UPDATE 11/16/2018: Support for RAW has improved in iOS 12. The major difference is that the Photos App on iOS can now edit RAW images natively. That said, Photos will still show the embedded JPEG until you enter Edit, so you still don’t see the RAW most of the time on iOS. Also, on iOS 12, it is not possible to develop a RAW Photos extension for iOS, because extensions are always passed a JPEG. I have filed a bug against Apple (with a solution). Hopefully, they will fix that some time soon.


RAW has been (minimally) supported on iOS for a long time. You could import them directly onto an iPad for example. However, when you looked at the RAW on iPad, you could only see the embedded JPEG. Apple added support for RAW decoding in iOS 10, but despite that, most of the time, you are still looking at the embedded JPEG. In this post, I will describe what is really going on and how to make the most of your RAW files on iOS.

Embedded JPEGs:

The embedded JPEG is a camera-generated JPEG stored inside the RAW file. This JPEG uses the camera manufacturer’s algorithms and will look different from the actual RAW. Sometimes the difference is relatively subtle (color, noise reduction, or sharpness), but other times, the difference can be quite striking. For example, embedded JPEGs receive any “picture styles” set on the camera, so if you set your camera to “monochrome”, the embedded JPEG will be black and white, while the RAW will remain full color. In addition, many cameras do not produce full-size embedded JPEGs. Common sizes for small embedded JPEGs are: 640 x 480, 1920 x 1080 (2 megapixels), and quarter-resolution (e.g., for a 20 megapixel camera, the JPEG is 5 megapixels). It’s hard to judge an image when you are only looking at 10-25% of the pixel data!

Here is a link to a RAW file that demonstrates the problems with embedded JPEGs. Import it and view it in Photos.app. This is a 20 megapixel RAW from a new Panasonic G85. It makes a 1920×1440 embedded JPEG. The embedded is black and white, because I set the picture style to Monochrome. RAW Image

Apple RAW Camera added in iOS 10:

Apple added support for viewing and editing (and capturing) RAW images in iOS 10. However, applications must opt-in to RAW (for backward compatibility reasons). The built-in Photos app does not opt-in. Nor does the built-in Camera app. So by default, you cannot capture, view, or edit RAWs on iOS, even though Apple’s RAW Camera software is capable of decoding hundreds of RAW camera formats. On the plus side, RAW images get synched over iCloud, and sent properly via AirDrop.

Another confusing aspect of RAW on iOS:

As mentioned earlier, most of the time you are looking at the embedded JPEG. To preserve the illusion for apps that don’t support RAWs, Apple APIs do not return correct information about the RAW. For example, if an app requests the pixel dimensions of a RAW image through the standard ImageIO framework, Apple’s code will lie and return the size of the embedded JPEG. To get the correct size, one needs to use Apple’s RAW Camera code. This is not true on the Mac. The same ImageIO call on the Mac returns the RAW’s image size, as expected.

Working with RAW:

If you are going to import on iOS, then you will definitely want a RAW editor (like RAW Power) that natively understands RAWs. If you edit an image in the Photos library (using any app), then you will end up with two images: the original RAW and a JPEG that is the result of the editing process. iOS will also store the adjustment data so that you can edit non-destructively. Though there are two images, you can only see one at a time.

If you want to back up your data using something like Dropbox, then you will probably want to back up the RAW first. Then edit and back up the JPEG. If you are using iCloud Photo Library, then both images will be synched to the cloud for you.

If you have questions about RAW, post them here. I will update the post or respond to your comments below.

UPDATE (2/14/18):

RAW + JPEG:

When shooting RAW + JPEG, both iOS and macOS will combine the pair of images into a single “asset.” On iOS, the JPEG is always the image shown and edited. On macOS, the JPEG is the image shown by default, but you can switch the display to show the RAW instead. Whichever image you are displaying on macOS is the one you will edit. RAW Power for iOS shows the JPEG by default also, but if you enter Edit, it will show and edit the RAW.

36 Comments

  1. photonopticum

    One can force-download the raw file on iOS (which resides in iCloud photo library): when making adjustments to an image (the visible image/jpg in the iOS photos app) and reverting these changes (“revert to original”), iOS will download and display the actual raw file. Interestingly enough, iOS seems to create a “raw preview” file – an image that looks as flat as the camera raw would without any further interpretation. This preview seems to stick around although iOS decided to keep only the preview on the device (setting “optimized storage”.
    In this situation 3rd party apps, such as Snapseed will open the raw file for further editing.
    I am not sure whether iOS photos actually ever works with the raw data though.

    • Nik Bhatt

      Yes, you are correct about the force-download using Revert. Revert in the Photos API requires all related “resources” to be downloaded (this is why the revert in RAW Power doesn’t always work — I have fixed this in the upcoming 1.1). So when you revert in Photos, the RAW gets downloaded. Due to bugs in iOS, it is quite difficult to get the RAW in all cases (I spent a long time on this, and I don’t think anyone else has 🙂 which is why that is what you have to do for Snapseed and others (but not RAW Power).

      The iOS Photos app NEVER operates on the RAW directly.

  2. Greg

    Hey there… I’m really trying to find a way to work with my raw images shot on my slr, while travelling, on my iPad. iCloud sync isn’t an option as wifi is never fast enough to sync hundreds of raw files, so my workflow needs to be this:
    1. Import raw photos into Photos app on MBP
    2. Sync to iPad via iTunes
    3. Edit images (or duplicate and edit)
    4. Sync back to Photos via iTunes

    What I’m unsure about is:
    1. Does iTunes sync even sync raw images to iPad? How can I verify if an image is jpg or raw on iOS?
    2. If I duplicate and make edits, will the original with edits applied be available on my MBP after sync? Annoyingly I can’t just edit and sync when using iTunes sync – that’s only possible with iCloud sync.

    I’ve been going around in circles trying to find a way to manage this, but hitting dead ends around every corner. Any advice you can offer to achieve this would be very helpful (and hopefully result in me buying raw power for Mac and iOS )

    Thanks
    Greg

    • Nik Bhatt

      Hi Greg,

      > 1. Does iTunes sync even sync raw images to iPad?
      I’m not sure. All of my devices are cloud connected, so I can’t easily test that case. There are other ways to get a RAW to the iPad, such as AirDrop in the Photos app. AirDrop will transmit a RAW — while that uses WiFi, you are doing a peer-to-peer transfer in that case, not going up to the cloud and back down. You can also directly ingest (see below). I would not recommend using iTunes.

      > How can I verify if an image is jpg or raw on iOS?
      Photos on iOS will definitely not tell you. RAW Power is the only app that will tell you for sure. There are some camera apps which try to, but they will give you the wrong answer if the RAW has been edited.

      > 2. If I duplicate and make edits, will the original with edits applied be available on my MBP after sync?
      Again, not sure if you use iTunes. However, if you edit on iOS and then import directly into Photos (not going through iTunes), then the adjustment data will be preserved non-destructively (whether you use Photos, or RAW Power).

      A few thoughts though:

      1) Why are you ingesting into the Mac first? Have you tried using a card reader and importing directly into the iPad? RAWs will be imported properly (though again, Photos.app will not edit the RAWs — just the embedded JPEGs). I would try ingesting into the iPad, editing there, and then connect to the Mac and import directly into Photos.

      2) RAW Power for iOS is free to try, so you can use it to test whether files are RAW, etc. without any cost to you.

      • Greg

        Thanks Nik…

        I downloaded and tried RawPower last night, looks good. Unfortunately my raw photos from MbP are not raw after syncing through iTunes. Bugger.

        Good point on the cable, and I’ve been looking for one of those for a couple weeks now. So far it’s been impossible to find in Chile and Argentina. I’ll be in Santiago in a few weeks – maybe I’ll find one there. If I do it that way, is it certain that my imported Raws will flow through to Photos via Photos Sync, along with their edits? Would I still need to duplicate the images on iPad in order to edit, or would the edits apply (non-destructively) to the originals?

        Also, would album sorting and favouriting flow through to photos using this approach?

        Really appreciate your help – it’s all finally starting to be clear to me. It appears the sd to lightening cable is what I need, and airdrop in the interim.

        • Greg

          Okay, I have done some tests and found the following:

          1. If i Airdrop directly from Photos on MacOS to my iPad, it transfers a full quality JPEG image. This a step up from iTunes import, which transferred a 14mp (as opposed to the original 24mp) JPEG image. It’s still not RAW though 🙁
          2. If I Airdrop from Finder, it transfers the original RAW image. I am then able to edit this raw in RawPower. #winning
          3. Syncing to Photos via the app, it imports the original RAW image that i Airdropped over, as well as the edited JPEG from RawPower.

          Some questions related to the above:
          1. Should Photos transfer the RAW file when airdropped, or is doing it via Finder the best approach?
          2. I guess doing via Finder, I wont end up with duplicates in Photos when i import back from the iPad, but the whole process seems a bit hacky and convoluted.
          3. I still don’t completely understand how Photos handles RAWs, but i’m getting the feeling that nothing other than Photos can make edits to the original file. So this creation of a JPEG from the edited image – is this the only way to work with RAWs in Photos? If this is the case, how does the editing on IOS and then Finishing the edit on MBP work? Would I need to open the original (unedited) RAW image using RawPower to continue editing? (sorry, i haven’t yet downloaded RawPower for Mac -IMO the restrictions of the trial version are too prohibitive, I can’t fully test this process without the Photos integration and ability to save images, can I?).

          Is my situation too much an edge case to justify your purchasing a test iPad and creating a suggested workflow for using RawPower without iCloud? Either way, I appreciate your help and happy to keep working through this until I’ve come up with something workable.. might even write a blog post about it when I’m done 🙂

          • Nik Bhatt

            Photos on the Mac will airdrop a JPEG, since that’s the default thing to do when sharing anything with Photos. Finder is the guaranteed way of getting a RAW because you are selecting the file. Photos on iOS works differently and will usually share the original RAW if the image is not edited.

            Photos doesn’t edit the original file either — no one does. In each case, apps are creating JPEG derivatives from RAWs via non-destructive editing. Apps also have the ability to store their adjustment data as an opaque blob, so that the data can be carried from device to device. This is also true of Photos extensions, like the RAW Power extension. But that transfer of adjustment data only works with Image Capture or iCloud. It doesn’t work with AirDrop etc.

            RAW Power is designed to work with iCloud because it’s the only way Apple provides to move all of the Photo library data around (including album contents and stuff like that) across platforms. I know iCloud isn’t an option for everyone. I’m not creating a separate model for syncing or storing because that creates as many headaches as it resolves.

  3. Greg

    Ok, got it. So basically there’s absolutely no way to make edits on an iPad, and continue editing on MacOS, without the use of iCloud. I’m pretty sure i’ve exhausted all possible options now.

    Thanks for your help. This has been the most enlightening conversation yet. I appreciate your time… I may still use this process (Camera > MacOS > Airdrop > iPad > Photos) so that i can get the raw images on my ipad, edit them and publish the resulting JPEGs. I’d prefer if i could have the raw adjustments available on my MBP after the sync, but I guess I’ll need to live without that until I’m back to the land of fast wifi and can use iCloud to achieve this.

    Cheers
    Greg

  4. Nik Bhatt

    Well, no, that’s not quite right. Using a cable, you can transfer images from your camera to your iPad, edit there, and then use your cable to sync the photos + adjustments to your Mac. But that’s the only way that works without iCloud.

    • Greg

      Ah… wait let me get this right. To sync from camera to iPad, I’d use the Lightening to SD cable, right?

      Which cable are you referring to, to transfer from iPad to MBP? Is that via USB, and sync using Photos? If so, what’s the difference between that, and airdropping the files to the iPad, and syncing using Lightening to USB through photos? I think you must mean a different cable, as essentially Airdropping should achieve the same result as using the SD cable, no?

      • Nik Bhatt

        When importing photos from your camera, you can use a Lightning SD Card reader (or a Lightning cable + separate SD reader connected over USB). When moving data from the iPad to the Mac, use a Lightning cable alone. By doing that, you avoid format conversions. When you use the Lightning cable to connect the iPad to the Mac, you will also get the adjustment data transferred over.

        • Greg

          Awesome… that sounds great.

          But about the Airdrop vs Lightening to SD transfer of files… if i Airdrop Raws from MBP to iPad, make edits, then use Lightening cable to sync iPad to Photos, will adjustment data sync too?

          • Nik Bhatt

            I would expect that to work too – I suggest giving it a try.

  5. Greg

    Ok will do.. having trouble downloading the desktop trial though. How many mb should the file be?

    • Nik Bhatt

      The Mac trial is only 5.5 MB. However, the Mac trial won’t give you the adjustment data support you want. To see the adjustment data from RAW Power for iOS, you need to have the full (paid) version of the Mac app, because you need the RAW Power Photos extension to process the adjustment data.

      • Greg

        Ok.. so there’s no way to trial the software fully without buying it then..

        What’s your refund policy if it doesn’t meet my needs?

        • Greg

          Actually the file I downloaded was 5.5 mb but threw an error when I tried to extract it. :/

  6. Greg

    So a quick update on the non-iCloud workflow. I’ve copied a bunch of RAW images to my iPad via Airdrop, which enables me to edit the RAWs in RAW Power there. However, when I sync those images to Photos on my Mac (via Photos app and Lightning cable), it brings over only the edited JPEG, not the RAW.

    So it seems this method is not going to work. I’m looking into using a Sync app (eg: http://phototransferapp.com/ipad/) to sync files back to my Mac… maybe that’ll bring over the RAW as well as the generated JPG. Not sure though.. and struggling to download anything from here in Argentina – seems App Store doesn’t like me being here. Via VPN works but is too slow to do much. Dammit!

    • Nik Bhatt

      I’m sorry to hear that it didn’t work for you. What version of macOS are you using? I’m using High Sierra 10.13.3 — it’s quite possible it doesn’t work with Sierra (10.12).

      I just tried it with High Sierra and it worked for me. Here are my steps:

      1) AirDrop a DNG to iPad from Mac
      2) Open in RAW Power and Edit (I adjusted saturation to make it black and white)
      3) Done
      4) Open Photos on Mac (cable attached)
      5) I see the black and white photo and Import 1 photo
      6) In Photos, I check Info and it says RAW. I open the RAW Power Extension and see the Saturation slider moved over (so the adjustment data was carried across).

      • Greg

        That’s interesting. I just bought a Lightning to SD card reader. The following is my experience:

        1. Import photo to iPad using SD reader
        2. Edit photo on iPad using RAW Power
        3. Plug iPad into MBP using Lightning to Usb cable
        4. Copy photo via Photos app
        5. Check photos in MBP Photos. There are 2, the original RAW, and the edited JPEG. There is no RAW containing edits
        6. Edit edited JPEG in RAW Photos – tells me it’s not a RAW, or edited elsewhere.
        7. Edit original RAW in RAW Photos – works, but none of my edits from iPad have flowed through.

        Have I missed a step. Should this definitely work? I seem to be chasing my tail on this, and it’s driving me crazy.. especially now i’ve spent $50 on a cable, and $30 on your software. 😐

        • Nik Bhatt

          Hi Greg,
          In step #5, you have a RAW + a JPEG; the JPEG presumably shows the edits you have made (e.g., desaturation).

          There is no such thing as a “RAW containing edits”; RAWs are never modified. When you use RAW Power to adjust an image, it creates a full-size JPEG, and also stores the adjustment data for later use. If you subsequently edit the image in RAW Power, it takes the RAW, applies the adjustment data and then you continue (non destructively).

          Questions:
          1) What version of macOS are you on?
          2) Did you import the images into Photos by using Photos “Import” function, or did you use ImageCapture?

          • Greg

            Hey…

            Yes, the Jpeg does show the edits, but really I want the RAW to show the edits, so i can continue to edit the RAW photo on MacOS after importing from iPad.

            I understand how RAW edits work, what i meant was that the edits should be stored alongside the RAW file, and transferred across to MacOS via the Photos sync, right? So when i open the RAW in RAW Power on MacOS, it should load the changes from iPad. Also, Photos should show the RAW with the edits applied, no?

            To answer your questions:

            1. High Sierra 10.13.4
            2. Used Photos “Import” function from within the Photos app.

  7. Nik Bhatt

    Yes, the edits should be stored along with the RAW file
    Yes, they should be transferred to the Mac when the original is imported
    Yes, Photos should show the RAW with edits (in that it will be showing you the JPEG)

    Let’s continue this discusson over email. I’ll write back to you there (I have your email address).

  8. Frederico Azevedo

    Great article.

    I stumbled upon this when searching for a way o fix a new issue that i have encountered.
    I bought last year a Apple USB to lightning cable that i’ve been using to transfer RAW files from my DSLRto my Iphone SE.

    However, mostly recently, whenever i upload from to my phone photos library all the raw files get pixelated and “washed up”. The only way to fix this is to open the raw files in snapseed and export to library without any effects done. It works, but it is not optimal as it takes a lot of time and can only be done photo by photo.

    Any idea why this happens?
    Thanks

    • Nik Bhatt

      Hi Frederico,

      Glad you found the post. That’s definitely a strange problem. Which camera are you using? A lot of cameras still have very small embedded JPEGs. Since that’s the only thing Photos will show you, it’s possible that you are viewing a low-resolution JPEG. Further, that JPEG will be “developed” by the camera according to your settings, so if there is picture style or other in-camera adjustment, those will be applied to the embedded (but not to the RAW). Perhaps that explains the washed-out look.

      Since RAW Power is a free download, you can also try to open RAWs with it to see how they look in there.

  9. Marco Borghesi

    Hi Nick thank for this app. It’s so Aperture like and I was in love with it and I hate when they decide to stop it. I know you were part of the team and I’m so glad you create this app. I feel at home to be honest.
    1 year ago i decided to be just iCloud based and just on mobile using my iPad Pro 12.9 2nd gen and using a DxoOne on my iPhone (even if i’m Wondering to move just to iPhone. Is not the camera that make you capture emotion but is me)
    So since your last update 1.1 i can see a lot of improvements but Raw Power is not yet my default app on iPad. But this just because I’m still missing feature that I hope you will implement in the future. Possible a near one.
    Are you planning to add:
    Cromatic aberration correction?
    Saving preset
    Watermark and personalised Watermark with png images?
    Grain effects?
    Local adjustment like was possible in Aperture?

    There so many other things I would love to ask but I can just ending saying would be amazing to see the latest Aperture with all his feature replicated here. And I would be more then happy to pay again for a new extra set of feature.

    Looking forward for your reply

    • Nik Bhatt

      Hi Marco,
      I’m glad you really like the app.

      Chromatic Aberration is probably coming in the next release (not 100% sure)

      Saving Presets is also coming (RAW Power for Mac already has it, so that makes it easier 🙂

      Watermarking is also high on the list, but I’m not sure when it will go in.

      Grain and local adjustments are not on the near term list, but the value of both is very high.

      I’m currently working on an update to the Mac version which has a bunch of things people have been requesting for a long time, so I need to get that out first.

      • Marco Borghesi

        Hi Nik thank you so much for your reply. Yes I do love it.
        Thank you for your updates I can’t wait then.
        I have a couple of question if can reply them.
        Are you considering to add a camera module to shoot in RAW similar to lightroom within your app?
        Last. Do you know why sometimes if I shoot with an app in RAW if I open them I have a smaller version? About 800x instead of the full image even if it is recognised as RAW. The wired thing is if i open in on iPhone it’s ok but on iPad it’s a small version.

        • Nik Bhatt

          Yes, I’m considering adding a camera feature to the app to shoot RAW images.
          For your second question, it sounds like you are seeing the embedded JPEG. Most iOS apps (maybe all) create iPhone RAW images with a tiny embedded JPEG. I’m not sure why that is (something I plan to figure out when I write my own camera). How are you getting the image from the iPhone to the iPad? Perhaps the embedded JPEG is being sent over instead of the complete image. This should not happen if you are using iCloud Photo Library, but if you use other techniques, it could potentially happen.

          • Marco Borghesi

            Hi Nik that would be wonderful. I would love to help you suggesting ideas. If you like I can pop you an email with my thoughts about that but also ideas for the app itself.
            With your app I feel at home so much that I would love to help with my photography background. But let me know about it.
            About the JPG RAW thing. I’m using iCloud Photo Library so I have them straight away or after a few seconds/minutes on my ipad. The wired thing is that sometimes with the same app does that sometimes doesn’t. I literally don’t understand.
            At the moment I’m using lightroom and it’s camera that shoot DNG but then you are not completely free to move more then one DNG file to files and that’s not nice, when on the other hand if you have RAW file on your photo Library you can do that.

          • Nik Bhatt

            You are welcome to email with suggestions to support@gentlemencoders.com. I keep track of all the requests, though I can’t promise if or when they will get done.

            I don’t know why you are seeing this behavior, unless you are editing the RAW image with something other than my app. If you use the built-in Photos app, you will be editing the embedded JPEG, which will be very small. One thing you can try — when you see the small image on your iPad, go to RAW Power and try to Revert the adjustments (you can also try that in the Photos app, but it won’t show you the RAW).

  10. Marco Borghesi

    Hi Nick sorry if I didn’t reply earlier to you. Been busy at work and past week end I was away.
    I will send you an email with my suggestions and idea for you.
    About the behaviour we were discussing I think I might understand. I’m using for example a new camera app to shoot just RAW file. This file is a DNG file and I think it display a preview but then when I tap on Adjustments the full image became available. Can you confirm with me that could be your app reading RAW but not DNG as native?
    I’m thinking of that because as I test the same behaviour is happening on the other app I was using before yours.
    Can’t wait to see the next iOS update.

    • Nik Bhatt

      Most (or all) iOS RAW Camera apps create a DNG file that includes a small embedded JPEG. It would be far better if the DNGs had full size JPEGs embedded instead. I don’t know if this is an iOS limitation or not. RAW Power shows you the embedded JPEG first (for performance reasons) — when you enter edit, then it accesses the RAW (downloading it if necessary).

      I guess I’ll have to write a camera feature to find out for sure 🙂

  11. Marco Borghesi

    Hi Nick sorry if I didn’t reply earlier to you. Been busy at work and past week end I was away.
    I will send you an email with my suggestions and idea for you.
    About the behaviour we were discussing I think I might understand. I’m using for example a new camera app to shoot just RAW file. This file is a DNG file and I think it display a preview but then when I tap on Adjustments the full image became available. Can you confirm with me that could be your app reading RAW but not DNG as native?
    I’m thinking of that because as I test the same behaviour is happening on the other app I was using before yours.
    Can’t wait to see the next iOS update.

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