Thanks to my mobile phone dying earlier this week, I’ve just acquired a new HTC 10. Exploring the new device, I discovered that the camera has the ability to shoot in RAW.
As someone who exclusively shoots in RAW with my “real” camera, I was curious how effective this would be on a smartphone, and whether you should bother. So I grabbed a quick picture that would challenge a JPG (enormous dynamic range due to shooting into the sun with an intricately detailed building in shadow) to see if the RAW was any better.
Let’s start by looking at the two images straight off the phone:
The RAW’s are saved as DNG files, and are easily imported into Lightroom. Immediately we can see (as expected) that the highlights and shadows have been clipped a fair amount on the JPG, but on the RAW, only a little of the clouds have clipped.
I’ll now perform my usual steps for recovering a high dynamic range shot and begin by lowering the highlights slider:
There’s a fair difference here- the JPG clouds are very posterised and flat, the RAW clouds have retained a good amount of detail still. We can also start to see colour differences emerging. Now let’s bring up the shadows:
With shadows increased, we can see more detail now, but the JPG is definitely looking worse than the RAW at this point, with an odd colour cast and those clouds still look strange. Let’s fix the white balance. I used auto-wb in Lightroom by clicking the eyedropper on the grey cloud between the rear tower and the lamp-post:
That’s helped the slightly odd hue on the JPG- the RAW is largely unaltered here though. Let’s now add some contrast, and in the case of the RAW, some vibrancy (RAW’s are always a little ‘flat’ looking out of the camera):
Adding contrast has brightened the clouds a little on the JPG – they’re still blown, but less odd looking. More unusual is a colour difference in the sky, going from blue on the left to slightly magenta on the right. The RAW clouds still look a lot nicer, and the sky colour is more consistent.
Let’s zoom in 100%:
(Click to view these full size)
The differences here (where the clouds aren’t blown out) are less noticeable, but the purple fringing actually looks worse to my eyes on the JPG. This is odd, as I’d expect fringing/chromatic corrections to be one of the things the JPG engine would bake in.
Finally, let’s go for a more dramatic look and whack up the clarity slider, and add a little noise reduction (+100, +17 respectively):
The main difference here is the purple fringing – it’s much more obtrusive on the JPG than the RAW. If you look at the stonework and windows, you’ll also see the RAW has retained more detail than the JPG in the finer details. The clouds on the left are also more smoothly graduated on the RAW, the JPG ones switch from grey to white more abruptly, indicating more posterisation in the jpg engine.
Should you bother shooting in RAW on your phone? For quick shots, it’s probably not worth the effort to be honest, but if you’re out and about and want to grab a shot of somewhere special that you don’t mind editing later, it’s worth the effort. On the phone itself, your options are more limited. There’s a “Raw Optimizer” that, from what I can tell, performs an automated adjustment to the file, in the case of this one dropping the highlights and leaving a rather underexposed image, which I guess standard JPG apps could then brighten up with the extra headroom on highlights now in the file.