Thursday, December 24, 2020


Austin Mann:

What does 12-bit mean? Well, HEIC is limited to 8-bit color, which gives us 256 different shades of red, green, and blue. 12-bit expands this range to 4,096 shades of red, green, and blue, which basically means ProRAW can render far more nuanced shades of each color than lossy formats like JPEG or HEIC.


As of now, December 2020, you must be using an iPhone 12 Pro or iPhone 12 Pro Max to capture in ProRAW, and you must be running iOS 14.3 or later.


You’ll see the most significant impact in extreme scenarios — ones where the general algorithms can’t do all the work. Shooting scenarios like indoor mixed lighting (cool and warm), extremely low light (like shots of stars), super high dynamic range images (like shadowy foreground with sun-lit red rock in the background).


ProRAW is not simply a magic switch you can flip on to make your photos better. In fact, the non-ProRAW file initially looks much better than the ProRAW file, so shooting ProRAW really only makes sense if you intend to spend the time fine-tuning the image in post.

Ben Sandofsky:

ProRAW images are regular DNG files that take advantage of some little known features in the specification, and introduce a few new ones.


Smart HDR does this in the least destructive way. Apple worked with Adobe to introduce a new type of tag into the DNG standard, called a “Profile Gain Table Map.” This data gives your editor everything it needs to know to tone map your photo image and end up with results identical to the first party camera. Because it’s separate data, you can turn down its strength, or turn it off completely.


Once you get RAW in your hands, the first thing you’ll notice is capture speed. A traditional RAW capture takes as little as 50 milliseconds. ProRAW takes between two and three seconds to finish processing.

The built in iPhone camera does a great job hiding this, apparently processing each photo in the background in a queue. However, we’ve found the shutter stalls after firing three shots in quick succession.

Nick Heer:

One of the cool things about the DNG format is that, because these are tags applied as adjustment to the contained image data, we can edit those tags using exiftool. I was unable to change NoiseReductionApplied, but I modified a few other key tags, and this is the result compared to the base ProRAW:


As I mentioned, I have been trying out ProRAW for about a month now, and I am very pleased. It is another tool in the iPhone photography toolbox that, for me, does not entirely replace third-party camera apps. That is a good thing; I want to see exceptional independent apps like Halide and Obscura succeed on the iPhone. It is, however, a worthwhile addition that underscores how great of a camera this telephone really is.

ProRAW also largely accomplishes the pitch Apple makes for it. I can nitpick the amount of control a photographer has with ProRAW compared to other RAW capturing apps, but one thing I have been consistently impressed by is just how similar the HEIC and ProRAW versions of the same scene appear. It really does seem like Apple has managed to bridge the computational workflow of the standard camera app and the greater flexibility and quality of RAW images. I bet photographers will be pleased.

Om Malik:

When reviewing these images on a big iMac Pro screen, I was gob-smacked by the details that were visible to the naked eye. I was able to get my shades of black and whiter whites from the files. The gradual gradation of grays is part of my editing process, and I didn’t need to do anything much to achieve that. You can feel the fog dancing among the trees. You can feel the sunshine trying to fight its way through the damp.


Update (2021-01-05): Kirk McElhearn:

Unfortunately, Mr. Mann’s misunderstanding stems from two things. First, the fact that Apple uses the term “raw” suggests that these are, indeed, raw files; they are not. Apple’s marketing is deceptive at best, and this example shows that if the type of photographer who uses raw files confuses this, then they’ve managed to confuse the very demographic they’re targeting.

The second mistake Mr. Mann made was importing the ProRAW file into Lightroom, where he was planning to edit it. Alas, Lightroom does not interpret these files correctly.


If ProRAW was really meant for pros, it would include the raw data, along with the information necessary to display photos using Apple’s computational photography features. But this would take up too much space. As it is, ProRAW files are as much as 10 times the size of JPEGs, so they’ll fill up your iPhone – and your iCloud storage – quickly. But real pros would be willing to accept that to have the actual raw files, plus Apple’s special sauce.

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