the end.

      As you can see, I’m only just discovering Canon digital cameras. I think I avoided them as a brand, partly because my experience with their film cameras was that they were very capable but bland, and partly because I didn’t want to be another one of those photographers with a massive branded Canon strap around their neck! And partly because I just like to avoid mainstream stuff and explore the niches more.

      Given my experience with the “Golden IXUS” 870 though, I will certainly explore more Canons during my One Month One Camera project this year.

      I’ve been using the IXUS set at -1/3 exposure comp, but found in low light it drastically overexposes, so I’ve gone down to even -2 to get the look I wanted, and to keep the darker tones dark and moody.

      Interesting about the White Balance, I’ve just had mine on Auto which I think has worked well, but I’ll experiment with the cloudy/shade settings in the future.

      1. Oh God I HATE those Canon straps (even though all my film SLR’s have the old style EOS blue and red ones!) – my 40D has a nice celtic strap from Etsy.
        I might get myself an 800 series IXUS. I have a 185 but it doesn’t allow me to do custom colours. I do recommend playing with the WB though.
        So what’s this one month camera project?

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