RAW images are a photographer’s best friend. They offer practically limitless processing options and are 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. As a smartphone photographer, you need to take advantage of it.
What is RAW?
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 be Photographing in RAW on Your Phone
A serious photographer should always photograph in RAW. Here are just a few reasons why that’s the case:
- RAW images are uncompressed and thus offer the highest quality.
- RAW images have (literally) thousands more brightness levels than JPEGs.
- It’s much easier to manipulate exposure, contrast, and white balance on RAW.
- 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.
- RAW prints will always look better than prints sourced from JPEG.
It should be clear that RAW 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
For the Android users out there, this should be pretty easy.
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 Android, we 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.
How to Shoot in RAW on iPhone
As of the time of writing, the default camera app on iPhone doesn’t support capturing RAW images. That’s not a big surprise, though, since Apple likes to dumb things down.
Fortunately, the capacity to shoot raw is there. You simply have to unlock it through a third party app. The only requirement is that your device is at iOS 10 or later.
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 which 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.
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.