With the quiet recent announcement that Apple will support RAW image file capture on iPhone 6 and above (only with iOS 10 and only using certain third-party capture apps, not the built-in Apple camera app), smartphone photography becomes an even better option for serious photographers. Of course, users of certain Android devices have had the capability of capturing RAW images for almost two years, but for those of us who use the iOS devices, this is big news.
To learn more about the benefits of shooting in RAW mode on any camera, read this post: Post on RAW Capture. Because compressed image file formats like JPEG are destructive (every time they are edited and saved, more information is lost forever) and because these formats initially throw away much of the data from the camera’s sensor, RAW files allow photographers much more control over how our images look. The addition of RAW capture to iPhones is a significant step for photographers seeking to make the best possible images using their mobile device’s built-in camera.
In order to use RAW capture, there are several conditions that must be met. You must have a late-generation iPhone, specifically a Generation 6 or later model (6S, 6S Plus, or when available, the new iPhone 7). You must be using the newly released iOS 10. And you must install an app that supports RAW capture on your phone’s camera, because Apple’s built-in camera app does not yet support RAW shooting. I use the excellent app called “Manual,” available for $3.99 via the App Store: Manual Camera App. In addition to allowing you to capture both RAW and JPEG files for each shot you make, this app also gives you full manual control over your camera’s basic features, including focus, ISO, and shutter speed.
I made a few images using both RAW and JPEG capture, so we can compare them. The upper image is the JPEG, and the lower one is the RAW file. Both were processed the same way in Lightroom. At the size and resolution shown in this post, you may not notice a huge difference in quality, but the differences would become very apparent if we were to magnify or crop the image, or if the image were shot under very challenging lighting conditions. Even so, to my eye the RAW file shows more subtlety in the rendition of texture and color, and the transitions between areas of sky or water are more natural looking.
The JPEG version of the image has more jarring transitions between areas of different colors or textures.
The RAW version of the same image, post-processed in the same way, shows more evenness and subtlety. These differences would become much more apparent with larger images or those shot under challenging lighting conditions.
Please review this post for more information about making the best images possible when using your smartphone’s camera: Post on Using Your Phone’s Camera. With the addition of RAW image capture, the phone’s camera becomes even more attractive as a tool for serious photography, although it still isn’t a full substitute for an excellent quality interchangeable lens camera with a larger, better sensor.
Have you worked with RAW capture on your iOS device? Any tips or tricks about how to streamline workflow? What do you like or dislike about the process? Please share your experiences here.