The iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max are the first iPhones to support ProRAW, Apple̵
What is ProRAW?
ProRAW is Apple’s implementation of the RAW image format, available on the iPhone 12 Pro, iPhone 12 Pro Max, and likely future iPhones. The RAW format is commonly found on medium to high-end cameras, allowing photographers to capture as much information as possible in a scene. While lossy formats such as JPEG and HEIF will throw “unnecessary” information when you press the shutter, RAW formats hold the most.
These files are essentially raw data, hence the name. This data is displayed by an image editing program such as Photoshop or Apple’s own Photos app. By changing certain parameters, you can change how the photo appears after it is taken. RAW files are perfect for making edits such as changing exposure, where an abundance of raw data retains more detail in shadows and highlights.
It can help to think of RAW photos as the negatives of the movie era. The format is not used for parts photos, but to edit them before exporting to more efficient formats such as JPEG. This is why the RAW files are often used by professionals and photography enthusiasts who spend more time studying their edits in apps 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 differs from camera manufacturers such as Sony who still use proprietary formats, which can make editing images in older software difficult. Apple recommends using editors that explicitly support ProRAW, so if you see unexpected results, you may want to try a different 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 Fusion and Night mode.
Don’t get it confused with the eponymous ProRes RAW, a lossless video codec used on high-end cameras. ProRAW is used purely for still images and is not compatible with video.
Possible drawbacks of shooting in ProRAW
The biggest drawback to shooting RAW images on any camera (iPhone 12 or otherwise) is the size of the files you produce. While lossy formats such as JPEG throw away as much data as possible to reduce file size, RAW files take up much more space. Apple states that ProRAW files are “10 to 12 times larger” than HEIF or JPEG files.
A ProRAW file averages about 25 megabytes, which equates to 40 photos per gigabyte of phone storage. If you have a smaller capacity iPhone Pro, you probably need to manage your files to avoid running out of space. Even if you go for the 512 GB option, you probably don’t want many ProRAW files to hang on your iPhone indefinitely.
If you are using iCloud Photos, you may need to increase your storage capacity from 50 GB to 200 GB or 2 TB to make room for your lossless images. You can also move these elsewhere for archiving purposes while keeping HEIF or JPEGs in your library for sharing. This requires a bit of manual management on your part.
If you choose to shoot in ProRAW, you will only shoot in ProRAW. This is different from many cameras that support recordings in both JPEG files and RAW. This makes it easy for you to quickly share a JPEG if needed, while still holding the RAW files, for more flexibility in your editing suite later on. With the iPhone, you have to create JPEGs from your ProRAW files after editing them.
When you capture an image in ProRAW, you lose much of the processing that Apple applies to standard HEIF / JPEG snaps. This isn’t a problem for photographers who want to have control over the editing, but it does mean that a ProRAW image often looks worse than even a JPEG straight out of the camera (without editing). Tests performed by GSMArena demonstrate this.
It’s also worth noting that Live Photos are not taken alongside ProRAW and you cannot take ProRAW photos in portrait mode.
Ultimately, your intent should dictate the format: is this photo to share on Facebook or Instagram? Choose HEIF / JPEG. Do you plan to spend time editing your photo later, or do you need the best possible quality for printing or more “professional” purposes? ProRAW may give you an edge.
So why choose ProRAW?
There are a few instances where you might want to choose ProRAW to open up new possibilities in photography. For starters, you may not have a mirrorless or digital SLR camera that supports RAW shooting, so the iPhone 12 Pro can help you in the world of lossless imaging.
But let’s look at a more specific example. You are at the beach with your family and you want to take a photo to share with everyone later. You may want to have the photo printed and framed later, so hit the RAW button in the viewfinder.
By photographing ProRAW, you limit the amount of visible compression in the image. There will be more shades of blue in the sky than if the image was compressed to form streaks. You also capture a lot more information in terms of shadow and highlight details.
This allows you to retract the highlights and make the sun (and its reflections) slightly less blinding while preserving color information. If subjects in the photo are a little dark, you can extract more detail from the shadows without compromising image quality. You should be able to perform more edits without the image falling apart, such as with a highly compressed JPEG.
You may need to do more work on the image in the post to get it up to scratch as the iPhone processes non-RAW images with sharpening, noise reduction, and more depending on the circumstances. Ultimately, however, you have more control over the finished image and a more pleasant image at the end than if you relied on HEIF or JPEG.
And since enabling RAW in the Camera app is just a tap away, you can always fire off a few non-RAW photos for comparison anyway.
Enable ProRAW on your iPhone
To use ProRAW, you must first enable the ProRAW feature in your iPhone’s settings. Go to Settings> Camera> Formats and enable Apple ProRAW.
Keep in mind that as of late 2020, this is an iPhone 12 Pro feature that requires iOS 14.3 or later. If you have an iPhone 12 Pro model and you don’t see the option, try updating your iPhone’s software. Future iPhones released in 2021 or later are also likely to support ProRAW, but the feature may not be available on Pro models for a few years.
With ProRAW enabled under Settings, launch the Camera app from your home screen, through Control Center, or by asking Siri. In all supported modes, you’ll see a “RAW” button next to the Live Photos switch. When inactive, it has a line through it. Tap it to activate it and shoot in RAW.
If RAW shooting is enabled, you can now take photos as usual. Don’t forget to turn RAW off again to save space.
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Can’t use ProRAW? These apps also take RAW images
From the end of 2020, ProRAW will only be available on the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max. It is not coming to older iPhones, but it may arrive to future iPhones.
If your iPhone doesn’t support ProRAW, you can still record in RAW with a compatible iPhone app. There are many camera apps for the iPhone that can do this, from freebies like VSCO and Adobe Lightroom to paid apps like Manual ($ 3.99) and freemium apps like Halide.
Unfortunately, these apps don’t get you the same quality of RAW files as you get from an iPhone 12 Pro with the stock Camera app. CNET tested this and found that ProRAW helps eliminate noise and improve color reproduction compared to similar apps. You also lose access to features such as Night mode and SmartHDR.
RELATED: How to Take RAW Photos on Your iPhone
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 tier based on ProRAW alone. It’s hard to recommend the upgrade, even for photography enthusiasts who probably already have cameras with larger sensors that are already taking better photos. With that in mind, it’s a nice feature to have access to if you already have a device that can do this.
This is the hope that ProRAW will trickle down to non-Pro users as Apple’s systems-on-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 most expensive iPhones, and now they are on just about every model.
Learn about the difference between JPEG and HEIC for an update to the iPhone photography formats.
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