EDIT: the contents of this posting are now outdated with the reasons for that explained in this posting.
Earlier today we announced the imminent arrival of our new camera app, 645 PRO. One factor that has caught a few people’s attention is that the app not only saves JPEGs, like most iPhone camera apps, but lets you save the RAW image data as well.
Some people have interpreted this as us being able to save files in one of the many RAW file formats (or even a new one!), like those used by most DSLRs and some compact cameras. That is the result of a (not totally unreasonable) misunderstanding—there’s some unfortunate confusion between RAW data and the RAW file formats.
We’re really not trying to confuse or mislead anyone, so hopefully this explanation will help:
RAW files vary widely, but most of them – only oversimplifying a bit – contain RAW image data and metadata that describes various settings of the camera at the time the shot was taken. The idea is that the impact of those camera settings can be applied after the fact, as part of the “development” process – and modified if necessary, rather than automatically, in-camera (as happens with the JPEGs the same cameras will produce).
It’s not just RAW files that vary. The RAW image data in them varies substantially from manufacturer to manufacturer and from camera to camera. Some are a lot more “cooked” than others, with top-end DSLRs (typically) having much “rawer” data (and therefore more options to manipulate that data) than compact or point-and-shoot cameras. Some of these smaller cameras do a substantial amount of in-camera processing before adding the really-not-quite-as-RAW-as-you-might-have-hoped data to the RAW file.
However, these files are still useful, even if one of their core purposes (applying all adjustments after the fact) no longer has real relevance. That’s because they RAW data they contain – even with adjustments applied – has had no JPEG compression applied nor any substantial manipulation of colors, brightness, contrast and so on. That makes it a much “cleaner” starting-point for any work you want to do with your image editing software.
And that’s the kind of RAW data that 645 PRO supplies. Its nothing like as “uncooked” as the image data in a top-end RAW file. But it has never been through a JPEG compression stage, and goes through no in-app processing at all. It consists of the straight pixel data and that’s all. It’s then wrapped up as a TIFF image (with non-lossy compression) and saved. We did look at the option of using DNG files (Adobe’s open standard for RAW image files) but realised there was no practical benefit to doing so and a serious downside of bigger files that saved more slowly – not to mention far less application support.
No, it’s not a RAW file – to be honest, it’s unlikely that the small, relatively simple, image-sensing modules found in iPhones will ever be able to provide us that (although we’ll keep trying to push the limits of what an iPhone’s camera can do, so who knows?).
But if you want the most un-touched, un-modified – the most “RAW” – iPhone image data available today, which many photographers do, 645 PRO will deliver it. It’s just one of several firsts the app provides.