iPhone camerasSource: Rene Ritchie

While Apple has been putting great cameras in the iPhone for years, one thing has always been missing: the ability to shoot in RAW format. This is changing with the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max, which will be the first iPhones to use Apple ProRAW format later this year.

But what if you aren't getting an iPhone 12 Pro or iPhone 12 Pro Max? Unfortunately, Apple doesn't have a way to natively shoot in RAW for other iPhones aside from those two once ProRAW comes out. If you are using iPhone 12, iPhone 12 mini, or any previous iPhone, the only way you can shoot in RAW is with a third-party app that allows you to do so.

What is RAW?

For the uninitiated, RAW format is mostly used by professional photographers who shoot with DSLRs, and these files are completely unprocessed and rather large in size and complexity. However, they give you the most freedom when it comes to editing. You have complete control over things like white balance, exposure, tones, and color in the post-editing process, and as you make edits, you don't degrade the image quality.

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This is the opposite of JPG and HEIF format, which is what the iPhone uses. With JPG and HEIF, photos are already processed when you shoot the image, and the files are a convenient, smaller size but more compressed than a RAW image. It's a tradeoff: RAW files are large and complex but give you complete control, while JPG and HEIF are small and convenient but offer less options when it comes to editing, at least without losing image quality.

What is Apple ProRAW?

Iphone 12 Pro CameraSource: Apple

During the iPhone 12 event, Apple unveiled its new ProRAW format, which will only be available on the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max. ProRAW won't be available right away on the Pro devices — it's coming later in the year, similar to how Apple rolled out Deep Fusion last year with the iPhone 11 series.

Apple ProRAW is essentially a hybrid format, a middle ground between shooting in pure RAW with the convenience of JPG/HEIF. Apple says it is "the best of both worlds." With Apple ProRAW, it is a powerful option for those who have been intimidated or put-off by RAW in the past, while those who like RAW won't miss out on clever multi-frame processing tech like Deep Fusion.

This is how Alok Deshpande, Apple's Senior Manager of Camera Software Engineering, explains ProRAW:

"It provides many of the benefits of our multi-frame image processing and computational photography, like Deep Fusion and Smart HDR, and combines them with the depth and flexibility of a raw format. In order to achieve this, we constructed a new pipeline that takes components of the processing we do in our CPU, GPU, ISP and neural engine, and combines them into a new deep image file, computed at the time of capture, without any shutter delay. And we do this for all four cameras, dynamically adapting for various scenes while maintaining our intuitive camera experience."

During the event, Apple said that ProRAW editing will occur right in the Photos app on your iPhone. ProRAW will also be available in other third-party apps thanks to the API, which also lets third-party camera apps capture in ProRAW format directly.

We do not yet know how big ProRAW files will be, but if we look at the fact that it's a hybrid, it may be somewhere between a regular HEIF/JPG and RAW file in size.

How do you shoot in Apple ProRAW format?

Unfortunately, Apple ProRAW format is not available right now, even if you have your iPhone 12 Pro. Apple has only stated that ProRAW will be released "later this year," with no specific date. But since it's Apple, we'd imagine that there is a setting you will need to toggle in your iPhone Settings app before it's enabled, since it's a new format.

We will update this section once the feature is available.

How do you shoot in RAW on other iPhones?

If you are not getting an iPhone 12 Pro or iPhone 12 Pro Max, you can still shoot in RAW on iPhone, but you need a third-party app that supports RAW. We have a list of a few of the best RAW camera apps, but one of my personal favorites is Halide, which got a significant update for the iPhone 12.

Most apps will have their own settings panel where you can enable RAW capture. Here's how to do it in Halide.

  1. Launch Halide on your iPhone.
  2. Under the viewfinder is a panel — swipe up to reveal more options, including Settings.
  3. Tap the Settings gear icon.

    How to shoot RAW images on your iPhone or iPad by showing: Launch Halide, swipe up on the control panel, tap SettingsSource: iMore

  4. Select Capture.
  5. Ensure that the Coverage toggle is ON (yellow).
  6. Tap on either RAW+ or RAW.

    • RAW+ captures a RAW file with a processed HEIC image
    • RAW is a single DNG RAW file

    How to shoot RAW images on iPhone and iPad by showing steps: In Halide Settings, tap Capture, turn on Coverage, choose RAW+ or RAWSource: iMore

If you use another app, like Manual, you'll need to dig around in your chosen app's settings to find the toggle for RAW capture.

Questions about shooting RAW photos on iPhone?

RAW format is the best format to shoot photos in if you want the most control over the post-editing process, so we're excited to see what Apple ProRAW will bring to the table. If you have more questions about how to shoot RAW photos on the iPhone, drop them in the comments below!

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