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.
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.
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.