The iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max are the first iPhones to support ProRAW, Apple’s version on the RAW image format. In professional photography, RAW files are a must for getting the most out of your images, but what does this mean for the iPhone?
What is ProRAW?
ProRAW is Apple’s implementation of RAW image format, available on the iPhone 12 Pro, iPhone 12 Pro Max, and possibly future iPhones. The RAW format is commonly found on mid to high-end cameras, allowing photographers to capture as much information as possible in a scene. While lossy formats like JPEG and HEIF will remove “unnecessary” information when you press the shutter, RAW formats retain most of it.
These files are essentially raw data, hence the name. This data is rendered by an image editing application such as Photoshop or Apple’s Photos application. By changing some settings, you can change how the photo looks after it is taken. RAW files are great for making edits like changing exposure, where an abundance of raw data preserves more detail in shadows and highlights.
It can be helpful to think of RAW photos as the negatives of the movie era. The format is not used for sharing photos, but rather for editing them before they are exported to more efficient formats like JPEG. This is why RAW files are commonly used by professionals and photography enthusiasts who spend more time examining their modifications in applications like Photoshop and Lightroom.
Apple’s ProRAW uses the ubiquitous digital negative file format .DNG, which means you can (theoretically) open a ProRAW image in any editor that supports .DNG files. This is different from camera makers like Sony who still use proprietary formats, which can make editing images difficult in older software. Apple recommends using editors that explicitly support ProRAW, so if you see unexpected results, you might want to try another app.
You can use ProRAW with all lenses on your iPhone 12 Pro or Pro Max. The format is also compatible with features such as SmartHDR, Deep fusionand night mode.
Do not confuse it with the similarly named ProRes RAW which is a lossless video codec used on high end cameras. ProRAW is used only for still images and is not compatible with video.
Potential disadvantages of shooting in ProRAW
The biggest downside to shooting RAW on any camera – iPhone 12 or whatever – is the size of the files you produce. While lossy formats like JPEG remove as much data as possible to reduce file size, RAW files take up a lot more space. Apple states that ProRAW files are “10 to 12 times larger” than HEIF or JPEG files.
A ProRAW file averages around 25 megabytes, which equates to 40 photos per gigabyte of phone storage. If you have a smaller capacity iPhone Pro, you will likely need to manage your files to avoid running out of space. Even if you go for the 512GB option, you probably don’t want to keep many ProRAW files on your iPhone indefinitely.
If you are using iCloud Photos, you may need to increase your storage plan from 50GB to 200GB or 2TB to make room for your lossless pictures. You can also move them elsewhere for archival purposes while keeping the HEIF or JPEG files in your library for sharing. This will require a bit of manual management on your end.
When you choose to shoot in ProRAW, you only shoot in ProRAW. This is different from many cameras that support shooting in JPEG and RAW. This allows you to quickly share a JPEG when needed while keeping the RAW files for more flexibility in your editing suite later. With iPhone, you will need to create JPEG files from your ProRAW files after you edit them.
When you capture an image in ProRAW, you avoid much of the processing Apple applies to standard HEIF / JPEG snapshots. This isn’t a problem for photographers who want to control editing, but it does mean that a ProRAW shot will often be worse than a JPEG straight out of the camera (unchanged). Tests carried out by GSMArena demonstrate this.
It’s also worth noting that live photos are not captured with ProRAW and you cannot take ProRAW photos in Portrait mode.
Ultimately, your intention should dictate the format: is this photo for sharing on Facebook or Instagram? Choose HEIF / JPEG. Are you planning to spend some time editing your photo later, or do you need the best possible quality for printing or for more “professional” purposes? ProRAW could give you the edge.
So why choose ProRAW?
There are a few cases where you might want to choose ProRAW to open up new possibilities in photography. For starters, you might not have a DSLR or mirrorless camera that supports RAW shooting, so the iPhone 12 Pro can make it easy for you to enter the world of editing. lossless image.
But let’s look at a more specific example. You are at the beach with your family and want to take a photo to share with everyone later. You might want to have the photo printed and framed later, then you hit the RAW button in the viewfinder.
By shooting ProRAW, you limit the amount of compression visible in the image. There will be more shades of blue in the sky than if the image had been compressed to the point of introducing bands. You’ll also capture a lot more information in terms of shadow and highlight detail.
This allows you to remove glare and make the sun (and its glare) a little less blinding while preserving color information. If any of the subjects in the photo are a little dark, you can extract more detail from the shadows without seriously affecting the quality of the image. You should be able to make more edits without the image falling apart, as you would with heavily compressed JPEG.
You may need to do more work on the image in the post to make it up to standards, as the iPhone processes non-RAW images with sharpness, noise reduction, etc. depending on the conditions. Ultimately, however, you’ll have more control over the final image and a nicer picture at the end than if you had relied on HEIF or JPEG.
And since turning on RAW in the Camera app is just one click away, you can always just trigger a few non-RAW photos for comparison.
How to activate ProRAW on your iPhone
To use ProRAW, you must first need to activate ProRAW function in your iPhone settings. Go to Settings> Camera> Formats and turn on Apple ProRAW.
Keep in mind that at the end of 2020, this is an iPhone 12 Pro feature that requires iOS 14.3 or later. If you have an iPhone 12 Pro model and don’t see the option, try update your iPhone software. Future iPhones released in 2021 or later will likely also support ProRAW, but the feature might only be available on Pro models for a few years.
With ProRAW enabled under Settings, launch the Camera app from your Home screen, via the control center, or by asking Siri. In all supported modes, you’ll see a “RAW” button next to the Live Photos toggle. When it is inactive, it will be crossed by a line. Tap it to activate and shoot in RAW.
With RAW shooting enabled, you can now take photos as you normally would. Don’t forget to turn off RAW again to conserve space.
Can’t use ProRAW? These applications also run in RAW
As of late 2020, ProRAW is only available on the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max. It won’t come on older iPhones, but it could come on future iPhones.
If your iPhone doesn’t support ProRAW, you can still take RAW photos using a compatible iPhone app. There are many camera apps for iPhone that can do this, freebies like VSCO and Adobe lightroom paid applications like Manual ($ 3.99) and freemium apps like Halide.
Unfortunately, you won’t get the same RAW file quality with these apps as you would on an iPhone 12 Pro using the Camera app. CNET tested this and found that ProRAW helps eliminate noise and improve color reproduction over similar applications. You also lose access to features such as Night mode and SmartHDR.
ProRAW is nice to have, but not essential
ProRAW is not a game changer for most people. It will be difficult for Apple to convince the average iPhone user to upgrade to the Pro level based solely on ProRAW. It’s hard to recommend the upgrade, even for photography enthusiasts who likely already have cameras with larger sensors that already take better photos. With that in mind, it’s a great feature to access if you already have a device capable of doing so.
Hopefully ProRAW will trickle down to non-Pro users as Apple’s systems-on-a-chip become more powerful and efficient in the future. Let’s not forget that features like multiple cameras, Portrait mode, and even Face ID were once reserved for the more expensive iPhones, and now they’re on pretty much every model.
For a refresh on iPhone photography formats, learn more about the difference between JPEG and HEIC.
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