Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

The Power of RAW Photography on the iPhone

Sebastiaan de With, designer of the Halide camera app:

When you shoot JPEG, you really need to get the photo perfect at the time you take it. With RAW and its extra data, you can easily fix mistakes, and you get a lot more room to experiment.

What kind of data? RAW files store more information about detail in the highlights (the bright parts) and the shadows (the dark parts) of an image. Since you often want to ‘recover’ a slightly over or under-exposed photo, this is immensely useful.

It also stores information that enables you to change white balance later on. White balance is a constantly measured value that cameras try to get right to ensure the colors look natural in a scene. iPhones are quite good at this, but it starts to get more difficult when light is tinted.

I’ve been shooting RAW on my iPhone almost exclusively since I received a beta version of Obscura in the summer last year that used iOS 10’s RAW capture API. More time is needed to make a RAW photo usable than a JPEG out of the camera app and RAW files take up so much more space, but it’s completely worth it. So many of the photos I’ve captured since would have been impossible to make without RAW.

You can try this for yourself: get a manual camera app like Obscura, Halide, or Manual, and download either Lightroom or Darkroom. Capture a scene in RAW, then start playing around with the highlights, shadows,1 and white balance; in Lightroom, you can also adjust individual hues in a scene without degrading the image fidelity. It’s remarkable how much the iPhone’s sensor actually captures, especially in foliage and finer patterns.

  1. If it’s snowy where you live, this is extremely helpful. ↩︎