Apple’s super new features are online! It opened a new door for iPhone photography

For the iPhone, the arrival of the official version of iOS 14.3 should be an important milestone.

iOS 14.3 includes many functional improvements, such as the return of the air quality index, the upgrade of the baseband version, the addition of the Safari search engine Ecosia, and so on. One of the most important upgrades is undoubtedly the iPhone 12 Pro and the new ProRAW format of the iPhone 12 Pro Max series.

iPhone 12 Pro series users only need to find "Camera" in the settings page and click "Format" to open "Apple ProRAW". Then return to the camera application, you can see the "RAW" switch logo in the upper right corner.

Click "RAW", and when the diagonal line on its icon disappears, you can take a photo in RAW format. But every time you exit the camera app and open it again, the RAW format is closed by default.

If you don't want the camera app to reset your settings, then you can turn on the "Apple ProRAW" switch in "Settings"-"Camera"-"Keep Settings". In this way, the camera app will keep your RAW format open.

Before the official release of iOS 14.3, I already held the iPhone 12 Pro Max and experienced the Beta version for nearly a month. During this time, I had an in-depth experience of the ProRAW format. It can be said that its arrival is one of the most important upgrades in the history of iPhone photography.

What is ProRAW?

As an exclusive feature of the iPhone 12 Pro series, Apple introduced this feature as its main selling point at the autumn new product launch.

Before understanding Apple ProRAW, we need to know what RAW format is.

The original name of RAW format is "RAW Image Format", which means "unprocessed". The image recorded in RAW format is the raw data of the light source signal captured by the image sensor and converted into digital signal.

▲ Picture from: capture one

In fact, it is not difficult to understand. To make an inappropriate analogy, you can imagine the process of taking photos as the process of buying chicken drumsticks. Recording photos in JPEG or HEIC format is like buying a fried chicken drumstick. Taking a photo in RAW format is equivalent to buying a raw chicken leg. You can marinate it, fry it, or make it into shredded chicken according to your preferences.

This is the biggest advantage of the RAW format, and there is huge room for adjustment later.

▲Picture from: capture one

In the past, photos taken in JPEG format were automatically compressed and processed into a compact file for storage. In the process of encoding and compression, the original information of the image, such as white balance, sensitivity, shutter speed and other data, is fixed to specific values.

If we are not satisfied with a photo and feel that it is too dark or too bright, the JPEG format photos may experience degradation of image quality during post-adjustment. The typical performance is increased noise and color gradation.

Although the RAW format will also record the original information of the image, it is only equivalent to an anchor point. To make a vivid metaphor, it is like a book, all kinds of raw data can be adjusted freely within a certain range of page numbers, and the picture quality will basically not drop. The JPEG format is like a piece of paper, which is limited to "one page" during post-adjustment, and the operability is low.

▲ After adjusting the same parameters, the JPEG format photos have been severely damaged. Picture from: Kunal Malhotra

Although the RAW format is not uncommon, iPhone has been able to take photos in RAW format on third-party software such as RAW+ and Halide. So what is the difference between ProRAW and RAW images recorded by third-party software?

According to Apple’s introduction at the press conference, ProRAW allows photography enthusiasts to take photos in RAW format or use Apple’s computational photography technology. It can provide many functions of multi-frame image processing and computational photography, such as Deep Fusion and intelligent HDR, combined with the depth and latitude of the RAW format.

In order to achieve this, Apple said that they have constructed a new image pipeline that merges various data processed by the CPU, GPU, ISP and NPU into a new depth image file. But things like sharpening, white balance, and tone mapping become photo parameters instead of being directly synthesized into the photo. In this way, users can creatively manipulate colors, details, and dynamic range.

It is worth noting that the four cameras of the iPhone 12 Pro series all support ProRAW, but not when using portrait mode. In addition, with the continuous improvement of the performance of A series chips, there will be no shutter delay problem when using ProRAW. RAW files will be calculated and generated at the moment of taking pictures.

In one sentence, compared with the previous RAW files shot by third-party software, ProRAW adds the technology of computational photography on its basis. In theory, it will get better quality negatives, leaving more play space for creators. Big.

Apple also said that they provide an API for third-party apps that can take pictures in ProRAW format. But it should also be limited to the iPhone 12 Pro series.

Generally speaking, the camera takes RAW format photos, the mainstream level is 12bit and 14bit, some high-end medium format cameras can also reach 16bit. The larger the number, the higher the color depth and the richer the photo information. But the corresponding volume will be larger.

ProRAW can achieve a color depth of 12bit, which is sufficient for mobile devices such as mobile phones. After all, the current top mobile device screens can only display a color depth of 10bit. In addition, considering the memory capacity of the mobile phone, a photo of ProRAW is about 25MB. In theory, the amount of 14bit photo data is four times that of 12bit, and the volume will increase accordingly.

How to use ProRAW?

As mentioned above, in the upper right corner of the camera app interface, you can use the ProRAW function to take photos after turning on the RAW switch.

So how do you quickly find photos in RAW format after shooting? The first way is to open the photo app and scroll down to find the "Media Type". One of the columns is "RAW". After clicking on it, you can browse and edit.

Another way is to check whether there is a "RAW" label on the upper left when browsing photos in the Album app.

When I use a third-party retouching app to select photos, some apps will also mark the photos in RAW format so that users can choose and edit. For example, Lightroom will mark "DNG" in the upper right corner of the picture, VSCO will mark "R" in the lower right corner of the picture, and spice retouching will mark "RAW" directly in the upper left corner of the picture.

▲Left: Lightroom; Middle: VSCO; Right: Pola retouching

What needs to be explained is that the "DNG" marked by Lightroom is the suffix of the RAW files captured by the iPhone. Each brand uses different technical codes when recording RAW format files, so the suffix name may be different. For example, Sony's suffix name is ".ARW", Fuji's suffix name is ".RAF", Leica's suffix name is ".DNG", and RAW is the collective name for these names.

In the past month, I used two methods when editing ProRAW files later. One is to airdrop the selected RAW photos to the computer, and use Capture One or Lightroom for editing. The second is to edit directly on the phone. Commonly used editing apps include Lightroom, Snapseed, VSCO, and Pola Retouch. Of course, the photo album app that comes with the iPhone can also be edited.

In comparison, the second method is simpler and has basically the same effect, playability and computer processing. In the process of using these apps, I also evaluated their ease of use, functionality, and cost of use in order to provide you with reference.

Ease of use refers to how difficult it is to get started.

Among the above apps, the easiest is to use the iPhone's own photo app for editing. By sliding left and right, you can adjust the basic parameters such as exposure, sharpness, highlights and shadows, contrast, hue, and saturation of the photo.

The second is VSCO, which is equally easy to get started. And there are a variety of filters provided in the app. If you are too lazy to adjust the basic parameters, just apply the filters and fine-tune them.

Next is Pola's retouching. Compared with the former, its description of functions and parameters is more professional, and ordinary users have some barriers to use for the first time.

The more complicated ones are Snapseed and Lightroom. In fact, the operation of Snapseed is not complicated, and it is a very easy-to-use type. So why is it complicated? This is because it and Lightroom display the negatives by default after opening the RAW file, and the two states you see in the album.

▲ Snapseed in the middle; Lightroom on the right

It is obvious to the naked eye that the state of the "negative film" is very gray. If you use these two software, you need to have a certain basis for retouching, otherwise it is not easy to adjust the RAW file to the best look.

Next is functionality.

On the whole, the best experience is Lightroom, which can implement fine operations based on the RAW format throughout the entire process, such as adjusting the hue, saturation, and brightness of a color, and adding masks.

Pola retouching also has very rich functions, but I was a little confused in the experience. The software seems to be automatically converted to JPEG format when importing RAW files into the app. The subsequent operations are based on the JPEG format. As for the latitude of photo adjustment, it is not as good as RAW.

Snapseed disappointed me a bit. When selecting photos, RAW format photos are not marked. In addition, when modifying photos in RAW format, only basic parameters such as exposure, highlights, shadows, contrast, structure, saturation, color temperature, and coloring can be adjusted. After the adjustment is completed, the app will automatically convert the photo to JPEG format, and only finer adjustments can be made on this basis.

And VSCO has fewer functions, mainly focusing on exquisite filters. In addition, I don’t know whether it is due to the software or the system. When modifying the RAW format picture, the preview window is very fuzzy and basically in an unusable state.

Although the mobile phone's own photo album app can also perform basic operations, it is also limited to the adjustment of some basic parameters and cannot perform more detailed operations.

On the whole, the current software ecosystem does not support ProRAW enough. At present, late-stage software, including Lightroom, cannot adjust the part of Apple's computational photography, which is unable to give play to the powerful advantages of ProRAW. Looking forward to subsequent app version upgrades, relevant adjustment options can be provided.

In terms of price, editing with the built-in photo album app or editing with Snapseed or VSCO is free. However, many filters provided in VSCO require membership to be used.

For more comprehensive photo editing, you need to subscribe for 148 yuan/year, or 30 yuan/month. Currently, Lightroom, which supports ProRAW, is the best. Although basic functions can be used for free, advanced functions, such as editing RAW photos, selective adjustments, and repair brushes, require subscription. The price is 35 yuan/month.

In summary, for ordinary players, if you want to experience the beauty of ProRAW, you can use the free app. Especially Snapseed, the playability is relatively high.

If you are a photography enthusiast, then you might as well pay to subscribe to the more advanced Lightroom or Splash Photo editing, which will make your creation more handy.

This year may be the biggest improvement in iPhone photography

Since the birth of the iPhone, each generation has improved its photographic capabilities, four of which have attracted attention.

The first time was the iSight camera on the iPhone 4. Apple upgraded the rear lens to 5 million pixels for the first time. However, Apple emphasized in the WWDC speech that taking beautiful pictures not only depends on the pixels of the camera, but the light transmittance is more important. Therefore, behind the iSight camera, there is also a new 1/3.2-inch back-illuminated sensor to improve the sensitivity level.

▲ Photos taken by users with iPhone 4 on INS

With the introduction of the HDR algorithm in iOS 4.1, the iPhone 4's photography ability was undoubtedly the king of smartphones at the time. Even from today's point of view, the photography capabilities of the iPhone 4 are still quite interesting.

The second time was the "Dual Camera Era" opened by the iPhone 7 Plus. The newly added equivalent 56mm, f/2.8 lens has unprecedentedly increased the playability of iPhone photography.

In addition, the newly added portrait mode, through machine learning, allows the iPhone to simulate the shallow depth of field that an outsole camera has, making the subject more prominent. In the case of sufficient light, both the image quality and the blur effect are remarkable.

▲ Taken by the telephoto lens of iPhone 7 Plus

The third time is the new ultra-wide-angle lens of the iPhone 11 series. How to make a mediocre scene no longer mediocre? Ultra-wide angle can give the answer. The equivalent 13mm lens can give the picture a stronger sense of space and power. You can also get a wider field of vision when shooting scenes such as buildings and landscapes.

▲ Picture taken by the ultra-wide-angle lens of iPhone 11 Pro from: austinmann

One year later, the iPhone 12 series ushered in a major upgrade in imaging. This is the fourth innovation in the iPhone photography experience.

The whole series does not have a cursor with a better super wide-angle lens, and all support Dolby Vision video shooting. The exclusive LiDAR lidar of the Pro series can provide faster focusing, which can be regarded as a milestone upgrade in the Vlog era.

In addition, the wide-angle camera of the iPhone 12 Pro Max has also replaced a new sensor with a larger area and built-in displacement anti-shake technology. Another change occurred on the telephoto lens: from 52mm to 65mm. This means you can shoot farther and have a stronger sense of compression.

In addition to the many innovations in hardware, the progress in software should not be underestimated, that is, the ProRAW function mentioned above. This symbolizes that the iPhone has taken a step forward in the direction of professional image creation equipment.

Although ProRAW is still in the preliminary stage on iOS 14.3, for example, the options for computational photography cannot be adjusted, but its actual performance has exceeded my expectations. Thanks to this, the imaging capabilities of the iPhone 12 Pro series and the iPhone 12 series have further widened the gap. This may be the real "Pro as its name".

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