The Pros And Cons Of Apple ProRAW

There’s an old adage that the best camera is the one you have with you. Combined with the conventional wisdom that photographers would do well to carry a camera with them at all times, you’ve got a recipe for meaningful photographs to be made via the most ubiquitous camera of all: the smartphone.

Smartphones have been useful for photography almost since their introduction, even when their cameras were officially terrible. But, now that the lenses, sensors and controls have gotten exponentially better, the smartphone has become an actual photographic tool.

Along with the improved hardware that makes images from those pocket cameras look more appealing, smartphone manufacturers and app makers have added one fundamental feature that “serious” photographers are often looking for: the ability to capture RAW image files.

There’s no doubt that RAW files provide better dynamic range and more control, allowing photographers to make changes to color, contrast, sharpness and saturation after capture without loss of image quality, as if the changes had been made prior to releasing the shutter. That’s why photographers who want ultimate control and quality relish shooting RAW.

Apple ProRAW camera screen

Many phones are capable of capturing RAW image files. Android users have had RAW functionality for a while on the flagship smartphones from Google and LG, as well as the popular Samsung Galaxy range. Depending on the age of the smartphone, some simply require choosing RAW rather than JPEG from the settings in the camera app or switching to manual mode or a “pro” setting to enable RAW capture. Third-party applications have made RAW capture possible as well. Check out apps such as Adobe’s Lightroom smartphone app, Open Camera, VSCO and Snapseed to bring RAW capture to cameras that don’t do it natively—including many iPhones.

Recently, however, Apple has introduced native RAW capture capability with the iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max models. It’s got a lot of people excited about capturing RAW image files with their iPhones.

Turning On Apple ProRAW

Turning on Apple ProRAW

To enable Apple ProRAW on such an iPhone, start in Settings and click on the Camera heading. At the top of the menu is Formats, which offers a heading for Camera Capture (choosing between High-Efficiency HEIF/HEVC formats to reduce file sizes, or JPEG stills and H.264 video capture with the Most Compatible setting). Below that is the heading for Photo Capture, with a toggle button to turn on Apple ProRAW.

Setting Aspect Ratio In The Camera App

Next, go back to Settings and look under Photos. Then scroll down to the bottom of that screen and choose “Keep Originals” under the Transfer to Mac or PC. This way, you can have access to the RAW files and JPEG files for post-processing. When you’re in the camera app, make sure you’re set to the 4:3 aspect ratio in order to capture the full RAW file from the sensor. Square and 16×9 are cropped from that full sensor proportion.

Pros And Cons Of Apple ProRAW

The good news about RAW capture is that it’s a much bigger and better image file than a plain old compressed JPEG or HEIC file. That’s also the bad news, unfortunately. Apple’s ProRAW captures a larger 12-bit file in the Adobe native .DNG format and the files are considerably larger than JPEGs or HEIF files, weighing in at about 25 MB each. This is the primary downside of RAW image capture. The files chew up a lot of storage space quickly, so if you’re low on cloud storage capacity, don’t have a lot of disk space in your phone or simply don’t want the hassle of dealing with exponentially more image data, you may want to stop and reconsider before switching to RAW.

That reconsideration rings doubly true for those who aren’t looking to process their smartphone image files. After all, one of the benefits of the smartphone capture is its instantaneous nature: click, view, share. That’s it! The automatic image adjustments—improving sharpness, contrast and color—are important for immediacy and simplicity. A RAW image file simply isn’t going to look as good as a processed JPEG without the added step of editing that file—whether on the smartphone or in the computer. So, if you’re looking for something more like “pretty good and immediate” rather than “amazing but with a little work,” RAW capture with your smartphone might not be for you.

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