Get Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) to Open Your Photos

Unknown Adobe Camera Raw format, as seen in Bridge.
If you’ve found this page, you may have fallen foul of the number one problem facing newcomers to Raw photography: you can’t get Adobe Camera Raw to open your new camera’s images. As a regular on the Adobe Camera Raw community forum, I wish I had a pound for every time this has come up over the years.

This problem can always be solved, and there’s usually a free solution, though you might not like the solution if your software is a lot older than your new camera. But first, it’s helpful to know some background, to better understand the problem…

Standards

All digital cameras can save images in standard JPEG format, and some as TIFF. More and more cameras can save images as Raw files. These proprietary files can be opened with the manufacturers’ own software.

Adobe created a universal Raw format called DNG (short for Digital Negative), which can be opened by Adobe Camera Raw v2 or later. Some cameras also provide the option to save images in DNG format, though these are few and far between. But, if you want to use your camera’s proprietary Raw files, and your software won’t open them, all is not lost.

Let’s get one thing straight: Raw files using the same extension (e.g. NEF, CR2, ARW, RW2, etc.) are not the same. Just because you can open the NEF from an old D200, it doesn’t follow that you can open your brand new Nikon’s NEF too. Camera manufacturers re-invent the wheel every time they release a new model, devising a new Raw file format. If they changed the file extension for every new camera model, they would soon run out of three letter acronyms. So they use the same extension, even though the internal format is different.

Keep updated

Manufacturers release new cameras and Raw formats all the time. So Adobe releases free updates of Camera Raw every three or four months. With each new minor release, they support the new cameras; they also fix bugs, and sometimes add new features.

Also, with every new version of Photoshop Creative Suite comes a major new version of Camera Raw. Each major new version brings brand new tools and features. And once Adobe releases a new version, it stops providing updates for previous versions.

You can update your software by clicking on the ‘Update…’ option from your Adobe software Help menu. Or, if you’d rather do it yourself, you can visit the Adobe Updates website and fetch it yourself. Bear in mind that you can only update to the latest available minor version 3 for your Photoshop installation.

Creative Suite Released Camera Raw Last version
CS(1) 2003 ACR2 2.4
CS2 2005 ACR3 3.7
CS3 2007 ACR4 4.6
CS4 2008 ACR5 5.7
CS5 2010 ACR6 6.7.1
CS6 2012 ACR7 7.4 1 (or 9.1.1 3)
CC/CC2014/CC2015 2013 onwards ACR8/9 9.3

Which version of ACR do I have, and what do I need?

You can discover which version of Camera Raw you are currently running from the title bar of the plug-in window. Press F to toggle Full Screen mode if you can’t see it. Adobe provides a table of cameras supported by different versions of Camera Raw. It’s worth checking which version of Camera Raw added support for your new camera, and if that version will work with your version of Photoshop Creative Suite. If it won’t 2, read on…

I’m converted

Adobe provides a free standalone utility called Adobe DNG Converter. It duplicates your unreadable Raw files, changing the file format to DNG. It’s updated every three to four months for new cameras, and is available for Windows 4 and Macintosh 5. DNG Converter processes folders of Raw files, creating DNG versions, in the same folder or a different folder (according to taste). You can configure DNG Converter for different results, but the main preference to note is the Compatibility setting. This setting determines the oldest version of ACR which can open its conversions. You should set this appropriately to the version you use.

Creating a DNG file for every photo you take isn’t an ideal solution. It means that you use roughly double the storage space for every shot (assuming you keep the originals). It’s also an extra step to take, before you can get your hands on your photos. But don’t forget, this is a free solution to a common problem, and it’s not to be sniffed at.

Even if you don’t need DNG Converter, it’s sometimes worth installing. Adobe adds their latest Camera Profiles and Lens Profiles to each new DNG Converter installation. So, if you are using a discontinued version of Camera Raw, you can still have the latest profiles.

Free lunch?

What Adobe would like, is for you to pay for the latest version of Photoshop (or Photoshop Elements). Not only do you get support for the latest cameras, but you also get the latest Raw processing tools available in the newer version. You might think that’s dishonest, but remember that most camera manufacturers won’t support a standardised Raw format. They are the ones forcing you to update your software.

If you can’t afford to pay for a full version of Photoshop and you can’t upgrade, there is a cheaper way to open your new camera’s Raw files and get the latest Raw processing features. The people who developed Camera Raw also developed Photoshop Lightroom. Both pieces of software use a lot of common programming code, and process Raw files in almost identical ways. You can use Lightroom to process your Raw files in much the same way you would with Camera Raw hosted by Adobe Bridge. You could then export them to Photoshop Elements for post-processing.

  1. At time of writing, 7.4 was the latest version 3, and 7.1 was the last available download from the above link. An Adobe blog provides an alternative download link to the latest version.
  2. Some users of supported Nikon cameras have been unable to open their Raw files. This is because they downloaded the images using outdated Nikon Transfer software. You should update Nikon Transfer to the current version by updating ViewNX or CaptureNX, or use an alternative, like Adobe Photodownloader. Raw images corrupted by outdated Nikon Transfer can be fixed using the Fix Corrupted NEF utility by Phil Harvey.
  3. Released in 2013, Creative Cloud comes with Adobe Camera Raw version 8. Unlike previous versions, Camera Raw 8 will work with the older Photoshop CS6. However, Camera Raw 9, supplied with CC2015, dropped support for CS6 from 9.2 onwards.
  4. DNG Converter 8.4 for Windows dropped support for XP/Vista.
  5. DNG Converter 8.4 for Mac dropped support OSX 10.6 (Snow Leopard), and version 7.2 dropped support for OSX 10.5 (Leopard).

Keith Nuttall, 2013 (updated 2016)