RAWs are screwed up, let's fix it: Dotphoton Raw story

Boris Verks, head of product · April 24, 2019
The quality/size collapse
It's common knowledge that photography is painting with light and this balance of light and its absence is what mesmerises us when we look at our favourite images. That is the same very reason why digital camera manufacturers fight so hard to make sensors in our cameras capture as much light as possible rendering our image files to be so heavy. In this photographic arms race we all missed the moment when photographic quality became a limitation rather than a creativity emancipator.
Since the introduction of the first digital camera the number of megapixels has been steadily growing with certain industry-pushing peaks like Phase One cameras and this trend is nowhere near its end: one of the most expected cameras of 2020 is a Fuji with roughly a 100MP sensor:
RAW images — mistakenly written in capitals, although it's not an acronym — are now an industry standard for professionals and are rapidly entering even the amateur photography world with photo editing software landscape democratisation thanks to AI. But this size problem is not going away anytime soon.

Here are just some painful parts of the love-hate relationship that artists enjoy with raws, confirmed via multiple interviews with our customers:

  • Hard drives and cards are expensive,
  • Cloud storage is close to unusable when it comes to storing raws
  • Sharing images with clients and partners takes ages (try to upload 1000 raw images to share),
  • Storage equipment takes space on photo trips and makes your backpack heavier.
Sounds familiar?

The saddest part is photographers actually must choose whether to keep or toss their raws. As one of our friend photographers put it:

I have to keep in mind what those images are for: if my clients want to print it, I have to keep raws, if not I would delete the original archive. But then, what if they come back and ask for raws?"
Rare raw
In trying to balance quality and file size for various working settings like burst shots or high exposure camera manufacturers came up with what we would call lossy raws: think mRAW and sRAW in Canon or compressed NEF. Even worse is when they don't mention that camera settings like continuous or burst shot or long exposure can downscale your color information to 12 bits.

As Douglas A. Kerr states in his research after reverse engineering some of the precompressed photo formats with his peers:

It represents an image having about one-half the pixel count of the image directly developable from a regular Raw file. (This image has roughly 70% the linear resolution of the "native" image.)"
The Beginning
But this doesn't have to be so forever. A couple of years ago my friend Eugenia Balysheva, a hard-working photographer from Geneva and Dr. Bruno Sanguinetti, a high profile quantum information scientist were discussing the hardships of professional free-lance photography and found something in common: Eugenia was struggling with buying dozens of hard-drives to store her shoots and Bruno was researching quantum-based encryption algorithms using photons. Some time later they found a solution: a compression technology allowing us to compress images by up to 80% with negligible information loss.

Thanks to analysing the photons impinging on your camera sensors it has become possible to understand which particles of light are completely random, and therefore don't carry any information about the image. It could be translated as "has no impact on image quality for your photo editing software or for human eyes" and we can get rid of them without losing, well, valuable data.
What started as a photographer's dream ended up a solution for satellites, microbiology labs and even drones in one of the most successful Swiss deeptech startups, but now it's time we get back to our photography roots.
Dotphoton Raw
In 2017 we started to prototype what later became Dotphoton Raw, a macOS app for photographers. We've went through all kinds of awful UX ideas to finally get the one that proved working in beta tests.
Dotphoton Raw early sketches
We've launched our beta on the stage of the Way Up North 2019, one of the finest wedding photography conferences in Europe and of great interest for professional photographers.
So, how does it work?
It's very simple. You drag the images and folders that you want to compress, choose an output folder and start compression.
Join us in reimagining imaging
We are happy to invite professional photographers and photography geeks to be among the first to try Dotphoton Raw starting end of May and please don't forget to share your opinion on Dotphoton Raw with us.
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