Apple’s iPhone 12 Pro promises some serious photography features over both its predecessor and standard iPhone 12. And with that upgrade comes the debut of the Apple ProRAW.
This new image format is designed to take advantage of the upgraded triple rear camera array on both the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max, which also has a LiDAR sensor to collect more image information.
Smartphones have been able to shoot in RAW format for a while now, but this custom Apple format could herald a new way to shoot photos rich in data while also tapping into Apple’s powerful image processing. Here̵
What is ProRAW?
When you take a RAW image on either a smartphone or DSLR, it takes a fully uncompressed image. These files are usually much larger than standard JPEG photos that many DSLRs and phones record by default.
These uncompressed images have a much larger file size thanks to capturing much more image data, which means there is much more opportunity to edit them once you have shot them. Professional photographers tend to shoot in RAW format so that they can manipulate photos using photo editing software such as Photoshop and then process them into images suitable for display in a digital or physical format.
However, recording in RAW means that all computers intended for shooting apply to camera images that are not used on the recorded image. This means to get features like advanced HDR photo processing, you have to shoot in a processed image format, like JPEG, and thus lose the ability to deeply manipulate images in editing software.
Basically, RAW or JPEG formats require some sort of compromise in convenience or editing depth. But Apple’s ProRAW format aims to remove those compromises.
ProRAW will capture RAW images in a nutshell, but apply some image processing on top. This includes merging frames from multiple photos taken by the cameras on the iPhone 12 Pro using Apple’s Deep Fusion and Smart HDR technology, or applying noise reduction. But it will still provide space to edit things like color, exposure and contrast at the same depth that one can get with the RAW format.
Think of it this way: producing a finished image from RAW is like preparing a meal from scratch, including preparing all the ingredients. JPEG images, on the other hand, are the cooked meal. So using this analogy, ProRAW is like preparing a meal, only you have all the ingredients measured out and ready to use. Effectively, ProRAW delivers basic image processing so people can more easily edit them for final photographs.
What are the benefits of ProRAW?
You can think of ProRAW as a helping hand for your image editing. Sorting things like white balance and using Smart HDR 3 to select detail and texture in RAW images provides a better basic image that people can then build on with editing.
Doing so avoids the sometimes daunting process of editing RAW photos from scratch, which is probably why Apple has so far not offered RAW recording on its iPhones. Without any processing, RAW images can look a bit flat and disappointing and can be a challenge for people inexperienced with photo manipulation to fine tune to their satisfaction.
So ProRAW takes care of the difficult parts by getting an image in shape for more refined editing, leaving finer and artistic tweaks for manual editing. Calling it ProRAW can be a bit misleading as this is more of a tool for people who are unused or manipulating RAW images.
That said, for professional photographers or experienced photography enthusiasts who happen to be shooting on an iPhone 12 Pro rather than a DSLR, ProRAW can significantly speed up the time it takes to produce a finished photo from a RAW shot.
Is ProRAW the future of photography?
Smartphone photography has improved so much that even medium-sized phones can capture impressive photographs. But they still cannot compete with DSLR cameras in terms of fidelity and quality of photographs. And ProRAW does not change that.
But it can be seen as a nice development of smartphone photography, where people get the tools to get into deeper image manipulation, but also backed by powerful computational photography.
We have not yet tried the iPhone 12 Pro with ProRAW, but it is certainly an interesting feature that we would like to put to the test. And if it turns out to be a powerful tool for getting better smartphone camera footage, we can expect other smartphone manufacturers like Samsung, Sony and OnePlus to take their own care of ProRAW.
With ProRAW, the iPhone 12 was able to raise the smartphone photography line. This means that upcoming phones like Samsung Galaxy S21 will really need to use their camera games in 2021.