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Best Oly RAW processor (spoiler: Darktable)

Discussion in 'Image Processing' started by Dragos101, Sep 1, 2015.

  1. Dragos101

    Dragos101 Mu-43 Regular

    68
    May 1, 2015
    Bucharest, Romania
    Dragos
    Hi everybody, this will probably a long post which would me better suited as a blog entry, but since I don't have a blog you'll have to bear with me :)
    Like many I have been struggling to find a good RAW convertor which keeps the signature Oly look while offering modern functionality not found in OV3. I'm using a Mac so this will be a Mac software review/oppinion.
    I have to admit I am very picky about this and especially about the skin tones and the subtle hue changes, the warm glowing skin and the bright saturated lips that Oly does so well when you hit the right exposure and great light.
    I tried all the famous commercial products.
    C1 produces horrible "wrong" colors and fake tan skin with hair color blended with the skin in a terrible way, I really wonder how anyone using it can find it in any way flattering. I endlessly tried to adjust these using the tools, which I had a pretty good grasp at, but to no avail. You just can't escape the fake tan look, at least without ruining other parts of the color spectrum.
    DXO produces decent results pretty close to the Oly look, but still misses on the overall punch and glow and I find the tools and the interface very lacking. I simply didn't like the software even though I guess I could make it work.
    Aperture is actually very decent but it shows its age, I love it but I have to accept it's outdated. Produces images that are a bit overcooked as default, but they are nice, punchy and would satisfy most people.
    LR. We all know it and assume it's the default industry standard. It has a lot of tools, it's fast, the Highlight/Shadows tools are the best. But the Oly profiles are very mediocre. Adobe Standard or the Camera presets, they all suffer from the same problem. The hues aren't subtle enough, the skin tones are "blended" into a generic pink, most hues suffer from the same problem. You don't get good green separation, the blues are very generic etc. I tried the Huelight profiles, they improve the default ones but still suffer from overall lack of "glow"
    Photo Ninja does really well, the default rendering is very attractive but the software is really expensive for the limited functionality. It does Raw converting really well, but you would have to use an additional PP step if you wanted to further enhance your photos. I was pretty close to paying for it though, it's that good, but chose to test just one more processor, at the other end of the price spectrum, meaning a free one.
    Which brings us to Darktable.
    I'll mostly skip the interface. It's a bit "open source" but it actually is very well laid out and provides perfectly good functionality. It didn't bother me for one bit after spending some time reading the manual and understanding the keyboard shortcuts and general functions. It's fast, doesn't get in the way so I'm fine with it.
    The default Oly RAW processing is outstanding. By default it loads a basic processing lacking contrast adjustment which may seem a bit flat. Bump the contrast or even better, do a slight S curve, and watch your image come alive with all the glow and subtlety you expect from Oly.
    Of course, nothing is perfect and no size fits all, so go ahead and tweak. The PP functionality is DEEP. There are TONS of effect modules, all with extremely powerfull and well thought processing. Some overlap, and you can choose the one that fits your workflow best.
    All modules can be blended using various modes, or can use masks which can be drawn or parametric. This one alone is huge, you can define let's say a specific color mask and work on that or a specific luminance range and affect the saturation or do parametric dodging and burning. I would say it pretty much approaches Photoshop functionality when it comes to photo processing.
    There are things LR does better, such as Hi/Sh. AFAIK no one does it better, so I would say Darktable's implementation is actually pretty good, better than Aperture or DXO. Noise reduction is decent and good enough for 1600 or below, 3200 and above you would probably prefer to use more specialized tools.
    As always, it pays off to read the manual, which is well laid out and helps you easily move to more advanced functions. But as I said, just use a default preset with a bit of an S curve, do some "to taste" HSL adjustments with the Color Zones module and you'll be rewarded with the best glowing punchy images you ever saw out of your Oly raw files.
    This may seem like a sales or marketing pitch, except that this software is absolutely free and will probably stay like that forever.
    I know that I should also post some images showing what I find are the biggest differences, I'll have to postpone this for later on since I already wrote a lot. I promise I'll do that as soon as possible.
    Looking forward to reading your comments, obviously these are just my oppinions and they should be treated as such :)
     
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  2. David A

    David A Mu-43 All-Pro

    Sep 30, 2011
    Brisbane, Australia
    I tried the Huelight profiles for the E-M5 a long time ago and ended up back with Adobe Standard. I don't think it's as bad as people say, at least on my monitor which I've calibrated. Also, my standard approach to white balance in most cases is to shift-click on the "Tint" slider to get automatic adjustment of tint without changing temperature. I'm usually happy with the temperature setting that my E-M5 and E-M1 set but I find the slight auto tint adjustment often helps. I also rarely touch the Saturation and Vibrance sliders in the Basic panel and when I want to make colour adjustments other than white balance I make them in the HSL panel using the targeted adjustment tool and choose what I'm adjusting, or I make local adjustments using the Saturation slider in the adjustment brush or gradient/radial filter tools. I've come to the conclusion that the best colour results in LR come from using Adobe Standard and being extremely conservative about adjustments that specifically work on colour. On the other hand, spending a bit of time on getting exposure, contrast, highlights and shadows, and to a lesser extent whites and blacks right seems to be a big part of getting a result I like.

    The only other RAW converter I've really tried is Aperture which is very feature deficient these days. I did purchase Affinity Photo a while ago but I haven't been able to find much in the way of good tutorial material and there is no manual that I can find. I haven't been able to equal the results I get in Lightroom but that could just be me. My big problem with it is the lack of a manual or a good overview of RAW conversion processing in it and I usually end up spending several times as much time trying to get where I could get to easily with LR and not being able to get a result I'm happy with anyway, usually because I don't quite understand how the application works.
     
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  3. Lcrunyon

    Lcrunyon Mu-43 Top Veteran

    758
    Jun 4, 2014
    Maryland
    Loren
    Thank you for the interesting post. I've been using Apple Photos but I'm not sure it is enough. My post processing needs have been pretty simple, mainly because I wanted to focus training on in-camera results and because I didn't want to spend a lot of time in front of the computer. That said, I recognize that post processing is an important step in photography development.

    I have tried Oly Viewer 3, but never really gelled with it. I will admit that I'm not sure what the "Oly look" really is. Maybe that's because I primarily shoot RAW and mostly have used only Oly and more recently Canon, so I don't have a good basis for comparison. I just post process in Photos until I like the results - mostly playing with the highlights and shadows, add a little more color, and maybe some sharpening and/or noise reduction if it needs either. Oftentimes, I'm just using the auto adjustments to start, and manually make minor tweaks from there. It's fast, but should I be looking for more?

    Since I've only really used Photos and iPhoto before it, I'm not sure how effective Apple Photos' adjustment tools really are, particularly sharpening and noise reduction, in comparison with others. While I've made it work with the file management system, the lack of features is also a problem. I have to use separate, individual software each for watermarking, panoramas (Hugin) and HDR (Photomatix Pro), and moving pictures in and out Photos into these programs is a pain.

    I was hoping for increased functionality to Photos from 3rd party extensions, but so far I haven't seen any. I have been considering going to Adobe to see what I have been missing, but have held off due to the expense and the learning curve.
     
  4. Dragos101

    Dragos101 Mu-43 Regular

    68
    May 1, 2015
    Bucharest, Romania
    Dragos
    Photos is using the same RAW base interpretation as Aperture, so it's pretty good and produces very punchy and lively images. A bit too much, in my oppinion. I haven't used Photos for processing but I know it incorporates the basic features from Aperture while missing some of the more advanced such as Curves.
    When using Nikon I never bothered to shoot jpegs because I realised from the very start that the Raws can be processed to look much better. But with Oly I always use the jpegs as a reference while trying to make the raws look better. If you don't shoot jpeg+raw you can always fire up OV3 and export some raws with some standard processing to have as reference. IMO it's worth it. What I look for and appreciate as the Oly look is natural skin tone and gradation without any fake "artificially healthy" look, no skin tones shifted to red (LR) or fake tan (C1) I also appreciate the way the skin looks soft and natural while the lips are vivid and contrasty. I like how warm sunlight is rendered, how you can see 10 different green hues in a landscape, how the sky looks like real sky, cold or warm depending on the light, not like an idealized solid saturated blue. These are the things that LR doesn't give me, no matter how hard I tried.
     
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  5. Tilman Paulin

    Tilman Paulin Mu-43 Veteran

    329
    Jun 10, 2013
    Dublin, Ireland
    I do the same. It's always good to have a comparison image when doing changes. And the Olympus jpgs set the bar fairly high when it comes to colours (at least to my eyes :) )
     
  6. Dragos101

    Dragos101 Mu-43 Regular

    68
    May 1, 2015
    Bucharest, Romania
    Dragos
    I re-read my last post and realised it came out a bit to agressive towards LR. As countless Oly users proved it is a powerful tool that can produce great looking images. I just believe that Darktable is better in giving a base rendering while also providing a much larger set of tools with much deeper functionality. It's free to use so I believe everybody should at least give it a try and see if there's something they've been missing all along.
    And I won't take back what I said about C1 :)
     
  7. David A

    David A Mu-43 All-Pro

    Sep 30, 2011
    Brisbane, Australia
    I didn't take what you said about LR as aggressive and I can understand people feeling a bit unhappy with the Adobe Standard profile. I had reservations about it initially which is why I bought the Huelight profiles for my E-M5 some years ago, but I ended up having reservations about them as well.

    As I said, monitor calibration helped a lot for me (iMac and more recently Mac Mini with Apple's Thunderbolt monitor) and after that working the way I described works for me with Adobe Standard and I am quite happy with my results but there is always a bit of preference with colour rendition and monitor calibration does make a difference. It can make a very noticeable difference, in fact. Toggling the before and after views with the monitor's original calibration profile and the corrected profile always shows distinct shifts in overall colour palette when I do it.

    And I'm not saying that LR is best because I haven't tried most of the alternatives. All I'm saying is that I don't think LR with Adobe Standard is as bad as some people say it is but it did take me some time to learn how to get what I like using Adobe Standard as a profile. Overall, if I had to say something about Adobe Standard it would be that it always seems a little dull and flat to me at the start until I get the Basic panel adjustments to my liking and the Contrast slider can have an effect since it actually has an effect on saturation. Increases in Contrast also increase saturation slightly and decreases in Contrast decrease saturation slightly. I've learnt not to ignore the Saturation slider in favour of controlling contrast with the Highlights and Shadows sliders or Curves adjustments. I use those controls to modify the effect of the Contrast slider rather than as an alternative to it.

    I will add that I don't try to reproduce the Olympus JPEG look. I usually strive for something which I think looks natural or the way I remember the scene including the "mood" I felt at the time and there are also times when I just process for effect.
     
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  8. pdk42

    pdk42 One of the "Eh?" team

    Jan 11, 2013
    Leamington Spa, UK
    I agree David. I find LR colour interpretation of my Oly images pretty good (except I struggle with E-M1 reds). The only real complaint I have about LR's output is the noise handling. Things turn to plastic too quickly for my liking. I'm playing with Topaz Denoise now which does a better job, but it's got an annoying bug that means using it as a LR plugin produces files with EXIF info missing - grrrr.
     
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  9. SojiOkita

    SojiOkita Mu-43 Top Veteran

    616
    Feb 23, 2014
    France
    Personnally I don't understand why so many people are trying to keep the "Oly look" that I don't find very appealing.
    I don't consider Olympus JPEG colors as a reference I don't think a Raw software should try to mimic these color rendering.
    I think on the contrary that a RAW software should provide consistent color rendering among several brands... for instance I use Panasonic and Olympus bodies and I want to be able to have similar colors between them, in case I use both at the same time - unfortunately that isn't really the case with any of them... (Lightroom with huelight profiles is not so bad in terms of color consistency,but not perfect)

    Anyway... that's also why there are so many raw converters, everybody is not looking to the same thing.
     
  10. Dragos101

    Dragos101 Mu-43 Regular

    68
    May 1, 2015
    Bucharest, Romania
    Dragos
    Ok, so here's one comparison. Feel free to download the full size files and compare them in your own way. Don't look at sharpness since this is mostly a matter of default sharpening used by each software. Look at richness of skin tones and overall "glow". I tried to achieve the overall same tone curve with approx the same vibrancy.
    There are two C1 samples, one with the default EM10 profile and one with a newer EM5II profile. Both show the same "fake tan" look, but the newer profile is more or less usable. The default EM10 profile is terrible and can't be rescued by any advanced color tweaks. You will see that all tones remotely close to the skin spectrum are shited towards an uniform "tan", even the brown or dark hair in the eyebrows.
    I find the Darktable version the richest, especially in the skin tones. Both LR (Adobe standard) and Aperture are pleasant but show a less differentiated skin range, with a flatter look. Tweaking the curves or the contrast don't improve on that.
    Look in the file names to see which is which, they are clearly labeled. Really looking forward to seeing your oppinion on these.
    21088169821_06761191c4_b. _7260574C1EM10 by Dragos Simionescu, on Flickr
    20457828164_4eb16c39b3_b. _7260574C1 by Dragos Simionescu, on Flickr
    20892382830_df2a58a66d_b. _7260574AP by Dragos Simionescu, on Flickr
    20892541898_222c3c2e15_b. _7260574LR by Dragos Simionescu, on Flickr
    20457844514_98cd12f8d0_b. _7260574DT by Dragos Simionescu, on Flickr
     
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  11. SojiOkita

    SojiOkita Mu-43 Top Veteran

    616
    Feb 23, 2014
    France
    I agree with you on default C1 E-M10 colors... I didn't find any way of getting something acceptable with C1.
    Do you have the RAW file?
    I would like to see what I can get with my default Ligthroom process.
     
  12. SojiOkita

    SojiOkita Mu-43 Top Veteran

    616
    Feb 23, 2014
    France
    Thanks, I'll try it tonight.
     
  13. nstelemark

    nstelemark Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 28, 2013
    Halifax, Nova Scotia Canada
    Larry
    Interesting. Thanks for sharing.
     
  14. Brian Beezley

    Brian Beezley Mu-43 All-Pro

    _7260574.

    For reference, this is the output from Olympus Viewer 3 using the camera settings. They were either normal, natural, off, or zero.

    Brian
     
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2015
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  15. Dragos101

    Dragos101 Mu-43 Regular

    68
    May 1, 2015
    Bucharest, Romania
    Dragos
    Thanks Brian, I actually intended to include the OV3 version but I somehow forgot. It would need a very small luminosity curve tweak to make it more similar with the others, but it's a good reference for colors as it is right now.
     
  16. TransientEye

    TransientEye Mu-43 Regular

    138
    Sep 18, 2013
    Barcelona
    Mark
    Capture One's colours are definitely different to the other developers. It is possible to match the OV output, but you need to use both the colour editor and the colour balance tools. Using the editor you can adjust the overall skin tone, and I find that you need to separately adjust the colour balance for the shadows (which seem to be more saturated with C1 than other developer tools that I have used).

    Pretty much all the RAW developer tools allow customisation of the colour profiles - but it can be maddening try to figure out what works. When you do, make sure that you save it as a preset somewhere...

    It might be worth adding that often some software is better setup than others. With C1 and Canon 5D files I can very easily match Lightroom output and vice-versa. However, it is much harder to do the same with an E-M5 RAW, which strongly suggests that not all colour profiles are created equally...
     
  17. SojiOkita

    SojiOkita Mu-43 Top Veteran

    616
    Feb 23, 2014
    France
    The problem with C1 is that I get drastically different colors from my E-M10 and my GM1.
    And I didn't manage to get something acceptable with C1 - that doesn't mean it isn't possible, only that my trial ended before I can get something good.

    I often read that "colors with Capture One are excellent", but as 2 bodies are treated very differently, I think you can only say "colors are excellent for this brand / body".
    As you say, "not all colour profiles are created equally".
    And for sure, developers seem to put more attention into Canon/Nikon profiles than into Olympus/Panasonic ones...
     
  18. Dragos101

    Dragos101 Mu-43 Regular

    68
    May 1, 2015
    Bucharest, Romania
    Dragos
    I put a good amount of hours into C1 trying to come up with decent results, because I actually liked the software. But at one point I had to admit that it's just not looking good and no software should require such hard work just to get a decent basic look. I'm done with it, really, I gave it more than a fair chance.
     
  19. tyrphoto

    tyrphoto Mu-43 All-Pro

    May 25, 2014
    Seoul | NYC
    ㅇtㅈyㅅr
    Personally, to my eyes and on my (calibrated) monitor, the Darktable file has a greenish cast. It also has the least amount of detail in the shadows and seems a bit underexposed versus the other conversion. This means nothing other than, we all see things differently.
     
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