How (and Why) to Shoot in RAW on Smartphones in 2021

RAW images are a photographer’s best friend. RAW phone photography offers practically limitless processing options and is a powerful tool for any serious editing.

And the RAW format isn’t just limited to high-end cameras or DSLRs – most high-end smartphones have the innate ability to shoot RAW too. Even if you have a phone that doesn’t have the ability to shoot in RAW, we’ll provide some app options that will get the job done.

As a smartphone photographer, you need to take advantage of it.

Whether you want to learn to shoot RAW on iPhone or RAW on Android we’ve got the information for you!

What is RAW?

mobile RAW photography

RAW is an image format that is… well, raw.

It’s easier to understand if you know how cameras take pictures.

When you snap a picture, a digital camera isn’t just recording what you see – there’s a whole host of other information. The contrast, exposure, saturation and so on. It also notes the settings used: what the ISO is set to, the aperture, and everything else.

But most of the time, the result of taking a picture is a JPEG. The .jpeg (interchangeable with .jpg) is the same picture you just took but compressed. Most of the info is stripped and all you have is the result – what the picture actually looks like.

That’s fine for most people. They’re just gonna upload it to Instagram or Facebook anyway. It’s also space-efficient. A JPEG is a much smaller file size than RAW.

RAW is a bulky file because it still has all that info! It has all the information the camera captured in the instant of taking that picture. A RAW file is often about 3 times the size of the equivalent JPEG. Why is that important? Well…

Why You Should Do Your Phone Photography in the RAW

If you’re serious about your craft, then you’ll always do your phone photography in the RAW. Here are just a few reasons why that’s the case:

  1. RAW images are uncompressed and thus offer the highest quality.
  2. RAW images have (literally) thousands more brightness levels than JPEGs.
  3. It’s much easier to manipulate exposure, contrast, and white balance on RAW.
  4. JPEG is a “lossy” file format. Every time you open, edit, and save you are losing some quality. RAW maintains all original information and can be edited non-destructively.
  5. RAW prints will always look better than prints sourced from JPEG.

It should be clear that RAW phone photography is the way to go.

Here’s the catch, though: RAW will practically always require some degree of post-processing (editing). In fact, most standard photo-viewing apps (like the Gallery app on your phone) won’t even display images that are in RAW.

You wouldn’t want them to anyway – it’ll probably be a little uglier than a standard photo.

When a camera shoots a photograph, it automatically processes it according to its software, compresses it, and publishes it as a JPEG. When you shoot raw, there’s no processing. The result is that it’ll often look flat compared to a JPEG… until it’s edited.

How to Shoot in RAW on Android

phone photography RAW files

For the die-hard users out there, it should be pretty easy to learn to shoot in RAW on Android.

The only requirement for the camera is that it has the Camera2 API, which allows the Android framework to save as RAW. What does that mean for you? Not very much, except that if your phone lacks the Camera2 API, you’re not gonna be shooting in raw. It can’t be added through an app – the manufacturer has to build the phone with it in mind.

The good news is that it became pretty standard in 2016. Certainly, every high-end phone, all the flagship devices like Samsung Galaxy, the LG series,  or Google Pixel will be able to shoot in RAW.

Still, not every phone lets you shoot raw with the native camera app. Kinda silly, right? Some do – the Samsung Galaxy S7 was one of the first to have the ability right out of the box. Since then, most phones let you opt into RAW format.

To shoot in RAW on Android – open your camera app and go to settings. Look for the option to change the output file format. Change from .jpeg to .raw (or sometimes it’ll be called .dng, which is Adobe’s proprietary raw format). You may have to switch to manual/pro mode to change this setting.

If you can’t find an option to switch, grab a third-party camera app. Many of them are feature-packed and far superior to the default.

For shooting RAW on Android, we most recommend the Camera X app. The Pro mode available in the app is so easy to use and provides all the control available on DSLR or mirrorless.

If you’re not sure about the full-manual feel, the app has some awesome presets and an auto-edit feature that at times can’t be beaten. While this feature is cool, you should learn to edit so that you can have total control over your work!

For editing RAW on Android, we most recommend Adobe’s LightRooom Mobile app. If you use the equivalent computer program, it should be very familiar. The camera function itself isn’t spectacular, but the included editing software (which supports RAW) is stellar.

It’s what we use for our editing!

The thing is, there are so many options to choose from when it comes to shooting and editing RAW on Android. Our advice is to experiment and find the one that you’re most comfortable using.

How to Shoot in RAW on iPhone

raw phone photography

Still no RAW capability Apple? While this may be a slight bump in the road, have no fear because third-party apps are here!

The Moment Pro Camera app is a favorite of  content creators in recent years. Moment has made sure that you have full DSLR level control of your phone’s camera and the app’s usability doesn’t leave one wanting more. Yes, there’s RAW capture too.

Manual is the camera app of choice for many iPhone photographers. In Manual, getting the RAW file is as simple as opening Settings and switching the “Save RAW” toggle to on.

Obscura is another popular iPhone app that has the ability to shoot in RAW.

Once you’ve got your camera app that will shoot in RAW, you need another app to process those pictures. Here’s our list of best apps for editing photos.

We definitely recommend Adobe LightRoom Mobile again. It’s available on both Android and iPhone, and the utility of the feature suite can’t be underestimated.

Tips for Shooting in RAW on Smartphones

Now that you know how to actually take pictures and save them as RAW, here are a few tips for making the most of your newfound powers.

Go Moment and don’t look back

Moment Logo

Take quality photos and edit said photos all with the peace of mind that you’re powered by one company – Moment. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an IOS or Android person because Moment has everybody covered!

These guys are seriously pioneering the phone photography game – from cases to lenses, to apps, to tutorials, to mind-bending-ly awesome trips. If you’re looking to do the best thing you can do for your phone photography, then get yourself the Moment Starter Pack.

  1. A Wide-Angle Moment Lens is the best blend of versatility and performance on the market right now and is the perfect addition to the arsenal of any beginner phone photographer. While all of the other Moment offerings are worth considering during the course of your phone photography journey, the Wide-Angle is ideal for those just starting out.
  2. Unfortunately, to use your Moment Lens you have to purchase a case for it. Don’t worry, the cases look cool and keep that $100 lens super secure.
  3. The Moment Pro Camera app will unlock the full potential of the lens and your phone’s camera. You’ll have complete manual control when shooting coupled with a myriad of tools at your disposal while editing. If there is one con worth pointing out, it’s the price point. At the same time, sometimes quality doesn’t come cheap.

Memory and RAW

RAW images take up a LOT of space. Sometimes 15 to 20 MB a photo. That’ll fill up your phone’s memory very quickly if you aren’t careful. Either be very diligent in moving your pictures to a computer quickly or invest in some extra space.

  • For Androids, more space is easy. Just grab a micro-SD card. They’re cheap and a breeze to install.
  • iPhones don’t have the luxury of increasing storage space. Utilize a cloud service (Google Photos is great) to back up and free up space.

2 thoughts on “How (and Why) to Shoot in RAW on Smartphones in 2021

  1. Good article, but one thing needs to be pointed out. You mentioned that RAW capture was possible on an iPhone with the native camera app. This is not true. Although the iPhone has been able to capture RAW images since the 6s on iOS 10 or higher, it is to this day only possible with a third party camera app with RAW capture capabilities. There are many camera apps that can do this, such as Halide, Camera+2, and Moment to name a few. But the Camera app that comes with the iPhone does not.

    1. Hey Greg, thanks for the kind words about the article. I totally agree that we were wrong in saying that RAW capture is possible through the native iPhone camera app. I’ll see to it that the necessary edits are made pronto. Love your work by the way!

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