Forget Adobe DNG or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Panasonic RAW
Recorded on June 18th, 2016
Ever since I started using Lightroom, I’ve worried that the buckets of Panasonic RAW-format photos I import from the GX1 would someday be prone to digital rot. The fear among nerd photographers is that at some point, your favorite RAW processing/catalog program (Lightroom, at the moment) will cease to support your then-old camera’s proprietary RAW-formatted images, and your photo catalog will turn into a big grey nothing.
The obvious solution, we all thought, was to convert our manufacturer-proprietary RAW files to Adobe DNG, an open standard that Adobe has been pushing for a while as a future-proof format. It seemed like a good idea: Adobe, a major force in the digital imaging/processing field, would back this well-defined format for years to come, and you could rest easy, knowing that even if the file format for your 2012 Panasonic (or Nikon, Sony, Canon, etc.) camera eventually fell out of favor, you’d always be able to find some app that would understand DNG. But after reading Nasim Mansurov’s Why I No Longer Convert RAW Files to DNG, I don’t want to bother with DNG. The short answer is that DNG is currently so under-supported in the software world that there’s no guarantee it’ll ever catch on. You’re probably safer sticking with your camera’s pristine RAW negatives because the trend so far is that software makers don’t generally lose support for older camera RAW formats. They just keep adding new ones to the pile.
If you’re really paranoid (like me), you can shoot RAW+JPEG, which will burn up some extra space on your hard drive, but those .jpg files are unlikely to ever be unreadable, though they’re technically far inferior. And you can always burn your processed RAW files to .jpg albums for regular people to enjoy, which is probably a good idea anyway.
Also — and this is big — with DNGs, your edits are saved back into the metadata in the DNG file by default. Initially, that seems better than saving them into an .xmp sidecar file, but you really don’t want the original negative to be touched, ever. I think there’s a way to turn on .xmp sidecars for DNG, but everything I can find on the web says that that’s a bad idea. I may be cherry-picking the anecdotes on that one, but it’s all enough for me to stick with Panasonic’s own flavor of RAW for now.