The RAW Format Con?

Started Sep 21, 2013 | Questions thread
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The RAW Format Con?
Sep 21, 2013

I've recently been reading the web's reviews of the new Olympus OM-D E-M1 - by all accounts it's a mighty fine piece of kit, and I hope to have sufficient funds together to make a purchase by the New Year.

But a recurring theme in the reviews had me puzzling - and it was comments from a number of reviews that they were waiting for popular software packages (Lightroom was specifically mentioned; I am sure there will be others) before being able to give commentary relating to RAW image quality.

This seems a bit "off" to me... Here's why:-

In the digital photography realm, we're used to our cameras producing typically one of two or three file formats: JPEG, RAW, and (usually MPEG) video. The ability of popular software packages (I'm currently running both Lightroom 4.2 and Photoshop CS5 for Windows) to review and manipulate the JPEG format goes without question. It is, after all, based on an industry standard.

Yet seemingly the software providers and camera manufacturers are unwilling to get together and agree a suitable format for RAW files. Now, hold on just one second before you start with the issues...

First, a brief detour into a bit of geeky "tech". Today, much of the data we manipulate is shared in a file format derived from SGML, or a derivative of that standard. SGML, Standard Generalized Markup Language, was designed on the basis that it would in the future be asked to define the structure of data formats that hadn't been invented or conceived when SGML came into being. It had to be pretty clever to do that, and it is. It works by allowing you to define entirely new file and data formats based on a series of "primitives". A primitive could be a text field, a date, a web URL, an integer, and so on. But the cool thing about this approach is that you or I could define a whole new file format, but *existing* software would be able to manipulate it, without modification... SGML made this possible because it contains a description of it's structure within itself, like a digital DNA.

Back to today.

Olympus release the new E-M1 and suddenly all these software companies need to release patches to their graphics programs to cope? Does the new camera encode some odd new data type? No. Does it use some not-imagined bit-per-pixel density? No. Does it have an entirely non-sensical way of storing it's image data? No.

So why should it be necessary for updates to be issues to Lightroom, Photoshop, et al?

Have we really got to 2013, only to discover that the technology companies supporting the world of photography can't manage to release a new camera without this sort of nonsense?

I'm conscious that I'm writing this in a sarcastic tone [for which I apologize to any I've offended] but there is a genuine question here. I'd love to understand why it is that we remain unable, given all the collective wisdom in photography and IT that we've assembled by now, that we can't manage to develop a RAW file format that "just works" ???

If anyone can help me see past the obvious, cynical, forced-upgrade-marketing-ploy answer that springs to mind, I'd be grateful...


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