Choosing a RAW Conversion Program

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RAW image data is stored in proprietary format, which means that the RAW images can be viewed and converted using the camera manufacturer's RAW conversion program, such as Canon's Digital Professional Pro conversion program, or a third-party RAW conversion program such as Adobe's Camera Raw plug-in or Adobe Lightroom, or Aperture.

Unlike TIFF and JPEG files, RAW files cannot be moved from computer to computer with the assurance that any operating system can display them. That means you must first convert RAW files to a more universal file format or verify that clients have an operating system and conversion program that allows them to display RAW images before you hand off images to clients or customers. RAW image handoff is gradually becoming a part of the handoff.

Tip Images captured in RAW mode include unique filename extensions such as .CR2 for Canon 40D RAW files.

Tip Images captured in RAW mode include unique filename extensions such as .CR2 for Canon 40D RAW files.

10.1 This figure shows Canon's Digital Photo Professional's main window with the toolbar for quick access to commonly accessed tasks.

10.2 Adobe presents images in Bridge, and from Bridge or Photoshop you can open RAW images in Adobe Camera Raw for conversion.

Although RAW conversion programs continue to offer more image-editing tools with each new release, you won't find some familiar image-editing tools in RAW conversion programs, such as healing, history brushes, or the ability to work with layers in the traditional sense. Most conversion programs rightly focus on basic image conversion tasks, including white balance, exposure, shadow control, brightness, contrast, saturation, sharpness, noise reduction, and so on.

Choosing a RAW conversion program is a matter of personal preference in many cases. Canon's Digital Photo Professional (DPP) is included with the 40D, and updates to it are offered free. Third-party programs, however, often have a lag time between the time the camera is available for sale and the time the program supports the new camera. For example, there was a lag time of several weeks between when the 40D was available and the time when Adobe Camera Raw was updated to support 40D files. In the interim, photographers use the Canon conversion program.


Canon also includes a Picture Style Editor on the disk that comes with the camera. This program is a great way to set up a Picture Style that works well for RAW capture. For details on the Picture Style Editor, see Chapter 3.

Arguments can be made for using either the manufacturer's or a third-party program. The most often cited argument for using Canon's program is that because Canon knows the image data best, it is most likely to provide the highest quality RAW conversion. On the other hand, many photographers have tested the conversion results from Canon's program and Adobe's Camera Raw plug-in, and they report little difference in conversion quality.

Assuming there is parity in image-conversion quality, the choice of conversion programs boils down to which program offers the ease of use and features that you want and need. Certainly Adobe has years of experience building feature-rich programs for photographers within an interface that is familiar and relatively easy to use. Canon, on the other hand, has less experience in designing features and user interfaces for software.

10.3 This figure shows the RAW image adjustment controls in Canon's Digital Photo Professional. Note that you can apply a Picture Style after capture.

Because both programs are free (provided you have Photoshop CS3), you should try both programs and any other conversion software that offers free trials. Then decide which one best suits your needs. I often switch between using Canon's DPP program and Adobe Camera Raw. When I want to apply a Picture Style from Canon to a RAW image, I use DPP. For most everyday processing, however, I use Adobe Camera Raw as a matter of personal preference.

Another consideration when you are choosing a program is which program offers the most and best batch features. Canon's DPP

allows you to apply conversion settings from one photo to others in the folder, as does Adobe Camera Raw.

Whatever conversion program you choose, be sure to explore the full capabilities of the program. Remember also that one of the advantages of RAW conversion is that as the conversion programs improve, you have the opportunity to go back to previous RAW image files and reconvert them using the improved conversion program.

10.4 This figure shows the Adobe Camera Raw dialog box opened to the Adjust tab where color, exposure, tone, contrast, and saturation adjustments are made.

10.5 This figure shows adjusting the black point in Canon's Digital Photo Professional RAW conversion window.

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