Thursday, December 18, 2008

The case against DNG?

In a post today on his excellent blog "Serious Compacts," Amin describes how Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom "bake in" lens corrections for Panasonic LX3 and G1 raw files when converting to DNG: Panasonic and Adobe - The Case Against DNG

Amin suggests that this is an argument against the viability of DNG as an archival format, but there's something sort of baby-and-bath-water about that argument to me. As I understand it, DNG is an attempt to create a standardized raw format. A standardized raw format would obviously be a boon to photographers, both for archival reasons, and because it would avoid the gap between the time when a new camera is released, and the time at which your favorite raw processor supports the camera's files. It would be a benefit to software developers as well, since they would not have to constantly scramble to reverse-engineer an unending tide of proprietary raw formats. It is, frankly, something we need.

No, this is not an argument against doing DNG. It's an argument against doing DNG wrong. Adobe and Panasonic, may I have your attention please: we shoot raw because we want to maintain as much control as possible. We use your software because we want our edits to be non-destructive. I know you know this, but it looks like you need reminding. Don't use vanity (oops, sorry our lens isn't so good after all) as a reason to undermine the very features that attract us to your products.

OK, that was the important part, but let me ramble on for a moment. Let's assume Panasonic went to Adobe and said, "Bake in lens corrections for LX3 raw files, or we won't let you put support for the files into your software." What should Adobe do? I'm not suggesting that Adobe should have said, "OK Panny, screw off then, no LX3 support in ACR." But I am suggesting that Adobe is a big grown up gorilla with plenty of weight to throw around, and I bet if they really tried, they could work something out. I'm unconvinced by Eric Chan's finger-pointing. Adobe has a responsibility to their customers, and if they want their DNG format to succeed it's even more important for them to make it appealing to customers than it is for them to make it appealing to manufactures.

But what if Panasonic didn't come around making demands? What if they came over all nice-like, and said, "Listen, we really paid a price for that tiny little 24mm lens, and we've got barrel distortion like you wouldn't believe. What can you do for us?" Well... what could Adobe do for them? Neither ACR nor Lightroom offer geometric lens corrections. What could Adobe do for you as an LX3 owner? Shrug their shoulders and make you shoot JPEG? Or use SilkyPix? Or live with crappy looking distortion? Or do your corrections in Photoshop (which then bakes in the changes of course)? Or make you wait six to 12 months for a full fledged lens correction feature, complete with all attendant UI changes, user guide changes, etc.?

I would suggest that there's a less sucky option. Adobe could special-case LX3 files and apply a non-user-accessible level of lens correction to the files on the way in (as indeed they have). Then, some time down the road, when they finally get around to actually putting lens correction features into ACR and Lightroom, those changes to your LX3 files would suddenly be accessible. You'd see the "barrel distortion" slider already set to 127 (or whatever) for all your LX3 files, and you could then back it off if you so wished. How about it Adobe? Any chance that these behind-the-scenes adjustments will become user-accessible in a future revision? Is it too late for that?

(P.S. to Panasonic: I like a wide angle lens as much as the next guy, but if you can't make a wide angle lens that's genuinely good, maybe software trickery isn't the answer? What's the problem here? Is physics getting in your way?)


  1. Ben,

    Thanks for the blog.

    Much adue' about nothing though? Your ps got me - "genuinely good?"

    Many QUALITY lenses FAR more pricey than the whole LX3 System, deal with "distortion issues." DXO has made a good business out of addressing it - & at a price ...

    The LX3 is a rockin' camera - Panasonic did a wonderful job. If not optically, corrected digitally works for me - distortion, we don't need no stinkin' distortion ...


    ps. Careful with the "demon gin" & those juniper berries ... happy holidays!

  2. Hi Anonymous, thanks for the comment. You'll get no particular disagreement from me, I'm fairly impressed with the LX3. But designing a camera like that (designing anything for that matter) obviously involves making certain compromises, and I think there's room to ask if Panasonic made the right compromises. Maybe they did. I'm not really sure, which might account for all the question marks in my P.S. :-)

    And happy holidays to you as well!