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Aperture 3.5.1 fail: Can't recrop .ORF raw file to recover all the data

I'm sorry to say it, but it's getting harder and harder to persuade myself I should continue to bother with Aperture. This post is about the latest problem I've run across: Aperture's inability to display all the data stored in the ORF raw files generated by my Olympus OM-D E-M1. This might not be a problem at all for many Aperture users, but for me, it's pretty serious.

Cropped "as shot" vs cropped as captured

Recently over at DPReview.com's micro four thirds forum, someone asked if there was any disadvantage to using the 3:2 aspect ratio for capturing images. I responded, a bit overconfidently, that no, there's no disadvantage, provided you shoot raw. I noted that a micro four thirds camera is going to generate raw files with a 4:3 aspect ratio no matter what, so, while composing and capturing your image at 3:2 means that a bit of the scene on the left and right sides of the photo will be "cut off", you can recover those "missing" parts of the image from the raw file if you later decide you need them. In other words, what you see when you're composing isn't exactly what you get, because the raw file always gives you the whole story.

Let me repeat: this is only true if you save the raw file. If you save only JPEGs, then what you see is indeed what you'll get and that's the end of the story.

Here's an example of what I mean. This photo of a horse barn was taken with the Olympus E-M1, which has a 4:3 sensor. I composed the shot using the camera's 16:9 shooting ratio — but I saved the raw file. When I view the image in Lightroom and invoke the crop tool, this is what I see:

Image displayed in Lightroom 5, showing the image cropped "as shot" to 16:9. When I shot the image, I didn't see all that empty space at the top and bottom. But the sensor "saw" it and saved it in the raw file.
Lightroom by default crops the image to the "as shot" aspect ratio of 16:9. As you can see, I framed the image so that the barn fit nicely within that aspect ratio. But 4:3 sensor inevitably captured more of the scene on the top and bottom. In this case, I am happy with the 16:9 crop. I don't care about the empty sky above the barn at the top or the dirt in front of the barn at the bottom.

On the other hand, sometimes I frame the shot in such a way that I would like to recover some of what the as-shot crop has omitted. Here's an example:

Image displayed in Olympus Viewer v3. The yellow interior rectangle shows the 16:9 aspect ratio that I was using to take the shot. 

That photo was taken very quickly, with the Olympus 45 f1.8 prime. The inner rectangle shows what I saw in my viewfinder: the horse's ears and the rider's helmet are chopped off at the top and some good stuff at the bottom is lost, too. I can't remember whether I didn't have time to "zoom with my feet" (move back) or whether there was simply nowhere for me to go, but whatever the case, I knew that the raw file would capture more than I saw in the EVF, so I took the shot. I was able to recrop it in post by restoring the sensor's native 4:3 aspect ratio.

Aperture doesn't like my ORF files

Now, returning to the point of this post: I can't do this in Aperture 3.5.1. Aperture shows me the image cropped as shot and simply won't let me recover the rest of the data that's in the raw file. iPhoto can't do it, either, which makes me think that the real culprit is Digital Camera Raw, the raw conversion software built into Mac OS X. Whether it's Aperture or DCR, I don't care. The upshot is the same. My raw file has a lot of potentially useful info in it that Aperture simply won't give me access to.

Color me very disappointed in Apple on this one. Pretty much the entire point of raw capture is to retain all the data that the sensor "sees". For a raw converter to ignore some of that data — when the data is undeniably there in the raw file — seems inexcusable. One more sad reason for me to stop using Aperture until Apple releases an upgrade. If it ever does.

As I've already shown, neither Lightroom nor Olympus's own Viewer software have this limitation. Nor do DxO Optics Pro 9 or PhotoNinja 1.2, the other two apps I use regularly to process raw files. Heck, even Google's Picasa is able to render the full image from the raw file! DxO Optics Pro, PhotoNinja and Picasa do not show me the "as shot" crop, which is mildly regrettable, but it's better to have all the raw data and recrop than it is to lose a lot of data and not be able to do anything about it.

If I were committed to continuing to use Aperture, I suppose what I'd do is set my E-M1 to shoot exclusively at the sensor-native 4:3 aspect ratio. But I am no longer committed to Aperture and don't plan to re-commit until Apple does. And besides, I like shooting at 16:9 and I'd hate to give up that option. I personally rather like the wide aspect ratio, as a matter of esthetics. And it's a very practical choice for digital displays. (16:9 is now the commonest aspect ratio for computer displays, for televisions, and even for the displays on iPads and iPhones.) And forcing myself to compose with a bit of a margin gives me more options for printing as well.

YMMV

As always, your mileage may vary. My own experience with this problem in Aperture is limited to ORF (Olympus Raw) files, and I have no idea how many other types of raw file Aperture might have this difficulty with. I have found similar complaints about certain Sony camera raw files, but Aperture doesn't have this problem with my Sony A99 ARW files. (It doesn't recognize the as-shot crop but it does at least display the entire 3:2 raw image.) Anyway, it's quite possible Aperture doesn't have this problem with your camera's raw files.

But when every other photo processing program on my computer can handle these files properly and only Aperture has problems, well, it's hard not to suspect that Apple just doesn't like me any more.

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