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by Dayo at 04:59 GMT - Fri 01 Jun 07

Has Adobe Created Just Yet Another RAW Format?

First up, let me confess; I wouldn't know a demosiacing alogrithm from Adam even if it walked into my living room and snatched the TV remote from my hands. However most wouldn't know what a V/C Ratio is even if there was one sitting on their rooftops singing Beethovens' Fifth Symphony but they still know when a set of traffic lights suck....or at least they think they do

Before we proceed, if your camera spits out DNG files natively, then don't bother reading the rest of this - go forth and live happily ever after. If you use a unit that produces bloated RAW files such as FujiFilm or the Sony R1 etc or you use obscure formats such as Sigma's, then convert your files to DNG; it is the lesser of two evils. However, if you use well specified formats such as Nikon's NEF, Canon's CR2 or even the dead Minolta MRW, then converting to DNG may well be a literal waste of space ... at least as things stand now.

When DNG was announced, I was one of the happy ones. "The dream is near fruition" I thought. How wrong I was! In a moment of madness, I converted my MRW files into DNG for archiving thinking that as KM was dead, Adobe's format will guarantee the future of my images. What an error!

I soon discovered to my horror that by converting to DNG, I was actually limiting my choices. Geddit? Converting to DNG from a dead format meant I could use fewer converters than before. Instead of improving my options, DNG was restricting them!!! I couldn't use Bibble or CaptureOne to start with. The only way I was going to, was to embed the MRW file into the DNG file so that the apps could access the MRW file for the conversion ... which left me thinking "what's the point?"

The choices for NEF, CR2 or even the dead MRW and similar format users are as follows:

  • Hedge your bets and save in both your original format and DNG
  • Fully adopt and convert to DNG and accept a limited set of conversion options
  • Keep your format and have access to every mainstream converter out there while maintaining the flexibility to change to DNG or any other format that becomes the standard in the future
  • Embed your original format in a DNG file and accept a bloated file that gives you the very same level of access you already have
  • Issues like the fact that ACR produces poor NEF conversions for instance and that a conversion to DNG leaves one with potentially "ACRised" files forever as explained by the author of the popular Raw Shooter raw converter (now acquired by Adobe) are another matter altogether that is best debated by the experts but this restriction is a major dealbreaker.

    So has Adobe created just yet another RAW format? I think DNG offers great potential ... if it becomes a RAW equivalent to tiff for instance in terms of usability. I know if one application opens my tiff file, another tiff capable one will do so as well. This is not the case with DNG as not all "DNG Capable" applications are quite as capable and some just flat out refuse to consider certain types of DNG files due to quality issues.

    My original hope for DNG still remains but the sad fact is that if not on the RAW formats with issues mentioned at the beginning of this article, then the best bet is to keep your files as they are and if DNG ever sweeps the world, make the change then. If a dead format gives more flexibility, what else can be said?

    The main issue is not that DNG is a bad RAW format as it is a decent one; just like a host of others it joins in the maddening world of multiple RAW formats. DNG at this point is just yet another Raw format and hopefully it will turn out to be the answer we seek but it is not there yet. You can take a bet on that happening and jump in now or hedge your bets if you have no pressing reasons to jump in now. The argument is that for users of well specified formats, the best bet is not to lay your bets on DNG as there is no real benefit in doing so now and a lot of dark pits to fall into. If neccessary, the change can be made at a later stage.

    To find out more about the DNG format, check this site put up by DNG Crusader, Barry Pearson. I suggest exercising a healthy dose of caution though as while there are some halfhearted warnings on the dangers of DNG (Don't miss the disclaimer on liability if you get stung going the DNG route), Barry is strongly committed to pushing the format and works indefatigably towards this end.

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