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Why You Should Be Importing Files as DNGs into Lightroom

By Trevor Dayley on December 22nd 2015

When importing your images, Lightroom gives you the option of importing as Camera RAW files and DNG. Typically, many users will simply import as Camera RAW but let me show you why I feel importing as DNGs instead will be nothing but beneficial for you and your workflow.

Importing Files as DNGs into Lightroom Video

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DNG Format

DNG stands for Digital Negative and it is essentially Adobe’s version of a Camera RAW file. Everything that can be done on a RAW file can be done with a DNG with the additional benefit of the DNG being 10-15% smaller in file size. This can prove to be incredibly advantageous as you can shoot and store more of your images without sacrificing quality. One of the features that I like the most about having my images as DNG files is that it eliminates the presence of the .XMP files that will appear alongside your Camera RAW images as you begin to edit.


This not only helps get rid of the excessive amount of .XMP files but it also saves all of the information about your edits right into the DNG file and, therefore, helping you make your images much more manageable.



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Trevor Dayley is a full-time wedding photographer based out of Arizona. He has six kids and has been married for 15 years. When he is not shooting weddings, he loves helping the photo industry. He has written hundreds of articles and shared countless tutorials. In 2014, he was named one of the Top 30 Most Influential Photographers in the Industry and one of the Top 100 Wedding Photographers by BrandSmash.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. cherestes janos

    i will give it a try :) but from my experience the time to copy to DNG take long. I use the files in the original location i’m working on external hdd.

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    • Poul-Werner Dam

      You don’t have to do it on import.
      If you are going to convert to DNG, I would suggest that you wait until you have culled alle the rejects. Why waste time on converting something you are going to delete anyway?

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  2. Stephen Glass

    I think there’s an advantage to XMP that hasn’t been mentioned. Some editing houses use the sidecar file as a convenient way to send you your edits. Instead of sending you your RAW files back with each XMP, they simply send the XMP instruction file and you’re able to download only the XMP and those edits apply to your catalog. You could then convert to DNG if you wanted.
    I use DNG for the house keeping aspect of it. Although I have LR write to a second drive during the same import and those are RAW NEFs in my case.

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  3. Dave Norwood

    A question from another discussion: What does LR do with a dng when you make a proof copy? Or a virtual copy?

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    • Joseph Ford

      Proof and Virtual copy are handled the same way. It’s only a new item in the catalog still pointed to the original

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    • Matthew Saville

      In other words, your hard work is ONLY stored in the LRCAT file, there is no XMP or DNG file created as a placeholder for the edits you apply to the virtual copy.

      Virtual copies are nice for high-speed workflows, but for lower volume, fine art work where each one photo really matters, I do recommend physically duplicating that file. :-)

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    • Matthew Saville

      In my experience, I have found that none of Adobe’s DNG space-saving (compression) algorithms preserve detail as well as shooting Nikon 12-bit compressed NEF. So, while converting to DNG might be a nice space saver for Canon CR2 shooters, for the space savings alone I usually don’t recommend it to Nikon shooters.

      However, the inclusion of all your hard work into each DNG file (when set up properly, see Joseph Ford’s original comment above) is indeed the main benefit of using the DNG file format. It’s an effective tool for volume-oriented professional workflows.

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    • Cletus Lee

      All post processing directives are stored in the LR catalog. You need LR to interpret these instructions. If you export a Virtual copy or Proof copy to another Adobe product (i.e. Photoshop), the original RAW file will be accompanied by the XMP for that Virtual copy. Wither as a separate XMP sidecar file or as an XMP section of the DNG header.
      Not all DNGs are lossless but this is a recent “improvement” to the DNG specification. A losslessly compressed DNG and a losslessly compressed NEF decompress to the same uncompressed data (In fact, all a DNG is for RAW file is a Proprietary RAW data block stripped of the Proprietary header and re wrapped with a DNG header. If you want maximum fidelity, you should be shooting 14 bit RAW files not 12. The RGB file created from the DNG or the NEF will pad the original 12-14 bits of data with zeros so that all future post processing will be a 16bit.

      No matter there reasoning there is no need for duplicating the original RAW image data for forked workflows. ALL workflow is managed through LR and only one master original RAW file is needed.

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  4. Kristy chapman

    Thanks! I will definitely check out importing as DNG to see how it works. Great video!

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  5. Fisnik Islami

    big like for this

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  6. David Blanchard

    I’ve been using DNG for over 10 years. Does Lightroom produce a slightly different image than the ??? raw processor? Damned if I know. Does Lightroom produce images that satisfy me? Yes. Would I ever want to go back to the original raw file? No.

    Conclusion: Suit yourself.

    The snarky question is: Why do people capitalize the simple word raw and make it appear as a TLA?

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    • Cletus Lee

      Lightroom uses the same RAW processor as the ACR plugin for Photoshop. It does not matter whether the RAW is proprietary or DNG. The result is the same.

      All German Nouns are Capitalized. So why not RAW. JPEG, TIFF, CR2, NEF are often capitalized to designate that this is a filetype. RAW is a generic file type. There is some camera (I do not remember which) that uses .RAW/.raw as its file extension. Using the original 8.3 file naming scheme RAW would have been capitalized.

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    • Dave Haynie

      JPEG, TIFF, CR2, and NEF are capitalized because they’re acronyms (Joint Photographic Experts Group, Tagged Image File Format, Camera Raw 2, and Nikon Electronic Format). For those still clinging in the days of 8.3 file names on Microsoft operating systems, I think you’d speak in terms of .JPG, .TIF, etc. when referring to an actual file “extension”.

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    • David Blanchard

      Raw is an adjective and to my unschooled mind, German.

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    • David Blanchard

      Oops, “not” German.

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  7. Martijn van Eeten

    Non-Adobe RAW processors (e.g. Capture One Pro) still handle native RAW files better than DNG. So a RAW file, after conversion to DNG, will not yield exactly the same photo – except when you embed the original RAW, which makes the DNG file huge. Secondly, there exists no back-conversion – again, unless you embed the original RAW.

    Conclusion: don’t convert your RAWs to DNG, or at least embed the original RAW inside the DNG, if you ever want to use another RAW converter – now or in the future

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  8. Marco Introini

    I’ve found a reason not to use DNG over the years: I use the XMP sidecar file besides the catalog, and sometimes change or add a keyword to a lot a pictures (sometimes hundreds). This changes only the XMP files with raw, and the whole DNG in case of DNG. The point is, when I synchronize the library on my backup drive (or, worst, over the cloud) I have to copy all new DNG, which are way way bigger then the XMP. This can be troublesome and at least very time consuming. So I prefer to stick with raw files at least for now

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    • Jean-Francois Perreault

      I’ve came up with the exact same problem with DNGs. My backup process only copies modified files and since DNGs get modified, they get copied every time I make a change.

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  9. Dave Norwood

    I considered using this but then thought – if I go back in and make a change and the change is recorded in the DNG when I run my backup next time the file that was changed was the image file, the DNG. With XML files the only thing that needs to be backed up again after a change is the XML. The difference in backups can be considerable.

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    • Kyle Farris

      You actually make a really good point here. Incremental backups could be crazy with DNGs…

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  10. Justin Haugen

    I don’t have any problem with them otherwise, but my second shooter gave me DNG files once and I wasn’t able to 100% preview the images in Photo Mechanic.

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  11. Jean-Francois Perreault

    Anyone knows what happens if Adobe improves raw conversion of a particular type? For example, Adobe’s demosaicing of Fuji raw files could be improved.
    If I convert my .raf files to dng, will any future improvements from Adobe to .raf files be applied or not?

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    • Marco Introini

      Good question. I’d like to know too.

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    • Cletus Lee

      Adobe periodically improves their RAW processing engine. And when they do they introduce a new process version. We are currently using Process version 2012. (PV2012) Images processed in ACR/LR using an older Process version (e.g. PV2010) retain the Process version that they were created with and do not change. You can reprocess these with the latest Process Version and see an improvement. Adobe may eventually get an improves process for Fuji RAW, but this would no necessarily mean an new PV, since the difficulties with Fuji RAW seem to be in the demosaicing. and not the preprocessing development

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  12. Barry Cunningham

    Been doing it for awhile now.
    Simplifies my workflow and keeps metadata on my RAW files. Also means fewer worries about codecs for different flavors of RAW files from different cameras when moving among multiple computers.

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  13. Joseph Ford

    Trevor I agree mostly with using DNG, but keep in mind that your changes are already in the Lightroom catalog. The XMP side card information is only stored with the file if you set lightroom catalog settings under the metadata tab to “automatically write changes to the XMP files.” So if you do move the file and find the file in lightroom your settings are recovered via the catalog.

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    • Cletus Lee

      XMP files contain redundant data as has already been mentioned. Not only this, not all metadata contained in the LR catalog makes its way into the XMP file. Missis from the XMP file/section are Collection membership, Develop History and a few other minor metadata elements. The Develop settings that are included in the XMP are specific to ACR algorithms and can not be interpreted be=y any non Adobe app. So if you are sharing your RAW data and the Develop settings, the recipient need to have LR or PS and the version of ACR that is either the seam or more recent than the one used to create the XMP.
      The biggest disadvantage to DNG is the Backup of the image data. A proprietary RAW Cr2 or NEF gets copied to the backup location one time and hopefully is never needed again. If your Original RAW file is a DNG and you choose to include ACR metadata in the XMP, then each time the file is changes, the backup software needs to create a new backup file to supersede the o]previous master image file.
      The only advantage that converting to DBG offers is including a CRC checksum embedded in the file to let you know if the files has been corrupted sitting on your disk.
      As for saving space with smaller DNG files, What do you do with the original Proprietary RAW file? Camera manufacturer software will only work with the original CR2 or NEF. If Canon or Nikon develops some new processing technique. It will only work with their proprietary RAW formats. So, it is extremely shortsighted to toss the original RAW file and only keep the DNG. In the end you have both the Proprietary RAW and the DNG so you have almost doubled your storage requirements. If you work with DNGs in the catalog, there is no mechanism to police the Proprietary RAWs when the DNG is culled and deleted.

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    • LACOSTE Gérard

      Well done. I quite agree with your analysis. The proprietary formats are perhaps good, apparently performing better, but getting locked up for ever with a proprietary format is both a long-term issue and a sharing issue that should not be overlooked.
      Thank you, Cletus and Joseph for your very valuable points.
      Gerard Lacoste

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