CIPA Still in Denial about EXIF

Woo hoo! Six years after the last published standard for EXIF, CIPA has managed to produce a new version (2.31, published in English translation earlier this month). What changed? Not a lot. The official revision list says:

  • Added “time difference to UTC” tags.
  • Added tags for temperature, humidity, pressure, water depth, acceleration, and camera elevation angle.
  • Corrected misprints and omissions.

Reading deeper we got some optional tags for alternate sensitivity measurements, some minor GPS additions, the ability to have a camera owner’s name in EXIF as well as serial number, official (but still optional ;~) lens information specifications, some new audio specifications that are recognized, and some revisions to fluorescent lamp information.

Of course, I found a lot of “obtaining method or accuracy is not stipulated” in the new measurement tags (e.g. humidity). And if you look closely, the number of “mandatory” tags is still absurdly minimal (as are even the “recommended” tags). 

I’m being a little snide here, yes. We wouldn’t have any interoperability and meaningful information we could access without EXIF.

But one problem we have is that these standards are voted on by a group that basically consists of Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, and Sony (Fujitsu, JEITA, Morpho, and Ricoh are on the working group that creates and documents them). Another problem is that both DCF and EXIF are trying to be backwards compatible and operationally compatible to a group of CE products mostly defined by these same companies—we’re still stuck in the 8-bit ASCII, 8.3 world of DOS, basically. There’s plenty of room to be proprietary (Maker’s Tags), but virtually very little true interoperability actually defined. 

Meanwhile, images are more often than not now being generated by Apple and Samsung devices (companies obviously not on the all-Japanese committee), and being stored in macOS/iOS or Android or Windows systems capable of long file names in International ANSI characters. Smart devices of all forms are creating images and additional data about the image (which should be in EXIF) that simply don’t fit conveniently into the current DCF/EXIF definitions. And that doesn’t even get us to all the software/Internet vendors adding additional metadata to the images (e.g. likes).

What very well could happen is that Adobe, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft get together with their ecosystem partners and define a better set of “image standards metadata” than what we’ve got today. One that fits easier within the modern world of connected devices and less into the old consumer electronics world that Japan once dominated.

There’s an easy solution. Define new extended tags for the modern world and then add to your software: IF EXIF <= 2.31 use old standards, ELSE use new standard. Make filling in as much of the old standard as required to keep a minimum of compatibility with old devices a requirement of the new. 

If you want to read the full published standard, you’ll find it on the CIPA site.

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