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can we open old RAW files in 10 years time?
Fredrik Naumann, Photographer
Oslo | Oslo | Norway | Posted: 4:43 AM on 09.28.06
->> Around 2001 I was shooting with Canon EOS D2000 and such cameras (depending on what the paper had at the time). To process the images I was using Photoshop 5.5 and a plugin. Now, in 2006, using a Mac with newer versions of PS, I am not able to open those files any more. Well, almost unable : I revert to classic mode and use PS 5.5..... What will happen when "classic" isn't an option on my new mac, and I can't access those files any more?

This has made me hesitant of shooting RAW today. What will happen in 10 years time, when there is RAW version 365 or perhaps it is whole new format, much better than RAW? Will I be able to open my pictures from RAW at all?

Software developers are understandably very eager to make sure their products can read all the lates, newest camera formats. But are they putting the same effort into allowing us to work with the oldest of file formats? It doesn't look like it, when I cant even open my 5 y.o. files.

Now, if you are thinking "just batch convert to TIFF" I must ask : don't we just loose one of the major reasons for using raw, to be able to get the most out each pictures? And all those DVDs and harddrives it would take to store....(oh I hope we can read the DVDs in the future too...)
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Darrell Miho, Photographer
Temple City | CA | usa | Posted: 7:17 AM on 09.28.06
->> my solution to this has been to maintain my old computer systems and peripherals. my iBook will remain on OS9 to ensure i can use anything that was pre OSX. when photoshop becomes native for universal binary, i will upgrade to a MacBook Pro and my powerbook will remain OSX. i also make sure that i will be able to read any old storage formats by maintaining the older OS and older devices like a zip drive and CD drive. i can still read a 3.5" mac disc if needed using my old PB 3400 running OS8..

if you can not maintain older systems, still sells old used mac systems. right now, they are giving away mac SE classics for FREE!!! and you can still get a quadra or performa if you really needed to get an ancient system. so worst case scenario, assuming that they are still in business, you could, for the foreseeable future, still purchase an iBook running OS9 10 years from now. if not, email me and i'll loan you mine if you're in a pinch.

so don't throw away your old software...and make sure you burn new copies cause CDs don't last forever.
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Walter Calahan, Photographer
Westminster | MD | USA | Posted: 7:46 AM on 09.28.06
->> Adobe wants us all to use their DNG converter to make RAW files into their "universal" format.

But who can predict the future? So why worry about it now?

10 years from now is a long time in the world of technology.

Kick back, relax and enjoy the ride.
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David Harpe, Photographer
Louisville | KY | USA | Posted: 8:22 AM on 09.28.06
->> We can still open JPEGs, can't we?

JPEG has been around since 1994.

File formats are easy because they are software-based. Software is easy because it's virtual and portable to new technology. To read old file formats, the only technology you need to read them is a computer. Adobe, along with 3rd parties, have written software to convert all of the common RAW formats in existence. Adobe's software will be around indefinitely...there is no reason for them to stop supporting it, if for no other reason than it props up their DNG format.

Case in point - EBCDIC. You can still find online converters to convert EBCDIC to ASCII, and EBCDIC was created in the 60's.

What about Photoshop? To get rid of photoshop, you'd have to get rid of both the Windows and Apple operating systems. That is not going to happen in ten years. Even if it did, someone will cook up an emulator for whatever technology we have in place at the time.

Case in point - Atari 800. You can download a complete Atari 800 emulator that will run all the software right on your desktop.

The BIG problem is media. Media is physical and you need three parts: The physical storage media, the reader for the media, and the interface (hardware AND software) to connect the reader to the computer. All of these are hardware devices and not easily upgradeable. Since they are hardware, they will fail over time.

The interface is the Achilles Heel. To interface the hardware to current-technology computers, you need the physical interface to be supported by the current-day hardware. Even worse is you need driver software to run the thing. Hardware does go obsolete and it's scary when it does.

Case in point - 9-track tape. 9-track media is at the edge of extinction. You can find people still making drives...but they are getting fewer and fewer. Most use SCSI to connect to the computer, which is also getting more scarce...although until they dump the ISA bus altogether it will still be viable. Of course, it's been a couple of decades since anyone used 9-track tape for anything media from that era is probably suffering problems due to aging. This will render the data lost forever.

Any archiving strategy should include updating the storage media to current-day standards on a regular basis. So if you have a bunch of Iomega ZIP discs lying around with important stuff on them...convert them now to either physical hard disks or multiple copies on DVD.
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David Harpe, Photographer
Louisville | KY | USA | Posted: 8:28 AM on 09.28.06
->> EOS D2000
...ThumbsPlus supports D2000 images with their Digicam plug-in. Might be a workaround to your problem...
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David Meyer, Photographer
Orlando | FL | USA | Posted: 8:53 AM on 09.28.06
->> Good question Fredrik.

This organization is advocating an open RAW format, which may help assuage your concerns about not being able to work with your RAW files in the future.
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Jim Colburn, Photographer, Photo Editor
Omaha | NE | USA | Posted: 1:26 PM on 09.28.06
->> "This has made me hesitant of shooting RAW today"

Adobe DNG.
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William Jurasz, Photographer, Assistant
Cedar Park | TX | USA | Posted: 2:30 PM on 09.28.06
->> David and Jim are right about DNG and open RAW.

David, "Software is easy..." I got a kick out of that. The problem with proprietary RAW formats is very real and people who don't understand this will eventually get bit. There are already RAW formats that are no longer supported by camera vendors, and digital is not very old.

A new camera comes out with a new RAW file. Now the industry has to update Photoshop, and Capture One, and Photo Mechanic, and iView Media, and the various portable solutions such as the Epson P2000 and the like, and and and. You get the idea. While this certainly IS possible its just a huge waste of time and effort. There are better things for all these companies to be doing that this. Someday someone will decide "nobody shoots with this camera any more, we're going to stop supporting it, because we have better things for our engineers to do." And they'd be right.

"JPEG has been around since 1994." JPG is also a standard, not proprietary. Lots of software and hardware is using JPG in the same manner. RAW is not a standard, its an idea, a concept, that gets implemented a thousand different ways. Saying that JPG has been around since 1994 so therefore all these RAW formats will likewise not disappear doesn't hold water.

Emulators? Converters? EBCDIC? I guess if you want a kludgy work flow in the future have at it. Someone else mentioned keeping old hardware and software platforms lying around to solve the problem. That isn't solving the problem, its working around it.

Walter, "who can predict the future? why worry about it now?" Well, stocks or bonds or mutual funds, domestic or international, index funds or actively managed? Who can predict future rates of returns? Why worry about it? Well, you worry about it today because the odds of it becoming a problem are very high (very nearly 1). You solve it today because the problem is tractable today.

DNG may not be perfect in all respects. But its a step in the right direction, and its more than good enough. But the camera manufacturers like their proprietary business model. Works with lens mounts, right? And besides, look at all the photographers who don't believe it is a problem.
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Seh Suan Ngoh, Photographer
Singapore | SG | Singapore | Posted: 2:31 PM on 09.28.06
->> EBCDIC?! That just reminded me of my polytechnic course back in 1999!

Back then, I enjoyed doing COBOL programming... :p
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Primoz Jeroncic, Photographer
Kranj | SI | Slovenia | Posted: 2:38 PM on 09.28.06
->> Things are not so easy as they might look. Keeping old systems is on one side smart idea, but on other side it takes quite some space... especially after few decades. Not to mention computers tend to die or at least not start anymore after being out of use for a while.
Personally I'm not too worried about media incompatibility. Once new version of dvd (or whatever there will be that time) will come out, you just copy old dvds to new ones, and of course you hope you didn't miss one.
Converting open (standard) file formats to new format is a bit more tricky already. And I do believe jpegs will be changed for something else sooner or later. But still, you convert them once they change and programs still support old and new format.
But proprietary file formats is completely different thing. And raw files go under this. Who knows, but in 20 years there might not be Canon or Nikon, and DNG might be "standard" raw format of today, but once Adobe might go bancropt, it might just as well be some new "standard" raw format, and applications of that day won't support competitiors "standard" raw format.
But on the other side... who can garantie we can still develop our negatives or scan our slides in 20 years? They will be there for us to see them, but what can we do with them? Who knows... but it's really good question about which we really should think now already, and not only after x years. :)
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Ron Scheffler, Photographer
Hamilton (Toronto area) | Ontario | Canada | Posted: 5:24 PM on 09.28.06
->> Regarding the D2000: Canon's Digital Photo Professional version 2.1 added support for the D2000/6000 cameras but it's necessary to convert the "TIF" RAW files to CR2 with a converter. Unfortunately people who shoot/shot with the Kodak DCS-520/560 versions are out of luck... Another catch though is the only official way to get DPP is to buy a new Canon digital camera.

This doesn't answer your question but it does go to show that at least some manufacturers are extending compatibility back to older cameras and have software that supports all of their DSLR RAW formats.

There isn't a clear answer because no one really knows. All you can do is take measures to hopefully improve the odds of file compatibility. DNG may be one option. I make JPEG conversions of all my RAW keepers so at least one of the two formats should be readable far into the future.

While the RAW formats are proprietary, based on what I've read from people who know a lot more about this stuff, most are based on TIFF and it hasn't been impossible for software developers to reverse engineer the formats. Photoshop's RAW converter is a good example of this. Even if Canon, Nikon or Adobe disappear, there are thousands and thousands of photographers using those products. There will be a market for compatible RAW converters even if these companies disappear, at least for some time. The key is to keep on top of major changes to ensure you migrate your existing files to future formats. I agree that companies should be responsible for maintaining some sort of backwards compatibility, but it's also each photographer's responsibility to stay on top of technology changes that could eventually render archive images unreadable.
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Ramses Moya, Photographer
Toronto | ON | Canada | Posted: 6:31 PM on 09.28.06
->> This is a real problem but I don't know if there is momentum behind the openRAW organization to make changes. JPG is not really a solution and the problem with RAW is that there are many formats to deal with. I don't think until one of the industry leaders tries to implement a universal or open RAW format things would change. And I do hope they change as archival for many in the industry will be a problem.
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David Harpe, Photographer
Louisville | KY | USA | Posted: 7:25 PM on 09.28.06
->> The problem with proprietary RAW formats is very real and people who don't understand this will eventually get bit. There are already RAW formats that are no longer supported by camera vendors, and digital is not very old.

But most of the old formats ARE supported by Adobe and their DNG converter. This is why DNG is a great hedge against proprietary formats. As long as Adobe maintains support for the older files, you're golden. There is no reason for Adobe to drop support for the older formats because it encourages use of DNG. You can convert all of your stuff to DNG anytime you need to, now or in the future. It would be nice if the manufacturers supported DNG natively, but until that happens there is zero danger from CR2 files becoming "unreadable" in the forseeable future.

You mentioned a "kludged" workflow in the future. You'd never do a "workflow" using archived files that are no longer natively supported. All you have to do is convert them to standards of the day (i.e. OpenRAW or DNG or whatever 'open' standard wins) and keep going. With the multicore computing power we will have ten years from now, the slowest part of this conversion will be navigating to the folder and clicking "start".

Don't get me wrong, I'd love it if a truly open standard was adopted. But it's unlikely to happen across all brands. Manufacturers are not motivated to go in this direction. Until that happens, I'm content to use the proprietary format with the DNG hedge.
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Jeffrey Hanisch, Photographer
Slinger | WI | USA | Posted: 12:06 AM on 09.29.06
->> I had a DCS-520 for a few years, thus many of the Kodak TIF files in my archives. One thing I tried to do when archiving to hedge against future incompatibility with these raw images was to include a copy of the Kodak DCS Photo Desk software on all of my archive CD/DVD's along with the images. At least I shouldn't ever be at a loss for the software to view/convert the images.

Of course, that may not help if the future operating systems wont install the software...
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Fredrik Naumann, Photographer
Oslo | Oslo | Norway | Posted: 7:44 AM on 09.29.06
->> Thanks for all response. I am fairly convinced there are and will be workarounds and solutions for such problems, but it also seems to be quite a hassle.

If anything I am now less inclined to go with RAW. At least for the time being. Fortunately, despite it's limitations, the results I get from shooting JPG fine seems to keep my clients happy. And if they are happy, so am I. So for now - better safe than sorry.
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Matt Barton, Photographer
Lexington | KY | USA | Posted: 9:49 AM on 09.29.06
->> Fredrik-

I'll chime in with most of these comments and say DNG is the way to go.

When you convert those d2000 files to DNG, there's an option to embed the entire, original raw file inside it. It makes the DNG file HUGE but the untouched raw file is there if you ever need to extract it later.

Also, Adobe created the DNG format to be open source. So even if Photoshop dies out in 50 years, the DNG program code is out there for other companies to use. Not hidden away in a safe.

I shoot everything raw and almost immediately convert them to DNGs. Makes workflow easier because it embeds those pesky little xmp files.

But I think it would be a big mistake to stop shooting raw over this. Sorta like dropping down to 110 film from medium format. The loss of quality (i.e. profitability) can be a real deal killer for those high end pubs down the road. I mean, 8bit Jpgs might not seem so hot when 16bit printing becomes the standard in the next few years.

Keep your options open with DNG.
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Robert G. Stevens, Photographer
Halifax | NS | Canada | Posted: 9:03 AM on 10.22.06
->> I have been playing around with the Beta version of Adobe Lightroom and it works fine with my old D2000 files. These are the RAW files right out of the camera and it works well with them.
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Jack Kurtz, Photographer
Phoenix | AZ | United States | Posted: 11:04 AM on 10.22.06
->> Adobe Camera Raw converts D2000 and DCS520 files. But for long term, I would convert those files to .dng and save two copies - one in the original format and one Digital Negative. And buy lots of hard drives and DVDs for archiving.

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Clark Brooks, Photo Editor, Photographer
Urbana | IL | USA | Posted: 12:48 PM on 10.22.06
->> Go to the Canon download site. There is a D2000 tif to RAW convertor available for download.

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Chris Peterson, Photographer, Photo Editor
Columbia Falls | MT | USA | Posted: 1:44 PM on 10.22.06
->> My Jaz drive just crashed! Aaaaggghhh!
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Thread Title: can we open old RAW files in 10 years time?
Thread Started By: Fredrik Naumann
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