Lightroom Tips

To DNG or Not to DNG?

I received a question in the comment section the other day from some one asking about DNG and what the rest of the folks thought about it. The question was answered by a person that said something to the effect that they thought most people using Lightroom were converting to DNG upon import. It got me thinking about whether or not that was true. Most people I run into DON’T convert to DNG. I get lots of questions on it because they think that maybe they should, but they’re not yet doing it. Personally, I think it’s because there’s still some confusion about what it is and what is does to your photos.

Most of the people I talk to are “afraid” of what DNG will do to their original. When they ask what happens to their raw file I tell them that it gets converted to this non-proprietary open file format that will stand the test of time even if a camera manufacturer isn’t around one day to support their legacy formats. Then they ask what the benefits are. Well, one of them is of course the fact that you’d be able to use your raw files 50 years from now even if your camera manufacturer wasn’t around or decided not to support their file format anymore.

The other added benefit of DNG is that the file size is about 20% smaller than its corresponding Raw file. Is that cool? Yep. But does it install this discomfort in people wondering how they squeeze 20% out of the raw file without doing some quality damage to it? Youbetcha! I can’t blame them either. It sounds hokey to think that you can have a smaller file without some sort of quality loss. Now mind you, there is no loss of quality in the DNG file but again, I’m just telling you what I hear from folks out there and reasons they give for not using or not understanding DNG.

One more thing. DNG file store all of your metadata and raw settings with the file itself – it doesn’t need a sidecar XMP file like raw files do. That’s great and all but I use Lightroom so I don’t have to worry as much about sidecars as I would if I just used Camera Raw. And Lightroom doesn’t automatically update the DNG file if you make changes. You still manually need to go to the Photo menu to save the settings.

Personally, I think the whole DNG thing is a good one. Everyone’s lives would be easier if all raw formats were DNG-like and consistent with each other. We wouldn’t have to worry about where and what programs opened them, and Adobe wouldn’t have the nightmare they have with Camera Raw and Lightroom and all those different file formats they have to support. However, I’m afraid its not catching on (at least from the folks that I talk) to for a few reasons. Here’s why:

1. People don’t like to think 50 years ahead, today. I have trouble just thinking about this weekend 🙂 And I always figure that if Nikon decides to not support my raw files one day, there’s some 15 year old in his room that’ll code up a raw conversion program in his sleep.

2. I think mentally, we have this barrier that prohibits us from throwing away our raw files. In reality, if you convert to DNG that’s what you’re supposed to do. Throw away the raw files and your DNGs become your new permanent images that you backup for ever and ever. But the raw files came from our camera and for some reason we have this block that just makes us feel like we can never throw them away because, well, they’re the ones straight from our camera. But that’s exactly what you’re supposed to do. You’re not supposed to keep raw and DNG because then it gets even more confusing.

3. Speaking about raw and DNG files, don’t even give me the option to embed the original raw file into the DNG. Now I’m taking up almost twice the space of the original file. Again, its confusing. It instills doubt to a newcomer and is one more reason why I may likely just not do it if I have questions about it.

4. Most don’t understand how the DNG file can be 20% smaller than the raw file without losing some kind of quality. Again, it just sounds hokey even though it’s not.

5. There’s just too many scary choices when converting to DNG. If its the latest greatest format that I’m supposed to be using then just do it. Don’t let me see or deal with terms like “Linear Demosaiced”.

So, while I totally get the whole DNG thing and I know its a good thing I still don’t convert to it. I always hope to and I have the best intentions but I just don’t do it. Maybe one day when my camera shoots in the DNG format I’ll make the jump. Or, maybe some one will convince me to do it before then. Who knows?

How about you? What do you do with your raw files? And more importantly, why? Leave a comment and let us know.