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How to edit RAW files in the Photos app for iPhone and iPad

Cameras and iPhone
Cameras and iPhone (Image credit: iMore)

Photographers rejoice: As of iOS 10, iCloud Photo Library will sync your RAW files. That means the full image data is pulled right off the camera sensor. Any RAW images you snap in a third-party camera app on your iPhone will show up as RAW on your iPad and Mac, but better yet — you can now import RAW images from your DSLR or other pro camera to your iPhone or iPad and have them sync properly to your Mac.

You can also process and edit those RAW files directly on your iPhone or iPad using an external editor like Lightroom, and even through the Photos app. But be aware: If you want to edit a RAW file with Photos for iPhone, you're going to want to create a duplicate of it first.

How RAW processing works on iPhone and iPad

When you process a RAW file, you're never editing the raw data — instead, you're essentially working with a small sidecar file that tells the RAW file how to process light, saturation, and the like. RAW files are huge compared to web-friendly-but-highly-compressed formats like JPG — 11MB or more — and as such, when you go to save your edits, you'll want to export it into something more manageable.

In Photos for iPhone and iPad, when you press the Edit button on one of your RAW files, you're editing that sidecar data. But when you finish editing, Photos automatically presents you with a converted, compressed file to use elsewhere.

This isn't unusual for image editing programs to do — after all, you can't really export an edited RAW file. The issue, however, is with formatting: Most apps let you choose between exporting a small format like JPG, which uses "lossy" compression, and a much larger format like TIFF or PSD, which uses "lossless" compression. ("Lossy" because it saves space by throwing away data science says our eyes can't easily notice.) Photos for iPhone and iPad, however, automatically exports to JPG without asking the end-user what they'd like to do.

This is largely because Photos assumes that, after editing, you're going to share this photo online — and thus, want a nicely-formatted image to use. The original RAW file is still there thanks to iOS's non-destructive editing, however, and you can restore it by going back into the editing screen and reverting changes to the original file.

Unfortunately, even with non-destructive editing, iOS can't differentiate as to which file it should send a third-party app: It treats a sharing app (like Twitter) identically to a photo editing app (like Lightroom).

So, if you used the Crop tool in Photos before bringing an image into Lightroom, you'd only see the cropped JPG when you went to import and not the original RAW file.

As such, if you plan on editing a file in Photos but also want the original RAW file available for third-party apps, there's a simple way to avoid this stress — duplicate your original file.

How to duplicate a RAW file in Photos for iPhone and iPad

  1. Choose the RAW image you wish to duplicate in the Photos app.
  2. Tap the Share button.
  3. Scroll along the bottom section of the Share Sheet until you find the Duplicate button, then tap it.

Once you've duplicated your file, you can leave one in Photos as the original RAW file, and feel free to edit the other in-app.

Questions?

Any questions about RAW, editing on iPhone and iPad, and the like? Let us know below.

Serenity was formerly the Managing Editor at iMore, and now works for Apple. She's been talking, writing about, and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. In her spare time, she sketches, sings, and in her secret superhero life, plays roller derby. Follow her on Twitter @settern.

8 Comments
  • This is great information! =)
  • Very good information. I love that you can duplicate photos now and save the original.
  • Very useful. Thanks! What third party raw-editing ios apps are there apart from Lightroom?
  • ProCam is a popular photo editing app that supports RAW Sent from the iMore App
  • I still can't summon any RAW files from my iPhone 7 Plus. Every 'original' I duplicate is labeled as 'RAW' by Lightroom Mobile, but the canvas size is 1616 x 1080, not 4000 x 6000 as it should be. Please don't say I have no access to true RAW files on iOS if I don't have 'Download and Keep Originals' turned on. I have over 55000 photos on iCloud, so this isn't possible. I've been trying to get to the bottom of this for weeks. Please help.
  • Did you ever figure this out? I too have been trying to figure this out for weeks.
  • It's a nice trick for a quick edit, but you can't compare a mobile app edit with a software one. I used that before discovering this http://www.paintshoppro.com/en/pages/camera-raw/ and when you learn how to do basic things in a software like this, you get much more done and a much better picture then with a mobile app
  • I just read in the reviews for the Apple® Lightning™ to USB Camera Adapter that once the adapter is plugged in to an iPhone and images are imported from a camera's SD card that it automatically changes all the RAW image files on the SD card to a lesser-quality file, such as a jpeg. Which is OK for online publishing, but not if an actual large photo print is made. Is there a way around this? If I use the adapter, I want to retain the original RAW image files on my SD card. NOTE: I have NOT purchased this adapter yet, so I have not experimented with importing images from a SD card to an iPhone or iPad, so I am not familiar with the import options available.