New cameras, raw image support and Adobe software

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In yesterday’s post about my Nikon Coolpix P7100, I mentioned that I’d had to invest in new software when I bought a new camera (as if a new camera wasn’t a big enough expense). As I’m reading about Adobe’s beta of Lightroom 4, I thought it was probably worth eleborating on this, as once of my friends also had a similar experience last year – and it’s something that pretty much all Adobe users will come across if they buy new cameras and shoot raw images.

Whilst some might argue that there is no noticable difference between a fine JPEG image and something generated from a raw file, the simple fact is that multiple edits on compressed files will lead to a gradual degradation in quality. I prefer to capture in the highest possible quality, work on that, and only save to .JPG at the end of my workflow (typically before uploading to the web, or sending to a lab for printing).

So, when I bought the P7100, I found that I needed the latest version of Adobe Camera Raw to read the .NRW (raw) images that it created. That wouldn’t have been a problem, except that Adobe Camera Raw 6.x doesn’t work with the software I was using at the time – Adobe Lightroom 2.x and Photoshop CS4. So I purchased Lightroom 3, although I have to make do without editing my P7100’s images in Photoshop – it’s just too expensive to upgrade at the drop of a hat.

It’s not just me – a friend who bought a Canon EOS 600D last year suddenly found that she needed to upgrade from Photoshop Elements 8 to Elements 9 in order to work with her raw images (she could also use Apple iPhoto… but it’s seriously limited for anything more than the most basic of edits).

With the coming of Lightroom 4/Photoshop CS 6, I guess we’ll see Adobe Camera Raw 7 and, if past history is any judge of what’s coming, I’ll expect that will not work with Lightroom 3 or CS 5. In effect Adobe is forcing us to upgrade their software, in order to use the raw capabilities of a new camera.

Obviously, Adobe would like us to all use its digital negative (.DNG) format for raw images (indeed, Adobe offers a free DNG converter) but, given that neither Canon nor Nikon – the two largest camera manufactirers – are showing any sign of moving away from their proprietary formats, that doesn’t help a lot.

There may be other tools to convert from the P7100’s raw images to .DNG or .TIF for working on, but I can’t help feeling Adobe’s decision to tie Camera Raw to certain releases of its software is a retrograde step, and it won’t encourage me to upgrade my software again until I am forced to (probably by a new camera purchase…).

4 thoughts on “New cameras, raw image support and Adobe software

  1. The major gain with RAW formats is that the data is recorded as it came from the sensor. In DSLRs there are Analog to digital converter outputs 12 bits of data which is converted to 8 bits of JPG. The “black point” and “White point” curve between them are fixed for Red, Green and Blue at the time the of conversion. If your subject requires different tone curves from the one the camera settings said should be used (exposure adjustments, more or less contrast, different cut off points or diferent white balance, saturation etc) then the clipping of data when the JPG is saved reduces the amount of change that can be made later on.

    One of the advantages of shooting with cameras from makers with smaller market share (Pentax or Leica) is they do support DNG. The disadvantage with buying from the big two is it always takes third parties time to catch up with the new versions of their RAW formats. That means using the camera maker’s own software, which is always the weakest thing in a camera package.

  2. Not sure if it would help, but the GIMP image editor really is a top of the line editing package and best of all its open source. Well worth checking out if you don’t want to front the cash for the ridiculous expense that is photoshop!

  3. True – GIMP is very capable but the integration with Lightroom is not there. To be honest, I can get by with an old version of Photoshop (I only use it for a noise reduction plugin, and for stitching or creating HDRs) but it can’t open the raw files from my P7100. I suspect GIMP would have the same issues.

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