A Beginner's Guide to Shooting in Raw With Your Cameraphone

A Beginner's Guide to Shooting in Raw With Your Cameraphone

Shooting in raw with your smartphone is a simple tweak that can significantly enhance your smartphone photography. We're diving into how this feature can improve the quality of your pictures, offering more detail and better color accuracy. It's a practical look at how this tech can upgrade your everyday shots.

For this, I'll be using the Vivo V29 smartphone, but any modern smartphone that shots in raw can accomplish this. 

What Does It Mean to Shoot in Raw? 

Shooting in raw is a technique used in photography where images are captured in a format that records all data from the camera's sensor. This format is preferred by professionals and serious photographers due to its high dynamic range and extensive color spectrum. Unlike JPEG or other compressed formats, raw files are uncompressed and unprocessed, preserving the highest possible image quality and editing latitude. This quality retention is particularly beneficial for post-processing, as it allows for extensive adjustments in exposure, white balance, and color without degrading the image. For instance, a photographer can recover details in overexposed highlights or underexposed shadows much more effectively with a raw file than with a compressed format.

However, the benefits of raw come with some challenges. Raw files are significantly larger than their compressed counterparts, requiring more storage space both on cameras and computers. This can lead to the need for more frequent memory card changes during shoots and potentially more extensive data management. Additionally, because raw files are not universally compatible with all viewing software and require specialized software for editing, they can add steps to the photography workflow. These factors make raw less suitable for casual photography or situations where quick image sharing is essential.

In recent years, the capability to shoot in raw has expanded from professional cameras to smartphones. Many current smartphones, particularly higher-end models, offer raw shooting either natively through their stock camera apps or via third-party applications. This inclusion in smartphones democratizes high-quality photography, allowing amateur photographers and enthusiasts to capture images with a level of detail and flexibility previously reserved for professional-grade cameras.

Shooting Raw With Your Phone

This feature is normall accessible in the stock camera app, eliminating the need for additional software. Many phones have a pro mode that offers extensive control over key photography parameters, allowing you to fine-tune your shots for the best results. Two of the most critical settings in this mode are shutter speed and ISO, both crucial for managing exposure.

Shutter Speed

This setting determines how long the camera's sensor is exposed to light. A faster shutter speed is ideal for freezing motion, perfect for capturing fast-moving subjects without blur. Conversely, a slower shutter speed allows more light to reach the sensor, useful in low-light conditions, but can result in motion blur if the camera or subject moves. Adjusting the shutter speed can help you achieve the desired balance between motion capture and lighting conditions.


ISO controls the camera sensor's sensitivity to light. A lower ISO value is ideal for bright conditions, ensuring that your photos are not overexposed. On the other hand, a higher ISO can be beneficial in darker environments, although it may introduce some noise into the image. 

White Balance

Another vital aspect of shooting in raw is managing the white balance. White balance refers to the process of removing unrealistic color casts, so that objects appear natural. 

The Difference Between Shooting Raw and JPEG

Smartphone technology has improved immensely over the last decade, reaching a point where comparisons between camera phones and "real" cameras are not only reasonable but increasingly relevant. This evolution is attributable to various factors, but there remains a significant area where smartphones lag behind: image processing.

Professional cameras typically employ a "light touch" approach to image processing. Adjustments are made to contrast, noise reduction, and color, but these changes are usually subtle. In contrast, smartphones tend to apply far more aggressive processing. This overbearing approach is evident across various manufacturers, highlighting the advantages of shooting in raw for superior results.

The image produced by a camera phone, such as the one above, might appear fine at a glance. It shows a reasonable level of detail and the colors seem pleasing. However, the true potential is revealed when comparing this to a raw file that has been processed in Lightroom. 

The differences are striking, with notable enhancements in clarity and detail retention. The most significant improvement, however, is seen in the colors. Skin texture and color appear much more natural and appealing, and the overall scene is rendered more accurately and pleasingly.

Additionally, noise performance is significantly better in the Lightroom-processed raw file. And when you factor in some of the AI features available in most image editing software, the disparity in performance between the JPEG and the raw file becomes even more pronounced.

For this second comparison, the primary differences lie in color and detail. The JPEG loses much of the skin texture and hair details due to its aggressive processing. In contrast, the raw file processed in Lightroom showcases natural colors, with red tones rendered more accurately, resulting in an overall more appealing image. It's akin to contrasting a smartphone photo with one taken from a high-quality camera, which is quite remarkable.

One could argue that the tell-tale signs of a low-quality smartphone image are not solely attributable to the small sensor but may predominantly come from the excessive processing typically employed by smartphone manufacturers. Below, you will find the complete, uncropped images.

High ISO Comparison

The subsequent set of images was captured using both raw and JPEG formats at the highest ISO setting of 32,00. Controlled lighting was implemented, and the phone was firmly secured on a tripod to prevent any potential issues.

Without even zooming in, the difference in performance between the two images is noticeable. The raw file, once again, exhibits superior color rendition and clarity, and the details appear more preserved. In contrast, the JPEG looks as though it was shot on a smartphone, with aggressive noise reduction erasing much of the detail.

Upon zooming into the images, the distinctions become even more apparent. The JPEG loses significant detail on the surface of the camera, resulting in a blotchy and unattractive appearance. The raw file, however, does exhibit noise, yet it's not overly distracting. This is especially true considering most of the detail in the camera is well retained despite shooting at such a high ISO.

It appears that smartphone manufacturers tend to over-process images regardless of the lighting conditions. Even in bright outdoor shooting environments, the details can appear muddy due to noise reduction. Thus, whether shooting in ample light or at high ISO, the results are relatively similar in terms of detail loss.

However, when shooting in raw, there's a clear difference in noise performance between images shot in bright conditions versus those taken at high ISO. Despite the challenges of high ISO, the raw file still looks significantly better, with details and colors retained much more effectively.

Final Thoughts

The standout lesson from our time shooting with a smartphone is the importance of shooting in raw format. This feature significantly boosts the phone's ability to take photos, offering users the chance to snap pictures with a richness and adaptability usually seen in pricier models. Raw photography opens doors to extensive post-editing possibilities, turning a decent snapshot into an exceptional one.

This is especially valuable information for photography buffs watching their wallet, as it demonstrates that you don't need to break the bank to get top-notch photos. The option to shoot in raw, along with a basic grasp of photography principles, can maximize the potential of a budget smartphone camera.

Usman Dawood's picture

Usman Dawood is a professional architectural photographer based in the UK.

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"ISO controls the camera sensor's sensitivity to light." - insanely wrong, the sensor sensitivity, a.k.a. quantum efficiency is a structural/architectural given, no knob can alter it. ISO in digital photography alters signal amplification and/or is a mathematical operation, alters the output image brightness, not exposure. As a photography site, please, don't spread bs misinformation.

From Ricoh - ISO Sensitivity is a standard set by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) that represents sensitivity to light as a numerical value.

From Adobe - ISO sensitivity, or ISO speed, measures how strongly your camera sensor responds to light.

From Nikon - The camera's sensitivity to light (ISO sensitivity).

From Canon - ISO Speed refers to your camera sensor's sensitivity to light.

Wrong, these root from the film era definition. Digital sensors work differently. Once again: quantum efficiency is a physical given, a constant, you cannot alter that with an ISO knob.
A way more scientific explanation: https://www.dpreview.com/articles/9698391814/the-ins-and-outs-of-iso-wha...

From ISO 12232:2019 standard (THE standard from ISO about ISO) - Determination of exposure index, ISO speed ratings, standard output sensitivity, and recommended exposure index:

ISO speed
numerical value calculated from the exposure provided at the focal plane of a DSC to produce specified DSC image signal characteristics"

photographic sensitivity
general term used for numerical values calculated based on the exposure at the focal plane of a
DSC which produces a specified DSC image signal level, such as the standard output sensitivity or recommended exposure index.
Note 1 to entry: In practise, the photographic sensitivity is often called the "sensitivity" or the "camera sensitivity". It is sometimes called the “ISO sensitivity”, for historical reasons that date from ISO standards for photographic film cameras."

Although you are technically right, Károly Zieber, for a simple understanding of how increasing the ISO's affects the photograph, Usman's expanation is more useful. As a reader, he gives me all the information I need to know of how to operate the camera. If I were running a workshop, I would use a similar explanation to him because being pedantic and starting to talk about the rudiments of quantum mechanics like that would bore the pants of my participants.This article is a beginners guide, and a very good one. Thanks though for your expansion of the topic.

There are other problems with the article. "On the other hand, a higher ISO can be beneficial in darker environments, although it may introduce some noise into the image.". ISO won't introduce noise, the lack of and the randomity of light will. I cannot understand why it is better to spread misinformation and keep these wrong ideas alive, when he could spread the right ones, and at last stop the bad ones.

You said I am technically right, but the way Mr. Dawood responded makes me wonder if he knows about the physics of digital photography. He responded with technically wrong citations, and he is wrong. I believe he believes what he wrote.
If I am (actually not me, it is science and technology itself) "technically" right, I am (again, science and technology) right. Giving a plain, but totally wrong idea is worse, than giving a bit complex, but right one. If you know the right answers, please let your co-workers know them too, it will be beneficial for all beginners reading articles like this.

Btw., how many users understand the term "sensitivity to light" actually? Is it that much easier to understand, than other physics related fenomenon?

He could've written something like this: aperture and shutter speed affects exposure - the amount of light hitting the sensor - and ISO controls the output image brightness. Of historical - film era - reasons ISO is used synonymously with "sensitivity", but in digital photography it is not responsible for the camera's sensitivity to light, but for the desired image brightness. Brightening the image reveals image noise in parts of the picture, mainly in dark areas.

You don't understand my point. It's about putting across basic information that beginners can relate to, understand, and remember. What you are doing is picking unnecessary holes. The outcome of increasing the ISO, with the exposure value staying the same, is an increase in noise. You don't have to understand physics to understand that outcome, and it is counterproductive trying to baffle beginners with that information.

I should have clarified that you are partially technically right. Your comment only tells the rudiments of the science, and so it could be equally argued that what you wrote is also incorrect.

If you want to put forward your understanding of how it works, why not start a blog and share it that way? It's much more satisfying than making derisive comments on other people's work.

I do understand, but I don't accept it. This is the same as you do. Mr. Dawood belives in it, he is one of your colleagues and you stand by him. It is totally acceptable, but please let him know, he believes in something incorrect.

If you never baffle anyone with the correct answers, wrong statements and explanations will stay with us.

Rudiments, that are correct and tested, and are in the ISO standard. Being a rudiment won't make it just partially correct. Just to be clear: you are not arguing with me, you are arguing with standards and science.
If I am incorrect, how am I so? If you say something like this, use argumentation based on science. "Without data, you're just another person with an opinion", W. Edwards Deming.

I do have a blog in Hungarian and I already wrote about it :) What baffles me is how many people find logic and simple sentences without unnecessary sugar coating derisive or offensive. Mr. Dawood should own his error, not pull out nonsense against an ISO standard.

Small addition: https://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/65212397

This is an article for beginners, stop being a smartass.

Well, that escalated quickly from not knowing basic photography stuff to being vulgar. Pride makes people say rude things in a rude way.

I can assure you it's not pride. Your comments come across like the gatekeeping professionals and pedantic photographers that think any statement that isn't geared towards them specifically needs to be challanged.

There is a common understanding of what ISO is and camera manufcturers themselves use that terminology.

The proud accuse others of pride...

Maybe it was just autocorrect: geared towards SCIENCE, not me. You are arguing with ISO standards, not an individual on the internet, that is why it is futile. If you think asking you not to spread incorrect information is gatekeeping... What is the gatekeeping part in this?

Once my math teacher gave me 0 points in an exam for one particular exercise. I asked him why, because the result was right. The answer was: your solution was totally wrong, it was only coincidence the result was the same.

This is your (and some companies') ISO solution: you "get it", but the explanation is totally wrong.

Not understanding and/or misinterpreting THE ISO STANDARD, and arguing against it with pointing fingers on companies' is just...you know what it is.

I said comes across like not that it is gatekeeping. You’re being casually precise when it suits you.

Also im not arguing against the ISO standard im arguing against your pedantic behaviour in this context. Again casually precise when it suits you.

No consistency here.

Why do we have different levels of explanations for what Gravity is?

Because certain information is not relevant when you’re learning physics as a beginner. You start from a basic understanding and work your way up.

You’re being unnecessarily difficult.

Usman comment was totally uncalled for. If I or any other random responder had said something like that we would be banned. What's worse Zieber is 100% correct . Moreover, providing a qualified statement when discussing ISO that let's the reader know that correct definitions are a bit more complex would have been easily understood by most beginners. However, you apparently feel your readers are too stupid to understand an honest explanation.

Hmm, still can't plug my strobes into an iPhone.
Can't change dead batteries for fresh one.
Can't change lenses.
No hot shoe
No optical zoom and no, digital zoom does not count
Can't change memory cards when they run out of space.
Can't plug an HDMI cord into it.
Can't screw a filter on the front of the lens.
Cannot attach to a tripod, no ¼ socket in bottom
Can’t use a cable release
And the real issue, client frowns at me and wonders why I am charging $3,000 day and using the same $800 camera/ phone that he/she owns
Tell me again why I want to hold a phone in my hand to shoot a professional grade photo???


This article is discussing the benefits of shooting in raw for beginners on their phone. Why are you talking about professional photography requirements?

The only thing shooting RAW means to me is wasting even more time editing. I'll stick with jpg since I shoot digital the way I shot motion picture film. You basically get it right when you shoot it.

But you'll not have the best quality. If it doesn't matter, than JPEG is adequate.

40 years of film photography including 14 running an E6 film lab tends to change ones view on "editing" and one what is necessary. Getting paid full time for 32 years of film work also affects my view. Sorry about that, I just have a different view.

That argument of getting right in camera doesn't fit if the camera processes images poorly.

40 years of film photography including 14 running an E6 film lab tends to change ones view on "editing" and one what is necessary. Getting paid full time for 32 years of film work also affects my view. Sorry about that, I just have a different view.

Nothing wrong with healthy disagreement, no need to apologise.

Editing is part of a professional workflow. Just because something has been done for a long time doens't make it right, wrong or better. If you disregard the editing process, that's an issue for you whether you recognise it or not.