If you’ve got an iPhone 12 Pro or 12 Pro Max and consider yourself something of a photographer, the latest iOS update will help you get the most out of your phone’s cameras. That’s because it includes the new ProRAW feature that Apple first announced back at its October event. ProRAW combines the editing flexibility of RAW with Apple’s computational photography tricks like Smart HDR and Deep Fusion for the first time. You no longer have to choose between the flexibility of a standard RAW file and a JPEG or HEIC file that has all of Apple’s computational magic but limited potential for post-processing because ProRAW gives you both.
Shooting RAW photos on an iPhone is nothing new; for some time now, apps like Halide and Adobe Lightroom have let you capture all of the data the iPhone’s sensor can gather. And all of the usual benefits of RAW are here with ProRAW — vastly improved control over white balance is always the biggest factor for me — but it gives you greater leeway with adjusting exposure, sharpness, dynamic range, and more. You can make better adjustments to facial tone in a portrait or nail the exposure in a landscape shot.
But standard RAW images can look very grainy out of the iPhone since, well, these are still small smartphone camera sensors, and they’re without any computational photography optimization. Now, you should notice all the same detail as before but with less noise. That’s because ProRAW images do the same multiframe image processing as ordinary iPhone shots. Even with that, you get around 14 stops of dynamic range to work with in editing software. This video from Josh Stunell on YouTube does a good job of illustrating the differences between RAW and ProRAW:
ProRAW can be used with all of the rear cameras on the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max — it’s not going to suddenly turn the ultrawide into a magic lens, but anything helps — and it also works in night mode. You can even access the people segmentation masks captured by the sensor to make portrait mode-style adjustments after the fact, provided your editing app allows you to control it.
How to use ProRAW
To use ProRAW, first, you’ve got to enable it under the camera options in the settings menu. After that, you’ll see a “RAW” button appear at the upper-right of the camera viewfinder, which is how you can quickly toggle ProRAW on and off.
I should emphasize that while it’s easy to switch this on, you’re definitely not going to want to use ProRAW all the time. Files average around 25MB in size, which is dramatically larger than your everyday iPhone images. This is a feature best reserved for those very intentional photos with people you care about or at places that matter. ProRAW images appear in the camera roll like normal, but if you try to share them in apps like Instagram, you’ll get an error message. So you’ll want to export them as either a smaller JPEG or HEIC file first before sending them to social media.
Another nice thing about ProRAW is since it uses Adobe’s widely supported DNG file format, there is already a plethora of apps that can open and edit the files without any update. But apps that use Apple’s own RAW converter will offer even more control since they’ll be able to access tone and distance mapping. Halide has already released an update to get the most out of ProRAW, and I’d expect others like Pixelmator, Darkroom, and Affinity Photo to follow.
Apps that have their own RAW converter, namely Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom, and Capture One, can edit the DNG files today but won’t have all of the same capabilities as those that use Apple’s RAW converter. It’s possible Adobe and others will update their conversion tools in the future to make them work better with ProRAW. You can, of course, also just edit the images inside the Apple Photos app, too.
If you want to share a ProRAW image, there are various ways to go about it depending on what you’re trying to do:
- If you want to transfer an Apple ProRAW to the computer: ensure the photo is unedited, then either AirDrop or plug the device into USB and use Image Capture or the Windows Photos app.
- If you want to share an edited ProRAW photo: edit the photo in the Photos app, then AirDrop, email, or send via Messages. A JPG with the edits will be shared.
- If you want to email a ProRAW DNG to someone: open the Photos app first and use the share button to share via Mail.
- If you edit a ProRAW and want both the original DNG file and the edited JPG: use Image Capture or Windows Photos app.
- If a ProRAW is edited but you want to transfer a DNG: duplicate the photo, then revert the edits (makes it an unedited file). A DNG can then be AirDropped, etc.
- If you used a third-party app that can take RAW+JPG, and you want both: use Image Capture to grab each file individually
I’ve been trying out ProRAW on my iPhone 12 Pro Max over the last few days, and I’m already appreciating the difference it can make. It’s just plain easier to get the most from a photo — retrieve highlights, boost shadows, fix the white balance, etc. — if you’re willing to put in the work of editing after the fact.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that ProRAW provides depth information for editing after the fact. This is incorrect, ProRAW provides segmentation masks for people detected in the frame, which can allow you to create portrait-style images after a photo is captured.