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Full RAW workflow with an iPhone


If we look at the camera sale statistics that are released every year, it shows a downward slide in "proper camera" sales year after year.  Why?  Yup, you've guessed it, the smartphone.  As we all know, technology is running away with itself, and one of the most common signs of this is how advanced our smartphones are getting.  Is it even worth calling them smartphones anymore? They are just pocket sized computers with the abilty to make phone calls!  Who knows? That's a conversation for another time.  The cameras whihch are embedded in these newer units are truly magnificent. Each year we get more resolution, better low light performance, faster focus and so on.  This has come about through better camera sensors, better scaled down phone size optics and better processing.  

There are a huge number of smartphones out there all with very good attributes, but what seems to me to be the clear winner in terms of market share, is the iPhone.  (No I will not get into an Apple fanboy debate here, but I will focus on the iPhone as this is what I use.)  To be perfectly honest, I wish they would take a break from developing the camera in each new incarnation of the iPhone, as the only reason I upgrade these days is for the camera!  Everything else it does is just fine for me.  I can communicate, send files, arrange things, link calendars, I can even make a phone call! (Sometimes...) So, you guessed it, I have recently upgraded to the new iPhone 7 Plus.  Yes I do enjoy the bigger screen, before this I had the 6 Plus and the 6s Plus, but that's not why I went for it, that decision was due to the the twin lenses it sports.  

The newer phones, 6s and upward, all shoot RAW photos should you wish to be bothered with more complexity.  The JPEGs they shoot are brilliant straight out of the box, but if you really want that extra performance, then RAW or DNG is the way to go.

What is this RAW you speak of?

Ok, as mentioned above, the phone, by default, shoots JPEG photos with the standard built-in camera app.  A JPEG is fine for 99% of iPhoneographers, but not me.  When you shoot an image with the standard camera app, it opens the electronic shutter to let the light pour through the lens, that light hits the image sensor and is digitised into a file.  The phone saves the "best bits" and throws away the rest, leaving you with a small managable friendly JPEG file that we are all used to.  Well, not good enough I'm afraid, I want all of that data.  How do we get it?  Enter Adobe Lightroom for iOS.  There are a number of other apps that will enable this, I used to use 645Pro and save my files as TIFFs on previous phones.  I am a user of Adobe products on desktop computers, that's how I process all of my images, Photoshop & Lightroom to be specific.  I am commited to their products as they are the market leaders in this field and have, in my opinion the best R&D teams and coders all adding up to the best image processing software out there.  Lightroom for iOS is no different.  Just as the iPhone 7 Plus was announced and the world gawked at the twin lenses, Adobe set to work to make the most of this up coming marvel.

Not only is the app easy to use and intuitive (and it will shoot JPEGS just like you are used to) but it also has a toggle to enable the capture of DNG files.  DNGs are Digital Negatives, a type of RAW file.  It is an Adobe standard that they introduced a few years ago for larger cameras and computers.  So instead of just getting the best bits of the image data, you get it all.  This adds up to much larger file sizes, around the 15MB mark.  Another great feature of this app is the lens switching.  The Apple standard camera app emables you to zoom between the two lenses and beyond in terms of digital zoom, but this is done by using a blend of the two lenses and some clever software tweaks.  Although the result is impressive, it is not as pure in terms of image quality as using each lens on its own.  Lightroom for iOS either uses the wider 28mm f1.8 lens or the longer 56mm f2.8 lens, no blending of both lenses, just pure single lens capture with all of the data saved as a DNG file.  As serious photographers, what more could we ask from our smartphones! 

Well, there is one more thing, wouldn't it be nice if these RAW files could automatically put themselves into your Lightroom catalouge on your main processing machine?  Well, as you've guessed by now, it can.  If you are a Creative Cloud customer then make yourself a Lightroom catalouge just for your iOS images and tell it to sync with Lightroom Mobile.  When I walk within range of my studio or home WiFi networks, the iOS app starts to upload them to my Creative Cloud and then promptly downloads them into my main machine.  So when I sit down infront of my calibrated 30 inch monitor in my studio, there they are, all of the RAW shots from my dog walk, or my trip to town or where ever else I have been obsessively shooting!

Should you wish to edit the images you have shot on the go, you can do so with great ease on the phone itself in the same app.  You can then save the files to your standard camera roll and send or share them.

A little note on the iPhone 7 Plus - With two lenses and a 12 megapixel sensor behind each one, I find myself reaching for it more and more as I see moments happen or beautful light fall on the landscape.  They always say that the best camera in the world is the one you have with you at the time.  I may have tons of pro level camera kit at my disposal, but if I don't have any of it with me, my phone will almost certainly be within reach.  And knowing I can capture it with two different focal lengths and save it as a RAW file to edit later on one of my main computers is a real luxury.  Those who know me often laugh at me posting images to social media that I have shot on the phone when I'm surrounded by professional equipment, well it looks like that is set to continue!

Have a look into the iOS Lightroom app yourself, it's available for Android and Apple and RAW file capture is available from the iPhone 6s and upwards.  If you have a previous model you can still use the Lightroom app by you will have to shoot JPEG files.  

All of the images below were shot in the iPhone 7 Plus