Musings on Photography

Open Cameras

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul Butzi on December 1, 2007

The major camera manufacturers build what I’ll call ‘closed’ camera systems – that is, the specifications for things like the electronic interface between the lenses and the camera body is not published. They do this because, if the specs for that interface are published, it enables a large group of second tier manufacturers who will immediately start building lenses for that camera system – and thus compete with the primary manufacturer’s products. Not a good business plan to do that.

But what I don’t understand is why the camera manufacturers are so secretive about the format and semantics of the data in a camera’s raw file format.

Sure, every camera manufacturer ships a raw converter for their camera’s raw format. And, if I might generalize widely, all such software is utter crap – unreliable, awkward to use, impossible to integrate into the workflow used by any photographer, and so on. And, even worse, all such software is NOT a profit center for the manufacturer. Canon ships a disk with Canon’s software on it with each camera. I have now purchased my second Canon camera from Canon, and with this second purchase, I didn’t even bother to load the disk into a computer to see how nasty/horrid the software was. If Canon would have sold me the same camera without the disk, even for the same price, I’d have picked that option, just so I didn’t have to fill my dumpster with more stuff. So Canon are paying for developing software that doesn’t make their cameras more competitive, doesn’t get used, and just adds cost to their product. I don’t want Canon’s software – what I care about is when I will get decent support for the camera in the toolset I current use.

So the net effect is that when a new camera is introduced, some number of people rush out and buy it. They’re going to be on the leading edge no matter what, but they represent a small portion of the overall market. The rest of the market sees the announcement that Canon have shipped the brand spanking new wonder-camera (call it the EOS-1dsmkMCXVII) and they start checking the adobe website once a month. When they see that a new version of ACR has shipped, and the EOS-1DSmkMCXVII is listed as supported, they start considering buying the camera. That is, until the toolset they use supports the camera, they don’t even consider buying the damn thing. That portion of the market delays buying the product until the toolset they use supports it. By making it hard for Adobe to upgrade ACR, and the other raw convertor folks to upgrade their products, Canon have added a barrier to the adoption of their new product.

Even worse, some manufacturers (like Nikon) not only keep the raw format secret, they throw hurdles in the path of software developers by doing stupid things like encrypting the white balance info. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Why make it hard for the developers of the raw converters to do a good job with the files from your product? All that does is make your cameras look bad compared to your competition.

3 Responses

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  1. Adam Maas said, on December 1, 2007 at 9:30 am

    And then there’s Pentax, which not only uses an open Mount spec (K mount is an open design, like 4/3rds and M42. Pentax actually has never made a camera with a proprietary lens mount, and only one lens with such, the 43/1.9 Limited in Leica mount) but supports Adobe’s DNG RAW format in addition to their proprietary PEF format.

    The only downside is the K10D doesn’t support compressed DNG’s, but does support compressed PEF’s (Pentax’s RAW format).

  2. Martin Doonan said, on December 1, 2007 at 10:18 am

    On the RAW front, maybe they’re worried that some wunderkind is going to reverse engineer their entire image processing system. I’d have thought that’s near impossible anyway and, as you say, entirely self-defeating.

    For the lenses, I also think it’s self defeating. Canon had to put money into a whole raft of high-end, low-profit lenses (e.g. the TS range) to entice people to the system. If they could get that enticement without the pain (by having 3rd parties provide the high-end/aspirational stuff) I’m sure they’d do better. There are all kinds of ways of setting up licensing deals to ensure your key products aren’t affected by your partners.

    These are key reasons, as with Adam’s comments, that I’m recommending a lot of people onto the Pentax cameras: great package without the locked-in woes. That from a Canon shooter.

  3. suneet said, on December 6, 2007 at 11:11 pm

    very well shot !

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