Non-destructive raw editing with Smart Objects

Sometimes in the course of development, you find that a feature design can flex to accomodate things you didn’t plan at the start. We devised Smart Objects to enable a new level of Suite integration (letting Illustrator data stay live and editable inside Photoshop (see demo)), to allow non-destructive scaling/rotation/warping of layers, and to enable parent-child relationships (edit one, update many). We knew the design had legs, but we didn’t know if we’d have time to extend it to raw camera data in CS2.
Fortunately Chris Cox and Thomas Knoll were able to make it possible to place a raw file into Photoshop, and the technique is becoming a sleeper hit. When placed as a Smart Object, the raw file is embedded behind the scenes. The upshot is that you retain access to the full complement of raw data (and the Adobe Camera Raw feature set) even while applying adjustment layers, dodging and burning, adding masks, healing dust spots, etc.
Ben Long’s latest article on covers the technique (“It’s a non-destructive dream!”–nice!). You can also see Russell Brown demonstrate it in this video, and you can download Russell’s scripts that facilitate integration here.
So, the next time you hear someone crowing about non-destructive editing, remember that not only have we been doing this for the last three years with Camera Raw; we’re now taking it to a new level, letting you keep data intact while leveraging the unique power of the Photoshop tool set.

0 thoughts on “Non-destructive raw editing with Smart Objects

  1. I’ve also heard a lot of talk recently about non destructive editing of raw files….
    The disadvantage of this smart objects method is file size. So what about (optionally) removing this need to embed the raw file in your working file? The saved PSD might consist of a simple link to your raw file, plus any adjustment layers and any dust spotting and other selection-based pixel layers. Open the PSD file and Photoshop calls up the raw file dynamically. Smaller PSD files would only really contain processing instructions, separating the performances from the score?

  2. Being able to choose whether to embed the raw file or just link to it would be cool, but you might be surprised about the actual cost of embedding. Because raw data hasn’t yet been processed into RGB, it can be much smaller than converted data. I just experimented with a 16MP shot from a 1Ds Mk II. It’s 11.7MB on disk when raw, and 95.1MB as a flat, 16-bit PSD. So embedding the raw data would mean only about a 12% increase in file size. This process would also make it possible to archive your raw data & edits to it together with the converted data (better than leaving them trapped in some proprietary database).

  3. The actual problem with a flat 16-bit PSD file is that it is saved using no compression at all (I know, backwards compatibility).
    So only this makes 12% look rather small, but being a bit of a unfair comparison. 🙂
    But the same mistake seems to happen again with the 32 bit PSD files. These also aren’t compressed at all, and this really hurts. So future Photoshop versions that maybe support 32 bit layered PSD files (hint) will again have to save the flattened composite image uncompressed for backward compatibility.

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