Facebook Pixel Smartphone RAW Photography: An Easy Way to Improve Your Photos

Smartphone RAW Photography: An Easy Way to Improve Your Photos

smartphone RAW photography

What is smartphone RAW photography, and how can you set up RAW imaging on your phone? If high-quality photos are your goal, you must know how to shoot in RAW.

For a long time, only standalone cameras supported the RAW format. But these days, many smartphone manufacturers are including it as a feature on their devices – and in this article, I’ll share with you step-by-step instructions for capturing RAW photos on iPhones, Samsung phones, and Huawei phones.

And in case your native camera app doesn’t support RAW, I’ll include a list of third-party apps that produce RAW photos.

Let’s get started.

What is smartphone RAW photography?

native camera smartphone RAW photography
RAW image on the left; JPEG image on the right (taken with the Huawei P20 Lite native camera app.)

A RAW file is the unprocessed version of a photo. When you take a photograph, the camera records all sorts of information.

Then, if it saves the image as a JPEG – which is the most common format – it will use only the information it needs and discard the rest.

After that process, there’s no way to recover the information that was thrown away. So you’ll have less dynamic range and fewer details in the highlights and shadows. (The loss of information will be more noticeable if you want to do extreme editing, which can lead to unpleasant artifacts such as banding when done in JPEG.)

smartphone RAW photography in Lightroom Mobile
Both these images were taken using the Lightroom app on a Xiaomi Redmi 8. There’s faint color banding in the sky in the JPEG image (right).

Most camera manufacturers have proprietary RAW file formats. For example, Nikon cameras generate NEF files, Canon files are CRW, and so on.

DNG format was developed by Adobe as an open-source RAW file, so it’s more compatible and any manufacturer can use it. In smartphone photography, DNG is the most commonly used RAW format.

Should you shoot in RAW on a smartphone?

If you want to do serious mobile photography, then yes. Photographing in RAW gives you great flexibility when you edit your photos.

However, RAW files are 10 to 12 times bigger than JPEG files – and that’s a lot of storage space. So you might not want to shoot in RAW for every single picture that you take.

If it’s an option on your phone, you might try saving the images to an SD card instead of using the internal memory. Another storage solution is to send your files to the cloud or transfer them to your computer to be backed up on an external hard drive.

How to shoot in RAW: Step by step

Not all phones support RAW format, and the ones that do have different ways of enabling it.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to using RAW on the most common smartphone brands:

For Huawei shooters

These instructions reference a Huawei P20 Lite; however, the process should be the same on all Huawei models that support RAW photography.

First, open the camera app and scroll through the Mode menu until you reach Pro. Select this mode, keeping in mind that RAW shooting is not available in the other photo modes.

smartphone RAW photography step 1

Open your camera Settings menu by tapping on the gear icon (this will be in the upper left corner if you’re shooting in landscape orientation and in the upper right corner if you’re shooting in portrait orientation):

smartphone RAW photography settings

Tap Resolution:

smartphone RAW photography resolution

Then scroll to the bottom, where you’ll find the Photo format section. Enable RAW format:

smartphone RAW photography step 4

Then close the settings and snap your photo! As long as you’re in Pro mode, the images will be saved in RAW (plus a JPEG copy).

RAW files are saved in Files > Internal Storage > DCIM > Camera > RAW. You can review them in the gallery under More Albums > Others > RAW.

For iPhone shooters

Not all iPhones support RAW format in the native camera app. If your iPhone doesn’t shoot in RAW, you’ll have to use a third-party app. Look for recommendations at the end of this article.

However, the iPhone 12 Pro and the iPhone 12 Pro Max both support Apple ProRAW (they need to have iOS 14.3 or later, though).

To turn on ProRAW, go to Settings > Camera > Formats. Under the Photo Capture section, enable Apple ProRAW.

Once you have enabled this function, you’ll have the RAW option when you’re taking pictures. Simply tap to turn it on or off. (That way, you can shoot in different formats without having to go through the Settings menu every time.)

When you take a photo and RAW is on, it will be saved as a DNG file of about 25 MB. But if you turn ProRAW off, your iPhone will create a JPEG or HEIF file – whichever you have selected as the default.

For Samsung shooters

Keep in mind that not all Samsung devices will support RAW files. However, for the Samsung devices that do support smartphone RAW photography, here’s how to set it up:

Open the camera app and scroll the options bar until you find More.

In the More menu, you can see different modes. Tap on PRO.

Then open Camera Settings and scroll down to Save Options.

Enable Save RAW copies.

Once you’ve done this, all the pictures you take in PRO mode will be saved with a RAW copy – though in every other mode, the images will still be JPEGs.

If your Samsung phone doesn’t support RAW files in the native camera app, you can always download another app that can save RAW photos. You’ll find a list of recommendations in the next section.

Apps to shoot in RAW

As I explained above, not all smartphones offer RAW shooting in their native camera app. However, there are plenty of third-party apps that will let you work in RAW. Here’s a list of a few good ones:

Lightroom Mobile (for iOS and Android). The free limited version includes the RAW function, though you will need to create an Adobe account. Of course, if you have an Adobe Lightroom or an Adobe Photography subscription, you already have access to the full version of Lightroom Mobile.

Lightroom mobile shoot in RAW
In Lightroom Mobile, you just have to tap on the top of the screen to open the menu and switch between DNG (RAW) and JPEG.

VSCO (iOS and Android). The RAW function is only for iPhone 6 and later. Older devices and Android phones can use VSCO as a camera and editor but won’t be able to shoot in RAW.

ProShot (iOS and Android). The RAW function works only on compatible phones. To know if your phone supports ProShot RAW, you might want to do some research before purchasing it. The cost is $1.99.

ProCam (iOS). Works on iPhones with 12 MP cameras – that’s iPhone 6s and later. It supports RAW files in Auto and Manual mode.

ON1 Photo RAW (iOS and Android). Free. Supports RAW and JPEG formats in all photo modes.

Flannl RAW Camera (iOS). Free.

Manual Camera Lite: Professional Camera DSLR (Android). The free version supports RAW on some phones. You can upgrade to the PRO version, but it’s not necessary to capture photos in RAW.

Smartphone RAW photography: conclusion

As you can see, it’s very easy to do smartphone RAW photography, no matter your phone type. It may take a few extra taps, but it makes a world of difference!

Now over to you:

Have you tried shooting smartphone RAW photos? Have you noticed a difference compared to your JPEGs? Share your thoughts (and images!) in the comments below.

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Ana Mireles
Ana Mireles

is a photographer and artistic researcher. She has been awarded and exhibited in Mexico, Italy, and the Netherlands. Through theory and practice, she explores the cultural aspect of photography, how it helps us relate to each other, the world, and ourselves. She has also a passion for teaching, communication, and social media. You can find more about her and her work at her website or acquire some of her works here.

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