One of the big advantages DSLR cameras have had over the smartphone camera has been their ability to shoot in a RAW file format. For the avid DSLR photographers out there you will know what I am talking about (everyone else will most likely be scratching their heads). However, since the release of iOS10, iPhone cameras have had the capability to shoot in RAW saving images in a DNG file format. Although this is a new and exciting development for the iPhone, some Android cameras have had the ability to shoot in RAW for a couple of years now.

I have been shooting in RAW on my iPhone 7 Plus for a while now and in this article you’ll find out what RAW is, why you should be using it, how to set your camera app to shoot RAW and how to edit RAW files. But first, let’s start by answering the question what is RAW and why use it?

RAW iPhone Photo of Sunrise

What is RAW?

If you are a DSLR photographer then the RAW file format is something you are going to be familiar with. If not, then you’re most likely going to be wondering what I am talking about, what is RAW and what’s so special about it?

To date digital cameras, be they smartphone or a point and shoot, have generally saved the photos you take as JPEG files. This means that once you have taken the photo you were stuck with the results. Yes, you can do some post production editing but by and large, if the photo was incorrectly exposed from the outset then you ran the risk of losing detail in certain areas of the image. This is especially true if the photograph has been overexposed. In these sorts of situations would see the highlight areas, get beached out and are void of any colour or detail. This is a problem most commonly seen in photographs that feature the sky. The smartphone camera will expose for the main body of the scene which will cause the sky to be overexposed and go white.

When you shoot your photos in the RAW file format, it stores a lot more information about the scene in front of you. This means that you can adjust the exposure of the photograph at a later date so that a blown out, white sky can be corrected so the cloud details in the sky starts to becomes visible. Likewise, the black shadow areas of an underexposed image can be brightened. You aren’t just limited to correcting exposure with RAW files, you can also control the white balance of the image as well.

Let me illustrate. Take a look at the image below left. The sky has been overexposed and as a result the detail in it has been completely lost. If this photo was taken in a JPEG format, then you may as well delete the image as there is little you can do to correct this overexposure.

However, in this case the photo was shot in a RAW format which means I can open the image in an app like Snapseed, Lightrom mobile or VSCO, and adjust the exposure levels so that the detail in the sky is now visible as the edited image below right shows.

As you can see, shooting in a RAW format gives you so much more flexibility in adjusting the exposure, contrast, brightness and white balance of your images than a JEPG photo gives you. However, these benefits do come at a cost.

The main disadvantage of shooting in RAW is the file size that you get. On the iPhone this can be as much as 12mb. It can be considerably more if you’re using a DSLR camera. The reason for this is that the camera needs to record and store a lot more information about the scene in front of you than a conventional JPEG format would. This extra information can then be used at a later date to make adjustments and corrections to the photograph. Consequently, this increased file size is going to use up a lot more storage space on your phone, a lot quicker than it would normally.  How big a problem this is will depend on how much storage space you have on your device.

Despite this one benefit of shooting in RAW is the quality of the photograph that you get. RAW images are going to be better in quality than those in a JPEG format. This is primarily due to the amount of extra information that the RAW file stores but also because RAW does not apply any compression to the files at the detriment of image quality. This is something that JPEG files have always done – JPEG’s have a tradeoff between size of the image file and the quality of the image.

The left photo was shot in JPEG. The right photo was shot in RAW with no editing. The RAW photo is slightly better quality.

Camera Apps That Shoot in RAW

Even though RAW capability is now available in iOS10 for some reason you can’t shoot in RAW using the native camera app, so you will need to use third party apps to take RAW photos. Here is a short list of some popular apps worth checking out:

Obviously, each app is going to work in a different way but generally you are most likely going to need to enable the RAW format option in the settings of your chosen app.

How to enable RAW in ProCamera

ProCamera is my camera app of choice. To shoot in RAW using ProCamera you first need to open the app, tap the settings icon in the bottom right corner, then tap the file format selector icon in the lower left corner.

If you don’t see this you will need to tap the settings icon (lower left), then tap the file format option. Now tap the file format option and select RAW or RAW + JPEG. The latter option will save a RAW file AND a JPEG file. This option would mean further stress on the limits of your storage space so the straight RAW might be the best option.

How to enable RAW in Camera+

In Camera+ open the app then tap the setting icon in the bottom right. From the pop up menu of option settings scroll down and select the Quality & Format option.


Tap this option then toggle the Save RAW Photo option to On. Camera+ will now save a JPEG file as well as a RAW file.

How to enable RAW in VSCO

To shoot in RAW using VSCO simply tap the RAW icon that is displayed in the lineup of settings in the camera viewfinder. Any photos you take from now on will be in RAW.

Editing Your RAW Photos

With your photo safely in your Camera Roll, the next step will be to edit the image. Not all editing apps support RAW editing but some of the main photo editing apps that do include:

How to Edit a RAW Photo Using Snapseed

Editing RAW photos in Snapseed is a breeze. To start with, open your photo in Snapseed. If Snapseed detects that the image being imported is a RAW file, then you will be presented with the Develop tool. Develop is similar to the tune image tool but only appears for photos in a RAW format. Swiping up and down allows you to select between Exposure, Highlights, Shadows, Contrast, Structure, Saturation, Temperature and Tint options. After selecting an option, swipe left or right to increase or decrease the levels.

You are more than likely going to want to adjust the exposure levels, especially if you have any over or under exposure issues. You will also want to review the contrast, saturation and structure levels to help give you photo a bit of body.

Happy with your edit? Then tap the confirm button. You now have access or all the other usual Snapseed tools and filters.

How to Edit a RAW Photo Using VSCO

To edit your photo using VSCO can be a little confusing, generally due to the navigation layout of the VSCO app. Start by selecting your RAW photo from your camera roll and importing it into the VSCO library. Next tap the edit button at the bottom of the screen, then tap the edit icon below the list of filter presets. Now if you tap the brightness icon (the first icon on the left) you will be presented with the RAW Exposure slider. Sliding to the right will increase the exposure and sliding to the left will decrease it.


Some RAW Photography Tips

You should now have an understanding of what RAW is and what the pro’s and cons are of using it. Before you head off and start exploring this new development in mobile photography, here are a few tips to help you get more from RAW.

Have an app dedicated to shooting in RAW

As one of the downsides to shooting in RAW is the increased file sizes you may not want to be shooting in RAW all the time. However, in order to change the file format that photos are saved in, you are going to need to change the settings in your camera app of choice. If you have storage space issues or don’t want to be saving in RAW AND JPEG then regularly swopping file format settings will become a bit of a pain.

For this reason, you might want to use one camera app that is setup to shoot in RAW format (for me ProCamera), and a second camera app which is setup to shoot in a conventional JPEG format (I use the iPhone’s native camera app).

This means I can quickly swop from one app to another depending on which format I want to photograph a scene in, without the need of manually changing and checking settings thus risking losing that decisive moment.

RAW Photos will always need correcting

As I mentioned previously, photos taken in RAW will most likely need to be edited as they don’t tend to have the life that JPEG photos are given by the camera software. For this reason, you will need to open the photo in your editing app, adjust the exposure, contrast, colour saturation and structure in order to give the image some life.

Use RAW when you have a high dynamic range

Another tip I have to offer is to use RAW when you have a scene with a high dynamic range, for example a landscape. This will give you more options to adjust and edit your photo at a later date. Of course, you could just shoot using an HDR app but sometimes there are elements in the photo such as moving objects or motion that could cause problems with HDR ghosting.

Don’t Forget To Share Your Photos

Don’t forget to share your RAW iPhone photos on Instagram using the #mobiography hashtag. The best will get featured on the Mobiography website, in the magazine and on our daily featured photo of the day on Instagram.