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Should I convert my NEFs to DNG?

Chris Kendall , Oct 10, 2005; 10:11 a.m.

I'd like to convert my NEFs to DNG, for two reasons: (a) future-proofing, (b) to save space. The DNG files are slightly smaller than my NEFs and cumulatively that should save me a lot of space. Obviously with (b) in mind I would not be embedding the original raws and I would be deleting the original NEFs after conversion. Before I cross this digital Rubicon is there something I should know? Is there information in the NEF that won't be carried over to the RAW? Or is the smaller file size down to compression alone?


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Ilkka Nissila , Oct 10, 2005; 10:28 a.m.

I don't see why you would consider DNG more future-proof than the original NEF. Can you convert the files back to NEF if necessary? If not, then you're reducing your options for post-processing.

Benoît Marchal , Oct 10, 2005; 11:37 a.m.

I agree with Ilkka and I strongly suggest you retain your NEF originals.

NEF and DNG are proprietary formats with implementations from the same few vendors (Adobe, Bibble Labs, Phase One, DxO,... -- Nikon supports NEF exclusively). The vendors offer the exact same feature sets for files stored in both formats.

Yes Adobe would like to turn DNG into some sort of standard (and, given their track record --TIFF, PDF, OpenType--, they may succeed) but right now I don't see how DNG is more future-proof than NEF.

Consider what would happen if Nikon would fail: there are enough NEF files out there that a conversion option/service would be available for some time (similar to chipping of AI lenses, it's still available --albeit from fewer shops-- after... how many years). The market for NEF is large enough to support a conversion industry. Conversely image Adobe fails, do you see anybody picking DNG? How would you process your DNG files?

This may (and hopefully will) change. I'd like an open RAW format as much as the next guy but DNG is not (yet?) the open RAW format. Don't be fooled by Adobe marketing.


PS: for the record, I don't see either Nikon or Adobe failing anytime soon but future-proofness is about having a contingency plan.

Walter Schroeder , Oct 10, 2005; 11:55 a.m.

Ilkka and Benoit are right. For future proofing I would store the most valuable in 16bit TIFF format because its more widely used and the data format is well documented. So even if Nikon or Adobe poduce no imaging software any more it will be possible to extract the data - at least as long computers still exist :-)For reason b) there is no other good alternative.

Joseph Wisniewski , Oct 10, 2005; 01:19 p.m.

As far as "future proofing", dcraw is very standard C, and compiles on PC, mac, unix work stations.

I always expect existing cameras to be supported. The part that reads headers never drops old camera support, and the part that actually does the raw conversion grows in sophistication constantly.

Benoît Marchal , Oct 10, 2005; 01:20 p.m.


I have read your other post and I understand why you like DNG. I don't deny that DNG has many useful features and lots of potential. My comment was specifically on the future- proofness of DNG versus NEF.

Conversely, DNG is an open standard and the FULL data published in that format is available for free. If adobe failed, why wouldn't people convert it?

When you look at the resilience of a solution, it helps to think in terms of "worst case scenarios." Not just possibilities or convenience.

Essentially I'm pointing out that Nikon Capture currently supports NEF only while the other tools support both NEF and DNG. So by moving from NEF to DNG, you're loosing one conversion option but you don't gain any.

If you look at a worst case scenario where only one of the existing tool remains then it should be obvious that it's safer to own NEF files than DNG files. It's that simple.
If we look at a not so worst scenario where one of the tool improves so significantly that you absolutely want to reprocess your images with it... NEF is still the winner for the same reasons.

There is an inherent convenience to DNG that makes it extremely attractive to access that format.

I don't deny that DNG is convenient but the original question was about future-proofness.

Obviously as/if more manufacturers follow Leica and Leaf leads, then DNG will become the preferred solution for archiving. Until that happens, NEF is more archival than DNG so if you only have one of the two formats, I believe it should be NEF.
If you can afford two, by all means do so.


Wilfred Wong , Oct 10, 2005; 01:42 p.m.

a Future proofing - i'd keep multiple format

b.use some offline storage like DVD. just keep multiple copies.

NEF is one of the major RAW formats and unlike Canon RAW converters, Nikon do support all older RAW files(so far). so i'd keep my options for different RAW converters unless they change that policy and drop supporting old files. In fact, i convert most of my files using NC and some with CS2. NEF files ain't that big actually. Fuji RAW files are much worse (their 6MP P&S F810 produces ~12MB files and S3 pro files are around 25MB) and i do plan to convert them to DNG since i dont like Fuji converters and also don't want to 've too many different converters. But NEF is so widely supported that I 'd 've fewer choice if i converted them all to DNG and delete the NEF.

Chris Kendall , Oct 10, 2005; 01:52 p.m.

Thanks everyone for this extremely useful discussion. I see the arguments though I can't help feeling that an open source solution is going to be preferable in the longer term, simply because with or without Adobe there's always going to be someone making a conversion tool for DNGs. With NEF and possible encryption, I'm a bit nervous that those files wouldn't be recoverable in a Nikon-less world. But I take the point that, at present, perhaps the jury's still out and maybe I should still wait a while.

Space-wise, *sigh* yes it always boils down to more storage doesn't it? 1.5tb under my desk and I still don't seem to have enough.

Dean Tomasula , Oct 10, 2005; 04:07 p.m.

Converting NEFs to DNG will not save you that much space. Also, since Nikon is not going anywhere anytime soon, why convert their files. You will be able to open them for years to come so why screw around with a format that may not be around in five years.

Also, when converting NEFs to DNG, you will lose some of Nikon's proprietary data (at least until Nikon opens the formut up). Do not do it unles you can revert to the original files.

Alex J , Oct 12, 2005; 01:59 a.m.

Ben writes

> if more manufacturers follow Leica and Leaf leads, then DNG will become the preferred solution.

Hasselblad would appear to be another...


However I don't see any rush to convert - if space was not such an issue I'd suggest to Chris that he convert to at least JPEG or TIFF and store alongside your NEF files, so that at least at some point in the future you can view the image and decide whether it's worthwhile to drag that old 2006 vintage PC with Capture on it. But I wouldn't delete those NEF's.

In the meanwhile it might be worthwhile to keep an eye on what happens with the OpenRAW working group. This document by Michael Reichmann and Juergen Specht, explains the problem better than I could...


The document reminded me that I've still got some of those 5 1/4" floppy disks at home and no working computer with a 5 1/4" floppy drive to copy the data. I "think" there isn't anything worth keeping on them... but I'm not 100% sure.

Regards, Lex

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