PhotoActive #83: Raw and ProRAW on the iPhone

On the latest PhotoActive podcast episode, we dig into Apple’s new ProRAW photo format, and Kirk McElhearn explores further in a post on his site, Kirkville.com.

Apple’s release of iOS 14.3 brought a giant leap in photographic capability… if you own an iPhone 12 Pro or iPhone 12 Pro Max, at least. The built-in camera can now capture in Apple’s new ProRAW format, which promises to meld the greater dynamic range and editing ability of raw files with Apple’s computational photography technology (which is what makes most iPhone photos look great).

ProRAW sounds like an odd hybrid, and deep down, it is. On the latest PhotoActive podcast episode, Episode 83: Raw and ProRAW on the iPhone, Kirk McElhearn and I dig into exactly what’s happening in ProRAW files. The episode is just around 30 minutes, but we spent hours beforehand making sure we had a proper foundation of knowledge about ProRAW, buttressed by the technical expertise of friend-of-the-show Nik Bhatt of Gentlemen Coders, which creates the RAW Power app for macOS and iOS. The verdict? Well, you’ll have to listen, but there’s a good reason to think that ProRAW is in some ways FauxRAW.

For more on that, go read Kirk’s followup post at Kirkville.com, “Apple’s new ProRAW Photo Format Is Neither Pro nor Raw.” He gets into more detail about Local Tone Mapping, which is what makes ProRAW different from other raw formats. It’s a very clever solution to the question of how to combine true raw photography with computational photography, but it’s not straightforward, and most apps don’t yet support fully editing ProRAW images.

Speaking of ProRAW support, when I opened the Photos app on an old Mac mini running macOS Mojave, I was surprised to discover the following image: a ProRAW image shot with my iPhone 12 Pro, but not decoded, because Photos under Mojave doesn’t understand the format. It’s beautiful in its own way:

proraw-encoded

Here’s the photo as it appears in macOS Big Sur and iOS/iPadOS 14:

IMG_0431-2048px

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