With so many new cameras being released each year that allow capturing images in RAW format using different compression levels, bit-rates and other proprietary data, it is becoming increasingly difficult for post-processing software to keep up with all the changes and provide full support for RAW formats. Although camera manufacturers have been bundling their own image converters, such tools are often underdeveloped, buggy and lack the necessary features to be able to rely on them for post-processing images. Despite the fact that some post-processing software tools as Adobe Lightroom and Capture One provide frequent updates to support new cameras, it is getting practically impossible to provide full support for every new camera and RAW format features. It is time for camera manufacturers to come up with a single universal RAW format that can be easily supported by all post-processing software and we as consumers need to push camera manufacturers to adopt this format.
I just came back from a two-week trip to Israel and for the past few days, I have been struggling with the several thousand RAW images from the Fujifilm GFX 50S that I used during the trip. First of all, my laptop struggled so much with post-processing images in Lightroom, that I gave up and decided to do everything on my high-end desktop. After arriving home, I started the image culling process using FastRawViewer and once I deleted a bunch of images, I started the image import process. The images were imported pretty quickly, but since I knew that I would most likely want to look at the image detail of some images, I thought it would be a good idea to generate 1:1 previews in Lightroom. I started the preview generation process before going to bed and thought that by the time I wake up the next morning, the previews would be ready. I was wrong – it has been two days now and Lightroom is still struggling with the process. Lightroom is eating up 15 GB of RAM and 20% of the CPU during the image preview generation process and it still has approximately 30% to go, which is another day! I have attempted to stop and restart the process, rebooted my machine and nothing seems to be helping – Lightroom is simply inefficient when working with the Fuji GFX 50S files, even on a high-end desktop machine. Frustrated with the outcome, I decided to give Capture One 10 Pro a try, only to discover that Capture One does not even support files from the GFX 50S. And when I went back and tried to import some of my photos from 2016, I discovered that Capture One 10 Pro does not support a number of RAW file formats, including pixel-shift RAW files from the Pentax K-1. The same with DxO Optics Pro, which has zero support for some RAW file formats such as Fuji’s X-Trans.
Considering that Lightroom, Capture One and DxO are the most popular post-processing tools on the market today, it is frustrating to see how poorly they support RAW images from some of the most popular cameras on the market. Having been frustrated with Lightroom’s poor handling of RAW images in the past, I have been looking for an alternative way to convert images, but none of the methods seem to offer a solid solution. And let’s not forget that most operating systems cannot read RAW files either, making it difficult to even see what is in an image folder without using a third party tool…
Converting RAW files to TIFF format is not an option, because TIFF files are flat, which means that the editing headroom is already pretty shallow. In addition, TIFF files take up too much space, making them impractical when dealing with thousands of images. Adobe’s DNG format might sound like a solution, but it is not fully supported by all post-processing software, it takes time to convert images and it is known to strip out some of the proprietary EXIF data that is embedded by the camera. I stopped converting RAW files to DNG format a while ago for these and other reasons, as explained in this article. In short, there is no good option today to deal with all the RAW formats. Given the fact that camera manufactures do not seem to give a damn about this issue, we have a pretty big problem with post-processing software developers digging into RAW files, reverse-engineering some of the proprietary data and extracting what they need. As a result, we have partial support for RAW files and varying degrees of post-processing headroom in different software tools.
Since RAW files are only getting more complex with so many options (lossy-compressed, lossless-compressed, uncompressed, 12, 14 and 16 bit data, pixel-shift and other proprietary data), I do not see how it will be possible to continue this RAW format insanity. It is time for camera manufacturers to come up with a single file standard that will provide all the necessary support for RAW files from every camera. For a while, many of us thought that Adobe’s DNG format would become such a standard, but after so many years, it has clearly failed to accomplish this task – only a select few camera manufacturers provide an option in their cameras to save RAW images in DNG format today.
I know that the photography community does not care if DNG or some other format becomes the standard – as long as there is one universal format that works in every camera and post-processing tool, we will be happy! If camera manufacturers do not want to standardize on Adobe’s DNG for whatever reason, they should either come up with a universal format and agree on its use, or engage the open source community to create a universal format. No matter what route we go, it should be a fully open format that is clearly defined, similar to some of the ISO standards we deal with today. This way, it will be easy for all operating systems, post-processing tools and cameras to provide full support for the new universal RAW format.
Personally, I am sick and tired of the constant headaches we as end users have to deal with when working with RAW images. I should not have to change my post-processing tool of choice just because some other tool does a better job at handling RAW files (Fuji X-Trans anyone?). I should not have to wait for my post-processing software to be updated to support my newly purchased camera. I should not have to buy and install multiple post-processing software packages on my computer to handle different cameras or file formats. The world is moving towards simplicity and there is a reason why smartphones and easy to use apps are taking over. If camera manufacturers do not come up with simpler ways to use and store data from their cameras, their sales will only continue to suffer…
What do you think? Please share your thoughts and feedback in the comments section below!