Do you want to future proof your images …….

DNG, well what is it and should you be using it. Two very good questions….

Well lets start off

The DNG is an open source RAW file format that was developed by Adobe and released in 2004.  It does offer some substantial benefits over your camera  RAW format so may be worth you considering converting. If you don’t you could end up with an archive of images that in the future that you can’t open.

The Benefits of DNG

Future Proof

At the moment most camera manufacturers are developing their own Camera RAW format. If you shoot Canon you might have noticed your RAW files end with .CR2, or with Nikon it’s .NEF, Olympus its .ORF.

Digital photography is an ever changing medium, camera models come and go and what’s to say the RAW formats associated with them might do the same.

These proprietary formats have not been openly documented and whose to say that support from the manufacturer will always be there.

At the moment its hard to imagine not being able to open up say Canon and Nikon RAW files but in the future nothing is guaranteed.

The DNG format is open source,it’s not limited to Adobe software like Lightroom and Photoshop. There are also no license restrictions so camera manufacturers could use DNG as their default RAW format instead of their proprietary format. Some camera manufacturers like Leica and Hasselblad already capture in the DNG format.

It is likely that if and when other camera manufacturers adopt a universal format it is likely to be DNG.

Smaller File Size

DNG offers lossless compression, around 15-20% smaller in file sizes than proprietary RAW files without any loss of quality. You also have the option to embed the original RAW file in the DNG which effectively doubles the file size, but this seems to be a bit of an overkill.

No XMP Sidecar Files

XMPs are metadata files that are linked to the original RAW file (.xmp).

They are text files that contain instructions about how the file should be processed. If you’re using a program like Adobe Camera RAW or Lightroom to edit your images any changes to the sliders  like exposure and temperature would be stored in theXMP file.

Because the XMP data is a separate file it can get lost, corrupted or deleted. Depending on your folder settings in windows it may not display the XMP files at all. Where they are displayed sometimes people don’t know what they are and delete them.  The great thing with the DNG format is the the XMP data is included in the DNG file, so you don’t have to worry about the XMP data getting separated from the original DNG. Makes things quite a bit simpler.

Embedded File Verification

The DNG format includes a feature that can detect file corruption. With regular RAW files it can be impossible to detect  as the XMP file is separate. This is a pretty important archival feature for an image format to have.

Where You Can Convert To DNG

Using Lightroom you can convert to DNG right on import.

Or you can select “Convert Photos to DNG…” from the Library Menu in the Library Module.

In Adobe Bridge there is the Photo Downloader which offers an option to convert to DNG as a preset.

You can also use a free stand alone DNG conversion tool.

Should You Convert JPEGs To DNG?

It is possible to convert JPEGs to DNG but the benefits are limited. JPEG is already a standard image format that will be supported far into the future. By converting to DNG you do gain most of the benefits listed above but you also increase the file size a little.

The big advantage is that by converting JPEGs to DNG you gain the non-destructive characteristic of RAW and DNG files. The biggest reason not to convert JPEGs to DNG is that the JPEG format is already compressed and missing a lot of the original image data. It makes a lot more sense to capture in RAW and convert to DNG than to capture in JPEG and convert to DNG.

My Approach

I shoot in the RAW format (Canon .CR2). I use Lightroom for my main editing software and use the DNG option on import so don’t think about it any more it just happens as part of my workflow. I plug in a memory card from a shoot, Lightroom opens up and my import preset takes care of the rest.

Working with DNGs has been just as easy as working with proprietary RAW files. There’s no real difference in how you edit the files or the quality of the photos.

In my opinion DNG is a win win win situation, smaller file size, lossless compression and future proof… magic.

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