This doesn’t sound like massively significant news, but there’s more to this than meets the eye for iPhone 13 and Lightroom users. It doesn’t just change the results they can expect, but potentially their workflow too.
iPhone 13 ProRAW: good news (mostly) and bad news (some)
The iPhone 13 ProRAW format comes with good news and bad news. Apple has used the Linear DNG format, which is a kind of part-processed raw file which contains all the extended raw image data of regular raw files, but has already been demosaiced into a full color image. This means Apple has taken care of this base-level processing, not Adobe.
Why is that good news? Because if you’ve used the Lightroom app on an iPhone to capture a RAW file (also in the DNG format, but not a Linear DNG), you’ll know that when the image is processed in Lightroom, the noise levels are pretty horrendous, even at the lowest ISOs. You can try using noise reduction, but any gain is quickly offset by a loss in detail – and that’s something you can’t really afford in images which have only 12 megapixels anyway.
The route I’d been using was to shoot RAW with the Lightroom app, but then take the DNGs into Capture One, which does a way better job of editing them.
With the new Linear DNG format, though, Lightroom’s own demosaicing process is sidestepped, and the iPhone ProRAW images look very good indeed – and respond well to quite heavy editing too.
The bad news is that Linear DNG files are 2-3 times larger than regular raw files because the RGB data has already been reconstructed into full color channels. My iPhone 13 RAW files are coming in at anywhere between 25MB and 45MB, so unless you have a phone with a lot of storage, you need to get them off there pretty quick.
You can do this manually using AirDrop, say, or wait until they sync with Apple Photos on your computer, copy them out of the library and then delete them from Photos.
How do ProRAW files look in Lightroom?
The sample image at the top of this article was shot in early evening as the sun was setting, and the ProRAW file has responded extremely well to both global and local adjustments in Lightroom.
But surely, if the Linear DNG format is generic, what’s so special about Lightroom supporting it?
Well, what’s noticeable is that the ProRAW image in Lightroom seems to have the same HDR properties as the iPhone shows. Normally, you expect raw files to be neutral, but not here. It means that the sky has has the color and depth of the iPhone HDR image, and the whole photo has the same rich saturation.
I opened the same RAW file in Capture One and found that the rendering was much more neutral, with no sign of Apple’s HDR processing. My conclusion – of course, I could be wrong – is that the Lightroom profile has been matched to Apple’s own rendering.
So when Adobe claimed iPhone 13 ProRAW support as a ‘new feature’ in its last round of Lightroom updates, I’m guessing this is what it meant. (There’s nothing ‘new’ about supporting the Linear DNG format.)
How does this change the Lightroom mobile workflow?
Others may disagree, but for me this makes a big difference. Previously, I found the Lightroom mobile app’s RAW capture really useful, but Lightroom’s own processing so bad that I stopped using it. My only alternative was that clunky Capture One workaround.
But now that Apple’s own Camera app supports RAW capture, I don’t need Lightroom mobile at all. Sorry, Adobe. Instead, I’ll use the Apple Camera app and import ProRAW photos into Lightroom later.