OpenRAW 10 Years

Posted on March 10, 2015

Imagine if you were no longer able to look at your family albums. Or some of Ansel Adams images began to disappear. And the news photos that recorded the history of humanity were lost.

D1scussion was a mailing list by Juergen Specht for professional Nikon users. In early 2005 the list saw a growing concern from photographers about access to their raw images in the future. Camera manufacturers were discontinuing support for older models and some began encrypting raw camera files.

So began the OpenRAW initiative calling on all camera manufacturers to openly document their proprietary raw file formats.

What is raw?
A raw file is essentially a digital negative. All digital cameras capture images in a raw format which includes all the data. Most people let their cameras convert that information into a JPEG and discard the raw data. Advanced photographers choose to keep the raw file and process it on a computer for flexibility and to create higher quality images. Now and in the future.

Camera manufactures decided to create different raw file format for every camera model. From a business viewpoint it means they can hide parts of their process they consider sensitive. Plus they can sell you their software to convert raw to JPEG, etc.

Adobe, Apple, Phase One, etc, sell software that does a better job than the camera manufacturers to convert raw files, but they need to decode every new camera (currently in the hundreds).

From a cultural heritage  viewpoint it’s a nightmare. Today there is definitely still a need for open documentation for the future longevity of raw file formats.

Adobe went in a different direction creating DNG (DigitalNeGative), a single raw file format that is openly documented and freely available. Leica and Pentax adopted DNG as their native raw camera format. Much like they did with PDF, Adobe offered DNG to the International Organization for Standardization as part of an ISO standard camera raw file format.

10 years after OpenRAW began DNG is the future of an openly documented, camera raw file format.

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