Most consumer digital cameras today capture images in the JPEG format, but a higher-quality raw photo format is gaining in popularity among higher-end and professional camera models.
A major frustration among photographers, however, has been how different digital camera makers use different, proprietary versions of the so-called raw format, industry analysts say.
That incompatibility has forced users, especially in media and other companies, to maintain multiple software programs to handle the raw photos taken by different cameras. It has also raised concerns that archived raw images could become inaccessible with future software.
Now, Adobe, which dominates the photo editing market with its Photoshop products, is proposing that its new Digital Negative Specification, or DNG, becomes a universal standard for the raw format. The San Jose-based company is also launching a free software tool that will allow users to convert the raw formats from more than 65 cameras into the DNG format.
Raw photo files contain all the original information captured by a digital camera sensor before any in-camera processing occurs and thus gives users truer images and more flexibility when editing. By comparison, JPEG photo files are compressed images that suffer some data loss.
Last year, Adobe began offering support for some of the raw formats from different cameras in its Photoshop program but decided that wasn't enough.
"Our customers have been struggling over the past few years. They see the flexibility of raw files but don't want the pain of having to deal with different formats," said Bryan Lamkin, an Adobe senior vice president.
Yet it will be up to camera makers to support the specification, which Adobe is making available for free.
"It will be adopted by many, maybe not this year, but within five years because it's to everyone's advantage," predicted Paul Worthington, an analyst at the Future Image Inc. research firm.
Eventually, more consumer cameras may end up offering the higher-quality raw photo format as well, Worthington said.
By May Wong