Apple’s iPhone 12 Pro promises some serious photography capabilities to both its predecessor and the standard iPhone 12. And with that upgrade comes Apple ProRAW’s debut.
This new image format is designed to fit into the upgraded triple rear camera matrix of both the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max, which also have a LiDAR sensor to collect more image information.
Smartphones have been able to shoot in RAW for some time, but this custom Apple format can introduce a new way to capture data-rich photos while taking advantage of Apple’s powerful image processing. Here̵
What is ProRAW?
When you click a RAW photo on a smartphone or DSLR, it captures a completely uncompressed image. These files are usually much larger than the standard JPEG photos that many DSLRs and phones take by default.
These uncompressed images are much larger in file size, thanks to capturing much more image data, which means there are many more options to edit them once you’ve captured them. Professional photographers tend to shoot in RAW format so that they can manipulate the photos using photo editing software such as Photoshop and then process them into images suitable for viewing in digital or physical format.
However, shooting in RAW means that all computing photo smartphones are applied to the camera’s photos, not the captured image. This means that in order to get features such as advanced HDR image processing, you need to shoot in a processed image format, such as JPEG, and thus lose the ability to deeply manipulate images in the editing software.
In general, RAW or JPEG formats require some form of compromise in both convenience and depth of editing. But Apple’s ProRAW format aims to eliminate these trade-offs.
ProRAW, in short, will capture RAW images, but will apply some image processing from above. This includes merging multiple shots taken with the iPhone 12 Pro’s cameras using Apple’s Deep Fusion and Smart HDR technology or noise reduction applications. But it will still leave little room for editing things like color, exposure and contrast with the same depth that can be achieved with RAW.
Think of it this way: creating a finished RAW image is like cooking food from scratch, including preparing all the ingredients. JPEG images on the other hand are the cooked dish. So, using this analogy, ProRAW is like cooking, only you have all the ingredients that are weighed and ready to use. In practice, ProRAW provides basic image processing to make it much easier for people to edit them in final photos.
What are the advantages of ProRAW?
You can think of ProRAW as an aid in editing your photos. Sorting things like white balance and using Smart HDR 3 to select details and textures in RAW photos provides a better base image for people to then upgrade with editing.
This avoids the sometimes daunting process of editing RAW photos from scratch, which is probably why Apple hasn’t offered RAW capture on its iPhones so far. Without any processing, RAW images can look a bit flat and frustrating and can be a challenge for people who have no experience manipulating photos to fix them with satisfaction.
So ProRAW will take care of the difficult parts of shaping the image for more precise editing and will leave finer and more artistic settings for manual editing. Calling it ProRAW may be a bit of a misnomer, as it is more of a tool for people who do not use or manipulate RAW images.
With this in mind, for professional photographers or experienced photography enthusiasts who shoot on an iPhone 12 Pro rather than a DSLR, ProRAW can significantly speed up the time it takes to create a finished photo from a RAW frame.
Is ProRAW the future of photography?
Smartphone photography has improved so much that even mid-range phones can take impressive photos. But they still can’t compete with DSLR cameras in terms of fidelity and photo quality. And ProRAW will not change that.
But this can be seen as a pure evolution of smartphone photography, in which people are provided with tools for deeper image manipulation, but are also supported by powerful computational photography.
We are yet to test the iPhone 12 Pro with ProRAW, but it is definitely an interesting feature that we wanted to try. And if it turns out to be a powerful tool for getting better photos of the smartphone’s camera, then we can expect other smartphone manufacturers such as Samsung, Sony and OnePlus to make their own proposals for ProRAW.
With ProRAW, the iPhone 12 can lift the smartphone’s photo bar. This means that upcoming phones like the Samsung Galaxy S21 will really need to improve their camera gameplay in 2021.