Olympus Studio
By Les Freed

If you put two professional photographers in a room together, it's a safe bet that they'll start talking about workflow within 15 minutes. For many working pros and serious amateur photographers, workflow is a major bottleneck - especially when working with RAW image files. Amateurs have the time to spend to nurture each and every image through the often tedious workflow process. But for pros, time is money.

There has been much speculation, discussion, and revelation about the Olympus E-1, nearly all of it concerned with the camera itself. But what we hadn't seen until now was how Olympus was planning to deal with the workflow issue. Olympus America provided us with one of the first copies of their new workflow software, designed specifically for the E-1.

Olympus includes two software bundles with the E-1 camera, called Olympus Viewer and Olympus Studio. Viewer is free, but the copy of Olympus Studio provided in the camera box is a full-featured, time-limited (30 day) demo version. If you want to use Studio beyond the 30 day trial period, you'll need to purchase a copy. Olympus America has set the list price at $199, with an expected street price of about $150. The E-1 software CD includes Windows and Macintosh (OS 9 and OS X) versions of both products as well as USB and FireWire drivers for the E-1 camera.

The two programs share an identical user interface, but Studio includes three key features that are missing from Viewer, as you can see in the table below:

Feature Olympus Viewer Olympus Studio
Image Viewing / Printing Yes Yes
Image transfer from Camera Yes Yes
RAW Image conversion Yes Yes
Image editor No Yes
Batch image processing No Yes
Camera Control No Yes

So what do you get for your additional $150? Most serious photographers already have a copy of Photoshop or another image editor, and the Olympus editor wisely avoids trying to duplicate Photoshop's functionality. The Olympus editor is designed specifically to work with Studio's batch mode processing - an essential, time-saving tool for high-volume workflow.

Olympus Studio also includes a tethered shooting program (called Studio Camera Control) that will appeal to studio, scientific, and industrial photographers.

Since Viewer and Studio are so similar, we'll look at the common features first, and then we'll dig in to the additional features found in Olympus Studio.

Image Viewer Features

When you start Viewer or Studio, you'll see the main browser screen. The Browser screen is a typical thumbnail display, similar in concept to ThumbsPlus or ACDSee. It is most useful for quickly scanning through a large number of images.

Olympus Viewer/Studio in Browser mode

Viewer and Studio offer two additional ways to view your images called View mode and Light Box mode. Double clicking on a thumbnail in Browse mode switches to View mode, which provides a larger view of a single image.

Olympus Viewer/Studio in Image View mode

The Light Box view shows two images side-by-side with a horizontal thumbnail display at the bottom of the screen. This view is useful for comparing two images, and is also very useful for organizing your images.

Olympus Viewer/Studio in Light Box mode

Clicking the Properties icon in any of the three viewing modes adds an additional pane to the on-screen display. The properties display (shown in the View mode example above) includes a RGB histogram and a very detailed EXIF information display. Two tabs in the properties pane let you choose to see the raw EXIF data or a nicely formatted, more human-friendly interpretation of the EXIF data.

All three viewing modes provide two tools to sort and arrange your images. Each image thumbnail can be assigned to one of three groups, using colors (the default method), icons, or a text tag of your choice. This feature lets you quickly scan through your images and arrange them into one of the three groups by simply clicking on the color, icon, or text display on each thumbnail. Once you've categorized the images, you can click the corresponding color, icon, or text at the bottom of the screen, and the display will show the images that match your selection.

A similar feature lets you assign images to one of two collections named A and B. As you browse through the images, you can assign any image to collection A, collection B, or to both collections. Once you've assigned images to a collection, you can move or copy those images to a new folder with a single click.

Getting Images In ...

Viewer and Studio offer a simple image transfer feature to collect images from an attached camera or card reader. The Transfer Images screen (below) shows a thumbnail preview of each image, so you can save time by only transferring the images that you want.

Importing Images into Olympus Viewer / Studio

There are several small but nice touches on this screen, including the ability to automatically create a new folder with current date and an option to delete all of the images in the camera after a successful transfer.

... and Out

Shooting in RAW mode gives the photographer the most possible control - and a measure of insurance - over his or her images. RAW images have more dynamic range than JPEG files, and RAW images use lossless compression to avoid JPEG artifacts. RAW images also allow the photographer to make after-the-fact corrections for exposure and color balance that simply aren't possible with JPEG images. Despite these advantages, many photographers prefer to shoot in JPEG mode because of the additional file size and workflow complexity involved in processing RAW images.

Viewer and Studio both offer a RAW conversion feature called RAW Development. You can use this tool to correct and/or adjust images and then save the images in a variety of formats, including JPEG, TIFF, and Olympus RAW. The RAW development window provides slider controls to adjust exposure, contrast, white balance, sharpness, and saturation. You can also change the image's color space and turn the noise filter on or off.

The RAW Development screen shows everything - except for a histogram

The RAW development screen includes a small, zoomable preview window so that you can see the effects of your adjustment. Curiously, there is no histogram display in the RAW Development screen.

At first glance, the RAW development features in Viewer and Studio appear to be identical - but Studio processes RAW files about twice as fast as Viewer. There is no apparent reason for this, and we ran our timing tests several times just to make sure. On our test PC - a 1.8 GHz Pentium 4 system with a fast hard drive and 768 Mb of RAM - Viewer converted our test image from RAW to JPEG in 12 seconds; Studio processed the same image in 6 seconds. Olympus America confirmed that there is a noticeable difference in processing times between the two programs but declined to offer an explanation as to why the difference exists.