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Why will my RAW files not open in Photoshop?


One of the questions I get asked most frequently when out lecturing, judging or giving Photoshop demos is ‘Why will my RAW files not open in Photoshop?’ The answer is quite straightforward – the version of Photoshop which you are using predates the release date of your digital camera be it a DSLR, bridge or compact. In other words the RAW files produced by your camera are incompatible with the Camera RAW Plug-in in the version of Photoshop which you are using.

With each new model released by the camera manufacturers the format of the RAW file changes as a result of developments to enhance the digital capture. It may not be generally known that the manufacturers do not supply Adobe with the coding of their RAW files and Adobe has to reverse engineer the RAW file in order to update the Camera RAW plug-in to read the new files.

The Camera RAW plug-in is updated on a regular basis during the lifetime of a specific version of Photoshop, but when a new version of Photoshop is released the Camera RAW plug-in is always updated to include improvements and additional features and the new version of Photoshop is required to open RAW files from cameras released after the Photoshop release date.

In practice this means, for example, that RAW files from the Canon 5D can be opened in Camera Raw in CS3 or later, but not in CS2 or earlier, and RAW files from it’s successor the 5D Mk II, the release of which coincided with the release of CS4, requires CS4 or later to open them. In all cases the Camera RAW plug-in is backwards compatible, e.g. EOS 20D RAW files captured in 2004 when the camera was first released can be opened in Camera Raw in all versions of Photoshop from 2004 to date.

Although you may conclude that the incompatibility of current cameras with earlier versions of Photoshop is a marketing ploy by Adobe that is not necessarily the case. It is the result of continued development by the camera manufacturer’s to enhance the quality of the captured RAW image to which Adobe must respond to allow the optimum processing of the RAW files. Even so the sceptics amongst us would ask the question ‘Why is it that Camera RAW 5.x which is native to CS4 cannot be made compatible with CS3 which uses Camera RAW 4.x ?’

Fortunately there is no need to update Photoshop each time you update your camera as Adobe provide free software to convert RAW files to a universal Digital Negative format readable by Photoshop CS and later, Elements 3 and later and all versions of Lightroom. The software is Adobe DNG Converter and can be downloaded from : http://www.adobe.com/products/dng/ for both the Windows and Mac platforms and, like the Camera RAW plug-in, is updated regularly to ensure compatibility with new cameras as they are released, although this is never immediate!

Once the program is installed it is recommended that you place a shortcut to it on your Desktop. On opening the converter you are presented with the interface shown below in Fig 1:


Fig 1 Adobe DNG Converter Interface

The first step is to set up the converter to be compatible with the version of Photoshop that you intend to use by clicking on the Change Preferences button. In the Preferences dialogue (Fig 2) click on the Compatibility dropdown list and select the version of Camera Raw that you are using. Leave the other options at their default settings and click on OK.


Camera Raw



5.4 and later

CS4 and later

2.4 and later

4.6 and later

CS3 and later

2.1 and later

4.1 and later

CS3 and later

1.1  and later

2.4 and later

CS and later

1.0 and later

Fig 2 Adobe DNG Converter Preferences

The use of Adobe DNG Converter is intuitive ….

  1. Select the RAW files to be converted – these should have been saved to your hard drive.


  1. Select the Destination for the converted files – this may be anywhere on your hard drive, either in the same folder as the captured files, in a sub folder or elsewhere.


  1. Select a name for the converted images – I find it convenient to retain the original file name, e.g. _MG_0278.CR2 which after conversion is saved as _MG_0278.dng, i.e. change nothing in this dialogue.

Once the file source and destination have been selected the Convert button at the bottom of the Converter interface becomes live. Click on this to convert the files to .dng – note that the original RAW files remain untouched. During the conversion process a progress window is shown.


When the conversion is complete Exit the program. I have not seen any deterioration in image quality as a result of converting captured RAW files to .dng files which will now open in Camera Raw in the earlier version of Photoshop which you selected under Preferences > Compatibility.


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