Join Seán Duggan for an in-depth discussion in this video Benefits of shooting in Raw (DNG), part of Mobile Photography Weekly.
- Hi, I'm Sean Duggan, and welcome back to another episode of Mobile Photography Weekly. This week, I want to talk about the benefits of shooting in raw on your camera phone. Now with the recent release of Apple's iOS 10, you may have been hearing a little bit more about raw, because one of the big new improvements in iOS 10 is the fact that it now supports raw capture. Now, you can't capture in raw using the native camera app on an iPhone. You have to use an app made by another developer that's designed to shoot in raw.
But the underlying architecture of the iOS now supports that. Now to be fair to Android, being able to shoot in raw has been available on certain Android devices for a while now. So Apple is playing a little bit of catch up, but it's all a good thing that we have this new option as photographers to capture in raw on our cellphones. So if you're not familiar with what a raw file is, let's just quickly talk about that. When a digital camera captures an image, whether it's a cellphone or a more traditional digital camera, the image sensor in the camera is capturing raw information about the file.
And that raw information is then typically handed off to the camera's ISP, or image signal processor. And that processor processes the file, run some adjustments on it to make it look better. But the big thing that it does to it typically is that it saves out a JPEG of the image file. And the thing about JPEG is that JPEG is a compressed file format. It can only support up to eight bits of tonal data per color channel.
So in a JPEG file, an eight-bit file would support up to 256 levels of color and tonal data per color channel. Whereas with a raw file, you can capture more than 16,000 levels of tonal detail per color channel. So that raw information has much, much more information than the JPEG file. And where that can come in handy is if you need to process a file that has some problems, maybe it wasn't exposed as well as you would've hoped, maybe you've got problems in the shadows being too dark, or maybe the highlights are a little bit too bright.
When you're processing a JPEG, it kind of has already been processed, and so there's a limit to what you can do to it to really bring out the best that the image has to offer. Whereas with the raw file, because that information still is in the raw unprocessed format, you have a lot more flexibility. For instance, take a look at this image here. This is a JPEG image shot in really low-light situations, and the shadows are really dark. And in processing this, I was not able to open up the shadows and improve it as much as I would've liked.
It still looks pretty rough around the edges and not too good. But I took a raw image of the exact same scene, and I'm able to make a much better result by processing the raw file than I was with the JPEG. The shadow detail looks better. Overall, it looks a lot smoother, just a much, much better file, because I was able to work with that raw format. So, whether or not shooting in raw is going to make sense for you, and the type of photography you do with your mobile phone, it really just depends on the type of pictures you take, and also how much time and effort you want to put into processing them.
Because you're going to be having to process them either on the phone, in an app that will allow you to process raw files, or moving them on into your computer to maybe process them in an app such as Adobe Photoshop Camera Raw or Adobe Lightroom, something like that. So the big downsides of shooting in raw in kind of an everyday perspective is that the file size is much larger than a JPEG. So on my iPhone 7 Plus here, a common JPEG size is roughly about two megabytes, maybe a little bit more than two megabytes.
Whereas a raw file from the same camera is going to be anywhere from about 11 to 15 or 16 megabytes, depending on the image, so much, much more. It's going to really eat up the storage space a lot more. So because the raw files are so much larger than JPEGs, I typically do not use it for everything. Because of course we all use our camera phones for casual snapshots and reference shots of things we have to remember like where we parked at the airport, or something we have to pick up at the store, or something like that.
I'm not going to shoot raw for those, or just quick shots that I'm doing here or there. I'm going to be using raw more for those times when I'm consciously trying to make a really good photograph that I know I want to have the maximum amount of flexibility in terms of processing that photograph. So, whether or not you choose to shoot raw, it really is all up to you, but it's a great step forward that that is now available on the iPhone, and of course it has been available on Android for a while. If you're not familiar with shooting raw, if you haven't done it before, by all means, give it a try.
It could add a lot of possibility to your mobile photography, particularly for those shots that maybe have some issues and need a little bit more tender loving care to make them look their best.