The technology industry doesn’t do too well when thinking about standards, many people have got together and tried to sort the problems out, the World Wide Web Consortium is one of those groups. Don’t get me wrong, they’re doing great work, but the time it takes them to ratify the standards and then the time it takes for the standards to get implemented into browsers is just way too long.

In the photography industry there is almost the same problem, for those of you who don’t know, for the past few years camera manufacturers have created their own proprietary RAW formats, RAW is much better than conventional JPEG images because it takes the data directly from the cameras sensor and allows you to manipulate the exact image the camera saw, JPEG on the other hand compresses the image which in turn loses quality and also doesn’t allow you the same granular control.

Canon have their CR2 format, Nikon has their NEF format and Adobe has their DNG format, each company supports their own format with the exception of Adobe who provide the Camera RAW plug-in for Photoshop to convert RAW images to other formats.

A few weeks ago Canon released plans to research the feasibility of changing their current format (CR2) and move towards another proprietary format, so far they assure people that it’s only an idea, but it will be inevitable that they change it at some point.

As much as I like progress and welcome new features and better quality images, is there really a need to change the format yet again, beyond of course annoying customers and rendering all current cameras outdated? Some of my previous posts have touched on the topic of organising my many photos and making sure they are accessible in years to come, this throws even more turmoil into a problem that already has enough.

I already have to contend with some photos in JPEG format, some in CR2 format and then, if I want to make my images a bit more future proof I’m going to have to convert all my CR2 images into DNG images. Why do camera manufacturers make it hard for people to future proof their photos, in 10 years time none of these formats will be supported and people who haven’t spent hours of their lives converting their entire collection won’t be able to enjoy looking back at the memories – which is after all what we’re taking them for. Most of the problems have been occurring with RAW formats, however JPEG’s could be a thing of the past as well. Microsoft HD Photo format is the JPEG killer that Microsoft has submitted to become the standard image format used in digital cameras, although reading the press release it also allows data to be stored directly from the cameras sensor, which means that it’s also a contender in the RAW format war. On the face of it I like it – the retention of dynamic range data is a definite plus, and let’s face it, any better quality alternative to JPEG is always a good thing, but I can sense this being yet another nightmare to deal with, what do I do with the old JPEG’s that I have, do I convert them? Leave them as they are? And why can’t all these different formats be combined to give consumers a super format that will last?

In my opinion there needs to be some path for people to follow, applications to covert and manage all these different formats won’t be supported forever either, so if you’re going to rely on something like Adobe Photoshop Lightroom (which is an awesome app) then you’re going to have a very bad headache in years to come when the product may not exist any more.

I think Adobe have got a good position, each format may have its own killer set of features, but it may as well be a piece of paper if there isn’t going to be the software to deal with it in a decade, Adobe’s DNG I hope does exactly what it says on the tin…Allow Digital Photographers to create archival versions of their images that aren’t going to be replaced by something new.

Posted in: Photography, Technology