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Raw and Raw Conversion

Supplied software

The EP-3 is supplied with Olympus Viewer 2 (Version 1.2, Mac/Windows) and the curiously-named Olympus [ib] (Windows only). Olympus Viewer 2 is an update of the older Olympus Viewer raw conversion software that came bundled with the very first E-series camera, the E-1, and [ib] is a more beginner-friendly platform for photo organizing and tagging, as well as some basic JPEG and raw editing.

  • Olympus Viewer 2 - Image browser and raw/JPEG image editor, with video editing capabilities.
  • Olympus [ib] - launched alongside the E-PL1, [ib] combines a photo database with a series of features for editing and searching images, including face recognition and geotagging (Windows only).

Olympus Viewer is a capable and versatile image editing platform that can be used to make adjustments to the E-P3's JPEG, raw and Motion JPEG video files). The range of adjustments for raw files is impressive, and as well as the usual core white balance, sharpness and NR sliders, Viewer 2 also allows you to apply any of the camera's various color and filter modes to RAW files directly. You also get access to a range of editing functions not available in-camera, including perspective correction and lens aberration corrections (for chromatic aberration, vignetting and residual distortion).

You can also edit Motion-JPEG movie clips shot with the E-P3 (note though that AVCHD .MTS movie files can't be edited). The range of options is fairly small though; clips can be trimmed or merged with other movies, individual frames can be extracted and saved as stills at actual size, and fade in/out effects can be added to the start and end. It's fairly basic stuff, but enough to edit clips together and prepare a composite movie.

In Viewer 2's browser view, you have various sorting options, and from here you can tag and rotate images. To open an image in the editor, simply double-click. The range of editing options in Olympus Viewer 2 is impressive, both for raw and JPEG images. It replicates everything that you can do in-camera, and adds plenty more besides.
There is also a comparison view that lets you view images side-by-side. Here we're comparing a tweaked raw conversion to the original version. Motion-JPEG format movie files can be edited too, although adjustments are limited to clipping, adding fade in/out, and frame extraction. AVCHD movies can't be edited.

Olympus Viewer is a more-than-capable converter that's probably one of the best 'free' programs supplied with any camera. It has a few irritations - it's rather slow to preview any changes you make, and has a bad habit of displaying a coarsely-pixelated preview until you 'let go' of adjustment sliders when viewing at 1:1 - but the results are sifficiently good that many users may well find it the only raw converter they need.

For more detailed information about Olympus [ib], take a look at the Photographic tests (raw) page of our Olympus E-PL1 review.

RAW conversion

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. In the case of the Olympus E-P3 we used the supplied Olympus Viewer 2 as well as Adobe Camera RAW 6.5 Beta.

  • JPEG - Large/Fine, Default settings
  • Viewer 2 - Olympus Viewer 2
  • ACR - Adobe Camera Raw 6.5 Beta (at default 'Adobe Standard' setting)

Sharpness and Detail

One advantage of shooting raw is that it can enable a more convincing rendition of fine detail. The E-P3's in-camera sharpening is relatively unsubtle, and can be prone to giving visible halo artefacts around high contrast edges. This kind of wide-radius sharpening is distinctly destrucive of very fine detail.

Shooting in raw and applying careful sharpening can therefore be advantageous if you want to extract the maximum possible detail from the camera's output. The conversions below show better rendition of the very finest low-contrast detail by Adobe Camera Raw, most obviously with the fluffy balls which show visibly more texture. Olympus Viewer 2 by default gives visually identical output to the camera's JPEGs, and while it can be tuned to give better results by careful tweaking of sharpening settings, it never quite matches ACR in this regard.

Adobe ACR 6.5 Beta Raw -> TIFF (Default output settings)
ISO 200 studio scene 100% crops
Olympus Viewer 2 Raw -> TIFF (Default output settings)
ISO 200 studio scene 100% crops
JPEG out of camera, Super Fine setting, manual WB (all other settings default)
ISO 200 studio scene 100% crop

Resolution

Once again, Olympus Viewer 2 gives identical results to out-of-camera JPEGs when both are set to default (or equivalent) settings. There's very obvious halo artefacts around the numbers of our chart, but the lines themselves are rendered impressively cleanly with no moire. You can reduce the haloes (but not eliminate them entirely) by turning down the sharpness settings, without significant detriment to the actual resolution. Meanwhile switching to Adobe Camera Raw gives similar results in terms of actual resolution with our high-contrast test chart, but there's a hint of colour moire.

Adobe Camera Raw 6.5 Beta Olympus Viewer 2
 
JPEG Large/Fine

Real world advantages

While the E-P3 generally produces very good JPEGs, shooting raw and spending a bit of time on converting them carefully can give better results. You can tweak such things as white balance, brightness and noise reduction at your leisure to get the best possible images.

In the ISO 1250 example below, we're comparing the camera's JPEG output (with the Noise Filter turned off - click here to download a verison at the camera's default settings) with the raw file converted using Adobe Camera Raw 6.5. The white balance, brightness and saturation have all been optimised, giving an image with better colour rendition, but what's most strking is how much better ACR does at suppressing noise (especially blotchy chroma noise). The result is a more finely-detailed image, showing just gritty luminance noise that's not unattractive.

E-P3 + M ZD 9-18mm F4-5.6, 9mm F8, ISO 1250
JPEG (Noise Filter Off, Sharpness = 0) Raw + ACR 6.5 Beta
100% crop 100% crop

Even at low ISOs, you can use raw to extract a bit more fine detail by the use of careful sharpening. In this example we've been able to bring out a more natural rendition of the foliage, while avoiding the sharpening halos that are endemic to the E-P3's JPEG output.

E-P3 + M ZD 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 II R, 28mm F4.6, ISO 200
JPEG Raw + ACR 6.5 Beta
100% crop 100% crop

Raw files for download

Here we provide raw files from the sample shots we take, to allow you to apply your own workflow techniques and see for yourself the benefits of shooting in raw mode.

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