February 12, 2007

Why Adobe doesn’t touch proprietary raw files

Touching the bits of raw image formats that aren’t publicly documented well (or at all) seems like a bad idea, bound to end in tears. Microsoft is advising customers not to edit metadata using Vista, saying,

Microsoft has received reports of compatibility issues with Nikon NEF files after installing version 1.0 of Nikon’s raw codec posted in January. Tagging the raw files through Windows Vista or the Microsoft Photo Info tool after the codec is installed appears to cause these files to become unreadable in other applications, such as Adobe Photoshop. [Via]

I’m sure the problem will get sorted out soon enough, but it does illustrate why Camera Raw and Lightroom insist on using sidecar data files for raw formats other than DNG. It’s less convenient, but we’ve seen far too many conflicts arise from touching metadata in these other formats. DNG was designed with flexible internal storage of metadata in mind, and now Lightroom and Bridge offer conversion to DNG as part of their photo-import processes. (For what it’s worth, on my MacBook Pro, converting an 8MP CR2 file to DNG takes roughly 1-1.5 seconds–not a bad price for portability & reduced file size.)

Posted by John Nack at 1:47 AM on February 12, 2007


  • Barry Pearson — 2:19 AM on February 12, 2007

    Surely the aim with Vista codecs is that it is the format-owner’s code that handles the raw file, not Microsoft code. Nikon, of course, knows what is in a NEF, and their own software (Capture, etc) can normally safely update its metadata.
    For interest, in response to my question in Adobe’s DNG forum “has Adobe provided codecs for DNG”, Thomas Knoll responded “Not yet”.
    [Yep–that’s where things stand. We are trying to get a lot of trains into the station at the moment (Lightroom, CS3/ACR4, Bridge, DNG Converter, etc.). But we will continue working to make DNG viewing easy. –J.]

  • Barry Pearson — 4:24 AM on February 12, 2007

    As a follow up, my guess is that what this reveals is NOT the danger of updating raw files, IF you know what you are doing. After all, DNG is designed so that its metadata can safely be updated by other companies.
    It may reveal (yet again!) the danger of relying on reverse engineering. Nikon, (or Sony or Olympus, who have now supplied Vista codecs), may validly be working to a broader specification than is assumed by raw converters. Other cases have included camera firmware updates that have caused raw converters not to recognise them, or the differences between tethered and memory-card versions of raw files, etc.
    I won’t labour that point, but I wonder if there is any progress towards use of DNG in standards, for example ISO? ISO 12234-1, (TIFF/EP), used as the basis for several raw file formats including DNG, has (I believe) begun its 5-year review. It would be a pity if TC42/WG18 ignored all the lessons learned with DNG.
    My personal view is that what we need most urgently is an ARCHIVAL raw file format, which might have the same relationship to DNG that ISO 19005-1, (PDF/A), has to PDF. And some members of TC42 have an interest in digital resource preservation. Any plans?
    [All good questions. Let me consult people better informed than I. –J.]
    [Update: Tom Hogarty replies:
    Adobe is constantly evaluating the right time in the DNG format evolution to submit the format to a standards organization. By managing the DNG format evolution internally Adobe can ensure responsiveness to industry needs during a period of rapid growth. Rest assured that Adobe continues to evaluate the format’s readiness for a transition to a standards body.

  • Maryland Wedding Photographers — 5:58 PM on February 12, 2007

    Has Adobe et al had any luck in getting Canon, Nikon, etc to stop using camera specific RAW formats and going DNG? I think this issue only compounds itself with the different flavors of nef, cr2, etc.
    [We continue to talk with the camera folks, but we don’t have any news to announce at the moment. –J.]

  • Barry Pearson — 4:38 AM on February 13, 2007

    Several minority and niche camera manufacturers have used DNG in some way. Pentax may be the most familiar of these, and appear to be adopting DNG systematically, in-camera and in-software.
    Canon & Nikon haven’t shown any public signs yet. At the other extreme, companies that would never otherwise get supported by mainstream raw converters use DNG (either in-camera or in-software) as their natural way of getting general support.
    I maintain a list here:

  • Eric — 3:28 PM on February 13, 2007

    The problem with most camera makers is that they probably feel they lose control of the images. But if you ask me, that’s a GOOD thing. I’ve been a pro photographer since long before digital, and I can’t imagine pros back in those days allowing themselves to be forced into one camera system because of a film choice they had made years before.
    There should be one and only one raw format that has room enough in its spcification for camera makers to tweak the images to their hearts’ content and still be a single standard that all software has access to.
    It’s completely nuts to have a camera maker change the RAW format for every single camera they produce! No wonder Canon pulled RAW from all their PHD cameras. (PHD=push here dummy.) Even they are no doubt overwhelmed by the number of RAW formats they have to deal with. Pity Adobe!
    [Well, pity especially photographers, news rooms, magazines, etc. that have to deal with dozens, sometimes hundreds of flavors of raw files & have to wait for custom support to be built into each of their apps. –J.]

  • Lawrence Powell — 2:19 PM on June 08, 2008

    I am trying to find out if either Elements or Lightroom will support Nikon NEF files. Finding an naswer from Adobe is impossbile.
    [Yes, we support nearly 200 raw formats, including numerous flavors of NEF. –J.]

  • Richard Hawley — 7:18 AM on July 12, 2009

    Adobe Photoshop 7 won’t open any NEF files. First it annoyingly asks for the height and width of the image – why? When I enter that data it says the file is too big. When one does actually open it’s a grey, noisy mess. This is even with Camera RAW updates. Paint Shop Pro seems far superior to Adobe in opening files. I just go to the NEF file, right click, open with Paint Shop Pro and Voila – one ready to process RAW/NEF file in a second with no problems. Adobe can’t blame camera specific formats because if a cheaper software such as PSP can opening them with no problems surely Adobe’s overpriced software can – why can’t Adobe get with the programme?
    [Are you seriously mad that a 7-year-old version of Photoshop doesn’t work with versions of NEF that are only being made now? Does a 7-year-old version of Paint Shop Pro do what you want? If you were even on CS1 (5.5 years old), you’d be all set via DNG support. –J.]

  • Gerald Peterson — 9:08 AM on June 25, 2010

    Dear John Nack,
    I read your Feb 12, 2007 article on Adobe and Nikon NEF raw file compatibility,
    I have recently purchased a Nikon D5000. and I have searched in vain trying to find out if Adobe Lightroom 3.0 will handle these NEF raw file formats.
    [It’s there. –J.]
    I want to get Lightroom 3.0 (I think), but can’t find out on Adobe sites if it is right for my d5000 NEF files.
    Do you know the answer to this?
    Any help is much apreciated.
    Gerald Peterson

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