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Old Apr 10, 2005, 8:12 PM   #1
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I have been working with computers for many years. In the late 1980s I was using a 35mm camera, working at the computer center at a large University, and hoping that someday I could use computers to edit and print my photographs.

I have closely followed the development of digital photography and now I own a scanner, printer, and camera. I'm very happy with what I can do with my computer tools.

I'm generally happy with the way things are going in the digital photography field but this whole RAW file format thing is not pleasing to me. I think there is a major problem with RAW that is being ignored by the photographic community. The reason for this ignorance is mostly because the field of digital photography is so new. Both photographers and manufacturers are learning by trial and error. Right now the manufacturers have made an error that photographers need to correct.

The flaw in RAW is that your camera manufacturer owns your RAW images, not you the photographer. You cannot view or manipulate your images without permission from the manufacturer. This is not true with JPEG or TIFF files. The format of those files are freely available. If you want to view your TIFF or JPEG files on an cell phone or a computer wristwatch or some unusual computer or whatever, you can get the file format info and write your own program to view the images.

By contrast the manufacturers are keeping their RAW file format information secret. You cannot find out the file format information if the manufacturer does not want to give it to you. This is not right. As long as the RAW file format is proprietary a photographer does not own their RAW images!

It may seem like this is not important. In my experience it is. I have seen various file formats come and go in the computer industry. Imagine 15 years from now you want to open one of your RAW files. Your camera manufacturer has been bought by another manufacturer. The new company has been using the DNG file format for 12 years and have no interest in supporting the old RAW format used by their former rival. You say you could use the Adobe RAW plugin in Photoshop? Well your computer's OS has changed so much in 15 years that the 2005 version of Photoshop won't run on it, nor will the now 15 year old plugin or the 15 year old conversion utility that came with your camera. Adobe's new RAW plugin doesn't support the old file format because of some sort of legal snafu with the company that bought your camera's manufacturer. There is no way you can view your 15 year old images on your current computer!

This may sound farfetched to photographers. A field that has been using computers longer than photography is the field of writing. This problem with the impermanence of file formats is not uncommon in the writing field. There are documents written years ago on all sorts of obsolete equipment. If the file format is publicly available then somebody has usually written a file translation program. If it's not then sometimes information has to be reentered from printed text. Do you want to rescan your 15 year old prints in order to get a new digital copy of your image?

I believe that right now cameras are being sold that produce RAW images which will be unreadable on computer equipment made 20 years from now. I also believe that camera manufacturers are either unaware or unconcerned about this problem. I think that every camera review should have a couple of lines devoted to this such as, "The manufacturer's RAW file format is proprietary. When asked, the manufacturer stated they have no plans to release the details of their RAW file format. You will need to archive your RAW files in an open file format for long term storage."

Here's an analogy from the analog photography world. A manufacturer announces a new 35mm camera. The film it uses is developed and printed using a proprietary process owned by the camera manufacturer. They license this process to one or two large developers. However the film cannot be developed at home or by a small custom photo lab. Who would buy such a camera? Yet people buy and use digital cameras with proprietary RAW formats every day.
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Old Apr 11, 2005, 1:25 AM   #2
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Yes, you have just discovered the reasonAdobe created theDigital Negative (DNG) format.

As astandardized extend-able format for RAW files, they give a free converter to the format and do notseem to be getting much buy in so far from the camera manufacturers.

http://www.adobe.com/products/dng/main.html

Peter.
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Old Apr 11, 2005, 1:52 AM   #3
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Who is to say that 15 years from now any graphic program will support JPEG or TIFF images ? We almost lost the ability to use JPEG format a few years ago amid a legal battle over exactly who owned the compression rights and who was licensed to use it. Before that it was a battle over GIF and its internal compression technology.

It will pay to keep an old relic Pentium 4 machine with WinXP in your closet I guess. But then what happens if the electric company goes to 767 volt DC

Seriously though. To archive digital images will require you to convert the image format and the media it is stored on each time technology makes a quantum leap. We've already gone from floppies to CDs to DVDs and now dual-layer DVD is here and we have those other competing high-density optical formats too.

Let's not forget that it is nearly impossible to get movie film processed anymore or even 35mm b&w film for that matter. Where do you go to play a Beta format tape and I don't even have a VCR in my house anymore - bring a VHS format tape over here and I just laugh and point to my DVD recorder and grin...
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Old Apr 11, 2005, 2:16 AM   #4
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There are third party solutions to opening RAW files from almost any camera which uses the format. Irfanview is one. Raw Shooter Essentials from Pixmantec is another. Both are adding cameras as they are requested or as new cameras are introduced.If your camera is not supported, send them an example and they will deconstruct it and add it to their list. If manufacturers stop supporting the equipment, it will be reverse engineered by someone. Bet on it.

I too have worked with , around and on computers for quite a number of years. While some formats have fallen by the wayside, they are still readable by those with the right equipment (for a price). One of my sidelines is converting vinyl LP and 78rpm records (remember those, anyone?) to CD.

I'm not terribly worrried about this situation. As long as you continue upgrading as you go, there shouldn't be any problem

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Old Apr 11, 2005, 7:32 AM   #5
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Personally, I'd suggestkeeping both the RAW file and a file in a different format (for example, JPEG, TIFF or PNG).

Also, as already mentioned, Adobe announced a new DNG (Digital Negative) standard for storing RAW images. You can read more about it here:

http://www.adobe.com/products/dng/main.html

Of course, even this is controversial.

David Coffin (the author of dcraw.c) sent me some comments about DNG a while back. He said to feel free to quote him. For those of you that are not familiar with dcraw.c, you can read more about it at http://www.cybercom.net/~dcoffin/dcraw/

Manyproducts that provide RAW conversion are based at least in some part on David's work. David has decipheredthe RAW formats for many camera models (157 and counting), thenpublished hisconversion code for others to use ( http://www.cybercom.net/~dcoffin/dcraw/dcraw.c )

David Coffin Wrote: (via e-mail on September 29, 2004):

Quote:
I think Adobe's DNG idea is well-intentioned, but suffers from two serious flaws:

First, why would camera makers want to change their raw formats? Compatibility leads to commoditization,and that leads to competition based on price alone. Great for consumers, terrible for producers.

Second, this format cannot anticipate innovations that haven't happened yet. When new sensors appear, the standard must be updated, along with the software that implements it.

There is only one way to guarantee that a digital archive will be readable in fifty years. For any non-text files, it must include decoding software as human-readable source code. If the decoder is written in a language other than C, it would be prudent to include an interpreter for that language, written in C.

Dcraw already fills this role. When the first DNG camera is available, dcraw.c will support it as one more raw format among many.
BTW, dcraw.cnow supports DNG. Here is more recent quote from David Coffin (March 9, 2005):

Quote:

After four months of work, dcraw 7.00 is available for download at
http://cybercom.net/~dcoffin/dcraw/ . It's a major rewrite:

* Not only is Adobe DNG now supported, the entire codepath has been redesigned for it. Adobe's XYZ->CAM matrices allow color science to replace black magic, whether decoding DNG or the original raw files.

* The Foveon-related code has been completely rewritten to give realistic colors under all light sources.

The license has changed. The new Foveon code is under the GPL license, so authors of closed-source applications may need to pay me to use it. The rest is under my old free-for-all license. See dcraw.c for details.

My future plans are:

* Adding support for SMaL-based thin cameras (
http://www.smalcamera.com/ ) Currently these cameras are completely useless without Windows.

* Improving camera white balance support, first for Canon, then Nikon, and maybe others.

Dave Coffin 3/9/2005



Here's my favorite quote (from David's web page):

[/quote]
Quote:
So here is my mission: Write an ANSI C program that decodes any raw image from any digital camera on any computer running any operating system.
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Old Apr 11, 2005, 9:10 AM   #6
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"First, why would camera makers want to change their raw formats? Compatibility leads to commoditization,and that leads to competition based on price alone. Great for consumers, terrible for producers."

this is true to a certain extent as has the 35mm film format was when it became the standard. this did and yet did not lead lead to the total commoditization of the industry. in the lower ends what did the industry do but create hundreds of models of cameras as they do now even with digital. but at the high end at the zenith of film there were still only a few cameras that held that top spot. models such as the Nikon F5, the Canon EOS 1 series. then there were the other innovators like olympus with the OM series. this is where the real innovation was. they were able to concentrate on camera and glass production. in the long run raw israw. and though at the moment they jockey for position the manufacturers cannot count on this as a bargaining chip to sell a product. if this was so they would come out with reasonable conversion utilities and with all due respect they for the most part fall well short of the 3rd party developers.

they'll get over it.



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Old Apr 11, 2005, 9:43 AM   #7
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This is not a major problem. What happens when you open up that box of CD's that all yuour images are on, and find that al the disks are corrupted? This is a far greater problem - The ability to permently store your images.

Imagine my surprise when I found that entire CD's of earlier images were unreadabhle? Format? I'm not worried about format, data corruption is a far greater problem. I now have THREE back-ups of my data, and a schedule for backing them up - even so, I remaain concerned.

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Old Apr 11, 2005, 11:05 AM   #8
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hey Dave, do you know what fouled up your CDs? And for long term storage can't we convert the RAW to a Bit Map in PhotoShop? That should be around for a long long time.
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Old Apr 11, 2005, 11:27 AM   #9
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BruceMcL wrote:
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The flaw in RAW is that your camera manufacturer owns your RAW images, not you the photographer. You cannot view or manipulate your images without permission from the manufacturer. By contrast the manufacturers are keeping their RAW file format information secret. You cannot find out the file format information if the manufacturer does not want to give it to you. This is not right. As long as the RAW file format is proprietary a photographer does not own their RAW images!

Whatever your thoughts are about proprietary formats, Bruce made a grave misstatement in his original post.

A person owns the copyright in an image when it is fixed in tangible medium, either perceptable by a person or through being read by an electronic device. Thus, once you snap that shutter, you own the copyright in the RAW image. Now, whether you'll have the tools to edit and view the image, that may be a different story (but there's always the possibility of reverse engineering).


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Old Apr 11, 2005, 1:21 PM   #10
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I don't believe he was talking about legal rights. I believe he was basically talking about how if you don't understand the format something is in, then you can't use it. You effectively "don't own it" (his words) because you can't do anything with it. If they don't want to provide the converter then you can't use the image. Personally I would have refered to the camera manufacturer as a "gate keeper" instead of "owner". You might "own" the RAW image, but the RAW image is useless with the converter (which is provided by someone else.)

The problem with this argument (to me) is that there are 3rd party raw converters. BreezeBrowser has its own custom written code that will convert many RAW formats into other formats. Canon or Nikon could cease to exist in a flash of light and all their software could go with them... and you would still be ablet to decode CR2 & NEF files. So Canon and Nikon are no longer the "owners" of your RAW files.

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