OpenRAW was an initiative to raise awareness of a serious problem with top-end digital photography and to help solve that problem. The problem concerns long-term access and viewing of the raw images often used by professional and experienced amateur photographers. OpenRAW's solution, (also their motto), was "Digital Image Preservation Through Open Documentation".
This initiative was primarily an international (non-political) advocacy and lobby activity directed at companies making digital cameras and those developing software to support those cameras. It also had the aim of raising awareness of the problem among photographers. Its resources included a website with a discussion forum, and many registered supporters, including individuals, companies, and professional organizations.
- 1 Formation
- 2 Achievements
- 3 Limitation
- 4 Status in 2011
- 5 References
Early in 2005, Juergen Specht and the members of his mailing list D1scussion began to identify concerns about the difficulties associated with the proprietary RAW files introduced by camera makers.
The background to these concerns, described at Raw image format (Drawbacks), Digital Negative (Objectives), and dcraw (Motivation), is that the photographs from top-end digital cameras are often contained within files whose specifications are formally known only to the camera manufacturers. Not only does this require extra software development by many companies after the launch of most new camera models, but there is a major risk that future software products will not be able to render photographs from decades earlier.
As the seriousness of the issue was quickly realized, this team founded an initiative called OpenRAW, with the goal of encouraging image preservation and ensuring that the creators of the images retained the choice of how their images are processed.
OpenRAW was launched worldwide via a press release on 25 April 2005. There were positive reactions worldwide: for example at DPReview; many others in English; some in German; and in Japanese.
The OpenRAW initiative identified the seriousness of this problem, articulated it in a way that photographers understood, summarized the solution with their "motto", and created a (non-commercial) global brand ("OpenRAW") which encapsulated all of these. The team were not the first to understand these problems, and didn't claim to be. They were primarily photographers, (rather than companies with commercial interests in cameras or image processing products, or archivists), with the advantage that they spoke to other photographers in their own language, rather than, for example, the language of archivists.
The OpenRAW initiative raised awareness, or crystallized vague awareness, of these problems with many photographers and organizations worldwide.
Camera manufacturers were made aware of the disquiet about their policies. One of them, Sony, responded with a letter held on the OpenRAW website, while others didn't respond when asked. There is no evidence that any of them changed their policies as a result of the OpenRAW initiative.
At OpenRAW's peak there were over 1600 registered individual supporters from across the world, writing in English but sometimes as a second language. Nearly thirty software and hardware companies registered their support, thirty "photographic resources" were supporters, and so were five professional organisations.
Its influence was wider than these numbers would indicate. When it conducted a survey (in English) in 2006, more than 19,200 photographers worldwide responded to it. (From North America, 46%; Europe, 43%; Asia, 5%; Australia, 4%; Africa, 1%; South America, 1%). Twenty photography associations, forums, listservs, and other resources worldwide supported the survey.
What these supporters typically have in common was the conviction that people and organizations should reliably be able to access and view their photographs well into the future, and that this requires open documentation of the formats of the files used. While popular image file formats such as JPEG are openly documented, most raw image formats, often used by professional and experienced amateur photographers, are not.
The OpenRAW website, especially the non-forum parts identified above, represent views of many companies and organizations other than camera makers.
The results of the survey continue to be available as a resource, but must be read with caution because it was conducted in 2006.
Another resource, often cited on the web and still pertinent, is an article "The RAW Flaw", jointly authored by Michael Reichmann (of The Luminous Landscape) and Juergen Specht (leader of the founding group of OpenRAW), and published on each website. Permission is given for the text to be copied and republished, with translation if desired, and there are examples in various countries and languages, especially of the "Act Now" call for action: in China (in English); in French; different versions in Spanish; in Danish; and in Italian.
Summary of the problem
The problem identified by the sources identified above can be summarized as: "there is an ever increasing number of undocumented raw file formats". The final paragraph in "The RAW Flaw" on The Luminous Landscape website is:
- "Finally, consider the problems of digital asset management and the cataloging of files. ... The various asset management programs can't hope to keep up with the ever increasing number of proprietary formats. And as time passes and these programs are enhanced, what are the chances that they will still be able to read your older RAW files?"
And it summarizes the solution as:
- "The Solution? There really is only one solution – the adoption by the camera industry of...
- A. Public documentation of RAW formats; past, present and future
- or, more likely...
- B. Adoption of a universal RAW format"
Stance from launch, April 2005
From April 2005, OpenRAW did not acknowledge the need to avoid the ever increasing number of proprietary formats, and did not pursue the idea of a "universal RAW format". The OpenRAW version of "The RAW Flaw"  is a subset of the Luminous Landscape version. It omits that entire final paragraph, and also the words "or, more likely...". Another article "The RAW Problem" at OpenRAW confirms this:
- "We want camera manufacturers to publicly document their RAW image formats - past, present, and future. ... Many have suggested (and Adobe has created) a common, open file format for RAW image files for all camera makers to use as a solution to the RAW problem. A common, openly documented RAW format would fulfill many of the goals of OpenRAW, but is likely to face significant resistance from manufacturers who feel their "creativity" and ability to innovate would be constrained. Open documentation of all RAW file formats by manufacturers is the quickest and most satisfactory way for OpenRAW's goals to be reached."
The phrase "(and Adobe has created)" above refers to Adobe's DNG (Digital Negative Format), launched 7 months before OpenRAW. DNG was designed (among other things) as an archival raw image format and has a published specification.
Stance from April 2006
From April 2006, OpenRAW's stance was explicitly opposed to DNG. The words "(and Adobe has created)" disappeared from "The RAW Problem", removing the acknowledgment that Adobe had created such a file format. An article "Notes on the future of Open RAW formats, and a look at DNG" said "DNG is not the answer". Opposition was present in the forum. In an interview, a founder of OpenRAW said "No, DNG is unfortunately not a solution."
Instead of seeking synergy between its aims and those of DNG, OpenRAW limited itself to seeking specifications for proprietary file formats. This stance continued as DNG became better established while camera makers showed no signs of publishing documentation for their raw file formats.
Status in 2011
Status of OpenRAW initiative
The OpenRAW Mailing List was closed to new members in April 2006.
The OpenRAW website became inactive in August 2009, but the last post was a year earlier. By May 2011 that home page was moved to preserve it, and a new home page summarized the history of OpenRAW. It says:
- "While the final goal of "Open Documentation" has not yet been reached, the OpenRAW initiative and the survey results have triggered the ongoing development of an "Open" RAW standard which is in the final stages of becoming a reality."
- "OpenRAW had a lot of impact on the world of photography and it continues to aim at improving the situation for photographers and their photographs for years to come."
OpenRAW has a page on Facebook, created by a supporter rather than one of the founding team.
Status of cameras and camera makers
Niche and some smaller camera makers use DNG as a raw image format, and so conform to OpenRAW's requirement. However they do so by using this openly documented non-proprietary format rather than by using their own proprietary formats and openly documenting them. So they are helping to solve both parts of the "ever increasing number of proprietary formats" problem identified in "The RAW Flaw".
The larger camera makers, such as Canon, Nikon, Olympus, and Sony, continue to use raw image formats that are not openly documented, and so still cause the problems identified by OpenRAW. A variety of DNG Converters enables the undocumented proprietary formats used by the larger camera makers to be converted to DNG, but this is less satisfactory than the approach of the smaller camera makers.
Professional image archivists and conservationists
Increasingly, professional archivists and conservationists, working for respectable organizations, variously suggest or recommend DNG for archival purposes.
- "Original OpenRAW website".
- "Individuals supporting OpenRAW".
- "Software Companies & Developers supporting OpenRAW".
- "Organizations supporting OpenRAW".
- Juergen Specht. "Juergen Specht - Photographs: Photos by a German Photographer living in Tokyo, Japan".
- "Welcome to OpenRAW (latest home page)".
- Juergen Specht (2005-04-25). "For Immediate Release — OpenRAW Web Site Launched".
- Larry Strunk (2006-03-15). "About OpenRAW".
- "OpenRAW launches website".
- "OPENRAW Launches Web Site".
- "Image Preservation Through Open Documentation". 2005-04-25.
- Declan McCullagh (2005-04-25). "Photographers ask camera makers to open up".
- Declan McCullagh (2005-04-25). "Photographers ask camera makers to open up".
- "OpenRAW Web Site Launched". 2005-04-27.
- Seb Chan (2005-05-02). "An open standard for the camera RAW format has just launched.".
- Andy Goetze (2005-06-21). "Leave Your Wife, Sign Up For OpenRAW".
- Andreas Donath (2005-04-26). "Freie Rohdaten von Digitalkameras: OpenRAW-Website eröffnet" (in German).
- "OpenRAW: Fotografen aller Länder, vereinigt Euch!" (in German). 2005-04-26.
- "OpenRAW fordert offengelegte RAW-Spezifikationen" (in German). 2005-04-25.
- "OpenRAW (as a GIF)" (in Japanese). 2005-05-12.
- Calvin Jones. "Calvin Jones Photography".
- Michael Reichmann. "The Luminous Landscape".
- Chris Rusbridge (2008-07-29). ""Digital Preservation" term considered harmful?".
- Juergen Specht (2006-04-24). "Survey Press Release".
- Yasuo Takagi, Sony CS Center Service Quality Department (July 2006). "Sony responds to 2006 RAW Survey report".
- "Photographic Resources supporting OpenRAW".
- "The Original Survey Page (now nonfunctional)".
- Calvin Jones (2006-04-25). "The 2006 RAW Survey".
- Calvin Jones; Juergen Specht (2006-04-29). "2006 Raw Survey Results" (PDF).
- Juergen Specht; Calvin Jones. "OpenRAW home page". Archived from the original on 2006-04-02.
- "The RAW Flaw (at The Luminous Landscape)". May 2005.
- "The RAW Flaw (at The Luminous Landscape)" (DOC). May 2005.
- "The RAW Flaw (at The Luminous Landscape)" (PDF). May 2005.
- "RAW FLAW - PLEASE SUPPORT". 2005-05-25.
- Volker Gilbert (2005-05-23). "OpenRaw lance une campagne pour le RAW libre" (in French and English).
- "Lo malo del RAW" (in Spanish). 2006-06-01.
- "El problema del Raw" (in Spanish). 2005-05-24.
- "Open RAW - skriv til din kamerafabrikant" (in Danish and English). 2005-05-25.
- "OpenRAW - Act now! Petizione per un formato RAW libero!" (in Italian). 2005-05-25.
- "The RAW Flaw (at OpenRAW)". May 2005.
- "The RAW Problem". Archived from the original on 2006-02-20.
- "The RAW Problem". Archived from the original on 2006-04-11.
- Stuart Nixon (2006-04-03). "Notes on the future of Open RAW formats, and a look at DNG". Archived from the original on 2006-04-21.
- (various) (2007-02-03). "Converting current RAW images to Open RAW".
- Javier García Diz. "RAW format, the captive photo".
- vivosz (2007-10-23). "On workflows, openRaw and DNG".
- Abhay Sharma, PhD (November 2006). "Digital Photos (see end)". Archived from the original on 2006-12-06.
- Juergen Specht (2006-04-02). "OpenRAW Mailing List".
- "OpenRAW home page". Archived from the original on 2010-02-08.
- "OpenRAW on Facebook".
- Planning for US Library of Congress Collections: Preferences in Summary
- dpBestflow: Raw File Formats
- universal photographic digital imaging guidelines (UPDIG): File formats - the raw file issue
- Archaeology Data Service / Digital Antiquity: Guides to Good Practice - Section 3 Archiving Raster Images - File Formats
- University of Connecticut: "Raw as Archival Still Image Format: A Consideration" by Michael J. Bennett and F. Barry Wheeler
- Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research: Obsolescence - File Formats and Software
- JISC Digital Media - Still Images: Choosing a File Format for Digital Still Images - File formats for master archive
- International Digital Enterprise Alliance, Digital Image Submission Criteria (DISC) Guidelines & Specifications 2007 (PDF)
- The J. Paul Getty Museum - Department of Photographs: Rapid Capture Backlog Project - Presentation
- American Institute for Conservation - Electronic Media Group: Digital Image File Formats
- Archives Association of British Columbia: Born Digital Photographs: Acquisition and Preservation Strategies (Rosaleen Hill)