• Jefferson Graham

All about Apple ProRAW for iPhone

Updated: Dec 23, 2020

Have you ever looked at a photo snapped on a smartphone and said, “C’mon man, that just doesn’t look real?”

We’re talking computational photography, where software engineers have figured out ways to boost colors and make things more dreamlike by playing software tricks. Face it, we love this.

But what if we want something more realistic? And an image we can tweak to our hearts content?

That is what RAW photos are all about. Pros have been shooting RAW images on their DSLRs and mirrorless cameras for years. Unlike JPGs, which pop out of the camera ready to share, the RAW image has to be processed, in software like Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

Now Apple is offering RAW photos for users of the iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max, and they’re worth checking out. The files are way bigger, at 25 megabytes a piece (compared to around a regular 3 MB) and have more latitude. If you take a shot that’s too dark, you can use the Lightroom or Apple’s Photos application to increase the exposure slider and make the photo usable.

You can tweak the white balance, clarity and so many other things.

Travel photographer Austin Mann, who is a master at shooting the night skies, has incredible examples on his website of astro-photography on the iPhone, shot in ProRAW. His back to back examples demonstrate how RAW can, for instance, show many more stars in the skies with long exposures than you would get with a typical JPG. (When you shoot in Night Mode, an automatic feature on recent iPhones, and are mounted to a tripod, you can get exposures as long as 30 seconds. )

The bad news: ProRAW is only available on the 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max. But Apple has a tendency to debut new camera features on new phones, and then bring them to others the following year, like it did with Portrait mode, which is now standard on most iPhones.

Let me tell you what you need to do to start shooting in RAW.

First, you need to update to the latest version of iOS, 14.3. Then, on the phone, go to Settings and the Camera app. Click Formats and make sure Apple ProRAW is selected. Then, when you open the app at the top right of the screen, a RAW setting has to be selected. Then take your shot. (Quibble: you have to remember every time to have the RAW tab selected in the camera app, or it will default back to JPG.)

Remember that you can process them in Apple’s Photos program by clicking the EDIT button, or use Adobe’s free Lightroom Mobile app. The RAW files look pretty awful at first. You’ll really need to play with the sliders, and up the exposure, shadows and other tools. Have fun!

My results weren’t as dramatic as Mann’s. But they are clearly way more realistic than the normal, heavily processed iPhone JPG.

Let me know how you fare.

Austin Mann's photo
Night skies by Austin Mann

Travel photographer Austin Mann, who is a master at shooting the night skies, has incredible examples on his website of astro-photography on the iPhone, shot in ProRAW. His back to back examples demonstrate how RAW can, for instance, show many more stars in the skies with long exposures than you would get with a typical JPG. (When you shoot in Night Mode, an automatic feature on recent iPhones, and are mounted to a tripod, you can get exposures as long as 30 seconds. )

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