Monday, 25 July 2016

Olympus Viewer 3 vs Corel AfterShot Pro 3

The great thing about deciding on new software is that you can usually download a fully functioning trial for a month to 'try before you buy'. In my last two posts, I pitted Olympus's free RAW conversion software - Viewer 3 (OV3), up against Adobe Lightroom CC (version 2015.4). I was, and still am, impressed with Olympus's proprietary software, and believe it gives a superior result with less effort, especially in colour accuracy.

But for all its good points, OV3 isn't the slickest software on the planet. It's reasonably intuitive, but very slow, clunky, and lacks a lot of the more refined selection and adjustment options of other products. So I wanted to try a few more options for RAW conversions before settling on my programme of choice.

I should also re-state for the record that the whole purpose of this search was to move away from being reliant on the subscription-based software plan that Adobe now enforces on users. Yes, it has its supporters. But I'm not one of them. So I would like to find something else that I can use/purchase outright. Of course the great benefit of OV3 is that it comes free with my camera. You can't get much cheaper than free - right?

At $95NZ currently for Corel's Aftershot Pro 3 (AP3), it won't break the bank for a fully featured RAW conversion solution. If I remember correctly, Corel purchased Bibble, and this formed the basis of Aftershot? Many complained that Corel didn't really do anything with the software other than repackage it, and has let it languish for quite a while. AP3, however, is a fairly new release. And may signal a serious intention by Corel to really go after Adobe in the Photography software sector?

Indeed, Corel are marketing AP3 as the world's fastest RAW photo editor - up to 4x faster than Adobe Lightroom. They also highlight its compatibility with Adobe Photoshop, as well as their own PaintShop Pro. Corel are a very respected name in the graphic industry. I started out using CorelDraw before Adobe's Illustrator and InDesign became the industry standards, and PaintShop Pro looks like a serious contender against Photoshop. So they are no slouches when it comes to software development, and I had high hopes for AfterShot Pro 3.

Corel's AfterShot Pro 3 Tiff on the left and Olympus Viewer 3 Tiff on right
The UI for AP3 is very impressive - clean, quick and fairly intuitive to use. It reminds me less of Lightroom and more of Apple's Aperture (which is a good thing as far as I'm concerned). For the purposes of this test, I simply opened the Olympus .orf RAW files in AP3 (by pointing them to the correct folder on the HDD), and then saved them out as a 16 bit Tiff file with no modifications to the file whatsoever. I then opened them in OV3's Lightbox so I could compare the AP3 file against the OV3 file side by side.

Immediately noticeable between the two files is the warmer colour cast apparent in the AfterShot Pro 3 file. I call it a 'cast' because I believe the Olympus file to be a more accurate representation of the colours in the scene. It's not horrible - just noticeably more warmer/yellow in the AP3 Tiff. This bias towards warmer, reddy/yellow colours was to continue through all the AP3 files when compared to the Olympus (and Lighroom) conversions.

AfterShot Pro 3 on left, Olympus Viewer 3 on right. The 'warmer' colour cast in AP3 is evident.
The warm cast is very obvious when looking at the example above. AP3 makes it look (and feel) like it was taken on an early autumn morning, when in reality it was taken on a cold winters afternoon. The colours in OV3 are a far more accurate representation. Even the white of the boat looks 'cleaner' in the OV3 rendered file.

What's perhaps not as apparent is the lack of sharpness in the AfterShot Pro 3 files. I've already talked about the sharpness that Olympus dial into their conversions by default (see previous post), so I made sure that I was using the OV3 files that had -2 Sharpening, -2 Contrast and -2 Saturation applied. This brings the OV3 files almost exactly in-line with the Lightroom files in terms of sharpness. The AP3 files, in comparison, look very soft - almost to the point of being blurry. Now some may argue that this is exactly how an unedited Tiff should look - with absolutely no sharpening applied whatsoever. I'm sure they would sharpen up nicely in Photoshop (or in AfterShot Pro 3 itself).

AfterShot Pro 3 on left, Olympus Viewer 3 on right.
Above is a good example of the differences between the two programmes indicated thus far. The AP3 file is leaning heavily towards the warmer colours, and is 'soft' in comparison to the Olympus Viewer 3 Tiff. Yes, I'm sure you could tweak the AfterShot settings to get the conversion looking much more like the Olympus file, but I'd rather just start there in the first place. The OV3 file is where I would want to end up eventually anyway.

AfterShot Pro 3 on left, Olympus Viewer 3 on right.
What sold me on OV3 over Lightroom was the extra detail and 'truer' colours I was getting with Olympus in the above sunset shot. As you can see, it's an awful lot closer when we compare the AP3 colours. Although it's also not really surprising, since we've seen an obvious colour bias with AfterShot Pro 3 towards the warmer yellows and reds. I like both renditions, but I would still give the edge to OV3. There's just a bit more detail evident in the yellow highlights - although that also may be due to the lack of overall sharpness in the AP3 file.

Overall, AfterShot Pro 3 is a RAW conversion editor that I could easily live with. Especially if a profile could be saved that applied some sharpness and a touch less warmth by default. But then we'd be back to where we wanted to be with OV3 - the free programme that comes with my camera. I know I keep coming back to that, but it really is worth repeating. Check out the software that comes with your camera (whether it's Canon, Nikon, Olympus etc). It's yours, it works (albeit sometimes rather slowly), it will save you money, and it will probably even give you superior results.

The hunt for a 'better' RAW Conversion editor continues....


  1. Wayne, I believe Affinity for Windows is now in beta, or you could stoke up the Mac and try Affinity 1.5 for Mac?

  2. Hi Keith
    Thanks for that. Just signed up for the Windows Beta, so will definitely give Affinity a serious look. The Mac's have all left the building, so no going back now I'm afraid...


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