Apple ProRAW is Apple’s latest technological addition to the smartphone photography industry and sets a new starting point for iPhone photography with its introduction to the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max in iOS 14.3.
It is no mystery that smartphone photography is increasingly replacing cameras in many situations: myself, who have been promoting it for at least 10 years, I’ve seen a crazy evolution in this sector.
Smartphones are always in the pocket with us and become the perfect tool to photograph our everyday life.
I was able to try Apple ProRAW for a month with the Beta version of iOS 14.3, and this below is my in-depth analyzes after this period of use.
Why Apple ProRAW Is A Big Deal
Shooting in Raw format has always been a prerogative of digital reflex and mirrorless cameras. It is a “raw” format that allows you to have all the information available to be processed later in the shooting phase.
It is also true that the shot in Raw format was already available from the iOS 10 update which brought this possibility, however, only to Third Party Applications.
Why Apple ProRAW is a big deal? Because it brings this photo processing possibility to the native Apple camera in an easy and intuitive way. There is no need to install additional apps.
Furthermore, the Apple ProRAW format contains more information than a classic raw file. Below I explain these differences.
Apple ProRAW Explained
One of the big differences between a “classic” raw and Apple ProRAW is the fact that the latter adds all the information from computational photography calculations to the information captured by the sensor.
We know that Apple in recent years has elevated the results of photographs taken with the iPhone thanks to an improvement in its algorithms. Thanks to the Smart HDR, Deep Fusion and Night Mode functionality, it managed to overcome the technological limitations of smaller sensors.
The Apple ProRAW file is therefore not like a classic raw file of digital reflex and mirrorless cameras that was saved directly by bypassing the processor’s computing system, but is a file enriched with all the computational photography information.
We can therefore say that Apple ProRAW is a “richer” file than a traditional raw file.
Apple ProRAW Dynamic Range
Dynamic range is the ability to record information from shadows to highlights. The greater the dynamic range, the greater the chance to have both shadow detail and highlight detail in a shot.
One of the biggest “disappointments” on the part of my students in photography classes is noticing a big difference between what they see with their eyes, in a high contrast situation, and what the camera captures.
In the current state of sensor technology, there is a limit of recording information obtainable with a single click. We cannot, therefore, expect in high contrast situations to have the same “vision” as our eye (which in any case remains unique, photography is always a personal interpretation).
This is where the new computational photography algorithms such as Smart HDR come into play. So imagine that when you expose the photograph with your iPhone, the smartphone actually makes a lot of exposures which it then merges together.
Now, thanks to Apple ProRAW, all this information is available to the user even in post-production.
I wanted to do a test in a very difficult lighting situation: take a picture in an alley on a street in Florence where, due to its narrow shape, little light enters at the time I took this picture. In the background appears an iconic palace of the city: the bell tower of Arnolfo di Palazzo Vecchio.
So I did an exposure for the lights (that’s what I recommend you do almost always with Apple ProRAW). The result of the photo obtained is what you see below on the left. Then I worked directly in the iPhone Photo editor (which at the moment is one of the best solutions for editing Apple ProRAW photos for free) and you can see how much information I was able to recover in the shadows! (second photo) This information is present in the file and it’s there for you to be recovered! The third photo was edited with Capture One Pro.
Apple ProRAW Details
At the moment the way chosen by Apple for the ProRAW is to process out the Noise Reduction directly in the calculation phase with computational photography.
What we get is therefore an already clean file without any digital noise. On the one hand, therefore, it facilitates the subsequent work for a novice user, on the other hand, however, there is a lack of general sharpness when we zoom in on the photograph a lot: we will notice that all the details are “washed out”, which is typical files that have been “excessively” cleaned of digital noise.
Let’s say that the path taken by Apple, in this case, was to privilege a clean file over a file with more details. I think the choice was due to the usual destination of smartphone photographs: social networks.
If we think that posting on Instagram the picture gets resized to 1350px on the long side, we understand how in most cases it is almost impossible to zoom in to notice the finest details on these social network’s posts.
If you are a lover of detail at the expense of a greater noise in the file, in this case you will have to look at other solutions, such as Raw taken by Halide Camera App.
I point out in any case, that also the correction of the vignetting and the natural distortion of the lens (not the perspective distortion!) are already applied in the Apple ProRAW file.
Apple ProRAW: Are There Any Slowdowns When Using This Format?
It was one of the questions I asked myself, especially thinking of digital cameras where many times, the burst changes if I only activate the Jpg or Jpg + Raw shot at the same time.
I must say that activating the Apple ProRAW file, during the portrait session I did with the iPhone 12 Pro Max, I did not notice any kind of slowdown compared to shooting in the basic Heic format.
This is a proof of the great computing power of the new Apple A14 Bionic chip combined with a greater Ram inside the iPhone 12 Pro series: we have no slowdown when we shoot with Apple ProRAW.
Apple ProRAW: How To Edit The File For Free On iPhone?
What is the easiest, fastest and free way to edit Apple ProRAW photos? Use the Apple Photo application. Apple has therefore made an update to its application to allow us to easily and quickly edit the Apple ProRAW files.
At the moment it seems that the native Apple Photo application is the one that also manages to recover more shadow detail than Lightroom CC and Capture One Pro.
It must be said, however, that in many situations where there are gradations, such as in the example of the skies, artifacts (banding) can be seen, which is not the case in the developments obtained with Lightroom CC and Capture One Pro.
Apple ProRAW, Some Problems That May Arise
I noticed in some photos, especially those that have shades of color as in the case of the skies, some banding artefacts when I shot with Apple ProRAW.
To remove these defects, you need to enter the “Edit” mode of Apple Photo and act slightly recovering some of the exposure and the highlights. This usual help to make this defect disappear.
Apple ProRAW In Lightroom CC And Capture One Pro
What other software besides Apple Photo can I work with Apple ProRAW files? Being a universal Raw DNG format, all software that supports this format can open these Raw files.
I have personally tested the Apple ProRAW files with the two software I usually use: Lightroom CC and Capture One Pro.
Both software, therefore, open files regularly, even if in both cases, we find (as is the case of all raw files from smartphones) a file that looks very different from what we see as a “preview” on the screen when we look at it on our smartphone.
The reason is obvious: the ProRAW file has a “preview” in the Apple Photo gallery that matches the one of the iPhone default shot.
But when we open this file in Lightroom CC or Capture One Pro, the programs recalculate a new preview that shows the pure captured data. Consequently, in the case of Apple ProRAW files, we will almost always see an underexposed file that needs to be corrected in order to have a correct interpretation.
Generally, I noticed more detail (by adjusting the Noise Reduction and Sharpening parameters) within Capture One. Even with Lightroom, I get excellent developments, with excellent recovery of highlights and color in general.
Apple ProRAW And Night Mode Portraits?
Apple ProRAW can be activated in basic photo modes and also when Night Mode is activated.
It is not available in portrait mode and therefore not even in the night portrait mode introduced by iPhone 12 Pro.
Apple ProRAW Vs Halide Raw
This was an interesting test. Halide Camera App was the application I used the most with iPhone Xs during this last year before the arrival of the iPhone 12 Pro Max. I used this App for all the photographs I wanted to take with manual control.
At the moment (Halide App version 2.0.5), the App uses a traditional Raw DNG format capture. What does this mean? Which still fails to exploit all the computational photography algorithms I described above.
Halide’s raw is therefore an “old school” raw like for cameras. A Raw that comes out directly from the sensor.
Where then can we see the differences? We see them when we analyze the images side-by-side with 300% zoom. We will see a big difference in the details as reported in the upper paragraph.
We understand that at the moment, Apple’s direction with the ProRAW has been to favor a very clean file (little digital noise) at the expense of details when we zoom very very closely.
In the case of the raws that come out of Halide Camera App, we have an opposite situation: a file that did not have the benefits of computational photography as far as noise cleaning is concerned, so it has much more noise, but at the same time has more detail.
The problem with raw files in Halide arises when we shoot automatically in low light and the application, for reasons related to the photographic technique, will raise the ISO.
Files taken with the Halide App, therefore, suffer much more from the increase in ISO than files taken with Apple ProRAW.
Apple ProRAW, How To Enable And Use It
To activate the Apple ProRAW is very simple. I walk you through the steps to enable it on iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max:
Go to Settings -> Camera -> Formats -> Activate the item “Apple ProRAW”.
Later in your Camera App, you will find at the top right a button to activate and deactivate recording in Apple ProRAW format. I remind you that if you activate this setting, it will remain so as long as you use the camera. At the next restart, the Raw capture will be disabled. If you want to make ProRAW format always active, you need to be sure that this option is checked:
Go to Settings -> Camera -> Preserve Setting -> Apple ProRAW.
I remember that Apple ProRAW works with the basic camera mode, in the Night mode and also for the front camera. It does not work in portrait mode.
Apple ProRAW File Format
The format in which Apple ProRAW files are saved is the Adobe DNG universal format. This is the best choice that Apple could make in order to immediately have total compatibility with all software that read this universal format from Adobe.
Apple ProRAW File Size
The weight of Apple ProRAW files varies from 11 Mbyte to 33 Mbyte. It is highly variable depending on the scene, the lights and colors captured within the file.
When Apple ProRAW Will Be Available?
Apple Pro Raw is available from iOS 14.3 that was released on 14/12/2020.
Apple ProRAW Supported Devices
Apple ProRAW is available for now only on iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max.
Apple ProRAW Supported Devices
Apple ProRAW is available for now only on iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max.
Will Apple ProRAW Come To iPhone 11 Pro Or Other Previous iPhone?
It is difficult to imagine this. If Apple ProRAW had been planned for other iPhones then this news would have already been given by Apple for some time. I am sure that the limitation is partly due to further boost sales of the new iPhone 12 Pro series, on the other hand by some hardware advantages (more ram?) present only in the iPhone 12 Pro series at the moment.
It may be probable, however, that Apple will decide next year, perhaps with the time available to further optimize the algorithms, to extend Apple Pro Raw to the basic versions of future iPhones (subsequent iPhone 13 series).
Is Apple ProRAW Worth It?
If you ask me if it deserves to keep recording in the Apple ProRAW format activated, I obviously say yes as the extra data allows you great versatility in file editing.
In fact, many times, the photograph taken quickly and suddenly (as in my case the title image here) turns out to be one of your favourite shots. Therefore, having the file with all the information at your disposal to be able to modify it is a great advantage!
I hope in the future that Apple will give the possibility to save the development presets in the iOS App and on Mac Os and that it will allow a Copy / Paste setting of the development settings (an option that is already available in the version of the App on macOS).
I hope perhaps an option to reduce the amount of Noise Reduction applied and have more detail available even at the expense of more noise. Let’s see what the future updates will bring!
About the Author
Alessandro Michelazzi is a professional portrait and lifestyle photographer based in Florence, Italy. You can find out more about him on his website, follow his work on Instagram and Facebook or reach out to him through Twitter. This article was also published here and shared with permission.