Now that we have covered the basics on RAW and DNG formats, the next issue is one of the route you choose for getting your camera files into the applications you use. A future article will cover systems for processing your files into rendered TIF files for high resolutin uses, and JPG files for the web and other low resolution uses. Here we are more concerned with the formats you use for getting files into your apps, rather than the formats you use for the end products coming out of your apps.
We will start by assuming you have a camera which does not product in-camera DNG files, as the number that do are small, and getting smaller. Next we will assume that you are using some form of image management tool. Adobe Bridge, along with Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) can form a management system of sorts, but most users are working with either Adobe Lightroom (by far the most common choice) or Apple Aperture (second most common), or else a less common tool from a camera manufacturer (PhaseOne’s Media Pro being one example from this category) or another software company.
The goal is to get your images into a management application, and then to process them as needed. This type of processing used to be the territory of Adobe Photoshop. But as image management and RAW conversion apps have become more common, more powerful, and more affordable, the larger part of the image editing workload has shifted to these apps, instead of Photoshop. This does not mean that photographers don’t still find it necessary to own a copy of Photoshop, but rather that they use it for localized editing on a smaller number of images chosen for advanced processing, rather than each and every image they shoot.
Given this one-two punch, with images edited in both a RAW tool, and then Photoshop, the choice of applications, and conversion methods, becomes important. An image is stored by your management app, global edits are performed there, and even some localized editing is done there (such as dust removal), meaning many images don’t actually require a trip to Photoshop at all, unless you choose to do your printing from there (and printing functions from RAW apps are getting better over time).
Once you have some images ready for advanced editing or possibly printing, you have a new decisions to face. The original image format, or the DNG format if you chose to convert, is still in place, and all the global adjustments you have made so far, including cropping, exposure and color adjustments, and possibly even dust removal, is part of, or a sidecar file stored with, that high bit RAW or DNG file. If you move to a newer, better RAW conversion process later, with better controls, improved noise removal, or some other advantages, than everything that has been done to these files to this point should be reusable, with some changes for the new functions.
However, you now want to move the best, or the most challenging, of our images into Photoshop to do localized work. Photoshop won’t work on RAW files; it will trigger the ACR plugin, to import these RAW files, while respecting the adjustments that the sidecar file contains for them. Similarly, adjustments within a DNG file will be respected in opening a DNG file in the ACR plugin on the way into Photoshop.
We need to stop for a moment and marvel at this level of compatibility. In order for DNG files and sidecar files from any app to have their adjustments respected in ACR on the way into Photoshop, Adobe needs to have provided all other companies with the keys to the store: meaning that all the adjustments in ACR and Lightroom need to be provided to competitors, since this is the only way that Adobe can get incoming files to be compatible. On the surface this looks like suicide: Adobe’s own apps are crippled by this need to make all their features available to all competitors. Yet by looking at how radically different the functions in Adobe’s own ACR and Lightroom tools look and feel, and how very different the workflows for these two apps, both based on the exact same engine, are; you can see that the engine does not make the car. There are many other areas in which Adobe can make its own apps unique, even while sticking to this same processing engine.
So which workflows save time, which save effort, which save money, and which leave the files in the most flexible format? Any way you go, you will want to render out your files to work on them in Photoshop, to post them to the web, to send them to others, and possibly to print them. Render out simply means move them from a RAW or DNG state, to a TIF or JPG state. Once rendered there are many more tools that can be applied to them, which is desirable in terms of flexible editing. But any edits you make to the rendered file is not captured in the RAW or DNG file, so is part of a permanent descendant of your original file, no longer retained as part of that original file.
In Part 4 of this Series we’ll finally get to the financial impact of the workflow choices you make. Stay Tuned!