Friday, September 18, 2009

Raw Image Formats Support for Windows?

Starting with Windows Vista, Microsoft has introduced an all-new, extensible imaging framework called Windows Imaging Component (WIC) to be used throughout the system, including by Windows Explorer and the built-in Windows Photo Gallery / Photo Viewer. The framework is entirely documented, which makes it possible for 3rd party software vendors to take full advantage of its features.

The WIC framework, also part of Windows XP SP3 and Windows 7, ships with a number of built-in image decoders, called "codecs", to support common image formats such as JPG, TIFF, PNG, GIF, BMP, etc. What is sorely lacking is support for the diverse raw image formats produced by digital cameras, such as Canon CR2, Nikon NEF and NRW, Adobe DNG, Olympus ORF, Panasonic RW2, Sony ARW and SR2 etc.

Microsoft idea was presumably to let camera manufacturer write the codecs Windows needs to support their formats. Excellent idea, in theory, as manufacturers are best placed to process their own proprietary and often secret files.

In practice, however, only a handful of manufacturers actually developed the necessary decoders and the few who did completely ignored the 64-bit world, except one, leaving their users without any support commitment where they need it most.

Apple Mac users, on the other hand, enjoy seamless raw formats support built straight into the operating system. This approach has its disadvantages tough, for example support for new cameras is tied to operating system release cycles, which are typically quite long, and so new camera models might stay unsupported for months. On the other hand, built-in support - even slightly out of date - is way better than no support at all and with the advent of the 64-bit enabled OSX Snow Leopard the Mac platform once again has serious advantages for photographers, offering both raw support and 64-bit abilities, both being obvious benefits for digital photography applications.

Something that Microsoft maybe did not anticipate is how difficult it is to write proper codecs. 64-bit WIC codecs currently exists for formats such as TGA and DjVU, but 3rd party raw codec writers can easily be counted on one's fingers, only one company supplies commercial decoders for Adobe DNG, Canon CR2 and Nikon NEF, a far cry from the dozens raw image formats in use today.

In an attempt to help the photographer's community (and unlock the full potential of a WIC-enabled image viewer that we publish), we produced a free codec pack, dubbed the FastPictureViewer WIC Codec Pack, which brings raw format support to all editions of Windows for 19 raw formats, spanning 12 camera brands and covering about 300 camera models. The WIC codec pack provides thumbnail and previewing support to Windows Explorer, in both 32 and 64-bit flavors, along with full preview and slideshow support in Vista's Photo Gallery. Windows 7 Home Premium and Ultimate users also enjoy raw viewing and slideshow support in Windows Media Center.

Additionally, all application based on .NET 3.x or WPF, and native 32 or 64-bit WIC-Enabled application also benefit from the ability to open raw files just like they were JPEGs once the codec pack in installed.


Platforms supported: Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP SP3, all editions, in both 32 and 64-bit versions.

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