If you are an enthusiast photographer using a digital camera, you may well have set your camera to take photos using its RAW format. It’s what every professional photographer does. The rest of us take the easy way out, and take photos using our cameras, smartphones, or similar image capture devices using the ubiquitous JPEG format.
The advantage of the RAW format is that, like the old film negative, it contains the truest record of the data captured by the camera’s image sensor. That data can be processed to suit what the photographer wants as the final image. In traditional photography, this is equivalent to processing the negative into the final positive print.
The JPEG format, on the other hand, can be thought of as the end result of the image processing that happens in the camera itself using a standard set of parameters. While the image can be further tweaked in computer applications, the flexibility of what can be done, as compared to that when using the RAW format, is severely limited.
Microsoft’s Windows has, over the years, supported the JPEG format out of the box. That means that utilities such as the Windows Explorer will display thumbnails of your JPEG images and tools such as Microsoft’s Windows Live Photo Gallery will be able to process those images further.
However, up until now, support of the RAW format has not been present in Windows itself. If you have images using a RAW format, Windows has probably given you a message telling you that it can’t display the image, and suggesting that you go to your camera manufacturer’s web site to download and install an image codec to plug into the Windows Imaging Component of Windows that will enable the display of your images.
There are also third party software solutions that offer portmanteau RAW codecs for a wide range of cameras and RAW formats (each camera manufacturer defines their own RAW format in a unique way). These third party solutions have been around since the days of Windows XP.
Now, Microsoft have trumpeted that, in order to make it easy for the consumer, they have developed their own portmanteau codec for a range of RAW formats. This can be downloaded and installed into Windows. It enables both Windows Explorer and Windows Live Photo Gallery to display RAW images directly.
While I think it’s a good thing that Microsoft have done this, what left a nasty taste in my mouth, in both the announcement and the accompanying video, was there was no acknowledgement whatsoever of existing third party solutions. Even worse were the statements such as that made by Jason Cahill in the video that the Microsoft codec supports “all the cameras you may have had or may have now”. Er, no, it doesn’t.
Axel Rietschin, the developer of the excellent FastPictureViewer Codec Pack has made an excellent comparison between his own offering and Microsoft’s codec. If you are interested in seeing the full picture, and wanting a superior codec pack, then you should read it.