Pinterest Stumbleupon Whatsapp
Ads by Google

Android is now a great platform for photography. The quality of cameras on the best Android phones has improved immeasurably in the last couple of years, as has the software for processing, sharing, and backing up your images. And since Lollipop, Android has had a secret weapon for the keenest photographers — the ability to shoot in RAW.

But what exactly is RAW, how can it benefit you, and how do you get started? Let’s take a look.

What Is RAW?

To understand what a RAW photo is, it’s best to look at how a digital photo is taken. Normally, images are saved in the Jpeg format.

The software takes the data captured by the camera’s image sensor, processes it by adjusting exposure, contrast, sharpness, and so on, then compresses it, and finally saves it as a Jpeg file. This can be opened in any image viewer.

raw

When shooting RAW, the software takes the data captured by the image sensor, and that’s it.

Ads by Google

On Android, this data is saved in a file with the .DNG extension, which is Adobe’s RAW format; other digital cameras often use their own proprietary RAW formats. To open the file, you need specialist software that is compatible with the specific RAW format you’re using.

Processing RAW Files

When you open it, you’ll probably find the RAW image looks a little “flat”. A Jpeg is a finished image. It’s processed to be brighter, sharper, and have punchier colors. It can be shared or printed without needing any additional tweaks or filters. A RAW image is not finished — it’s the raw, unprocessed data from the camera’s sensor, and you need to tweak it yourself.

Because RAW images need processing How To Edit RAW Photos in Adobe Camera Raw How To Edit RAW Photos in Adobe Camera Raw Read More , they won’t normally show up in your photos app of choice, nor will they be backed up to any cloud photos service you use. You also won’t be able to share them directly on Instagram or Flickr.

To get around this, Android camera apps often shoot in RAW+Jpeg mode. This saves the RAW file along with a standard — and far more useable — Jpeg.

Why Shoot RAW?

This doesn’t sound very convenient. So what are the benefits to shooting RAW Budding Photographer? Here's Why You Should Be Shooting Raw Budding Photographer? Here's Why You Should Be Shooting Raw Every dSLR, prosumer and even some high-end compact cameras have the ability to save raw image files. This isn't just a higher quality of image, it's a gift from the photography gods. Read More ?

The main advantage is that RAW files are uncompressed. A typical Jpeg taken by a smartphone might be around five megabytes, but an equivalent RAW file could be more like 15. So much information recorded by the camera sensor is discarded from the Jpeg, but is retained in the RAW.

raw nexus

As a result the RAW files are much more flexible when being processed — you can uncover fine details in areas of shadow, or recover overexposed areas in the highlights, with no loss of image quality. It can be used for creative purposes and can also produce better results in less than optimal shooting conditions An Illuminating Guide to Low Light Photography An Illuminating Guide to Low Light Photography If photography is about capturing light, how do you take photos when light is scarce? Read More .

RAW images are also better for more technical adjustments, like correcting the white balance, and no matter how many changes you make, the image does not degrade.

RAW needs a lot more work, but it’s a valuable tool if you’re serious about photography, or serious about getting the best from your phone’s camera.

How to Shoot RAW On Android

To shoot in RAW, your phone (or tablet) needs to support an optional part of the Android operating system called the Camera2 API. This must be implemented by the device’s manufacturer and cannot be added via an app. In other words, if your phone doesn’t support it, then RAW shooting is off the menu (unless you want to flash a custom ROM 6 Reasons You Need to Be Using a Custom ROM 6 Reasons You Need to Be Using a Custom ROM Custom ROMs are the best thing about having an Android phone! Don't miss out! Read More ).

Camera2 was introduced with Android 5.0 Lollipop. Most mid- to high-end phones launched since then are likely to support it; it is much more likely to be absent in budget handsets.

galaxy s7

As well as needing the Camera2 API, you also need a camera app that can make use of it. It may seem like a no-brainer that if a manufacturer adds a feature, it’ll also give you the software to use it, but no.

At the time of this writing, even the official Google Camera app cannot do RAW shooting (although there are rumors that this will be introduced in the next major update). High-end smartphones are starting to offer it right out of the box, including the LG G5 and Galaxy S7, but if yours doesn’t, you will need a third-party app.

Android Apps For RAW Photography

As we’ve already mentioned, you need specialist software to shoot and process RAW images. If your phone’s built-in camera app doesn’t support it, or if you want to test some more powerful alternatives, there are a number of apps in the Play Store that support RAW.

Lightroom Mobile

Adobe’s Lightroom Mobile — the smartphone version of the company’s popular desktop photography app Your Guide to Choosing The Right Adobe Product Your Guide to Choosing The Right Adobe Product When most people think of Adobe, they either think of Photoshop or Acrobat Reader. But the company has a plethora of other useful software packages that most people know nothing about. Read More — is the best place to start, as it’s able to both shoot and process RAW images.

The camera is a basic point-and-shoot affair. It’s fine for replacing your phone’s built-in camera app, but less so if you’re looking for more creative control. Where Lightroom really shines is in the processing side.

lightroom

It goes way beyond the expected options, like brightness and contrast tweaks, giving you the ability to adjust the tone curve, or use the split toning feature to produce the kind of results you’d only expect on a desktop PC.

And if you already subscribe to the desktop version of the software, it’ll sync perfectly with that too.

Download: Adobe Photoshop Lightroom (Free) on the Google Play Store

Manual Camera

Manual Camera is arguably Android’s best looking camera app, and one of its most usable. It uses an analog-style dial to control ISO, white balance, shutter speed, and focusing, enabling you to adjust the exposure settings while composing your shot.

manual camera

With built-in effects, assorted composition grids, and RAW+Jpeg support, this is a great option for serious photographers.

Download: Manual Camera ($2.99) on the Google Play Store

ProShot

Another beautiful camera app, ProShot has even more features than Manual Camera but comes at the cost of a steeper learning curve.

Full manual controls are here, though, with support for bracketing (taking multiple consecutive shots at slightly different exposures), a handy live histogram How To Read Your Camera's Histogram And Take Perfectly Balanced Images How To Read Your Camera's Histogram And Take Perfectly Balanced Images Read More , and even an infinite shutter mode you can use to create your own light paintings. ProShot offers RAW+Jpeg and RAW only options.

Download: ProShot ($3.99) on the Google Play Store

AZ Camera

AZ Camera camera has a similar feature set to Manual Camera and ProShot, but is free. You get manual controls, including focus, shutter speed, and ISO, and you can also choose to shoot in RAW-only mode as well as RAW+Jpeg, should you wish to.

az camera

Extra functionality, with exposure bracketing and a live histogram among other things, can be unlocked through an in-app purchase.

Download: AZ Camera (Free) on the Google Play Store

Snapseed

With no integrated camera app, Google’s Snapseed is purely for editing, and it is capable of producing incredible results Snapseed Combines Power With Elegance For A Gorgeous Image Editing Experience [Android] Snapseed Combines Power With Elegance For A Gorgeous Image Editing Experience [Android] Editing photos on a smartphone or tablet is fun, but it's more often than not a heavy-handed process. Since you have a small screen to work with, most image editors don't let you make fine-grained... Read More . This free desktop-class app works with the DNG files produced by the camera apps listed above.

It offers a full range of editing tools, including being able to adjust very small and specific areas of an image. Or if you prefer, there’s a full set of filters you can apply to give your shots a film-like quality with a single tap.

Download: Snapseed (Free) on the Google Play Store

An Invaluable Tool

Being able to shoot in RAW helps you to get the absolute best out of the new range of high-quality cameras on Android phones. You don’t need to do it all the time — for quick snapshots you’re going to post to Facebook, you can continue to use your normal camera app.

But for those occasions when you want to get the best shot, or if you’re shooting in low light or other difficult conditions, it is an invaluable tool.

What are your experiences of shooting in RAW on Android? What devices and apps do you use? Let us know in the comments.

Image credit: Galaxy S7 via Razvan Baltaretu

  1. David Castro
    December 5, 2016 at 1:56 am

    I have to highly recommend Open Camera which, despite its extremely cheesy name, is simply awesome. First of all, it's completely free yet supports everything you've mentioned from these paid apps. Apart from RAW shooting, It's got full manual and automatic controls, exposure bracketing (with 3 or 5 pictures), different alignment grids, and a ton of other features. No built-in filters, though, like most OSS It focuses on one aspect and does it exceptionally well. The UI isn't the best, though, most necessary options are accessible but some stuff is randomly buried in the settings. One note, to get the RAW (and other) option you have to activate "Use Camera2 API on the main settings screen.

  2. Marc
    October 20, 2016 at 7:14 pm

    What is the best camera phone to get, the LG V20 or Google Pixel?

  3. Andrew
    October 16, 2016 at 4:57 am

    Even using a 3rd party app like the FV I just paid for and downloaded, the phone's camera must support raw or DNG capture. Its In the fine print on the last page of the detailed user guide for the camera app. In my case, even though running Android 6 on my 3rd Gen Moto G, I'm screwed.

  4. Paul
    August 7, 2016 at 3:58 pm

    In response to Mike: RAW on a phone is not pointless. The reason camera phones are enjoyed is because they are always with us. A point-and-shoot camera is essentially idiot proof, as well - turn it on and snap a photo, just like with a phone.

    The reason I think RAW on a phone is not pointless is because I don't like hardware and software post-processing my photos for me. A phone chooses the white balance, sharpening, compression, etc. but it provides very little editing room if I want to process that image differently.

    With RAW files, I can have total control over what I do with my photos. While the quality will not be the same as a DSLR, I can certainly produce better quality than my phone can with the same photos, hands down.

  5. Mike
    July 2, 2016 at 10:36 pm

    RAW on a phone is pointless. One reason camera phones are enjoyed by so many people is because they are essentially idiot-proof. You push the button. Done. No fiddling. If you are going to worry about RAW, use a real camera at home on your desktop.

  6. dan shaw
    June 24, 2016 at 11:21 pm

    You didn't even mention HTC, they came out with it first.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *