What the Heck Is a RAW Image?

It’s a way to make super-high-quality photos via editing. Tap to try.

Pssst, heres a secret: When you take a photo with your iPhone’s native Camera app, you don’t see exactly what the camera sensor sees.

Before the image can be viewed, it’s processed—the light hitting the sensor, collected as 0s and 1s, needs to be turned into an image. But Apple’s image processing does more than that: It also makes the image look just as vibrant and sharp as it does in real life by automatically reducing noise, adding sharpening, and compensating for differences in light that our eyes can detect but cameras cannot.

In short, it turns the sensor’s information into a beautiful photograph that doesn’t take up much space on your iPhone and is ready to share with the world. (Pretty neat, huh?)

A RAW image file skips this processing. It contains more of the data captured by the sensor, and you get full control in processing the image yourself. That’s why it’s “raw.”

Got it. But, uh, why would I want that?
RAW images require a little more work to edit, and they take up more space. But as a result you get much more sensor data to work with, which results in more control over factors like dynamic range, colors, and noise.

The result is a shockingly detailed, totally customizable, super-high-quality picture.

Film fans can think of it this way. With a typical JPEG or HEIC image, you’re dropping your film off at the lab and letting them process it however they see fit. With a RAW image, you’re doing the darkroom work yourself.

Just a few years ago, RAW images were only made available to professionals with DSLR cameras. Now we’ll show you how to use your phone to capture RAW images and edit them into stunning pictures—all on your iPhone.

So how do I make one of these fancy RAW pictures?
By putting to work one of the many apps utilizing Apple’s RAW image capabilities, shooting a RAW image is similar to shooting a regular one. In this case, we’ll use the Halide app.

Download and open the app, then swipe up on the top toolbar (above the yellow triangle). Toggle on the RAW setting until it’s yellow.

Now you’re ready to capture your image. Shoot like normal! You probably won’t notice a difference—the magic of RAW comes when it’s time to edit.

OK, I've got my image. Now how do I edit it?
After you’ve captured your shot, tap on its thumbnail in the bottom left corner to check it out.

In the top right corner, you’ll see two options: RAW and JPEG (or HEIC, depending on your settings). Tap between them to see the difference, and don’t worry if the RAW image looks worse—less contrast, less vibrancy, and less dynamic range to keep the dark details bright and highlights (like a bright sky) from blowing out. We’ll fix all that while editing.

To edit the image, tap the thumbnail in the bottom left corner so you can browse through all your photos. Tap on one and then tap on the two triangles at the bottom of the screen to migrate the photo over to one of our favorite editing apps: Darkroom.

Unlike with a JPEG or HEIC, the color temperature and tint of a RAW image can be fully adjusted without color issues—great news if you didn’t set the white balance perfectly while shooting or want to augment the colors you saw in real life.

Tap the button with the sliders, and scroll down to Temperature (to adjust the orange/blue balance) and Tint (to adjust the green/magenta balance).

Now we’ll use the extra information provided by the camera sensor to bring back the highlights and pull up the blacks. Adjust the Highlights and Shadows sliders or, if you’re interested in getting more advanced, pop over to the Curve tab.

Just as in professional desktop editing apps, you can adjust the curves up or down to increase ordecrease specific levels of exposure in the image. Want to bring up the blacks? Grab the dot on the left side of the histogram and drag it up. Just want to dial the sky down a bit? Grab the top dot and drag it down.

Next we’ll fill in some of the processing that automatically happens with the Camera app—with a RAW image, we have the control.

Adjust the Saturation slider until the colors look just right, or use the Vibrance slider, which helps prevent already-saturated colors from getting oversaturated.

Slide up the sharpening until the image looks nice and crisp; landscape images generally benefit from higher sharpening, while too much on a portrait looks unflattering.

As you can see here, RAW images especially thrive in low-light situations and in those with a high dynamic range (like a sunset).

That’s it. High-quality images await. The power of the iPhone’s camera sensor is now fully in your hands.

    Halide Mark II - Pro Camera

    RAW, Manual and Macro Capture


    Darkroom: Photo & Video Editor

    Video, Portrait, & RAW Photos