Last week the Windows Live Essentials team announced the release of the Microsoft Camera Codec Pack. The announcement focused on how the codec pack enables Photo Gallery and Windows Explorer to view RAW images. What wasn’t mentioned is that it also allows any other Windows application to open RAW files. This is important for Image Composite Editor users as there is now a high-quality and free method of importing RAW images into ICE.
I emphasize high-quality and free because ICE has in fact supported RAW images since last year, when I blogged about it. RAW support in Windows, and thus ICE, was available via a “plug-in.” Windows allows any third-party software vendor to extend which image types are supported in the operating system. Based on my own observations of ICE users, the “plug-in” strategy confused many.
One source of these plug-ins is the camera manufacturers, like Canon and Nikon. Unfortunately, they mostly do such a poor job developing and supporting their software that it made Windows, and other applications that relied on it, look bad. We have updated our codecs page to reflect this and strongly discourage anyone from installing the Canon or Nikon software. Another source is vendors who sell high-quality and well-supported plug-ins that cost $15 and up. However, many of our users felt that they shouldn’t need to pay for a feature that they expect to be built into a modern operating system. Mostly though, users simply assumed RAW wasn’t supported in Windows. Judging by the reaction from tech journalists (see “Windows Finally Gets RAW Image Support” 1, 2, 3) this notion was pretty widespread.
We have updated the WIC Codecs for Image Composite Editor page and added the new Microsoft codec pack to our recommended list. We also still recommend Fast Picture Viewer (FPV) for RAW files that aren’t supported by the Microsoft codec pack. Additionally, FPV is recommended if you have a need to use less common file formats, such as HDR and OpenEXR, in ICE.
The new Microsoft codec pack is available here: http://www.microsoft.com/download/en/details.aspx?id=26829. There is some great technology built in. The Windows Live team has built a sophisticated lab for characterizing cameras to ensure high-quality output from the RAW decoding process, and the RAW codec is built to take advantage of multi-core PCs, so it should be very fast.