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Do you want to understand your camera and take great photos today?

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When it comes to DNG and RAW files, the biggest question is what are they and how can we use them? Read our article below to find out.

We can’t stress enough how important shooting in RAW is. It allows more information from your scene to be captured on your digital sensor.

More information means more play when editing.

The icon for dng file format

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What Is a RAW File

Every photographed scene gives you a digital imprint in the way of an image. Most people are familiar with the JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) file name, but there are many others.

A JPEG is a compressed file, so it doesn’t give you the highest quality available. It has already been processed and edited by the camera’s software.

RAW files are just that; it’s RAW. These images have not yet been processed. This means these files could be up to six times larger in MB than a JPEG.

We can already see that a RAW file captures more information, but it also takes up six times as much space on your memory card.

This might not be a problem unless you have a 16GB or larger card.

One issue that many people find difficult to understand is other digital file names. These are apparent, not only with cameras but other digital software. No doubt you’ve heard of TIFF or PDF.

Each file name was created by digital camera and software manufacturers. It is a way to show ownership of said files. Each different format adjusted your image in different ways.

Screenshot of two saved file - one saved as JPEG and the other as a nef file

Let’s have a look at a few examples:

  • Canon – .CRW/.CR2/.CR3file
  • Nikon – .NEF file
  • Panasonic – .RW2
  • Sony – .ARW/.SRF/.SR2
  • Olympus – .ORF
  • Fujifilm – .RAF

A Canon camera, such as the Canon 7D will give you files such as IMG_1467.CR2. For JPEGs, these RAW files need to be converted.

The basic idea behind all of these file formats is keeping the original scene, including as much information as possible. Take for example the PSD file format.

This file format is used primarily by Adobe Photoshop. When you are creating, let’s say, a photomontage within Photoshop, you want to save two versions. One should be a JPG, the other should be a PSD.

JPEGs are something small enough to use (online posting, sending via email) and PSDs allow you to make changes after you processed/saved the JPEG.

The JPEG, in this case, gives you the file. While the PSD gives you all of the history, changes, layers, masks, etc – all editable.

A beautiful landscape shot saved as a dng file

What Is a DNG File

What a DNG (Digital Negative) is, is a type of RAW file. It was developed by Adobe, in an act to try and standardise all of these different RAW file formats. It hasn’t worked out so far, but DNGs are great files.

Some camera manufacturers use DNGs as their RAW formats already. Leica, Hasselblad, Pentax and Ricoh are the companies that use them at the moment.

The best thing about DNGs are they are not specific formats, exclusive to specialised software. This RAW file is a standard across all Adobe software.

A close up of a person editing photos on light room, using dng file or RAW file format

DNG File vs RAW File

So why change other file formats to DNG? Well, with digital cameras, you can’t. I have a Ricoh GR II which uses DNG file formatting, but to change it, you need an Adobe DNG converter.

You may not see the purpose of having DNG files, as converting them adds time. This is especially true for those photographers who like to pray-and-spray.

However, there are very valuable reasons why you should convert them.

  1. Archiving – DNG files are more recognisable and accessible than CR2 files for example. You can see this when to copy .CR2/.NEF files to your desktop and search for a program to be able to view them. You can use Adobe products for both, but with DNGs, you have a higher chance of using them with other software, now and in the future.
  2. Validating – When you convert your images to DNG, they go through a rigorous checklist, designed to spot problems with corrupted images. This gives you peace of mind that your images are perfectly fine.
  3. Faster Performance – RAW fils can be slow to upload, especially if using 1:1 previews in Lightroom. DNG files are faster as they use a feature called Image Tiling, allowing your processor to load multiple images rather than just one.
  4. Compact Format – DNGs are often smaller than RAW files due to more efficient compression.
  5. Composites – With composites such as HDR and panoramas, you can save them as DNGs, retaining the RAW characteristics of the original images.
  6. Up-To-Date – Camera Raw is updated several times each year. Those using Adobe software pre-creative cloud might have a problem with this, whereas the DNG formats are still usable.

A Lightroom window sating : DNG files validated

With the ups, there must be downs. Here are the disadvantages of converting to DNG files.

  1. Time – Converting RAW files to DNG file formats via an Adobe DNG converter will take time.
  2. Compatibility – Adobe products work well with DNG, yet there are still some that don’t. This may cause a file format conflict.
  3. Backing Up – Saving changes to a DNG format means having to create a new DNG file. With RAW files, they have XMP sidecar files that make the saving of edited images faster.
  4. Necessary? – If you have a program that works with your RAW files, why change? You already have the highest quality image possible.

Screenshot of Adobe Digital Negative Converter

Conclusion

Adobe has the best intentions when it came to DNG files. It’s a shame that many more programs or camera manufacturers didn’t take it on board. It has now become just another file format – exactly what it was trying to fight.

If you are new to the digital world of photography, there may be a benefit in converting your RAW files.

This is something I always forget. I take my better-half’s windows laptop when on holiday to do some photographic editing. After uploading the images, I find they are not usable – I don’t have the right software.

The lack of internet means I can’t get what I need, and therefore have 500+ unusable files. If your method of editing isn’t broken – don’t try and DNG it. The disadvantages might just outweigh the advantages.

A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:

Thank you for reading...

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Thanks again for reading our articles!

Craig Hull

Craig is a photographer currently based in Budapest. His favourite photographic areas are street and documentary photography. Show him a darkroom and he'll be happy there for days. As long as there are music and snacks. Find him at craighullphotography.co.uk and Instagram/craighullphoto

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