What’s cooking with RAW?

EDIT: the contents of this posting are now outdated with the reasons for that explained in this posting.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.

Mike Hardaker
Founder, Jag.gr 


  1. Guy says:

    Can this raw-data image be used in any editing app (photoforge2, filterstorm…)?

  2. Mike says:

    Not currently—it’s designed for integrating with desktop workflows, and you can only get to the files through iTunes Sharing. If the demand is there, however, we’ll look at integrating it with other apps on iPhone in future releases.

    • Mike says:

      This is a deal breaker for me, and im sure a lot of iphoneographers. I edit solely on an iphone, and was extremely excited for this new camera… Until i just read this comment. Not many iphoneographers edit on a desktop or laptop, the term “iphoneographer” kinda sums that up. If you really want this to become a successful iphone replacement camera, then the files need to be able to work with apps. I will put my excitement back on hold till that happens and stick with pro camera…

      • Adam says:

        A deal breaker? That seems fairly silly, considering you can also get also get a lossless JPG?

        Your beef seems to be that other iPhone apps don’t support TIF files. Am I missing something?

  3. Stephen says:

    Could you release some samples photos?

  4. Mike says:

    We’d really prefer to point you to images taken by independent reviewers, once the product is released—a much fairer approach, I think..

  5. Marlene DeGrood says:

    I really hoping that your “raw data” will produce a non sharpened image. My biggest complaint with the photos taken with the iPhone 4S is the amount of “in camera” over sharpening applied … I would much prefer to apply any sharpening in post. Thanks!

  6. Adam Fields says:

    It’s disingenuous to call this RAW output – that really ought to refer to unprocessed sensor data. That some manufacturers may misuse this term isn’t a good excuse for you to do so. Why not just call this uncompressed output, or even TIFF export?

  7. Mike says:

    Sorry you feel that it is disingenuous—it really isn’t. We feel our use of the term RAW (with all the disclaimers) is consistent with the way the term is currently being used in the industry. As we say, repeatedly, we have no interest misleading anybody, and we are chasing misinterpretations of our position around the Internet and looking to correct them.

    The term RAW isn’t at all specific but, actually, very vague. It’s therefore very hard to “misuse”. But, even so, we’re trying very hard not to do so.

    As it is currently used by most of the industry, RAW does not actually mean “unprocessed sensor data”; it means “sensor data that has been processed as minimally as possible”. Maybe that’s not how it should be, but that’s how it is.

    By that – common – standard 645 PRO delivers RAW image data. If the conventional language changes we’ll be happy to change our description of what we do.

    We’re very explicit about what we’re actually doing; you disagree with a minor point of terminology. Surely that’s not such a big deal?

  8. Adam Fields says:

    The fact that you’re “chasing misinterpretations of our position around the Internet and looking to correct them” should indicate to you that there’s a problem here.

    But even under your definition of a RAW file – it’s sensor data, and as far as I can tell, you don’t actually have access to the raw sensor data. Apple would be responsible for defining what the RAW file format for the iPhone is, not you, and you’re going to be competing with every other photo app that comes along after with a slightly different definition of what an iPhone RAW file is.

    I’ve surveyed a bunch of photographer friends about this, and the response is a uniform “hey, that sounds great, but no way is that a RAW file”. If you’re not convincing the pros, it’s just a marketing term to try to sell something it’s not to people who see that term and think they’re getting something better. Features shouldn’t come with pages of disclaimers – just call them what they are.

  9. Adam Fields says:

    Also, can you elaborate on what “most of the industry” refers to? For me, Canon and Nikon are by far the biggest players, but that’s mostly coming from dSLR (where RAW means something), not digicam (where maybe it has been relegated to a meaningless marketing term). Maybe that’s where the disconnect is. I still think if you’re trying to appeal to pros, which you clearly are, you want to err on the dSLR side of the definition of things.

  10. Olaf says:

    I think it’s fine for you to use the term. Real pro’s are going to overreact, but that’s not a problem for you. I’m sure you like the marketing viability of the “RAW” word. Just know that you’re going to have to keep explaining.

    My question is when will this be available? And how much?

  11. Mike says:

    Olaf: we can’t give you a hard date, but “soon”. The big variable is the amount of time Apple takes to approve 645 PRO. If we knew how long that would be, we could give a date, but we don’t. The price will be $2.99, €2.39, £1.99 (etc…). And our language was actually chosen in consultation with quite a few “real pros”; not all such people think/speak the same way!

    Mike (not me!): 645 PRO produces standard JPEGs that are saved to your Camera Roll and can be edited on your iPhone. It even includes that option to save “lossless” JPEGs for higher image quality. The RAW image data is an *option* for those who want to integrate an additional aspect into their desktop workflow—something that “pure” iPhonegraphers can simply ignore.

    Adam: “hey, that sounds great, but no way is that a RAW file”. Agreed, it is great and we’re not calling it a “RAW file”, so I don’t see the issue. Our “problem”, as you put it, is that a photography blog (somehow) found a rough-cut video on Vimeo that we’d briefly made public while we were testing the behaviour of its embedding code and, within almost no time, it was all over Twitter. It picked up on the word RAW without any context and the snowball effect led us to “pre-launch” somewhat ahead of schedule, with marketing materials that hadn’t yet been finalised (and were, in places, a little clumsy). We’re now comfortable with the wording that we’re using to describe (a very, very small part of) what we do with 645 PRO, but the fact is that the early rumours – based, as I say, on over-egging the interpretation of one line of text in a video, and not driven by us – set an agenda (and the misinterpretations we are chasing) that we are working pretty hard to fix.

    • Adam Fields says:

      So I’m confused now – if it’s not a RAW file, and it’s not raw sensor data, why are you using the word RAW at all? You say that you’re very explicit about what you’re doing, but you’re still using a term that’s loaded to mean what you’re not doing. Sorry – I don’t see any meaningful way that this actually is raw data. It’s uncompressed data. I just can’t see any reason why you can’t call it that – by itself, without any other confusing pretensions, that’s a killer feature!

      • Mike says:

        That would actually be incorrect because (if you want to get even more confused) the data IS compressed, but using non-lossy LZW compression. However, it hasn’t gone through *lossy* JPEG compression (unlike every other iPhone photo we know of).

        And we chose to use the term because – unlike you – the beta testers and others that we ran it by weren’t confused or bothered at all, and felt it was a handy shorthand to indicate that the data was that delivered at the lowest possible level for the hardware/firmware/OS platform in question.

        However, it’s now clear that some people are offended by it being used in a manner which they believe is inaccurate. It’s not our intention or desire to confuse, mislead or offend people, and we will be reviewing the terminology we have used post-launch, once we have rather more feedback. So far only a handful of people have complained about the use of the term RAW (although they’ve done so at some length) and rather more have actually said the equivalent of “yeah, I get it”.

        Ultimately, some people think the word RAW is more tightly-defined and has a more narrow meaning than others (including us). We need to assess exactly how important that disconnect is and then deal with it appropriately.

        • Adam Fields says:

          Please don’t misinterpret this – I’m not offended, but I do think this is an incorrect use of the term, and it does bother me. I suspect that most of the people who are complaining about this are heavily invested in a RAW workflow – those are the people for whom the word “RAW” means something, namely sensor data. Any common use of the word to mean something else means it’s less likely we’re going to get what we expect next time we encounter something that’s called raw. That may already be muddled (though for Canon and Nikon, it’s fairly clear), but that’s no excuse for making it worse.

  12. Brandon L. says:

    I’m excited for this app, and while it’s still not straight-from-sensor data (which would probably need a lot of correction and bending back into shape with profiles that don’t currently exist in most software, if I understand this stuff correctly), it still sounds pretty good. I’m afraid for you guys that Apple might not approve this “new” approach without a long delay.

    My main question is: how does the TIFF file differ from the lossless JPEG (0% compression?) in terms of quality? Won’t they be the same? Does the JPEG format have any compromise if used without compression (color space, etc.)? Why not just use PNG then, instead of TIFF?

    Thanks, and I really look forward to using this.

  13. Mike says:

    Brandon: the JPEGs produced by 645 PRO have all been processed with one of the seven Film Modes. However, bypassing that, there would be no practical difference in quality between a TIFF, a PNG and a JPEG with 0% compression. TIFF was chosen because the files are (much) quicker to produce and save than the other two, and (partly) to prevent the potential confusion caused by the fact that JPEGs are nearly always lossily compressed. With (non-lossy) LZW compression TIFFs can be a good deal smaller, too.

    • Brandon L. says:

      Oh, it wasn’t apparent to me that you couldn’t take a photo without one of the filters. Thanks for clearing that up! I have a feeling that’s the next thing people are going to bitch about.

  14. Mike says:

    OK. We’ve listened to the feedback, we’ve discussed this matter with a bunch of key people, and come to the straightforward conclusion that we were wrong. Please see the new blog posting at http://jag.gr/2012/04/17/645-pro-raw-redux/ for a (very) detailed description of what we’re doing about it and why.

  15. Steve says:

    This sounds like a great camera, the RAW issue should not be considered it’s not available on the phone, only for more advanced editing on a desk top, please stop arguing and just get on with taking great photos.
    One thing I would like to know is the 645 Pro going to be available on my android device, if not why not, we love photography as well and with the quality this would bring to us would be a huge bonus.

    • Mike says:

      We don’t have an Android version in development yet. Why? Well, mostly because the process of creating an Android app requires a different set of skills and knowledge. However, we aren’t anti-Android so, if the demand is there, we’ll supply it one way or another.

  16. Tina Rice says:

    Adam, why do you care about the use of “RAW” for ? I’m a PRO Photography. I don’t see a problem, these guys are offering something other camera apps haven’t even considered or touched yet. I’ve read other blogs and seen the difference in compression and artefacts. It seems to be an accurate statement about what they are trying to sell. My thing is that Apple needs to boost the DPI with this camera. It’s only 72dpi. Who knows maybe Apple is working on making a RAW output for the camera in the near future. If it wasn’t for these app developers, Apple would know how to improve the stand alone camera. In my opinion the developers for this app has opened a whole new avenue for other camera apps. They might learn a thing or two with these guy at 645 Pro. All I’m going to say is get over yourself, I’m really tired of photographers putting down iPhoneographers. Just embrass what’s happening or get left behind…

    • Mike says:

      Tina, thanks for the kind words about 645 PRO. However, we did end up agreeing that the use of the term RAW was prone to cause confusion (how could we not? it was clearly confusing some people!) which is why we modified our terminology in time for the product launch as explained here:http://jag.gr/2012/04/17/645-pro-raw-redux/).

      I don’t personally find 72dpi to be a restriction, as everything I print goes through Photoshop where it’s straightforward to resize without resampling and change to 300 dpi (without modifying the pixels). How do you find it limiting? I ask, because it’s something we can possibly control in a later update…