How to shoot RAW on iPhone: The ultimate Guide

Shooting RAW photos on iPhone means to save a photo like the image sensor of the iPhone "sees" it. This allows you to get better results from post processing your photo compared to a JPEG Image.

In this blog post, I'll walk explain the different RAW file formats and provide recommendations about camera apps that allow you to take RAW photos with iPhone.

Table of Contents

But first, here are a few sample photos that I took in RAW format using iPhone and edited using Lightroom Mobile.

iPhone RAW photos shot on iPhone using ProCamera App. All edited with Adobe Lightroom Mobile Premium.

 

Inverted Pyramid in Bratislava shot as RAW

Kaiserwasser in Vienna shot as a RAW on iPhone

Nature takes back. Apple ProRAW shot on iPhone 12 Pro Max

 

What is the difference between the RAW, HEIF a JPG photo format?

First and foremost, it's the compression. Both, the JPEG and HEIF photo format use a lossy compression to reduce the file size of the photo. A RAW file is also compressed, but using a lossless compression. So all the image data from the camera sensor is preserved.

Second, if you save your photos in JPEG or HEIF format, the iPhone camera system will apply some software magic to your photos to improve overall sharpness, contrast, saturation and to reduce noise.

Originally, such automatic post processing wouldn't happen if you choose to save your photo as a RAW photo. But then Apple introduced Apple ProRAW.

Compared to the classic RAW format, which does not apply any software processing to the photo, Apple ProRAW applies some image processing like smart HDR, deep fusion or even night mode while still retaining a lot of the benefits of the original RAW format, especially when it comes to adjusting exposure, color or white balance.

So, this means that there are two different RAW file formats on iPhone: the classic RAW file format and AppleProRAW.

The RAW file format and extension

Both, the classic RAW format and Apple ProRAW will be saved in the Digital Negative format that Adobe developed. You can quickly identify such a RAW file by the file extension DNG. But you can't distinguish from the file extension if its a classic RAW photo or an Apple ProRAW photo.

Please beware that, technically, any image can be saved as a DNG. So just because the extension of an image file is .dng doesn't mean it's a RAW file!

RAW files in DNG format are larger then JPEG or HEIF photos. A classic RAW photo shot on any iPhone is usually around 12 megabytes. That size comes from the 12 megapixel image resolution of the image sensor at a color depth of 8 bit.

Apple ProRAW files can become quite huge because they not only contain the image data as the sensor sees it but also additional information originating from smart HDR, low light mode or deep fusion. Further, Apple ProRAW photos have a color depth of 12 bit instead of 8 bit.

Checking the Apple ProRAW files on my iPhone I see that the average size of a ProRAW photo is between 20 and 25 megabytes. Photos shot using night mode tend to be larger than photos shot during the daytime.

My largest Apple ProRAW photo is almost 30 megabytes!

RAW Photos require post processing

RAW photos are not intended for sharing but for processing. So, before you share a RAW photo, you'll need to digitally develop it using a RAW editor. And here is a pitfall: DNG files may also contain a JPEG version of the RAW photo that's used as a preview.

So, ff you open a RAW photo with a photo editing app that's not capable of handling RAW photos, the app may just use the embedded JPG preview, and you'll edit the preview instead of the RAW image.

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 of Adobe Lightroom Mobile to illustrate that.

The first photo is an unedited RAW photo, while the second one is a screenshot of the same picture with some adjustments applied.

Unedited RAW photo in Lightroom Mobile

Developed RAW Photo in Lightroom Mobile

Notice how many details you can recover from the photos' dark areas if you shoot in RAW. That's one of the reasons I like to shoot RAW!

Which Photo Editing Apps support editing RAW photos on iPhone?

Since the release of iPhone 12, you can fine tune some aspects of a RAW photo using the iOS Photos App. If you apply any adjustment to a RAW photo in Photos App, it will create a JPG and save that edited photo as a version. So you can always revert back to the original RAW file.

But to be able to use all the benefits of RAW photos, you'll need a RAW photo editor like Adobe Lightroom Mobile Premium.

I'm highlighting the word premium here because you'll need to have a paid subscription to develop RAW photos with Lightroom Mobile. If you're thinking about subscribing to Lightroom Mobile, here's a detailed list of free and premium features in Adobe Lightroom Mobile.

It's no secret that I'm a fan of Lightroom Mobile. Aside from the RAW editing capabilities, it comes with lots of near features that I use regularly.

If you own ProCamera App, you'll not only be able to shoot RAW on your iPhone, but you can also develop RAW photos using the built-in RAW editor.

Both, Adobe Lightroom and ProCamera support editing Apple ProRAW files. If you're curious, I've written a blog post that outlines my RAW editing workflow in Lightroom Mobile.

As you now know all the ins and outs of shooting RAW on iPhone, let's have a look which camera apps support shooting RAW.

Which camera apps support shooting RAW on iPhone?

Let's ignore the iPhone 12 Pro briefly. Generally, you can shoot RAW on any of the later iPhone models by using a third party camera app. My favorite camera app to take RAW photos on iPhone is ProCamera App, that I've reviewed previously in the blog.

Other popular camera apps that support shooting RAW are the Moment Camera App, Halide. Even the Lightroom Camera App included in Adobe Lightroom Mobile can save photos in RAW format.

For each of the mentioned camera apps, you'll need to enable the RAW photo format somewhere in the camera app's settings.

Now, let's talk about the iPhone 12 Pro. If you've installed iOS 14.3, the built in iOS Camera app allows you to take RAW photos - but only using the Apple ProRAW format. Taking a classic RAW photo still requires a third party camera app.

To enable Apple ProRAW in the built in camera app, go to Settings, then scroll down to the camera app settings and tap it. The first option you see should be a configuration option labelled Format. Tap it and then enable Apple ProRAW.

If you don't see the Apple ProRAW option, make sure you have an iPhone 12 Pro (it won't work with iPhone 12 "non-pro" models) and that you've upgraded to iOS 14.3.

Once you enabled ProRAW, you can easily turn it on or off by tapping the RAW icon in the upper right corner of the iOS camera app.

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

Unless you've enabled Apple ProRAW under Preserve Settings in the camera app's settings, Apple ProRAW will be turned off whenever you close the camera app or put your iPhone to sleep. You'll need to tap the RAW icon in the camera app again to turn it on.

Why should I shoot RAW with iPhone?

Simple answer: Because a RAW photo contains much more image information and allows you to process and enhance a photo to a much greater extent than a JPEG photo.

For example, you may be able to fix burnt highlights or blown out dark areas from a RAW photo that would otherwise be unrecoverable in a JPG photo. In JPEG photos, such regions would be merely white or black.

Further, applying noise reduction to a RAW photo gives you much better and more fine granular control. So you can get better pictures with less noise compared to a JPEG photo. If you use or plan to use Adobe Lightroom, I've a tutorial about how to reduce noise using Lightroom Mobile.

As a summary, when it comes to detail and low noise, shooting RAW beats shooting JPEG - at the price that you'll need to edit and develop each RAW photo before publishing it. Here's one sample photo to illustrate that.

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 RAW. But as you can also use your iPhone as a snapshot camera, I recommend handling it in the following way (like I do):

  • 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 using ProCamera app.
  • Snapshots, like "Barbecue with friends," I typically shoot as JPEG using the stock camera app.

Are RAW Photos flagged in Photos App to identify them?

You can't tell if a photo is a RAW photo the thumbnail view of the Photos App on iPhone or iPad. But starting with iOS13, the Photos App will display RAW in the upper left corner if you tap an image to see it in its full glory.

RAW Sticker iOS Photos App

But Adobe Lightroom will help you here. If you import a photo, it'll display a DNG sticker for RAW photos even in thumbnail view to make it easy for you to pick the correct file.

Conclusion

Coming from the DSLR world, I was quite excited when Apple started to allow third-party camera apps to save RAW photos. I got even more excited to learn that iPhone 12 Pro and iOS 14.3 will ship with their own RAW format, Apple ProRAW.

Generally, shooting RAW will result in a much better final image as the RAW format contains much more image data - just as the camera sees it.

On the other hand, you'll need to invest time to process each and every RAW photo separately before sharing it. But especially if you're photographing scenes like extraordinary landscapes or stunning architecture, shooting RAW is well worth the additional effort as the final result will be a much better image.