Why iPhone RAW is a Big Deal

iOS 10 brought the capability to get the RAW image data from the camera and save it as a DNG file. It elevates the quality of iPhone images to a whole new level (for those who care). The following image tells it all.

Click the image for actual pixels display on non-Retina screens

Click the image for actual pixels display on non-Retina screens

On the left is how the iPhone renders the image, on the right my version converted from DNG and tweaked to taste in Capture One. Both show the actual pixels (100% magnification). Red areas are the overexposed parts. The images were captured as RAW+JPG in the upcoming Mark II Artist’s Viewfinder 5.0, so they represent the exact same moment.

With shooting RAWs you can avoid most of the pitfalls of iPhone image processing (I know them from experience):

  • Over-sharpening, which ruins images with already high contrast edges, such as tree branches against the clear sky.
  • Excessive noise reduction – usually on an unnecessary level, even at ISO 25. You know, the blotchy look at 100% which looks downright ugly.
  • Unrealistic color. Apple processes the images for punch, which is good for making your friends envious on social networking sites, but is a problem when you want to actually use them (the images, not your friends) as real photographs.
  • Sometimes overdone light falloff correction. You know, when the sky is brighter in the corners than in the center.

You also get more headroom for recovering overexposed areas (they are also better by default because of the lower contrast), but on the other hand you need to correct corner light falloff by hand.

To my eye the difference is so large that I won’t use JPGs any more when I’m photographing with the iPhone (which happens a lot, since it’s always in my pocket). No, they are not challenging DSLR (or even large sensor point and shoot) quality, but are way more usable than the JPGs.

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