Do We Really Want RAW Files From Our Smartphones?

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There’s a lot of talk swirling around the internet at the moment regarding RAW capture with smartphones. Gizmodo published an article on it earlier this week, suggesting that it was a feature/facility that should be available for each user of smartphones. PopPhoto (a site/magazine where we have contributed in the past) suggests that actually due to the constraints of the smartphone hardware currently that this is something that should happen in the future, when the hardware has ‘caught up’.

We thought we’d throw out this discussion to Mike Hardaker developer at Jag.gr and 645 PRO app fame, here’s what he had to say…

 

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“For most people, most of the time, Camera RAW output on their smartphone would be utterly irrelevant. But that’s no reason to punish those people who, on occasion, could benefit from it.

I certainly can’t see it being appropriate with the built-in camera app on an iOS or Android device—it would bewilder too many people—but it would be great if it was there for developers producing specialist apps, for those users who want and understand it.

Technically, the bits are already there in the Android camera APIs—although I don’t know of any current smartphones that will actually deliver a RAW file to an Android app when asked—and also in Apple’s “private frameworks”, if not in the public APIs.

Any such RAW file would almost certainly be a DNG or otherwise fully documented; I don’t see the value to any vendor—even Apple—in using a closed proprietary format. However, even if it was closed, you can be pretty confident that Adobe would have an appropriate reverse-engineered profile in Lightroom and Photoshop Camera Raw pretty quickly—just as with other RAW formats

Camera RAW would not be the magic “silver bullet” that some commentators seem to think, instantly turning an smartphone into an almost-DSLR. The biggest constraints on image quality remain the optics and the sensor. And, yes, access to the RAW image data will allow photographers to see just how much distortion the lens can produce and how much noise the sensor generates.

But that’s not really the point. Because any tool processing that RAW file would be able to apply the necessary corrections, just as with a RAW file from any other camera—corrections that would be controllable by the photographer. More importantly, it would allow for after-the-fact correction of white balance, the fine adjustment of sharpness, and the recovery of blown highlights or lost shadows in a way that is just not possible with a JPEG or even an 8-bit TIFF. Even with a small sensor and a mediocre lens, these are valuable things to be able to do from time to time.

The default RAW processing performed by smartphone cameras is designed to produce images that suit the needs of most people, most of the time. And, generally, speaking, it does an excellent job of that. However, for some photographers the results are not what they want, with typical complaints relating to overly heavy-handed sharpening, contrast-boosting and noise reduction—all things designed to add “punch” to images: great for the mass market but which are not always appropriate.

Pros and serious amateur photographers use smartphones to take serious photographs; I think they should be given access to all the tools they want in order to get the very best images they can. That doesn’t mean ramming Camera RAW output down the throats of every smartphone owner; it means making it available for when it’s appropriate”.

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9 thoughts on “Do We Really Want RAW Files From Our Smartphones?

  1. Most of us want better images, and most of can live without the time spent on post processing..

    If there is a way to standardize the post processing part:
    – Make DNG a standard RAW option on all cameras.
    – Photo editing companies can make software that can be uploaded to our cameras, we just buy the ones we like.
    – Camera manufacturers can then compete in hardware: lenses, camera bodies, AF techniques, metering techniques, … etc. Just like the days of film.. Film & lab work is separated from camera and lenses.

    So, do we need RAW on our smartphones? No, I don’t think so 🙂

    • I’m not sure I understand the apparent conflict between:

      1. Make DNG a standard RAW option on all cameras
      2. So, do we need RAW on our smartphones? No, I don’t think so.

      If the smartphone camera can save DNG, then it’s got RAW…

      Or am I missing something? 😉

  2. When you have a photo with blown highlights from a camera phone, raw data to recover those highlights would be appreciated very much!

  3. It would definitely be helpful to be able to shoot in RAW format with our smartphones (in my case, an iPhone). As any photographer who shoots in RAW knows, the 16-bit RAW file allows for a great deal of manipulation — like the recovery of lost highlights — without any serious deterioration of image quality. The different is amazing, which is why most pros shoot in RAW. And now that smartphones have become a viable camera option and a go-to camera in a pinch, RAW capture would be a great benefit.

  4. A very good article Joanne.

    I like the fact we can shot in dTIF with an app like 645PRO or TIF with MPro. The problem we have are with post production application developers not catching on and providing us with post production applications that permit saving in TIF.

    Having a TIF captured image saved in JPG defeats the purpose of applications shooting in TIF, especially when mobile photography contests continue to endorse processing on a mobile device.

    Bringing ones photograph into PhotoShop for processing is, at the moment, the only answer to preserve the digital data from being degraded.

    Once post production application develops offer saving ones edits in TIF can mobile photography as a serious art move ahead as a new medium, otherwise it will remain spinning its own wheels and getting nowhere.

    I would like to endorse mobile editing on an iPhone or iPad, but until application developers provide us with mobile applications that retain and protect our digital data, I will continue to shot TIF but use PhotoShop to edit the integrity of the image and then import it to any of my other mobile apps for minor edits.

    I know I am on the other side of the fence on this issue, but what I do not understand is, why mobile photographers and those who organize mobile exhibits, demand from application developers the capabilities of saving edits in TIF.

    I know you can only do so much with a mobile device when it comes to edits, but if it can shoot in TIF, why not save edits in TIF.

  5. i am finding that people who dont feel the need for raw are , intimidated by the post process software, upload as soon as the image is captured, purists who have mastered all things camera(yes there are some, no not me), or have never experienced what you can do with it. raw should be an option like on any other camera in the image size. when you only have one chance to get it right, any advantage is a good advantage. sometimes the shot doesnt allow for thought so you point and click hoping you can make it good later. when you have time to compose and adjust raw is a little over kill, but still nice to have. thats my 2 pennies.

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