March 17, 2013

Advantages of DNG

This is one of those topics that can either bring up a debate or give people an  “aha!”  moment.  The way you choose to store your files is a personal choice, but one you should give some thought to. Some of my friends (you know who you are) have been shooting digitally for a number of years but still have their cameras set on AUTO (JPEG mode) thus letting the camera make all of its own processing decisions and they are happy with that. They don’t use Lightroom, Photoshop or Photoshop Elements and only use the Software that came with their camera.  This article isn’t for them, this is for the serious or semi-serious shooter, shooting in Camera RAW mode.

Now some of these RAW shooters open their photos in their cameras proprietary Software, tweak them a little, and then bring them into Lightroom or Photoshop for final editing. Obviously, the Software that comes with your camera was designed specifically for that camera so it’s going to do a good job, but I think that doing it that way just takes more time and makes you use an extra program.

 For some of us, time is money and anything I can do to save time, speed up my workflow and save hard drive space is worth checking out. 

Nikon NEF
Adobe DNG format
Canon CR2 format

I  started shooting totally digital in 1999. It was very new to the general public (and expensive) but it was a very exciting time in photography. Like a lot of people, I was reading everything I could get my hands on dealing with digital. Naturally, I still wanted the best shot I could out of my camera, but for a couple years I shot only in JPEG mode. RAW was intimidating, and meant another thing to learn. But as I was to find out, JPEG’s had some serious drawbacks. Every time you edit a JPEG, your changes were permanently destroying pixels. With RAW files, you could open them up and change things like White Balance and Exposure, and if you’re not happy, you can always change it back the way it was originally shot anytime you want.  RAW files are like digital negatives and give you more creative control.  

Now Adobe saw problems coming down the road that we didn’t see.  The first problem I experienced was when one of my first digital cameras parent company stopped making digital cameras. To make things worse, the program that it needed to open my photos only ran on Windows ME (which is now prehistoric itself) so I would have been in big trouble if I hadn’t converted my RAW files into DNG format. This was one of the places where Adobe DNG really saved me big-time.

DNG is a digital-negative RAW file format. Every manufacturer has their own proprietary versions. Canon has CR2, Nikon has NEF, Olympus has ORF and some brands even have more than one like Sony for example, it has ARW, SRF and SR2’s.  Most of these files are changing all the time so you have to keep updating each program. Adobe DNG lets you avoid all that and also has some other nice advantages that I like as well. Plus, I don’t think Adobe is going anywhere in my lifetime?

The biggest feature for me was no more sidecar files (.XMP files). Sidecar files are totally separate files, which are like little containers that hold all of your editing changes and important things like your EXIF metadata, XMP metadata, IPTC metadata, ICC profiles. If I was going to send my RAW CR2 file to a customer or co-worker to review, I would have to send the sidecar file along with it or they wouldn’t be able to see my changes. (I found this out the hard way) With Adobe DNG format, all of my image changes and all of the EXIF data is stored in the file itself and the file size is even smaller!  A CR2 file from a 12mb Canon camera in RAW format is 12mbs right?  If I convert that same image to DNG on import, it would be about 10.3mbs. That means 100 images with a 12mb camera is 1200mbs right?  If I converted them to DNG, that’s only 1030mbs. That can add up fast if you’re taking a lot of photos.   

Obviously, not everyone will be interested in DNG files, but I convert all my RAW files to DNG when I import them via Adobe Bridge and don’t worry about sidecar files anymore. When I do this on import, regardless of what camera I'm using, I've got DNG's and can open them. My Exif date will tell me which camera I used if I need that info. Some people still like to save their original RAW files and only work on DNG’s.  For me, I edit in Camera RAW then bring them into Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Photoshop to work on them. You can even download an Adobe DNG converter for your desktop. Nice huh?  

I save a ton of disk space over the course of a year. If this sounds like something that might work for you, check it out some tutorials online and see for yourself.

Remember, as always, keep shooting and have some fun!

© D. Gould Photography