Apple Quietly Brings iOS RAW Photos to iPhone and iPad Pro

Apple Quietly Brings iOS RAW Photos to iPhone and iPad Pro

iPhone Camera

Yes. You will soon be able to shoot and edit DNG iOS RAW photos on your iPhone. What does this mean for the future of mobile photography? Will mobile video follow suit?

Buried quietly among all of the recent, and long awaited news from Apple at its recent WWDC event is the addition of RAW photo capture in iOS 10 to the most recent generation of iPhones and the iPad Pro. While there is no news if RAW capture will be added and enabled in Apple’s own camera app, it will be open to third party developers.

Here are the specifics:

  • Developers will be able to add RAW functionality to shoot and store photos in the RAW format.
  • RAW photos will use the DNG format.
  • iOS 10 will allow DNG + JPG capture simultaneously.
  • RAW capture will be possible from the rear camera only on iPhone 6s, 6s Plus, SE, and 9.7” iPad

So we’ll have iOS RAW photos and editing at an operating system level, but that won’t automatically bring RAW to your existing camera apps. App developers will have to update their apps for RAW capture and editing.

iphone-camera

The rear camera of the iPhone 6s, 6s Plus, SE and iPad is the latest 12MP iSight camera, which is already a very capable imaging device considering the tiny 1.22 micron pixel pitch (compared to a Sony A7Sii pixel of approx 8.40 microns). The first question on my mind is what color bit depth we will get in RAW, and what file size we can expect. I am sure anyone interested in pushing the limits of their iPhoneography will be looking at the 64GB and 128GB models to store a reasonable number of DNG shots before transferring them off the phone.

This is a strong statement by Apple to further entrench the iPhone as the mobile photography device of choice for professionals and semi-pro photographers in light of recent encroachment by Samsung and Huawei, both of whom offer camera hardware that technically betters the iPhone’s current 12MP imager. Rumor has it that the iPhone 7 will feature a dual sensor, dual lens camera and computational imaging of some sort, so the mobile photography battle may heat up soon.

What could this direction mean for mobile videography? It could mean a race for supremacy between the leading manufacturers in embracing the quality and formats demanded by professionals, not just general consumers. Why embrace a small professional niche with a mass market device? Well, perception and image play a big part in a device’s desirability, and desirability sells smartphones, especially for a premium device such as the iPhone. Everyone with a smartphone considers themselves a budding photographer these days and so, appealing to a professional niche in terms of features and image quality ends up influencing a much wider market whether they ever make use of those features or not.

Is smartphone RAW video around the corner? Not likely from any of the existing mainstream players, it’s a bit too niche a requirement and the internal processing and heat dissipation required is probably beyond what’s possible in a super slim smartphone chassis. Still, if a cinema camera maker designed a smartphone / mobile cinematography device of some sort… it might be a different story.

It’s far more likely we could see future support for an increase in video color bit depth, better chroma sub sampling and higher bit rates come to mobile devices. That’s not an unrealistic expectation, perhaps Apple might implement ProRes encoding in some future iOS release.

I don’t think anyone saw RAW photos coming, so you never know what might be next.

What do you think about having RAW photos on your mobile phone? Will it make you leave your real camera at home for some small productions? Let us know in the comments.

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