The iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max are the first iPhones to support ProRAW, Apple’s stance on RAW image format. In professional photography, RAW files are necessary to make the most of your images – but what does that mean for the iPhone?
What is ProRAW?
ProRAW is Apple’s implementation of the RAW image format, available on the iPhone 12 Pro, iPhone 12 Pro Max and probably on future iPhones. The RAW format is usually found on medium and high cameras, allowing photographers to capture as much information as possible in the scene. While lossy formats like JPEG and HEIF will discard “unnecessary” information when you press the shutter button, RAW formats linger on most of them.
These files are basically raw data, hence the name. This data is generated by an image editing application such as Photoshop or Apple’s Photos application. By changing certain parameters, you can change the way a photo is displayed after it has been taken. RAW files are perfect for editing like exposure change, where an abundance of raw data keeps more detail in shadows and highlights.
It might help to consider RAW photos as negatives of the movie era. The format is not used for sharing photos, but for editing them before they are exported to more efficient formats like JPEG. This is why RAW files are commonly used by photography professionals and enthusiasts who spend more time reviewing their edits in applications such as Photoshop and Lightroom.
Apple’s ProRAW uses the ubiquitous digital negative .DNG file format, which means you can (theoretically) open a ProRAW image in any editor that supports .DNG files. This differs from camera manufacturers such as Sony which still use protected formats, which can make it difficult to edit images 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 the iPhone 12 Pro or Pro Max. The format is also compatible with features like SmartHDR, Deep Fusion and Night mode.
Don’t confuse it with the similarly named ProRes RAW, which is a lossless video codec used on high-end cameras. ProRAW is used for photos only and is not compatible with videos.
Potential cracking disadvantages in ProRAW
The biggest disadvantage of capturing RAW on any camera – iPhone 12 or another – is the size of the files you produce. While lossy formats like JPEG discard 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.
The ProRAW file averages about 25 megabytes, which is 40 photos per gigabyte of phone memory. If you have a smaller-capacity iPhone Pro, you’ll probably need to manage your files so you don’t run out of space. Even if you opt for the 512GB option, you probably don’t want to keep a lot of ProRAW files on your iPhone indefinitely.
If you’re using iCloud Photos, you may need to increase your storage plan from 50 GB to 200 GB or 2 TB to make room for lossless images. You may want to move them elsewhere for archival purposes and keep HEIF or JPEG files in your library for sharing. This will take some manual control on your part.
When you choose to record in ProRAW, you record only in ProRAW. This is different from many cameras that support shooting in both JPEGs i RAW. This makes it easy for you to quickly share JPEG as needed, while keeping RAW files for more flexibility in your editorial package. With iPhone, you’ll need to create JPEGs from your ProRAW files after you edit them.
When capturing an image in ProRAW, you indulge in most of the processing that Apple applies to standard HEIF / JPEG images. This isn’t a problem for photographers who want editing control, but it does mean that a ProRAW shot will often look worse than even JPEG directly from the camera (without applying editing). This is shown by the tests performed by GSMArena.
It is also worth noting that Live Photos are not taken with ProRAW and that ProRAW photos cannot be taken in Portrait mode.
Finally, your intention should dictate the format: Is this photo to share on Facebook or Instagram? Select HEIF / JPEG. Are you planning to spend time later editing a photo or do you need the best possible print quality or for “more professional” purposes? ProRAW could give you an advantage.
So why choose ProRAW?
There are a few cases where you might want to choose ProRAW to open up new possibilities in terms of photography. For starters, you may not have a SLR or digital SLR camera that supports RAW shooting, so the iPhone 12 Pro can make it easier for you to enter the world of lossless image editing.
But let’s look at a more concrete example. You are on the beach with your family and want to share the photo later to share it with everyone. You might want the photo to print and frame later, so press the RAW button in the viewfinder.
Recording ProRAW will 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 the point of introducing the stripes. You will also capture a lot more information in terms of shadows and highlight details.
This allows you to pull off the highlights and make the sun (and its reflections) a little less dazzling, while retaining color information. If some objects in the photo are a little dark, you can extract more details from the shadow without seriously affecting the image quality. You should be able to edit more without the image falling apart, as would be the case with highly compressed JPEG.
You may need to work harder on the image in the post to set it to standard, as the iPhone handles non-RAW images with focus, noise reduction and more, depending on the conditions. Ultimately, you’ll have more control over the finished image and a more comfortable image in the end than relying on HEIF or JPEG.
And since enabling RAW in the Camera app is just a touch away, you could always alert only a few non-RAW photos.
How to enable ProRAW on your iPhone
To use ProRAW, you must first enable the ProRAW feature in your iPhone settings. Go to Settings> Camera> Formats and enable Apple ProRAW.
Remember, from the end of 2020, this is a feature of the iPhone 12 Pro that requires iOS 14.3 or later. If you have an iPhone 12 Pro and don’t see the option, try updating your iPhone software. Future iPhones released in 2021 or later are likely to support ProRAW as well – but the feature could only be available on Pro models for a few years.
When ProRAW is turned on in Settings, launch the Camera app from the Home screen, via the Control Center, or by asking Siri. In all supported modes, you will see a “RAW” button near the Live Photos switch. When it is inactive, it will go through it. Touch it to activate it and save it in RAW format.
With RAW shooting enabled, you can now take photos as usual. Remember to turn off RAW again to save space.
RELATED: How to take photos in ProRAW on iPhone
Can’t use ProRAW? These applications also record RAW
As of the end of 2020, ProRAW is only available on the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max. It won’t come on older iPhones, but it may arrive on future iPhones.
If your iPhone doesn’t support ProRAW, you can still record in RAW format using a compatible iPhone app. There are many iPhone camera apps that can do this, from free apps like VSCO and Adobe Lightroom to paid apps like Manual ($ 3.99) and freemium apps like Halide.
Unfortunately, you will not get a RAW file of the same quality from these applications as from the iPhone 12 Pro using the Camera Camera app. CNET tested this and found that ProRAW helps remove noise and improves color reproduction compared to similar applications. You also lose access to features such as Night mode and SmartHDR.
RELATED: How to Capture RAW Photos on iPhone |
ProRAW is nice to have, but not essential
ProRAW doesn’t change games for most people. Apple will have a hard time convincing the average iPhone user to upgrade to the Pro level on a ProRAW-only basis. It’s hard to recommend an upgrade even to photography lovers who probably already own cameras with larger sensors that already take better photos. With that in mind, it’s a nice feature to have access if you already have a device that can do it.
We hope that ProRAW will flow to non-professional users as Apple’s systems on the 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 are now on almost every model.
To refresh the iPhone photo format, learn more about the difference between JPEG and HEIC.
RELATED: What is the HEIF (or HEIC) image format?