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OM-D RAW vs JPEG files... How does Olympus do it? What do you prefer?

Discussion in 'Olympus Cameras' started by napilopez, Aug 15, 2013.

  1. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Napier Lopez
    This post is not intended to start a flame war on the overall merits of shooting RAW vs jpeg. Rather, it is a serious inquiry about the ability of the Olympus engine to extract detail out of an image.

    Since getting my OM-D, I seem to frequently arrive at a problem: the JPEGs often seem to extract better detail from the camera than Lightroom in RAW. I don't mean this in the sense of sharpness and resolution; LR is obviously vastly superior at producing the sharpest possible images and better overall at noise reduction. However, when it comes to reproducing subtle tones and gradations, Oly seems to win over RAWs supposedly better headroom.

    Note that I'm not concerning myself too much with color; I do prefer Olympus' jpeg colors to Adobe's interpretation, but that is largely irrelevant as I use a variety of custom presets and alterations to VSCO filters on both RAW and JPEG. Rather, there have just been too many times where I open a RAW and jpeg side by side in LR and all the slider pulling in the world doesn't seem to best Olympus' interpretation of tones.

    It's funny because while Olympus is known to underexpose and then pull up the image to protect the highlights(which works admittedly well), I notice the benefits of the Olympus engine primarily in the shadow and midtone parts of the image, where Olympus seems to extract a lot more detail.

    It's often been the case then, when I don't expect an image to become a large print, that I prefer to actually apply post processing directly onto the JPEG instead of RAW, at the expense of some pixel level sharpness and color fidelity. If I really want to be serious, I'll process the image in Olympus viewer and then convert it into a 16 bit TIFF to import into LR. For some reason this doesn't retain the same highlight headroom, but it keeps more color information.

    Has anyone else noticed this? I'll update the thread later with samples, but it's very obvious to me when shooting scenes with high dynamic range. The JPEGs somehow seem to manage to extract more shadow detail than even shifting LR's sliders by 100, without introducing nearly as much noise. I feel like I'd need to exposure bracket and do HDR to get the same gradations from ACR.

    I guess it's just weird to me. Most people who shoot jpegs do it because they don't like post processing. Shooting jpegs for me still involves just as much post, but it also seems to provide better images for less work 90% of the time. Oftentimes when working on an important print, I'll use RAW to extract maximum resolution, but have the JPEG open to use as a reference.

    EDIT: Some sample images on page 2. Click here.
  2. jyc860923

    jyc860923 Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Feb 28, 2012
    Shenyang, China
    Hi I think a lot of our members here love Oly rendering, but, including me, don't know much about the methodology behind that or how to produce that look using LR. I started using OV3 to generate Tiff then import to LR not long ago, and for me that's to sacrifice some pixel level details for better overall look and that turned out worth it. I'd love to read more discussions on PP, and please post your samples as we can see how much further we can push our cameras' limits.
  3. htc

    htc Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jan 11, 2011
    I also use mainly jpegs and then RAW for more difficult situations. High ISO noise situations that is. I would love to know the secrets of an jpeg engine to learn something ;-)
  4. htc

    htc Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jan 11, 2011
    Seems that in general I agree with Oly jpeg engine and I don't need pp (except cropping, levels and sharpening). If I need more serious pp for my files then my options are limited with jpegs. For serious pp we need RAW. This is also close to the general truth isn't it?

    Of course if I'm pp/RAW pro I can dig more from the RAW file than from the jpeg. There is that big IF. So far it looks like the Oly engine department beats me hands down ;-)
  5. slothead

    slothead Mu-43 All-Pro

    Aug 14, 2012
    Frederick, MD
    Napi, This seems logical to me because the in-camera processor can concentrate on image perfection and has the immediate resources to do so. We have to modify the raw file by trial and error and thus I suspect that we can't do as good a job (close perhaps, but not as perfect). However if you decide to use the jpg that the camera delivers, be aware that because of the jpg compression you won't be able to sharpen the jpg as much as you can the raw file (but you probably already know that)
  6. christofp

    christofp Mu-43 Veteran

    Jul 21, 2012
    I know what you are speaking of ...

    I bought LR with the camera because I wanted to correct CA.

    But I was disappointed, it is very hard to reproduce the Oly rendering with the default Adobe camera settings. While LR is quite good with highlight recovery, contrast and colors are not very pleasing ....

    I had a hard time to get the output I wanted from LR, having the Oly look as guide.

    What I found helpful is:
    • Highlights, DR: The latest "universal E-M5 Lightroom preset" from archeolab, I removed the color handling which is strange but the other settings are very good for highlight recovery
    • Colors: I got the two huelight camera profiles for OM-D, these give very natural colors(one is neutral, the other is kind of "vivid"), even better than Oly in my opinion

    Using the preset/profile I compare the LR output with the Oly JPG and most of the time I am able to achieve equal or better LR output.
  7. pbasswil

    pbasswil Mu-43 Regular

    Jul 6, 2013
    Like jyc above, I also convert Olympus RAWs with Olympus Viewer -- then export to Lightroom.
    The _only_ thing I do in OV is get the data sitting well in the histogram; then I do any esthetic edits in LR.

    Olympus Viewer renders like the in-camera jpegs.

    Here's what convinced me:

    Olympus Viewer 2 vs Adobe Lightroom 4 | Rob Knight Photography

    Unfortunately, Oly Viewer is a crude and slow program. Yuck. But it's bearable for simply optimizing exposures and letting it give it's beautiful Olympus rendering.

    I don't even bother exporting from Oly Viewer as high-bit-rate TIFFs, because the only need I have of high bit rate is so I can recover high-light clipping and/or shadow blocking.
    So I find OV-generated jpg's are fine for sending to Lightroom; the data is already sitting where it should by that point.
  8. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Napier Lopez
    I tend to do this as well, although usually only for my paid shoots. It's just unfortunate that this process is just so time consuming; I'm already under the constraints of an underpowered laptop.

    Yeah, it's just sometimes I feel no amount of tweaking in Lightroom matches the tones in these more difficult lighting situations. I'm not always for Oly's hues and saturations, and sometimes overall contrast is a bit wonky, but those are easy to fix; it's the subtle gradation that's impressive.

    Heheh, yeah I'm aware. I don't make large prints often though, so I'm rarely concerned about sharpness unless I'm cropping extremely heavily.

    Hmm, I might try out the universal preset! Thanks. I already use huelight, which certainly helps a lot with the colors, particularly very saturated ones.

    Hah, that very video is what made me start applying my post directly onto Oly files instead of RAW. The thing is I'm always looking to present photos in my own personal aesthetic style, seeking to develop something that's uniquely recognizable as 'mine'. For example, I love how I can immediately tell when a photo is taken by Luckypenguin on this forum; his images have a very particular, beautiful rendering that's unique to him. Olympus files seem to approach what I want regarding tones, even if not quite there with color and overall contrast.

    Speaking of Olympus viewer, it's absolutely absurd how exporting a 16 bit TIFF file instead of an 8 bit one strips the file of its exif information. Like, what?? Why in the world would it have to do that only for 16 bit? This is very annoying, as I like to keep my photos nice and organized. Also, for some reason, exporting as a 16 bit TIFF doesn't actually seem to give you much more highlights headroom over the JPEG file; I've tested this a couple of times with blown out whites, whereas the RAW file is immensely malleable in its dynamic range. The only reason I still export as a 16 bit file, then, is because color malleability is much better over the 8 bit and jpeg. The files are huge, though.

    Fact of the matter is, sometimes I'm simply flabbergasted at the results I get from the jpeg when compared to the LR interpretation. Pulling up some samples.
  9. pbasswil

    pbasswil Mu-43 Regular

    Jul 6, 2013
    Yup. :^/

    For me, O.Viewer. TIFFs --> LR are too much of a hassle compared to their benefit.
    Lack of EXIF, sheer size.
    So far as I understand, Oly RAWs (.orf's) are 12-bit; so even if the TIFFs are 16 bit, they're only conveying the 12 bits data in the original.

    Once I get the data sitting optimally within the width of the histogram in Oly Viewer (and maybe adjusting colour/WB if it's far from the mark) I won't need huge malleability in LR anyway.

    So high-quality JPGs with Exif embedded is more than fine for me, personally.

    But I can understand that some people doing more drastic Post-Production may feel it's worth the hassle of TIFFs.

    Otoh, I'm wondering: if the PP takes it so far from "as shot", maybe LR's .orf conversion is adequate anyway...
  10. SkiHound

    SkiHound Mu-43 Veteran

    Jan 28, 2012
    Those of you using OOC jpegs, what settings are you using?
  11. Nathan King

    Nathan King Mu-43 Regular

    Jun 19, 2013
    Omaha, NE
    The details of Olympus' conversion process are, of course, secret. I'd imagine it begins even earlier than tone mapping, probably in the normalization and demosaicing process. As pleasing as the output is, I shoot primarily RAW for the non-destructive editing process and increased control over the output. Besides, Olympus doesn't know what look I was going for, and I don't particularly care what Olympus thinks my images should look like. I use Lightroom for 90% of my editing needs (the other 10% I use Photoshop CC, usually for mixed-frequency edge sharpening or focus stacking). The setting vary widely depending on the image, but I adjust in Lightroom from the top slider down (how it was designed to be used) and almost always end up bumping up the clarity and vibrance adjustments.
  12. RobWatson

    RobWatson Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Please do show examples of this as it is news to me.

    Yes, several threads on this one. LR clips shadow data compared to OV3 - not just detail is lost.
  13. kevinparis

    kevinparis Cantankerous Scotsman Subscribing Member

    Feb 12, 2010
    Gent, Belgium
    the OP has to deliver on his promise and post examples otherwise we are all flailing around in a wind of uncertainty.

    cant really quantify the OP's issues... but then again I use Aperture not LR.... and while not a black belt expert on all the sliders in Aperture (which are remarkably similar to those in LR), i do know that going to 100 or the equivalent max on any slider indicates that you are pushing the wrong slider

  14. picturewow

    picturewow Mu-43 Regular

    Jul 16, 2013
  15. Thanks for the link. Very interesting.
  16. Swandy

    Swandy Mu-43 Veteran

    Dec 15, 2009
    It is sort of like expecting McDonalds to give the recipe of their "secret sauce" or Coke to divulge the same for Coca Cola. (It's a secret!!!)
    Having said that, over the years people in various forums have made presets for Lightroom and I think Aperture to "duplicate" the Olympus "look". And while I do agree that it comes out nice - and Olympus Viewer does a great job of cooking the RAW files (albeit VERY slowly), I have been shooting RAW and just using Aperture's default settings as my starting point. Do the images have the POP of the Olympus JPEGs - nope - but it is easier to control the highlight/shadows and for me the images have a more natural look. I can always increase the contrast/saturation if I want to attempt the "Olympus Colors" JPEG look - but in my eyes, even the RAW files look better than those I have seen from other manufacturers RAW files.
  17. FrayAdjacent

    FrayAdjacent Mu-43 Veteran

    Dec 5, 2012
    Austin, TX
    Since getting my EM-5, I've abandoned shooting RAW unless I know I'm going to be getting something 'artsy' that I'll want to manipulate a bit. For 'snapshots' and casual stuff like family events, medium or large JPEG are MORE than good enough from this little camera.

    I've heard about the next camera in the OM-D line, and rumors about what might replace the EM-5, but I have NO desire to upgrade. I love this little camera.
  18. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Napier Lopez
    Haha, sorry I've been so slow guys, been busy with a couple of shoots. Here are some samples. I'll try to look up some more. Again, it's most apparent in scenes that stretch the camera's dynamic range. For those curious, for these shots, the settings are Natural Preset, Sharpness and Saturation 0, Contrast +2, Gradation Auto. If you're wondering why I would use Contrast +2 on JPEGs that are contrasty by default, it's because I would sometimes find the blacks weren't black enough with auto gradation. I feel like these settings give me the best balance for fully exploiting dynamic range.

    Here's one example. It's not a particularly good shot, but it sure frustrated me the other day:

    Here's Lightroom's default interpretation:
    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/37605747@N07/9528279928/" title="AngleR by napilopez, on Flickr">
    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)
    "800" height="534" alt="AngleR"></a>

    Well, that's kinda meh. It's largely underexposed.

    Now let's look at the JPEG interpretation:
    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/37605747@N07/9528280236/" title="AngleJ by napilopez, on Flickr">
    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)
    "800" height="534" alt="AngleJ"></a>

    My reaction was "WHAT?!" How did these two images come from the same camera and same physical settings? And guess which one looks more like what I actually saw?

    Well fine, we all know Olympus RAW files opened in LR tend to be underexposed compared to Olympus'work, so lets pull the RAW file up:

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/37605747@N07/9525495227/" title="AngleRExp by napilopez, on Flickr">
    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)
    "800" height="534" alt="AngleRExp"></a>

    That's better than the original, but I had to pull up the shot by 0.84 of a stop in Lightroom just to get the same overall exposure. Even then though, the range of tones in this image is nowhere near what Olympus is showing (or real life, for that matter).

    So starts the more serious PP. In order to get something that I felt fit the scene, ultimately I end up with exposure +0.60, Contrast +5, Highlights +64, Shadows +52, Blacks -12, Clarity +50(I generally avoid this slider in color images like the plague, especially with people), adjustments to the point tone curve(slighttt pull down of the highlight region, stronger pulldown of the dark shadows, lift of the black point), red luminance -26, and yellow luminance -40(not that necessary). Only then do I get something I was pretty happy with:

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/37605747@N07/9528279386/" title="AngleRFinal by napilopez, on Flickr">
    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)
    "800" height="534" alt="AngleRFinal"></a>

    I slightly prefer this to the JPEG rendering, but there are two issues: it still doesn't seem to demonstrate the full gamut of subtle tones the JPEG does, and it took way too long to get there. If I wanted ideal results from the jpeg in this case, it'd basically mean sliding the blacks down by -10, and that's it. Much less trial and error.

    Olympus' rendering doesn't always get it right, not at all. Occasionally it fails miserably. But it is disparaging that it is so consistently a much better starting point than Lightroom's, or my attempts at creating presets.

    The other thing that's becoming more apparent is that RAW's IQ advantage over JPEG isn't as drastic when you need to make so many changes just to achieve the ideal results. Sharpness starts to suffer and such.

    Granted, this only seems to matter for certain types of shots. I hardly care for shots where I'm in control of all the lighting, such as a studio set-up. RAW is probably better there. Same for macro, where there usually isn't as drastic dynamic range and I'm more concerned with the ability to shift colors accurately. But for my day to day shooting, then yeah.

    I've always said photography is the ultimate art of compromise. I suppose I just need to find which compromise I'm generally most willing to work with. Here's to hoping Olympus Viewer 4 actually works well as a renderer AND editor!
  19. htc

    htc Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jan 11, 2011
    To MY eyes and from MY Macbook Air the first one looks best :redface: so I think it's quite hard to judge because of different not calibrated :wink: conditions.

    The first one shows best the remaining sunlight and gives the best feeling, IMHO. But I realize that my monitor can be this or that. Also I have found out that when posting the colors are not what they used to be in my monitor, so there's something wrong (at least in my workflow).
  20. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Napier Lopez
    Hahah, screen calibration is always an issue. My laptop screen, particularly compared to the plethora of IPS and LED screens that are now the norm on our digital devices, is much more neutral than you'll usually find. Keep in mind though that I'm not comparing what looks "best" here as much as I'm comparing to what I actually saw. The issue of best is too subjective. It was the combination of grit in the bricks with the low sun that appealed to me, and the first image doesn't capture that on a more objective level. Of course, you can't see what I did, but I do think there's some objectivity to the notion that the jpeg renders gradations and tones a lot better at similar exposure. At least I come to the same conclusion when comparing the images using a couple of different screen calibrations.

    Admittedly, this is a little strange as for my personal photos I don't edit my images to match reality exactly; I process to match moods and feelings. Sometimes that's close to reality, other times it's completely different. My original processing was much grittier and contrasty than any of these. It's just I feel I have a better starting point with the Olympus rendering 90% of the time, which I can usually best in RAW eventually, but only after a lot more work.
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