Which Raw Format?

Started Oct 6, 2012 | Discussions thread
Barry Pearson
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Re: Which Raw Format?
In reply to awaldram, Oct 13, 2012

awaldram wrote:

Until DNG is controlled and operated by a consortium it will always be  subject to the vagaries of it master (Adobe) so in my eyes cannot be considered an open protocol.

I'll just address the question of standards.

Before Adobe supported raw

Adobe supported raw a bit later than some others. By the time it supplied the ACR 1 plug-in to Photoshop 7, there were many cameras writing raw files, and several independent software companies supporting them.

Those companies could have combined to develop a standard raw file format. But they didn't have the vision, motivation, nor (probably) the ability to do so. Camera makers liked the lock-in their own raw file formats gave them. Software companies competed on who had the best and fastest reverse engineering when new camera models were launched.

It was left to Adobe to take the initiative and launch DNG. Even though they knew this would impact upgrades of Photoshop, because users could convert raw files from new camera models to DNG so that earlier versions of Photoshop could then process them!

ISO's standard raw file format

There is already an ISO standard raw file format: ISO 12234-2, TIFF/EP. Although primarily intended for TIFF-like capability, if PhotometricInterpretation = 32803 it is a raw file format.

The specification says: "With the permission of Adobe Systems Incorporated, sections of this TIFF/EP specification have been copied verbatim from the TIFF 6.0 specification dated June 3, 1992 specification".

It also says: "The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) draws attention to the fact that it is claimed that compliance with this International Standard may involve the use of patents from the following companies: Canon Inc. Eastman Kodak Co. Fuji Photo Film Co. Ltd. Nikon Corp.  Olympus Optical Co. Ltd." (Note: not Adobe).

Hints of protectiveness from the camera makers creeping in!

TIFF/EP isn't really suitable to be an ISO standard. For example it has major omissions that stop it being an archival format. DNG is based on TIFF/EP but adds lots of metadata to correct those omissions. NEF is also based on TIFF/EP but doesn't correct those omissions! Other raw file formats are typically no more, and often less, based on TIFF/EP than NEF.

I have a draft of TIFF/EP dated 1998. It was ratified and published in 2001. ISO can take a dreadful amount of time! And just think how little effect having this ISO standard raw file format has actually had! What motivation does anyone have to use/support it?

When it was time for ISO to review TIFF/EP, Adobe offered them DNG. After all, it was based on TIFF/EP and added lots of essential stuff. It had been proved to work. So ISO are using it as their "raw file format" revision of TIFF/EP. They have had it for years. ISO can take a dreadful amount of time!

Some lessons

Committees can be (perhaps always are) a bad way of developing standards.

One of the fastest and most effective way of developing standards can be for a company to develop a specification without interference and delay from unmotivated parties, then to offer it to the standards body. (For example, PDF from Adobe, HD Photo, now JPEG XR, from Microsoft).

It may be even better if that specification can become established in the industry before it becomes a standard, so that the new standard has a running start and won't simply be ignored.

The only company or organisation that comes out of the sorry saga above with any credibility is Adobe. It would be probably be unwise to let camera makers have too much control of a standard raw file format, judging by their record so far.

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