Raw mode

Although the E-PM2 is primarily aimed at novice users, like all of Olympus's PEN range it offers a Raw shooting mode in the .ORF format. JPEG wins from the point of view of convenience (JPEGs are relatively small on your memory card, they look great straight from the camera, and they're universally supported by online and offline software) but there are several reasons why you might consider shooting Raw.

Essentially, a Raw file is like a negative, in film terms. You can go back to it as many times as you like, and make new versions of the file, which will not degrade. When working on Raw files you also have much more control over specific aspects of image quality such as sharpness, and noise reduction, but also more general things like exposure and white balance.

Sharpness and Detail

If you're doing critical work (like anything you want to print large, for instance) one of the most useful benefits of shooting Raw is the extra potential for sharpening compared to JPEG files. Here, we're showing you a default JPEG, straight from the camera, next to a simultaneously-captured Raw file, processed in Adobe Camera Raw 7.4, with sharpening adjusted 'to taste'.

JPEG - 1/640sec, F8, ISO 200 100% crop
Raw file converted 'to taste' in ACR 7.4 100% crop

Exposure and color

The thing about JPEGs is that once you've taken one, that's basically it. You can adjust them on a computer, but only within narow parameters. There's less tonal data in JPEG files than in Raw files, and because the files are compressed, image quality drops significantly when you try to make serious adjustments to JPEGs. This shot, below, was taken in hugely challenging conditions for the E-PM2, and as you can see, it has (correctly) exposed the shot for its subject - the backlit motorcycle. But in doing so, most of the brighter areas of the scene have 'burned out'. Take a look at the difference that a carefully-processed Raw file can make.

JPEG Raw file converted in ACR 7.4

As you can see, the processed Raw image has a much wider tonal range. We've been able to recover the blue sky, the delicate tones in the fresco on the right of the image have come back, and we've also lifted the shadows a little as well to reveal more detail in the darker areas. The result is maybe not as naturalistic as you'd want for critical purposes, but it illustrates the flexibility of the E-PM2's Raw files compared to the default JPEGs.

Noise-reduction and white balance

Shooting in Raw mode also allows you to fine-tune white balance and color post-capture, as well as take more control over noise-reduction. This shot was taken in very low light at the E-PM2's maximum ISO sensitivity of 25,600. The JPEG looks pretty good, considering, but careful adjustment of the .ORF Raw file has enabled us to achieve a warmer, more pleasing color balance, and get back a little bit of low-contrast detail. The final result is more print-ready.

JPEG - 1/640sec, F8, ISO 200 100% crop
Raw file converted 'to taste' in ACR 7.4 100% crop