Introducing RAW Files

RAW files are uncompressed, meaning they’re in the original form directly from your camera. RAW images are “lossless,” so they have the most quality, allowing for small edits or large scale prints.

It contains so much more information about the conditions of the photo than a compressed file, giving editors more freedom for their edits. RAW files are a generic term, so some camera manufacturers have proprietary RAW files called something else.

The individual characteristics of RAW files depend on the features of the camera manufacturer. Each one offers metadata records and provides lossless, uncompressed options.

RAW Advantages

RAW files are a wealth of information. They record not just the sensor information but also the settings of the camera itself. When you work in RAW, you have a reliable markup of your images in image view, allowing you to adjust or repeat settings as you need to. And if you aren’t sure about the image itself? You get JPEG previews.

RAW is the file format of choice for professional photographers because it provides uncompromised image data for edits. Photographers can extract nearly flawless data from the camera using their photo editor of choice. 

RAW Disadvantages

RAW files require specific software designed for their file formats. There’s no forwarding or sharing RAW format files unless your friend is also a photographer. Plus, this file format requires a lot of storage and, sometimes, roundabout management systems.

You can’t share RAW directly with someone using only a casual viewer. They won’t upload to your favorite social media, and depending on the proprietary format, could be compatible only with your manufacturer’s editing software.

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Introducing DNG Files

A DNG, or digital negative, is a RAW file, but before things get confusing — DNG was created as a RAW file type designed to be compatible with multiple platforms. Quite a few big-name companies support DNG files, including Leica and Hasselblad, both photography giants.

DNG was intended to become the standard for RAW files, hoping that everyone would eventually adopt the format. It didn’t quite pan out that way, but DNG is compatible with a wide range of camera manufacturers and systems.

If you’re already using the Adobe ecosystem, this format is a logical extension of that system. And if you’re using Lightroom, your files are going through a DNG process anyway. It could make sense to convert images to DNG.

The Upsides to Converting

DNG files are easy to work with and provide comprehensive information attached to each. Unlike most proprietary RAW files, DNG is more widely adopted and remains open standard for widespread use.

Since Adobe is an established company, DNG files will continue to have the support. Some manufacturers develop their own RAW formats only to disappear a few years later, leaving consumers with a lot of data and no way to move forward.

Archivists will be pleased to know that embedded checksum features that allow for validation of images. These happen naturally and easily, making it great for ensuring that photos aren’t compromised and genuine.

DNG is a smaller file size than general RAW format as well, giving you more flexibility for storage, but without sacrificing data quality.

The Downsides to Converting

DNG files don’t save the same metadata as some RAW formats do, robbing you of one of the best features of RAW files. Each time you make changes to your DNG format, you have to reconvert the image. Each time you import the photos, it adds time to your process (although it pays off in ease of use).

Get Excited About DNG If…

There are quite a few reasons you might be interested in converting to DNG file as your primary file type. 

Included checksum capabilities allow you to validate the image. The file size doesn’t take up as much space on your computer and this file doesn’t require a separate extension to maintain or manipulate the file.

The format works well to combine photographs, creating composites that highlight the best of each photograph into one. Photos have depth and clarity.

Adobe is established. You’ll have support for DNG file types for a long time, unlike other flashy services that go under. 

These advantages are why many photographers have made the switch to DNG file and continue to use the type as their primary RAW image.

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Be Wary of DNG If…

Not everyone is a fan of DNG file, however. DNG file detractors cite quite a few issues with converting to DNG file, and some may dissuade you.

Extra steps

Converting to DNG file is an extra step that happens at the import process. If you’ve got a batch of thousands, it adds unnecessary time.

Lack of support

If you work with certain companies, you won’t have access to DNG files. Be sure your preferred ecosystem supports them.

Extra backup space

DNG overwrites the entire file each time you make edits. This system is clunky and requires additional backups each time you make changes, making storing metadata with the file itself an absolute nightmare.

One of the most significant downsides is whether it’s actually necessary. Adobe created DNG as a benefit to itself first and foremost. Adobe won’t have to keep up with the latest RAW type or update other RAW files as long as users are using the DNG.

It’s solving a problem that’s in Adobe’s court, not yours, so converting isn’t always practical. Depending on what system you work with primarily and how widespread your camera’s own RAW type is, you may find a benefit to converting…or not.

Common DNG Myths

You’ve probably heard these myths about converting, so let’s clear things up. There are plenty of reasons why you may not want to adopt DNG as your primary type, but that decision shouldn’t be due to misinformation.

Many of these myths are a misunderstanding of the process of conversion. Here’s what you need to know about the type so that you can make the best decision for your hobby, job, or art.

Converting to DNG Changes The Raw Data

DNG does change the compression standard, but it retains the metadata as long as the image file is read correctly. If you typically open your format types in Lightroom or Camera Raw with no issue, it’s no different to convert to DNG. 

In fact, if you already use Lightroom, you’re basically converting your images anyway. Lightroom internally converts the format to read the image file view anyway, so it could be to your benefit to embrace DNG.

Your Files Become “Adobe Standard” Color Profile

This is partially true to a point. When you import your photos into Adobe suite, the system automatically creates a standard color profile based on your camera manufacturer. The standard created in-house helps establish a base color for the image view.

Your original file data isn’t lost, however. The RAW data images are there, and it’s pretty simple to convert the standard to something other than Adobe Standard in your settings.

If you’re using DNG with a different platform, these settings are moot. Adobe standard is only meaningful within the Adobe ecosystem, so other platforms will just ignore that data from the DNG file.

DNG Only Works with Lightroom/Camera Raw

Quite a few systems have adopted DNG compatibility because of Adobe’s pull in the industry, so choosing to convert is a matter of finding compatible programs. If your chosen program, including Camera Raw, accepts DNG, great. If not, don’t covert.

DNG stores RAW data, so other programs will simply ignore Adobe’s standard settings and demosaic the image view using their own settings and standards. It’s worth exploring DNG usage in other avenues to see if it’s compatible.

You do have the option of embedding the RAW file data in the DNG file so that you can extract the info later. If you change your programs then, this could be useful in restoring your originals (even if you can’t convert DNG to another RAW form directly).

Don’t Convert JPEG to DNG

Converting a JPEG with an Adobe DNG converter doesn’t automatically turn it into some kind of RAW file. Switching does have benefits, though. If you use Lightroom or Camera Raw, you can import and edit using the same controls, and when you export, you can read the image’s metadata externally.

One of the best reasons to convert is automated settings. Exporting a preview allows a compatible DNG program to read that metadata and supply the correct color, balance, or tone no matter what the program’s automatic settings say.

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Which Option is Better: DNG or RAW File?

In most cases, this is a personal preference. There are quite a few compatible programs, and DNG conversion could help you save space while preserving the RAW data you need for your professional photographs.

If nothing you use is compatible with DNG format, there’s no reason to make the switch. Unless you’re looking for a drastic change in camera and processing equipment, DNG’s benefits aren’t pronounced enough to make a sweeping change worth it.

Users of Lightroom, Camera Raw, and other compatible programs will be interested in DNG’s alternative compression methods to save space and keep the original metadata readable by other programs.

What About Other File Formats?

How does DNG compare to other standard formats? Let’s take a look. Here are some of the most common file types you may encounter if you’re working with casual photos or using them for online activities. In some cases, DNG is better. In others, DNG is used to accomplish something very different.

TIFF (Tagged Image File Format)

TIFF is lossless, similar to RAW and DNG formats are based on a version of TIFF. While TIFF produces exceptionally detailed images, it has a much larger file size than DNG format and doesn’t have nearly as many compatible programs. In the vast majority of cases, DNG is a better format option than TIFF.

GIF (Graphics Interchange Format)

This is an apples-to-oranges comparison. GIF uses high compression file types to store short moving images. There’s a ton of quality loss, but clarity isn’t the top priority for GIFs. It’s not recommended at all for photos.

You can convert DNG image files to gif if you’re creating some kind of short animation, however, and the process is relatively simple. Find a converter online or through your processing software and go for it.

PNG (Portable Network Graphics)

PNG files improve on the quality of GIF, but it’s still considered a loss format. You can convert DNG image files to PNG in much the same way you do with GIF. PNG also provides transparency layers, allowing editors to overlay edits more easily. However, these two types serve two different purposes.

JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group)

JPEGs are some of the most common types, especially in the era of cell photography. JPEG image files have minute details removed — your eye won’t notice, but your software does. JPEG is useful for displaying and transferring images, allowing you to upload them to the web or send them through email. 

DNG images are much more detailed and retain all their data. It’s possible to convert JPEG to DNG format to give you more freedom for edits and to preserve metadata about those edits. Alternately, you can save two different versions of the JPEG, one edited and one unedited.

FAQ

If you still have questions about DNG, we have answers. Let’s take a look at some common questions about using DNG and their solutions.

How do I convert DNG to Lightroom?

If you don’t have the option to simply “Copy as DNG,” you can select files from the library module and choose “Convert to DNG.” Easy-peasy.

Lightroom makes it easy to convert to DNG because it’s an Adobe native creation. They aren’t just compatible. They’re the same ecosystem.

What does DNG stand for?

DNG stands for Digital Negative.

How do you convert a DNG file to JPEG?

Once you’ve finished your edits in a program like Lightroom or Camera Raw, you can choose to share the file as  JPEG files of different compression amounts.

How do I use DNG presets in Lightroom desktop?

Creating presets happens from the “Development” module in Lightroom. Find the presets tab and look for the “+” symbol. This command gives you the option to create your own preset. You can also import compatible presets from other organizations.

Can Lightroom open DNG files?

Both DNG and Lightroom are Adobe products. If you use Lightroom, DNG files are a logical choice. 

Should I shoot in RAW?

Professional photographers shoot in RAW because the format offers lossless formats much more accessible for editing. If you’re taking casual photos from your phone’s camera, there’s not much point. If you’re shooting with a high-end DSLR, RAW will allow you to take advantage of the high tech sensors of your camera.

This lossless format also comes in handy when editing because you keep the metadata records with the file. Further edits are clear, and you can always revert the image to the original based on the metadata.

Can you convert DNG back to Raw?

Once you switch to DNG, it’s not possible to convert back to proprietary RAW files. Good news, however. You do have the choice to embed the original raw file format into your DNG conversion if you’re careful about how you import your photos.

Once you’ve chosen to convert files to DNG, be sure to tick the box giving you the option to embed the original RAW data into the DNG. Later, you can retrieve that data if you need it.

Can Photoshop save as DNG?

Photoshop gives you many different choices of files once you’ve finished editing — DNG format, JPEG, TIFF, or PSD (photoshop) formats are all accepted.

Is RAW format an open-source?

RAW is simply a generic type of lossless file format. Your particular camera manufacturer will have proprietary RAW files, such as Adobe’s DNG format. Some RAW files may be open source, but you’ll have to do your research.

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Photivo, for example, is an open source RAW type. Other workflows such as Darktable, offer RAW file photo editing as an open source system.

Are DNG files compressed?

DNG files are uncompressed, offering a lossless file format with metadata. DNG files are smaller than most other RAW file formats, but they do provide absolute clarity in image data.

How do I save DNG files in Lightroom mobile?

Using Lightroom Classic or CC, you can export the file with a preset. From there, choose to export as a DNG file, and your image will be ready to go for Lightroom Mobile

Are DNG files as good as raw?

Adobe designed DNG to be a more straightforward RAW file format that takes up less file space. DNG didn’t take off quite as thoroughly as they hoped, so converting will depend on what programs you use and your own camera manufacturer. 

Take a look at the breakdown above to find out if DNG is something you may be interested in. Consider carefully and look at what you already do for your workflow.

Can I download a DNG file viewer?

It’s is compatible with plenty of workflows. If someone sends you a DNG file, you can find file viewers for it, many of them free. Do a quick search for “DNG file viewer + free” and see what comes up.

Should I delete DNG files?

It provides the original, lossless image data. Once you’ve edited and exported as JPEG files for sharing or uploading to social media, your program may ask you if you want to delete the original DNG. 

Do not do this! You’ll lose the original data and suffer a loss of image quality as you keep working with JPEG. Keep the original on hand unless absolutely necessary.

Working With DNG Files

DNG file is a RAW file type you may be interested in using for Adobe’s ecosystem. Using DNG file size allows you to save files in less space while retaining some of the original RAW file information when you convert RAW files to DNG.

The most important part of your decision to convert RAW files to DNG is looking at the tools you currently use. If they’re compatible with DNG (Lightroom or Camera Raw), it could be in your best interest to begin converting your files. If they aren’t compatible or you’re working with huge batches of files, it may not be worth it.

DNG file is convenient for a variety of reasons and is something you should look into as you continue your work with RAW files. You may find that DNG file saves you space, saves you time, and gives you the same capabilities as other RAW file types, all in a format compatible with your ecosystem.