For a lot of us, the iPhone is our primary camera. After all, it's always with us, allowing us to capture even the most spontaneous moments. However, others may prefer to use something like a DSLR, and if so, then RAW image files are the way to go. That's because RAW is the highest level of quality when it comes to photos since it keeps all image data and gives photographers the most control when it comes to the editing process.
Ever since the iPhone 7 series, you don't need the best digital camera to shoot in RAW, because Apple added that capability to the iPhone. In fact, Apple even created its own image format, ProRAW (only available on iPhone 12/13 Pro), which is more like a hybrid of the standard JPEG/HEIC and RAW format. However, the idea is still the same with standard RAW images — the highest quality with all image data, allowing for total control when it comes to editing.
Whether you're shooting in regular RAW or Apple ProRAW, you're going to want to edit those photos (and offload them from your device when you're done — these are BIG files!) While the Photos app does give you some basic editing features, you'll probably want to check out a third-party app for even more tools.
One of my personal favorite apps for shooting in RAW format is Halide Mark II - Pro Camera. Halide has one of the best user interfaces for a camera replacement app, giving users full and total control over what they shoot. Plus, you can shoot in the typical JPEG format, or even go with RAW or ProRAW format. It has high-end tools like Focus Loupe and Focus Peaking, full manual controls for shutter speed, ISO, and white balance, histograms, waveform, and color zebra stripes, a grid overlay, and so much more.
While Halide isn't a full-blown photo editing app, it does give you some of the best tools and controls for shooting in RAW.
ProCam 8 combines a full-on camera replacement app with a comprehensive photo editor for all of your RAW photo needs. With ProCam, you can shoot in your standard JPEG format or go with RAW or ProRAW. There is also a slew of powerful features like anti-shake photo shutter, 3D photo (dual lens camera system required), manual exposure controls, focus peaking, and more. And if you do a lot of recording, ProCam 8 has many different frame rates and resolutions for your video needs, as well as time lapse options.
On the editing side, you have non-destructive editing, so everything is reversible if you change your mind, and can also be done through a Photos app extension. There are around 60 expertly made filters, 17 lenses, and 19 editing tools to help you get the perfect RAW photo. No matter if you're shooting in RAW or importing existing RAW files — ProCam 8 will help you make them look the best they can be.
Another app I use frequently is Darkroom. Since the other two apps we've mentioned so far are capable of shooting new photos, it's important to mention that Darkroom is only for editing. While there is a camera button in the app, it is simply for launching your preferred camera replacement app (for me it brings up Halide and Moment). But editing is where Darkroom truly shines.
Darkroom will show your entire Photo Library from the get-go, so you don't need to go and look for an image to import into the app. And Darkroom can pretty much see every image format, including RAW. For editing, Darkroom includes pretty much every tool you could imagine, including RGB and color adjustment curves. And if you're editing RAW photos, there are also some extra adjustments that can also be made that you won't normally find with standard JPEG/HEIC images.
Though filters may be frowned upon by most photographers, Darkroom does have a nice collection of professionally-made filters that give your photos a nice, tasteful aesthetic. Each one can be fine-tuned as well, so you can adjust it however you'd like.
While Darkroom is free to download, there is a membership to access the advanced features. The membership starts at $5 a month.
With Darkroom, your entire Photo Library is accessible, no import required. Get professional editing tools for photo and video at your fingertips.
Yes, I'm aware of the whole "VSCO girl" thing. Regardless, VSCO is a powerful photo editor that is capable of editing your RAW photos.
VSCO offers a wide variety of photo editing tools to help you fine-tune your images to perfection. You'll have the basics, such as contrast and saturation, but there are other great features like skewing. There is also a library of over 200 preset filters that can really alter the mood and tone of your images — and the best part? VSCO also works on video too. There's also a social network within VSCO, which connects you to other creative photographers. The VSCO community can help inspire and motivate you for your next big photo shoot.
Like other apps, VSCO is free to download and use. However, if you want access to the full preset library, you'll need a VSCO membership, which is around $8 a month.
VSCO has plenty of basic and powerful photo editing tools, as well as a huge library of presets from the community.
Adobe is well known for its suite of graphical software and apps, and that includes photo editing as well. Adobe's Lightroom acts as both a camera and a photo editor, and it works with multiple RAW formats.
Lightroom has several different advanced capture modes, which help you get the most detail from your images. These include RAW, professional, and HDR modes, and yes, you can import your photos too, including those in a RAW format. On the editing side, you can make quick and easy improvements with Lightroom auto, or you can manually take over every little aspect easily with precision sliders. There are color mixer and color grading tools that will help make your photos stand out and pop, version history, curve adjustments, and so much more.
Similar to a lot of other apps, Lightroom is free to download and use. But if you go for a premium membership, you gain tools like exclusive presets, Healing Brush, masking, geometry, cloud storage, and more. Membership starts at $5 a month and includes 100GB.
Adobe Lightroom can act as a camera replacement for shooting RAW photos and has powerful editing capabilities.
You've probably heard of Pixelmator, which is an app that is pretty much an alternative to Photoshop. However, the Pixelmator Team created a standalone app that is geared specifically for photo editing, rather than an all-around Photoshop alternative, and that's Pixelmator Photo.
Pixelmator Photo packs in over 30 desktop-class photo adjustments and supports over 600 RAW image formats, including Apple ProRAW. If you're unsure if some of the other apps will support a specific RAW file that you prefer to use, chances are high that Pixelmator Pro can handle it without breaking a sweat. The best thing about Pixelmator Photo is the fact that it uses machine learning technologies to help you get the best photos possible.
All edits made with Pixelmator Photo are nondestructive and use advanced photo processing techniques. There are tons of photographer-designed presets that you can also use to give your images a specific mood and tone, all of which are inspired by film photography. And if there are unwanted objects in your pictures, simply use the object removal tool to get rid of them! Some of the other desktop-class adjustment tools include selective color, levels, curves, replace color, RGB, and more. All edits to your photos are synced immediately and you can also batch edit hundreds of photos at once, which is a huge timesaver.
And the best part about Pixelmator Photo? It's a single purchase, with no in-app purchases or subscriptions to access all features. Highly worth the $8 price tag if you want a serious photo editor.
Time to go RAW
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When you shoot in RAW format, you are preserving all of the image data in the file, allowing you even finer control in the editing process. Whereas JPEG/HEIC are already mostly processed and compressed to save space, RAW and Apple ProRAW files can be huge due to all of the image data contained within each photo. These apps are some of the best on the App Store when it comes to shooting and editing RAW photos on your iPhone and iPad, so if you want to experiment with your photos, this is the best way to go.
Updated May 2022: These are the best apps for RAW photos on your iPhone and iPad.
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Christine Romero-Chan was formerly a Senior Editor for iMore. She has been writing about technology, specifically Apple, for over a decade at a variety of websites. She is currently part of the Digital Trends team, and has been using Apple’s smartphone since the original iPhone back in 2007. While her main speciality is the iPhone, she also covers Apple Watch, iPad, and Mac when needed.
When she isn’t writing about Apple, Christine can often be found at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, as she is a passholder and obsessed with all things Disney, especially Star Wars. Christine also enjoys coffee, food, photography, mechanical keyboards, and spending as much time with her new daughter as possible.