Why Photosmith dumped iOS's built-in raw-photo support

The developers of the Lightroom companion app for iPad opted to build in their own raw-photo support to get better control, avoid Apple bugs, and support more cameras.

Photosmith is an iPad app that works in concert with Adobe Systems' Lightroom.
Photosmith is an iPad app that works in concert with Adobe Systems' Lightroom. screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

One nice perk of using OS X and iOS is that Apple supplies support for higher-end cameras' raw photo formats, which offer photographers higher image quality but require programmers to decode each camera's proprietary format. So why did Photosmith, an independent iPad companion app to augment Adobe Systems' Lightroom, shift from reliance on iOS' raw support to its own code package?

In short, because Apple's interface and camera support aren't up to scratch, according to Mike Wren, Photosmith's user advocate and and evangelist.

Apple's ALAssets interface for accessing photos and videos</a> has bugs and is difficult to work with, Wren said.

"Then you get to practical stuff like the fact that they don't support Leica DNG images and probably never will," he added. "So we get a lot from this: support for cameras that we can extend on our own timeline, reduced bugs, improved quality, and we don't give anything up because our default setting still uses ALAssets when it's a known good or faster configuration."

Photosmith changed the raw support with version 3.1 in February, released the new version in February and this month said it now supports more than 400 cameras

Photosmith doesn't write its raw support from scratch -- a daunting task, given that there are hundreds of cameras with their own formats and new cameras arriving each year. Instead, it uses an open-source package called dcraw written and maintained by a programmer Dave Coffin.

Dave Coffin's dcraw software lets programs process photos stored in higher-end cameras' raw formats.
Dave Coffin's dcraw software lets programs process photos stored in higher-end cameras' raw formats. Dave Coffin

"We support Dave and we bought an annual subscription from him," Wren said, but also hired a programmer to optimize the software for multicore processors and the iPad's limited memory.

Photosmith lets people import, view, organize, tag, and label photos and sync changes with their primary Lightroom database on a PC. It's likely to get some big new competition soon: Adobe looks poised to release its own Lightroom for iPad software, perhaps for a $99 annual subscription fee. Photosmith costs $20.

About the author

Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and covers browsers, Web development, digital photography and new technology. In the past he has been CNET's beat reporter for Google, Yahoo, Linux, open-source software, servers and supercomputers. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces.

 

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