Apr 4, 2005

Interview: Kevin Connor – Adobe Systems, Inc.

PhotoshopNews talks to Kevin Connor, senior director of product management at Adobe Systems.

Kevin, Photoshop CS2 and the entire CS Suite has just been announced, did you really think you would make it?
Of course, I always knew we would make it–I just didn’t necessarily know how! Thankfully, the team has done another remarkable job and delivered a feature-packed release right on schedule.

I know one of the things that you’ve been working hard on is the Digital Negative (DNG) initiative–Adobe’s archival format for digital camera raw files. What are the major advances with DNG in Photoshop CS2? Is there a new DNG rev with CS2?

We did a minor revision to the DNG specification just prior to the PMA trade show in February, and those new features are being used in Photoshop CS2. One of the great things about DNG is that there’s a version number built into every file, so that the format can evolve while still maintaining backwards compatibility. Of course, this is the first version of Photoshop to export as well as open DNG files, so it provides a much more complete workflow.

I’m particularly impressed by the integration of Adobe Bridge, the new Camera Raw 3.0 and Photoshop CS2, how does Camera Raw’s new ability to save out DNGs enhance a photographer’s workflow?

Probably the most convenient benefit is that you can now save all of your conversion settings directly back to the DNG file, so you don’t have to worry a out the settings getting disconnected from your digital negative. When working with proprietary raw formats, we can’t save the settings back to the original file, because they’re not our files to write. We read the proprietary formats, but we don’t ever change them.

Since the release of Photoshop CS and recently DNG, it seems that photographers are finally awakening to the importance of metadata, how does DNG help photographers with embedding metadata in raw files?

When working with DNG, however, you can now have a self-contained file that contains the original image data, information about the sensor design necessary for conversion, and the desired conversion settings. If you need to pass on your digital negative to another application, or to a client for publication, you can now be sure that all of the necessary information will be there to convert the file as you intended.

When DNG was recently updated, Adobe added the ability to embed the original proprietary raw file right within a DNG file. Why did you guys do that and what’s the benefit to photographers?

This is primarily a convenience feature for those who want complete archival integrity. The DNG format is designed to allow for all of the information that is currently stored in proprietary formats. However, because these proprietary formats are generally not publicly specified, Adobe can’t be sure of every obscure piece of metadata that’s stored in the file. When we create a DNG from Photoshop CS2 or with the DNG Converter, we include all of the information that we use within Camera Raw, and actually add additional descriptive information that other converters can use to interpret the file, but there’s the possibility that we may omit some of the proprietary metadata. For this reason, we recommend that you save the original, proprietary format in your archive. The DNG file–because it’s publicly documented–gives you greater security that you’ll be able to open the file in the future, but it’s good to keep the original file just in case you need it. By embedding the original inside the DNG, it makes it possible to have a single file that contains everything.

DNG was announced and released last year at Photokina in Germany, how has the industry response been to DNG?

The response has really been tremendous–even better than we expected. The initial news coverage we got for the announcement was actually bigger than what we typically get for announcing a new version of Photoshop! (Though, of course, we aim to exceed that with today’s CS2 announcement. ;^) We even got some coverage in broadcast TV, and I was doing radio interviews on my cell phone from Germany. The response from photographers was even greater. It was pretty clear that we had struck a nerve, that this was something people were waiting for.

There have been a lot of recent announcements recently about other software companies adopting DNG, why do you think Adobe has been so successful in getting other software companies to adopt DNG?

If you’re a software company, it’s really a no-brainer. You can continue to support certain proprietary formats, of course, but, by supporting DNG, you can easily add compatibility with all of the digital cameras that Adobe supports. Because we’ve made the DNG converter available free of charge, it’s a resource available to users of any software that supports DNG.

I know a lot of photographers who like DxO Optics Pro software were delighted to hear that DxO Labs are adopting DNG. How does DxO support DNG?

DxO’s implementation illustrates another benefit of DNG. They actually pre-interpolate the file using their own algorithms, apply their lens correction, and then create the DNG. The result is a file that is, in a sense, partially processed, but that still allows you to apply white balance, exposure, and other settings within your favorite software–hopefully Photoshop! So, in this case, DNG is giving photographers the flexibility to design a more specialized workflow that can involve multiple applications in the conversion process for special needs.

In early March, Adobe announced that two camera companies, Hasselblad and Leica have committed to adopting DNG, how did that happen? What are the benefits those camera companies expect to receive?

There has been such a proliferation of raw formats over the past few years that Photoshop supports more than 75 formats, yet still doesn’t have every single one covered. In that kind of situation, camera models with smaller, more specialized markets can sometimes get overlooked, if not by Photoshop, then by other solutions. By supporting DNG, manufacturers can ensure the widest possible support for their camera models. In addition, manufacturers can have greater quality control over how their files get converted in Photoshop, because they can test and tweak their file settings until they’re happy with the results.

I know Christian Poulsen, the CEO of Hasselblad was originally the developer of the Imacon scanners and the Imacon digital backs, and Christian has a long history in developing software. Was he tough to convince about the benefits of DNG?

Actually, I think Adobe’s relationship with Leica helped in that respect. We’ve already been cooperating closely with Leica in supporting their proprietary format, but they were interested in moving to DNG with their new Digital Modul-R camera back. Because that model was co-developed with Hasselblad, it encouraged them to explore the DNG format more closely.

While DNG is only about 6 months old (pretty new in terms of file format lives) a lot of photographers are hoping that more camera companies will commit to supporting DNG. How’s that going? Is DNG getting any traction from the rest of the camera companies?

We’ve known from the outset that it will take years to get broad adoption of DNG, and we’ve actually been surprised with what fast progress we’ve made already. Nevertheless, the fact that we’ve signed up a few camera manufacturers in just several months shouldn’t make us think that the entire industry will turn on a dime. Some of the larger manufacturers have big investments in their proprietary formats, and new hardware can take years to develop. We see DNG as a long-term effort for Adobe.

I know that Thomas Knoll has been busy working on Camera Raw 3 for Photoshop CS2. Does the announce of Photoshop CS2 (and the presumed GM of the CR code) mean that Thomas and the DNG team will turn their attention to DNG?

Well, Thomas certainly won’t be able to turn away from Photoshop and Camera Raw, but certainly shipping CS2 does take some of the pressure off!

You were quoted in the press as saying that now that the DNG file format specs have been rev’ed, Adobe will soon be working on a complete software development kit (SDK). Would you care to comment on that?

I don’t want to say too much about it until I can commit to exactly what the SDK will consist of and when it will be delivered. Certainly, we need to deliver sometime this year tools for verifying the correctness of DNG files and sample code that developers can use for converting DNG files. This will ease adoption and also help to ensure compliant implementations.

Now that Photoshop CS2 has been announced, and will soon be shipping, how does the development cycle for Camera Raw and DNG stand? Are you still committed to doing 3-4 updates per year?

Yes. As long as new cameras keep coming out with proprietary formats, we need to keep up our fast pace of doing software updates.

While a lot of photographers will want to get Photoshop CS2 as soon as it ships, there are always people who can’t upgrade right away. What happens to Photoshop CS users and new Camera Raw or DNG updates?

We’ve added a lot more features to Camera Raw in Photoshop CS2, and we can’t really give those features away to users who haven’t upgraded yet. New camera raw updates for new cameras will be limited to users of the latest version of the software. However, we’ve committed to releasing the DNG Converter on the same schedule as Camera Raw, so that provides an easy way to gain compatibility with new cameras even if you haven’t upgraded your version of Photoshop. Just download the free DNG converter for your new camera, convert your files to DNG, and they’ll open in Photoshop CS without a problem.

I know a lot of photographers have expressed their support of DNG. What can individual photographers do to help support DNG?

The most important thing to do is to let your camera manufacturer know that this is something you want them to support, and to support those manufacturers who do get behind DNG. But please be nice about it! I know this becomes an emotional issue for some photographers, but the fact remains that software and hardware manufacturers alike are all trying to do what we think our customers want. Sometimes, though, we just need to hear it from more people.

You’ve been working pretty closely with Thomas Knoll on Camera Raw and DNG. What’s it like to work wih Thomas?

It’s been great to work more closely with Thomas over the past few years. He’s certainly someone who has accomplished a lot, and he could get away with projecting a little more ego, but he continues to maintain his down-to-earth, midwestern style. I have a lot of respect for that. He’s a really smart guy, but he’s not a show-off. He’s just passionate about doing things the right way. What’s been particularly cool, though, is to see how energized Thomas has gotten from working on Camera Raw and DNG. I’ve been amazed at how productive he’s been.

So, Kevin, you’ve been involved with Photoshop since what version?

I celebrate my 10th anniversary with Adobe next month, and all but one of those years was with Photoshop. The first version I was involved with shipping was 4.0.

What inside story have you been dying to tell the Photoshop fans? Seriously, I can’t let you get away without spilling some dirt!

Well, I suppose one of the things that has been most puzzling to users outside of Adobe is why we changed the versioning system for the product to “CS.” The reason for the change was to avoid confusion as we moved to the suite, because all of the products in the suite were at different version numbers. We figured that, if we didn’t unify the versioning system, then it wouldn’t be clear which products were in which version of the suite. But we couldn’t just pick one number for all of the products, because then people wouldn’t understand why the numbers were jumping around.

It might surprise people to know just how much discussion there was about what versioning system to use. It was a pretty controversial decision internally, and everyone had an opinion. In the end, we settled on what we thought was the simplest solution–just call everything “CS” to clearly indicate that it went with the Creative Suite.

Of course, as everyone now well knows, this ended up causing much more confusion than we anticipated. People didn’t know whether the CS products were actually new versions, or just rebranded instances of the existing versions, or perhaps entirely new variations of the product, like Photoshop Elements.

After launching Photoshop CS, we soon learned that we had to work extra hard to educate people. People watching our Web site closely may have noticed that we started adding bold text saying things such as “Full New Version” all over the site, to make it clear that it really was a new version. Russell Brown even started doing a “new math” approach in which he jokingly said that “7+1=CS.” We actually considered giving away Magic 8 balls at trade shows as a promotional gimmick to let people know that this was really version 8 of Photoshop.

Ultimately, the confusion died down, and people understood that Photoshop CS really was the successor to Photoshop 7. Then, of course, we had to decide what to call the next version. This was a much less controversial decision. Almost everyone agreed that we should keep it simple this time, and just go with “CS2.”

Thanks for sharing Kevin.

Interview by Jeff Schewe
Photographs by Seth Resnick

Update: after publication of this article, Kevin recieved several emails from other Adobe personal questioning whether the final image in the story was somehow manipulated in Photoshop. Photographer Seth Resnick says no. The image of Kevin was a reflection of Kevin in a mirror column at the Haytt in NYC where the idea conference was held. Seth said, “photographers were shooting unusual images long before Photoshop–sometimes a photo is just a photo”.

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