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Where the RAW-Conversion Market is Headed

(July 2004) posted on Tue Jul 06, 2004

How does Adobe's entrance affect this niche?

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By Jake Widman

Most digital-camera owners pull the photos off their camera in a simple download, retrieving them in a standard file format such as JPEG. What they may not realize is that those files have already been processed from what the camera actually captured. The camera turned the pure data picked up by its sensors into the JPEG files, and to do that, it already made some decisions about the image, such as the proper white point setting, exposure, color saturation, and so on. It has also compressed the image's dynamic range.

Some photographers often prefer to make those decisions for themselves, because any data lost to the camera's processing can never be retrieved. And so they don't want to open an image in Adobe Photoshop that's already been converted and compressed--they want to control how that conversion and compression gets done, with access to the original image's full range of brightness and color. The unprocessed data captured by the camera is called the "raw" data (usually spelled in capitals letters--RAW), and is often referred to as the camera's "digital negative." Programs that give you access to the camera's RAW data are called RAW converters.

One of the problems in working with RAW data is that each camera creates its own RAW file format. As you might guess, the camera manufacturers make their own converters for their own cameras-- Canon's File Viewer Utility or Nikon's Capture, for instance. But a design and prepress workflow can easily involve cameras from more than one manufacturer (since it could involve more than one photographer). It would be difficult to build a smooth RAW-based workflow if each file had to be imported with a different utility"?this would be like having to use a different RIP for each printer.

The third parties

Fortunately, there are several third-party products out there that can convert images from lots of different cameras. A few of them also serve as file browsers, enabling photographers to view and print thumbnails of their images as well as convert them. Our September issue's Sourcelist article tracks several such products, but let's take a closer look at a few of these to analyze just where this product segment might be headed.