How to shot RAW on iPhone: The ultimate Guide and FAQ

A few years ago, Apple added an option that enabled third-party camera app developers to save RAW photos on iPhone. With iPhone 12 and the upcoming iOS 14.3, you'll be able to take RAW photos with the built-in camera app, too. Apple calls it Apple ProRAW.

In this blog post, I'll try to answer your questions about shooting RAW on the iPhone - including the new Apple ProRAW format.

But first, a few sample iPhone RAW photos shot on iPhone using ProCamera App. All edited with Adobe Lightroom Mobile Premium.

 
A lost place in Austria shot as RAW on iPhone

A lost place in Austria shot as RAW on iPhone

Inverted Pyramid in Bratislava shot as RAW

Inverted Pyramid in Bratislava shot as RAW

Kaiserwasser in Vienna shot as a RAW on iPhone

Kaiserwasser in Vienna shot as a RAW on iPhone

Votiv Church. Shot as RAW on iPhone

Votiv Church. Shot as RAW on iPhone

 

How to shoot RAW on the iPhone?

Before the iPhone 12 was released, you'd need a third-party camera app like ProCamera App to shoot RAW on iPhone. Other popular third-party camera apps that support shooting RAW on iPhone are the Moment Camera App, Halide and even the Lightroom Camera App included in Adobe Lightroom Mobile.

RAW photos shot on iPhone have the extension DNG, which is short for digital negative, a RAW image file format developed a while ago by Adobe.

Even the new Apple ProRAW format is a DNG file. Once iOS 14.3 is out, you will have to enable the RAW format in Settings -> Camera -> Format -> Apple ProRAW to use it.

Once enabled, you can enable or disable shooting RAW with the stock camera app by tapping the RAW icon in the upper right corner.

Enable shooting RAW with the stock camera app on iOS 14.3 and iPhone 12

Enable shooting RAW with the stock camera app on iOS 14.3 and iPhone 12

Adobe Lightroom Mobile can already open and process Apple ProRAW photos. But as I mentioned, this feature will be available with iOS 14.3, which is currently in beta.

What is the difference between a RAW and a JPG photo?

A JPEG photo is automatically processed by the camera app. The app applies adjustments like noise reduction, contrast, or vibrancy, just to name a few. Lastly, a JPEG file is a file format with lossy compression.

A RAW file, on the other hand, is saved unprocessed and using lossless compression. It's saved as the camera "sees "it.

Note: an older version of this article stated, that RAW files are saved uncompressed on iPhone. That was wrong. A RAW file on iPhone is compressed using a lossless compression while a JPG file is compressed using a lossy compression method.

Before you share iPhone RAW photos, you'll need to develop them using a RAW editor. Using such a RAW editor, you basically digitally develop the RAW photo. If you open a RAW photo with a retouching app that's not capable of displaying and editing RAW photos, the app may just use the embedded JPG preview, and you'll edit just that preview instead of the RAW photo.

One of the most popular RAW photo editors on the iPhone is Adobe Lightroom Mobile Premium. I'm highlighting the word premium here because you'll need to have a paid subscription to use RAW photos with Lightroom Mobile. I've written a detailed list of free and premium features in Adobe Lightroom Mobile.

It's also worth noting that an iPhone RAW photo may look worse than a corresponding JPEG file at first sight. And that's because the camera does not apply any automatic adjustments to the RAW image.

Here's a screenshot from Adobe Lightroom to illustrate that. The first one is the unedited RAW photo, while the second one is a screenshot of the same picture with already some adjustments applied.

Unedited RAW photo in Lightroom Mobile

Unedited RAW photo in Lightroom Mobile

Developed RAW Photo in Lightroom Mobile

Developed RAW Photo in Lightroom Mobile

Notice how much details you can recover from the photos' dark areas if you shoot in RAW.

Compare editing a RAW photo on iPhone to developing a classic analog film. That's why the process of editing a RAW photo is often referred to as digitally developing a photo.

Some camera apps, like ProCamera, also allow you to develop a RAW file.

Why should I shoot RAW with iPhone?

Because of the lossless compression used for RAW photos, there's much more image information in a RAW photo.

So you can produce a much higher quality, final photo.

For example, you may be able to fix burnt highlights or blown out dark areas that would otherwise be unrecoverable from a JPG photo.

Those areas would be merely white or black. By shooting RAW with your iPhone, you may be able to recover details of such regions.

Also, applying noise reduction using a RAW photo editor gives you much better control over the noise reduction. This results in much better photos containing much more detail but less noise.

On iPhone, I noticed that especially when it comes to detail, RAW beats a JPEG by far, like in this low light scene shot in a church in Vienna.

Inside of a church with low light shot as RAW photo on iPhone

Inside of a church with low light shot as RAW photo on iPhone

When should I shoot RAW on iPhone?

That question is difficult to answer. In the DSLR world, you'll often hear that you should always shoot in RAW. As you can use your iPhone as a snapshot camera as well as a camera for deliberately shooting a scene, I handle it the following way:

  • Whenever I'm out shooting in the sense that I take time to compose a photo that I want to share, I shoot RAW with iPhone.
  • Snapshots, like "Barbecue with friends "I typically shoot as JPEG.

Why do RAW Photos look blurry in Photos App?

Well, the reason may be an embedded, low-resolution preview that your camera app created while you where shooting RAW.

Often, such a preview's resolution is so low that it will look blurry in Photos app. Open the iPhone RAW photo in a RAW editor to see it in its full glory.

If you set your camera app to RAW + JPG, then the camera app will save an additional full resolution JPEG.

Are RAW Photos flagged in Photos App to identify them in Photos app on iPhone?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. As of iOS 13, there is no flag or label that will indicate a photo is a RAW file. This applies to DNG files shot with iPhone and even RAW files shot with a DSLR like NEF files from a Nikon camera or ARW files from a Sony camera.

Adobe Lightroom displays a DNG sticker on RAW photos to make it easy for you to pick the correct file.

Apple, do you hear me?

Conclusion

Shooting RAW will result in a much better final image quality. On the other hand, you need to invest time to process each and every RAW photo. But especially if you're photographing fantastic landscapes or stunning architecture, shooting RAW is well worth the additional effort as the final result will be a much better image.