If you’ve spent any time researching photography, you’ve no doubt come across photography’s great debate — RAW vs. JPG. If you’ve read our guide on RAW, then you agree, RAW is better. But now there’s a new question to consider when it comes to saving your images. Is DNG better than your camera’s native RAW file? What is DNG anyway?

This guide will explore the DNG format, how it differs from your camera’s RAW format, explain the advantages and disadvantages and go over how to convert your RAW files to DNG.

.DNG was created by Adobe in 2004
Photo by Mikaela Shannon on Unsplash

What is DNG?

The letters DNG stand for “digital negative.” As you know, RAW image files contain unprocessed and uncompressed data directly from your camera. These files are also RAW image files. Adobe developed this format in 2004 as an open-source alternative to all the other proprietary native RAW formats that camera manufacturers were using. 

Understanding native RAW formats

Nikon, Canon, Sony, and other manufacturers allow you to shoot in RAW but each brand has its own proprietary RAW format. Canon’s is .CR2, Nikon’s is .NEF, Sony’s is .ARW. But, because these formats are proprietary, the way they work — how their files are processed in-camera — is secret. So, if someday Canon is no longer in business, you’ll eventually have a hard time opening your old .CR2 files.

Due to all the different RAW formats, Adobe created their open-source file format in hopes that manufacturers would adopt this single format across the board. Hasselblad, Pentax, and Leica have adopted the DNG file format, while Nikon, Canon, Sony, and others have not. For the sake of simplicity, in this article when we refer to RAW files, we’re talking about your camera’s native RAW format, which might be .CR2 if you’re using a Canon or .NEF if you shoot with a Nikon.

Pentax has adopted the .DNG file format
Photo by Kim Jin Cheol on Unsplash

Advantages of DNG Format over RAW

Why would you want to convert your files from your native RAW format to DNG? There are a few advantages.

  • Compatible with any software. After you convert your RAW file to DNG, you won’t have to worry about proprietary camera formats. It will be compatible with any software that can read DNG files. And that’s not just Adobe products. Most photo editing software can read them.
  • Smaller file size than native RAW files. They still contain all the photographic data as your camera’s RAW image, but take up less space on your hard drive.
  • Simpler file management. Whenever you make edits to proprietary RAW files, you create what’s called a “sidecar file.” It’s an XMP metadata file that includes instructions on how the file is processed. So, you end up with two separate files for each image. This data is included within DNG files, so you only end up with one file. 

Disadvantages of DNG Format

Converting a file to DNG file format is not without its drawbacks.

  • Conversion from RAW to DNG takes time. Since most camera systems don’t shoot in DNG as their native format, you’ll have to convert your files and that can take a lot of time, especially if your files are very large.
  • Does not work with most camera manufacturer’s image editing programs. If you use your camera manufacturer’s software to edit your photos, it likely will not open a DNG image.
  • Some EXIF metadata is not included. Some of your RAW EXIF data can get lost during the conversion to DNG. This includes GPS data, copyright information, and focus point. The usual data like exposure and camera information stays intact, however.

Why convert RAW to DNG?

DNG is most useful for people who use Adobe products, though it works with other editing software, too. Since Photoshop and Lightroom are the industry standard programs used today for photo editing, it makes sense that users would save their files to the DNG format. 

The main reason you should consider saving files as DNG is for future compatibility. As we mentioned, each camera brand has its own proprietary RAW format. It’s hard to imagine now, but in the future, if one of those brands no longer existed, their formats would no longer be supported and they’d be difficult to open.

For example, think about how difficult it would be for you to read a floppy disk today if you had to!

floppy disks are outdated technology
Photo by hosein zanbori on Unsplash

How to convert RAW to DNG

There are a few ways to convert your RAW files to DNG files.

  • Using Lightroom: Easily convert your images to DNG when you import. Or, after they’re open, choose “Convert Photos to DNG” from the Library drop-down menu.
  • With a standalone conversion tool: The Adobe Digital Negative Converter is available for Windows or macOS and enables you to easily convert your camera-specific RAW files to DNG files.

Can you convert JPG to DNG?

Yes. But, it’s not necessary. JPG is already a standard and highly compatible image file format. Converting to a DNG will give you the ability to make non-destructive edits to your file. But, it isn’t going to give your image any of the data that was lost when the original file was converted to JPG.

Final thoughts

As you can see, there’s no clear-cut answer to the question of RAW vs. DNG. There are benefits and disadvantages to working with each, and it’s up to you to decide what works best with your personal situation and workflow.