“Beyond Belief” Differences Between RAW Converters

Realizing that different RAW converters produce very different result qualities left me in a bit of a shock as I had wrongfully assumed RAW converters were nearly equal.

As a case in point, a RAW image of Taquile Island’s leader (on Lake Titicaca in Peru) is processed using two RAW converters before importing into Lightroom 4. The photo was taken with a Olympus OM-D EM-1 and a 12-40mm 2.8 at ISO 200. I did a screen capture of Lightroom while comparing the two photos:

  • On the left – The RAW file was converted to DNG using Adobe DNG (Digital Negative converter) 8.2.
  • On the right – The RAW file was  converted to TIFF using Olympus Viewer 3.

Comparing results of RAW converters on Olympus RAW files

Other than a bit of sharpening, there were no further manipulations.

Clearly, both RAW converters produced different results. What stands out the most are:

  • Detail and saturation of “intense” colours – The Adobe product rendered pinks and reds of with excessive saturation coupled with significant loss of detail. The TIFF from Olympus Viewer 3 looks much more natural and appealing.
  • Noise: Viewer 3 noise appears much lower than that of Adobe’s DNG Converter. Even at ISO200 and especially with ISO’s in the thousands.
  • Colours: Personally, I prefer the Olympus renderings particularly for skin tones and greens. In general, I find Adobe’s converter produces skin tones that are too red and rather difficult to ‘neutralize’.
  • Sharpness: You cannot see it here, but results from Camera Viewer 3 are notably sharper.

For my Olympus RAW files, I found the results from Adobe’s DNG Converter to be completely inferior to the TIFFs produced by Olympus Viewer 3. This is not to say Adobe’s converter produces inferior results from all camera makes and models, but I can certainly tell you I no longer use it to convert my RAW files.

I spent about a year using DNG Converter before I realized all RAW converters are not created equally. Unfortunately, for many files I erased the original RAW files, thinking the DNGs were just as good!

What can we learn from this? I think it boils down to a few things:

  • RAW converters very much produce different results. My experience suggests Adobe’s RAW conversion of Olympus files is not nearly as good as Olympus’ solution. Of course, for other camera types, it is quite possible it does a fantastic job.
  • It is well worth the exercise to try different RAW converters for your particular camera and to choose the best solution.
  • Perhaps most importantly, archive all your original RAW files in case better RAW processors come available, or you simply find a superior solution to what you are currently using.

My end result? From now on, I no longer use Adobe products to convert my Olympus RAW files. For now, I have incorporated Camera Viewer 3 into my workflow and will continue using that till something better comes along. I still use Lightroom extensively for Post Processing and have absolutely no complaints with the editing capabilities.

As for the photo of the leader, here is the final photo after Lightroom editing of the TIFF produced by Olympus Viewer 3. What are your experiences in comparing RAW conversion? Feel free to leave a comment.

Leader of Taquile Island, Lake Titicaca, Peru

Leader of Taquile Island, Lake Titicaca, Peru – Olympus OM-D EM-1 with M.Zuiko 12-40mm 2.8


UPDATE 2016.11.18 – following a comment from Pawal, I upgraded to LightRoom 6 which reads Olympus EM-1 ORF files directly. I have set up an import preset to apply Camera Calibration –> Profile to “Camera Natural”. For me, this provides the best (and Olympus like) colour rendering. You can also try various value for this setting for individual pictures in the Develop module.


30 thoughts on ““Beyond Belief” Differences Between RAW Converters

  1. haslo

    I’ve seen others compare the results between Olympus RAW conversion and Adobe conversion back with the E-P3, with similar results. I guess I need to adapt my workflow, now that I finally got a camera again (my E-M5 was stolen, and I was without camera for over half a year before I now got an E-M1…)

    1. tomlismer Post author

      It is a bit of a pain to incorporate another RAW converter into the workflow, but I believe it is totally worth it. Another negative side effect – the TIFF files are much larger than DNG.

  2. John

    I just started using DXO Optics Pro 10 based on a recommendation I read on the Olympus OM-D Users community and I find it superior to the DNG conversions I had been doing. I like the detail and clarity I get from DXO. I found the Olympus Viewer to do a good job, but I grew frustrated on how slow it ran on my computer. After I bring the ORF file into DXO I make a few basic adjustments and export the file back into Lightroom for finishing.

  3. Francis.R.

    I tried, thanks to the free trials, Lightroom, Capture One, Photo Ninja and After shot (sadly DXO doesn’t support my sony or from my previous Olympus orf and Fujifilm x-trans raw files)
    In the end I purchased Photo Ninja, it have the most natural rendering, although sometimes I miss the layers I can get the closest rendering to what my eyes saw.

      1. Francis.R.

        Photo Ninja doesn’t correct automatically at least in the cameras I’ve used. Precisely that was one of the reasons I choose it because usually automatic correction in the others converters I used ended badly with stretched pixels in the corners and the consequent soft corners. I use only lenses optically corrected so in my case that’s a plus but if you need correction by software then it could be a problem. There is a tool to do it manually and save it as a profile.

  4. Philippe P.

    The node of “Olympus colors” is they can be saturated to extreme, they keep a centered balance. No color shift. My Olympus (XZ-2, E-PL5, E-M10 😉 ) cams can be shot in Vivid setting, even for Caucasian skin portraits. Little to none correction PP.
    I NEVER seen any other camera doing that, apart may be Nikon (the famous “Nikon skin tones”).
    I tested almost all Raw rendering on E-PL5, XZ-2 and E-M10 :
    -Lightroom (4 and 5) : very nice…only when i used a tweaked VSCO film profile. Because stock, LR mess the color balance. And when messed, it is almost impossible to correct. Not good at all without “tweaked to death” profiles. I hate to loose time correcting something witch was perfect BEFORE LR mess.
    -Capture One : perfect (and i said perfect) Olympus colors. Select the equivalent profile and you get the same result than Olympus Viewer. I put the same ORF side by side : impossible to know witch one is. A little less effective than PhotoNinja for demosaicing. A good alternative to Olympus Viewer for faster work.
    -DxO : Not. Simply. It doesn’t work for me, even less than LR5.
    -PhotoNinja : best demosaicing on the market. Period.You can make a 200 bucks lens looks sharp like a 2000 bucks one 😉 Don’t provide Olympus colors, BUT can really enhance an ORF (and more, like Fuji Trans X). A good different vision than Olympus Viewer or Capture One Olympus colors rendering.

    Olympus Viewer, Capture One for Oly colors.
    PhotoNinja for the sharpest, snappier raw rendering on the market, as complement.

    Olympus Viewer (free) for colors and PhotoNinja (affordable) for sharp rendering is a good combination 😀

    1. tomlismer Post author

      Hi Pawel – I just recently upgraded to LR6, which has built in support for my camera. And YES, I have now set up an import preset to use “Camera Natural” and it is just what I like in terms of renderings. Thanks!

  5. Ralph Wolf

    Have you tried using the native ORF files in the newer versions of LightRoom? It’s $79 to upgrade from LR4 to LR6, which supports the E-M1 ORF format.

    I just paid for that upgrade, and will probably stick with that workflow for the sake of convenience and saving disk space, but you have a good eye to spot these differences and I’d like to know if I’m leaving some performance behind.

    Other than speed, are there any other negatives to using OV3 compared to LR4? (I haven’t used OV3, and hate learning new SW but you make a compelling argument that it has advantages…. 🙂

  6. Dimon

    Even OV3 generally slow and pain to use, it gives much better rendering than any other soft I tried like DXO, Capture One, LR, Adobe Rawm Aperture,etc.
    You can spend hours trying to replicate OV3 results in LR esp without using Olympus jpeg version for reference only to realise that final result still sucks.
    So even Olympus Viewer is slow and awkward it still gives original color rendering faster and better with minimal input. If I need to convert lot of files I use batch processing and go for cup of tea. Believe me it still quicker and final result is better than LR unless you are die hard LR fan and enjoy tweaking with it’s sliders at your own leasure.

  7. Erik

    Guys, I am getting confused here. I understand the differences between the raw converters. But how do you go from there? I am getting used to lightroom by now, but I do like my JPEG output from my EM 5 mk 2. SO, I can understand using a different raw converter. But if you convert your raw file in OV3, to what kind of file do you convert it then? To Tiff? And do you do further corrections on that TIFF file? Is that without loss of quality?? Many thanks for allowing my ignorance…..


    1. tomlismer Post author

      Hi Dimon:
      I am now using LR6 which can import my Olympus files directly. I set an import preset to Camera Calibration / Profile / Camera Natural. As I understand (and observe) this renders the native Olympus colours.

      I also import as ORF, and do not convert to DNG. So, there is no need (at least for me) to convert to TIFF (which results in huge files).

      I hope this helps!

      1. Dimon

        Hi Tomlismer,
        I have latest LR with VSCO Olympus profiles. But I prefer OV rendering. And if you postprocess in PS you still need to import as DNG or TIFF because PS doesn’t work with original RAW files. I prefer TIFFs, also I dont care about file size as I would delete it after editing.

  8. petebrunelli

    Tom, Thanks for this comparison. I have been shooting with my E-M10 for years (bought it when it first came out) and using LR CC to do my raw conversion. I always felt like the resulting images were very grainy/pointillist and had an unusual texture. It has not stopped me from taking some photos that I am very happy with, and some of the Adobe processing turns out some very flattering results, but… Until seeing your comparison I was blaming the IQ issues on the E-M10 sensor. I just ran a small set of images through the Olympus Viewer raw converter and the difference is staggering. Now my challenge is to either do all of my ORF->TIFF conversion outside of LR, or find a way to shunt ORFs out to an external converter on a one-by-one basis so I am only generating big TIFF files for keepers.

    I can already see that I have a lot of work on my hands re-converting some images that I know will benefit from the process. Thanks again, and if you have any workflow suggestions for selective reprocessing, I’m all ears.

    1. tomlismer Post author

      Hi Peter – please see my update dated 2016.11.16. Simply applying the camera calibration-> profile -> camera natural brings the rendering to that of Olympus Viewer at least for me. This might save you a lot. Also, with LR6 I import directly as orf and do not convert to dng. Hopefully this will work for you! Ping me if you need more help.

      1. petebrunelli

        I saw the update. Thanks. I started by using “camera natural” and trying a few of the other presets. I also bit the bullet and picked up the VSCO Film Essentials, and have been experimenting with their camera presets (both with and separate from their film emulations). I’m surprised at how few users have addressed this issue. Thanks again for your post. It got me on the road to achieving the IQ I knew was in the RAW data.

  9. John Venter

    The DNG converter is not for processing raw images; all it does is convert it or the open standard DNG raw format so that it can be processed in Adobe RAW or Lightroom. Like all RAW files the DNG file still has to be processed. You are comparing an unprocessed file to a processed one.

  10. John

    Hi Tom

    I’ve difficulty finding practical information on how to use the Olympus Viewer 3 Raw Converter – have searched the web quite extensively but couldn’t find anything substantial.

    Are you able to provide some guidance on how to process ORF files in the OV3 Raw competently?

    By the way, you mentioned about using the ‘Camera Natural setting’ in Lightroom 6. Does this give you the True Olympus colors which is what I really want in my pictures. The famous Native Olympus colors is one of the main reasons I decided to get the EM5-Mk2.

    Thanks and I look forward to your guidance,

    1. tomlismer Post author

      Hi John – If you haven’t already done so, try downloading Lightroom 6 on a free trial. I find the colours match the native colours of my Olympus, but it would be better if you verify this yourself. Olympus Viewer is kind of painful – I really don’t use it at all anymore since Lightroom is way more powerful.

  11. erhard schreck

    ok i also had a shocky experience
    windows 10 explorer thumbnail can display RAW from the EPL5 but not from the EP5. getting worse. the EPL5 raw then can be viewed with the windows PHOTOS default program which is fast and produces great smooth images. the shock. the oly viewer 3 produces very inferior raw pictures (pixelated) from the same raw file compared to the windows PHOTOS viewer and it is extremely slow to process to the full resolution (few seconds). very sad!!!

    1. Philippe PASCAL

      There is a setting in olympus viewer : show High quality RAW

      It will take more time, but you will get 1:1 pixels 😉

  12. Tom Cross

    The difference between RAW ORF files opened in Lightroom and RAW ORF files opened in Olympus Viewer is that Olympus Viewer applies the camera settings you had at the time to the RAW file, whereas other editors like Lightroom and ACR look only at the raw pixel data and apply the standard Abobe profiles – these are just a start before you begin processing your files. It is the same with Canon CR2 raw files, if you use DPP it will know what camera settings you used (colour, sharpening etc) and apply them to start with, if you use other software you will have to do it all yourself.

    So the difference is your starting point before editing. If you want to start with what you saw on your LCD then use Olympus Viewer, if you want to do it all yourself then use something else.

  13. Maria Valdez

    John Venter has the correct response here. And you have to post-process to bring out the details using sharpness, detail sliders. It takes practice to get it right…you can’t just press one button and get proper results.

  14. erhard

    i do have the EPL5 and EP5 – it seems the raw formats are different. in nebulosity (astro photography) the EP5 raw causes artifacts but EPL5 raw does not, PHOTOS (windows10 default) does open EPL5 raw but not EP5 raw. pretty annoying. any ideas anyone?
    thanks Erhard

  15. Dimon

    OK folks, I believe it’s back to square one with release of Olympus Workspace. It beats LR on rendering hands down. My only wish if they could add local adjustment tools.


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