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Software - RAW conversion

Supplied software

Unlike many of its competitors, Olympus supplies a perfectly usable - albeit cut down - raw conversion utility with even budget compacts such as the SP-310 in the form of Olympus Master. Master is a nicely designed browser application with basic image editing (cropping, red-eye removal, 'instant fix' features and a basic, but functional raw converter.

Master lets you browse folders or - as here - browse thumbnails by date using a calendar. Images
Images are edited full-screen using simple sliders.

The raw conversion module offers control over exposure compensation, white balance (using a color temperature slider or gray point selector - there's no access to white balance presets), contrast, sharpness and saturation. It's more than enough to get you started with raw shooting, and is a lot better than most competitor's offerings. If you want more control you'll need to upgrade to Olympus Studio or use Adobe Camera Raw in Photoshop or Elements.

JPEG & RAW Resolution compared

One of my biggest gripes with the JPEG output of the SP-310 is that they are - like many Olympus consumer models - way too 'processed'. The raw data appears to be subjected to fairly harsh noise reduction before being sharpened to within an inch of its life. The result is pictures that suffer from (admittedly fairly mild) sharpening artefacts and the loss of some very fine detail - especially low contrast detail such as foliage or hair. This isn't a problem for small prints, which look sharp and contrasty without the need for any post-processing, but for larger prints - especially if you like to tweak your images in Photoshop or the like - something a little 'cleaner' is preferable, which is where raw files come into their own.

The supplied conversion software - even at the default setting - ekes a little extra resolution out of the lens / sensor output, and if you turn down the sharpness and contrast sliders you can get fairly 'flat' TIFF files that respond well to post-processing. But to see just how much sharpening and noise reduction is going on 'behind the scenes', run the raw files through Adobe Camera Raw (ACR). You'll get roughly the same resolution (actually a tiny bit more), but without all that software sharpening the results do look very soft (in fact if you've ever wondered why we refer to resolution and sharpness as two distinct qualities, just flick between the ACR and JPEG images below).

What you don't get with ACR is all that heavy-handed noise reduction, which at low ISO settings isn't really needed, meaning you can rescue much of the low-contrast fine detail with careful use of ACR's settings and some post-processing it's possible to produce some stunning results, which belie the 'budget' status of the SP-310. Such is the beauty of raw files - as your experience and expertise grows you can return to them time and time again and try different processing techniques.

Adobe Camera Raw
RAW -> TIFF (Default)
ACR 3.3 Beta
JPEG from camera Olympus Master RAW
RAW -> TIFF (Default)

Studio shot comparison

As you can see from the 100% crops below the Olympus Master RAW converter (default settings) is producing results that don't differ hugely from an SHQ JPEG, though they actually seem to be more sharpened and to feature even more heavy-handed noise reduction. By comparison the ACR result (again using the default settings) is softer, but has a little more detail (look at the leatherette on the camera body) and a little more noise. By increasing the sharpness and luminance smoothing options you can actually produce some very clean, very detailed results using ACR.

Adobe Camera Raw, RAW -> TIFF (default settings), ACR 3.3 Beta
ISO 64 studio scene 100% crops
Olympus Master, RAW -> TIFF (default settings)
ISO 64 studio scene 100% crops
JPEG out of camera, SHQ quality setting
ISO 64 studio scene 100% crops
Adobe Camera Raw, RAW -> TIFF (default settings), ACR 3.3 Beta
ISO 400 studio scene 100% crops
Olympus Master, RAW -> TIFF (default settings)
ISO 400 studio scene 100% crops
JPEG out of camera, SHQ quality setting
ISO 400 studio scene 100% crops

 

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