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What is the ProRAW format and how to use it on iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max

With the arrival of iOS 14.3, Apple's Pro RAW format is among us and can significantly change the way iPhone users take photos. Not just for this generation of devices, but with the iPhone 13 and beyond. If you don't already know the feature and how to use it on your device, we'll explain.


Photo: Apple


ProRAW is available on iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max, running on iOS 14.3 or later. In other words, any iPhone model other than these two is incompatible with the novelty.

 

The new ProRAW format brings smartphone photography closer to DSLRs, but this format is not used for sharing photos, but rather, for editing them before they are exported to more efficient formats like JPEG.

 

How to enable ProRAW on your iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max?


  • Go to Settings
  • Swipe down and tap Camera
  • Choose Formats at the top
  • Toggle on Apple ProRAW
  • In the camera app, you will see the RAW icon in the top right corner
  • Tap RAW to enable it for a photo, the diagonal line will disappear when it’s enabled
  • After taking a photo with ProRAW, you’ll see the RAW label in the top left corner


This activates a small RAW button in the iPhone's camera application, which you can use to enable or disable the feature at any time. All photos taken in this new format come with a “RAW” label when the images are opened in the Photos app.

 

And now the Million-Dollar question is:  Why we use ProRAW format?


Raw, in English, means raw. The RAW format lives up to the name: it works with raw data from the lens. It is unzipped and unprocessed, and professional photographers like it because it allows them to apply their own adjustments and tricks to an image without interference from the camera's algorithms. It is as if it were the “pure” format of the photo.


Photo: Screenshot of Apple / iOS 

Obviously, the ProRAW of the new iPhones is very personal. Many people may not even care about this function and prefer that the cell phone does all the work on its own. In contrast, other users will prefer to work in RAW and modify the levels of brightness, contrast, color, saturation and all other considerations that go into the production of a finished image on their own, including compression levels.

 

RAW images also bring more information - essentially everything the camera lens captures - and offer much more flexibility with what you can do in the editing stage, which means that file sizes are also larger (RAW files take up a lot more space, since they are not compressed).

 

Apple is not the first smartphone manufacturer to use the RAW format. In fact, most modern smartphones already offer this possibility. RAW photos are usually saved as DNG, a widely supported RAW file type developed by Adobe. Digital cameras, in turn, can come with specific RAW formats created by the brand of the devices.


DNG stands for digital negative file and is an open-source RAW file format created by Adobe.


iPhone prior to 12 Pro also supported RAW, but full data cannot be accessed through the standard iOS camera app, and the option is valid for the primary lens only. Before ProRAW arrived, you had to install a camera app on your iPhone to capture and save all the extra information.


Now, ProRAW is here. Apple describes the novelty as a kind of mixture of RAW photos and images in the standard format: some of the iPhone's computer photography techniques are still applied, leaving many post-processing options for professional users. Among those that are already known are Deep Fusion and Smart HDR, which work in conjunction with ProRAW.

 

Both Deep Fusion and Smart HDR obtain information from multiple frames to produce better images. Deep Fusion optimizes photos to enhance details and reduce noise, while Smart HDR is another High Dynamic Range process, which should keep bright and dark spots full of details. A classic RAW photo would not attach this type of calculation, but ProRAW would, involving everything in an adjusted DNG file that Apple developed in partnership with Adobe.

 

The processing applied is done instantly, with no effect on shutter speed and works with all four cameras (three on the back and the front) on the Pro models of the iPhone 12.

 

Apple says settings like sharpness, white balance and image mapping tone are not embedded in the photo, but act as "instructions" for any image editing software you are using.

Photos can work with ProRAW, and Apple is making an API available so that third-party tools can also benefit from this feature. Apps like Lightroom and Snapseed work perfectly with RAW, as does Halide , one of the most popular RAW camera apps for iPhone.


This is an example of an image taken with the iPhone and Deep Fusion technology. Image: Apple

If you really want pixel-by-pixel control over how your image looks, then shooting in classic RAW is still possible (using a third-party application), and taking JPEG or HEIC photos is usually still the default behaviour. But for a combination of the two, ProRAW may be worth a try.

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