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The E-P1 comes with the Olympus Master 2 image browser / editor software. We found ourselves using version 2.2 but it regularly checks for updates if you have an internet connection, so it's essentially academic which version ships with the camera. Master allows you to find your images either via your computer's directory structure or the date you took them, then add them to 'Albums.' These albums don't save your files to new locations, they simply allow you to associate, collect and arrange your images. Beyond this file browser, there are two other key elements to the program - an edit window for making changes to JPEG files and a RAW edit section for applying different presets to RAW files.
The Edit window offers a series of image processing options, all of which are applied to the entire image. The options, including contrast, curves and color tweaks, can also be added to RAW files, but are only applied when you save as a JPEG or TIFF file. If you want to make RAW-level edits, such as white balance or exposure compensation adjustments, you have to go via the RAW edit screens, output as a JPEG or TIFF, then work on that saved file in the edit window. In addition to the relatively common options are a lens distortion correction option (which can be applied manually or automatically, based on the software's knowledge of each lenses characteristics), and Auto Tone Correction, which makes localized corrections to the image's tone response.
When it comes to RAW processing, Master is pretty limited in its scope. It allows adjustment of exposure compensation and white balance, and allows the resizing and cropping of images. Beyond that, the options are limited to those presented in the camera, so you can adjust which Picture Mode setting is applied or tweak the image parameters such as sharpening and contrast but you get no more freedom than you had when you shot the image. This is still enough to get great results, but it's no more powerful than the camera's JPEG engine, which arguably doesn't make the most of having shot in RAW (it also can't save the barely compressed SHQ JPEGs that the camera will produce, if you really want it to).
The latest version of Master also allows Art Filters to be applied to RAW files after the event. The advantage is that you can not only take more time to consider which filter will give the best results, but you can also avoid the delays and battery drain that Art Filters can induce when using them in the camera.
To escape being limited to these presets you can buy the fully-featured Olympus Studio. In many respects the two pieces of software behave similarly but Studio gives you much greater control over the way the image is processed - particularly when working with RAW files. Olympus Studio currently costs €99/$99 which is only a little cheaper than some third-party software packages.
As is normal in our digital SLR reviews we like to compare the supplied RAW conversion software, any optional manufacturer RAW conversion software and some third party RAW converter. At the moment support for the E-P1 is pretty thin on the ground, with only Olympus's own software (which does a pretty good job of mimicking the JPEG output) and DCRaw (which is not for the fainthearted, being a command line utility) currently able to open and process the .ORF files.
To get a better feel for what's in the E-P1's raw files we therefore had to get a little more creative, using a hex editor to trick our standard raw conversion tools into opening the E-P1's files (by changing the camera identification to Olympus E-30). Some of the results shown below are therefore NOT fully optimized and are included only for interest, and to give a hint of what will ultimately be possible when more raw conversion programs are updated to support the E-P1.
* Important: the Capture One files were produced using the Olympus E-30 parameters and therefore are unlikely to represent fully optimized output (most specifically, the color mapping and sharpening will be tweaked when 'true' support for the E-P1 is offered in future updates). This review will be updated again if the output changes significantly.
Place your mouse over the label below the image to see the color from a GretagMacbeth ColorChecker chart produced using each RAW converter. Unlike previous Olympus cameras the E-P1 actually produces slightly different results in-camera than it does using its raw converter, with the JPEGs showing slightly more saturation and contrast (using the Natural setting) than the same file developed in Master or Studio. Note that we have not included Capture One or ACR in the color comparison as these converters do not yet offer 'official' support for the E-P1.
Sharpness and Detail
Although the JPEG engine is doing an admirable job there's no doubt that you'll get a little more crisp detail (and a little more noise) if you shoot raw, though not if you use the supplied software (which produces results that are virtually indistinguishable from JPEGs). In our testing - hampered somewhat by the lack of support in third-party software - we found DCraw and Capture One managed to eke a little more detail out of the files (in the latter case this is partly down to the high level of sharpening), but that - in real world use - the margin is very narrow. We'll update this section when Olympus and Phase One add full support for the E-P1 to their products.
Looking at the detail each converter can pull out of the file let's concentrate on the coins printed on the front of the Martini bottle; something Olympus consumer grade SLRs have traditionally struggled to capture. As you can see, the difference between the JPEG and the best converter (DCRaw) is minimal, but there is a difference.
Again, the key point here is how well the JPEG engine is doing - the resolution is noticeably higher and the results visibly cleaner than any other Olympus digital SLR we've tested recently. The DCRaw (via Graphic Converter) result shows just how much resolution there is in these files, and just how much Olympus's approach to sensor design (specifically the low pass filter) has changed since the E-620 generation.
Real world advantages
This section will follow when we have raw converters that officially support the E-P1.
RAW files for download
Here we provide RAW files, both from the review and the sample shots we take, to allow you to apply your own workflow techniques and see whether your experiences match ours.