What the heck is Raw format and should I use it?

screen shot of Raw mode on iphone camera screen

Several people have approached me recently asking, "what the heck is Raw and should I use it?" If you are an experienced digital photographer then you know what shooting in Raw means. If you are a smartphone user, you may not have heard the term RAW, until you noticed it as an option on your new phone.

So let's break this down and understand what RAW is so that you can impress everyone with your advanced photography knowledge!

When using a camera, the two main photo formats available are JPG (or JPEG) and RAW. Both of these terms refer to image file size.

Normally when you shoot with a digital camera or smartphone, the default setting to save your images will be in a format called JPEG. 

JPEG Format

JPG is a compressed file format. This means that various optimizations are applied to the image file, which makes the file size smaller. The greater the compression, the greater the loss in quality, but the smaller the file size and the less storage space needed to save it. This is obviously important on your phone due to limited storage.

 Raw Format

A RAW file on the other hand, is an uncompressed version of the image file. Essentially the camera takes the image data from the sensor, and saves it in an unedited and uncompressed format so there is more "data" in the image file.

What this means to you, the photographer is that shooting in Raw, captures ALL the image data the camera sees. More data equals more detail in your images.

This is valuable because it allows for more control in post production...editing. Since Raw captures more data than jpeg format, there will be more detail in both the shadow areas and the highlights.

Sounds great right? EXCEPT...Raw takes up a HUGE amount of space in your storage.

Once only an option for DSLR photographers, the newer smartphones allow you to choose to shoot in either Jpeg or Raw format.

 How to turn on Raw mode

To activate RAW mode on the iphone, go into on on FORMATS...then toggle on ProRAW &Resolution Control.


After you toggle on the ProRAW Resolution Control button, you will see Pro Default below. This should read ProRAW Max. This means your phone will shoot in the higher format of RAW.

During everyday shooting, your phone should be in jpeg mode. When you decide to switch over to shooting in RAW, simply tap on the RAW Max icon at the top right of your camera screen. The slash will disappear and RAW mode will be activated.

The disadvantage of shooting in Raw is that since the file size is much larger, the photos will take up a HUGE amount of storage on your phone.

I always recommend shooting in the standard jpeg format but there are two times I do switch over to using RAW mode. 

1. Low light situations

The beauty of Raw mode is that in low light situations the extra data captured will allow you to have more creative control in editing. There will be more "data" in both the shadow area and the highlights allowing you to pull out more detail than if you shoot in the the standard jpeg mode. Sunrises and sunsets are a good time to switch over to Raw so that you can pull out more detail in your shot.

2. Interior Photography

Interior photography goes hand in hand with low light situations but there are other advantages as well. Think about the shadow areas underneath a coffee table or shadows under a leggy sofa. Raw will allow you to brighten those shadow areas producing a more professional looking image. Also, if the interior light is somewhat contrasy, shooting in Raw will allow you more control in editing to balance out the highlights.

Bottom line, unless you plan to do extensive editing, continue to shoot in the standard jpeg format. Raw format is more suited to those photographers who enjoy doing a deep time into extensive editing.

If you've enjoyed this post, you might want to check out my Smartphone Photography For Interior Designers online class.