Olympus E-PL1 Review
Raw and Raw Conversion
The E-PL1 is supplied with a new piece of software:
- Olympus ib - A new piece of software launched alongside the E-PL1, it combines a photo database with a series of features for editing and searching images.
ib takes over from Master as the bundled software for Olympus cameras and it's an interesting change. It still has all of Master's RAW image processing features, allowing you to adjust White Balance, Digital Exposure Compensation and to apply other processing presets (different Picture Modes, Gradation settings or even Art Filters), but it also gains image tagging and categorization tools.
Essentially ib has a database structure - the first thing you do is import all your images, giving you the opportunity to tag and organize the images in a variety of ways. During importing the software will arrange the images by date and time shot, allowing you to arrange them into a series of 'Events.' You're then given the chance to specify where an Event took place (or give precise locations for each image). Finally, the software will look through your images in an attempt to find and recognize faces. You can specify who the faces belong to, to help you sort your way through your images.
Once you've imported your images and tagged them to your chosen extent, you get options to either apply general image edits or apply different camera presets in the case of RAW files. In general it seems like an interesting program geared towards the way people use their images, rather than simply providing a bare RAW converter, though one that might take a bit of practice to use to its full extent.
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 the E-PL1 we're looking at the JPEG output in comparison to the supplied ib software and version 5.7 of Adobe Camera Raw.
- JPEG - Large/SuperFine, Default settings
- Oib - Olympus ib
- ACR - Adobe Camera RAW 5.7
Place your mouse over the label below the image to see the color from a GretagMacbeth ColorChecker chart produced using each RAW converter. As we would expect there is hardly any difference between JPEG from the camera and iB. The default Picture Mode on the E-PL1 is 'iEnhance,' which selectively boosts saturation - this explains the large difference between the JPEG response and ACR's.
|Olympus E-PL1||Compare to:|
Sharpness and Detail
As with previous Olympus software, ib appears to offer the same image from RAW files as the camera's JPEG engine offers when you use the camera. Adobe Camera Raw isn't getting quite as much fine detail out of the RAW files as the Olympus solutions but, with its different color response, is pulling more out of the brown feather on the right of these crops.
|Olympus ib -> TIFF (Default settings, manual WB)
ISO 200 studio scene 100% crops
|Adobe ACR 5.7 RAW ->JPEG (Default settings, manual WB)
ISO 200 studio scene 100% crops
|JPEG out of camera, High quality setting (all settings default)
ISO 200 studio scene 100% crop
These crops demonstrate that there's lttle more detail to be gained by processing the RAW files, which is as likely to be a comment on the capability of the JPEG engine, rather than any lack in capability.
|JPEG from camera||Olympus ib (RAW)|
|Adobe Camera RAW 5.7 (RAW)|
Real word advantages
Given just how good a job the Olympus software is doing (both in and out of the camera), there's arguably less to be gained by processing from RAW than with any other camera. Beyond attempting to find more detail, the other biggest advantages of shooting RAW - the ability to adjust white balance and digital exposure compensation - are all available using the supplied software. White balance can also be corrected using the handy built-in raw conversation option.
RAW headroom (Dynamic Range)
Experience has told us that there is typically around 1 EV (one stop) of extra information available at the highlight end in RAW files and that a negative digital exposure compensation when converting such files can recover detail lost to over-exposure. As with previous reviews we settled on Adobe Camera RAW for conversion to retrieve the maximum dynamic range from our test shots.
|Adobe Camera RAW with no digital comp.||Adobe Camera RAW with -1.4 EV digital comp.|
As you can see, some detail can be recovered up to around 1.4EV, but this detail is likely to have no color accuracy, as it is likely that the detail is being recovered from only one of the three color channels (with the other two overexposed and recording no meaningful information).
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.