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How to view camera raw files in Windows

Get Windows 7 and Vista to display camera raw files.

Before the codec installation, you probably see nothing but generic icons. Screenshot by Lori Grunin/CNET

Microsoft has finally added operating-system level support for viewing raw camera files. Yay! You'd think that once you've downloaded and installed Microsoft's Camera Codec Pack you'd immediately start to see those lovely image thumbnails. You don't. Boo! Though it's easy to get the thumbnails to render, it's not obvious how to do so.

Initially, you'll be able to see the raw files in preview, but you still won't see rendered thumbnails. Screenshot by Lori Grunin/CNET

First, make sure your camera's raw files are supported by checking the list on the download page. Unfortunately, some of the most recent popular models are missing, such as the Nikon D3100 and D5100, Canon EOS 60D, all of the Olympus PEN series, and the most recent generation of Panasonic G series. If you're lucky and your model is supported, and you're running Vista or Windows 7, download and install the codec.

Preview one of the images to get into the Gallery. Screenshot by Lori Grunin/CNET
To force thumbnail creation, you have to open one of the images in Windows Live Photo Gallery. Screenshot by Lori Grunin/CNET

Once you've installed the codec pack, you should be able to preview any of the images. However, you'll still see the generic thumbnails. So you're going to have to force thumbnail creation. In order to do that, you have to open at least one of the photos in Windows Live Photo Gallery. To do that, right-click on one of the images and select Preview within the Preview display, choose the Edit, organize, or share menu option.

When you open the image in the Gallery, it automatically begins to render thumbnails for all of the images in the folder.

After Gallery has completed generating the thumbnails, you can go back to Windows Explorer and see that all your thumbnails are now there.

After generating them in Gallery, you should see all the thumbnails in that folder. Screenshot by Lori Grunin/CNET

As far as I can tell, you have to do this every time you copy images to your hard disk. It's a pretty inelegant way to handle the files and it's disappointing how many current cameras are missing. The codecs don't seem to do a great job rendering, and they lack built-in distortion correction for cameras that incorporate it (like Panasonic's). Plus, I doubt Microsoft is going to be updating the codec pack as frequently as is necessary to keep up with the rapid release cycle of new enthusiast cameras, each which comes with a new version of the format. Still, it's there. Yay.